Wednesday, 10 June 2009

churches give evidence about the equality bill

The House of Commons committee continued its hearings on the Equality Bill yesterday.

The first session of the day (third session in total so far) heard first from the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church among others. You can read a complete transcript of the proceedings, starting at this page. This part of the session continues for four pages.

Update More user-friendly link to the transcript from TheyWorkForYou here.

The session continued with a second group of witnesses, from business and trade union organisations.

Later in the day, a further session was held, which can be followed from here. And the user-friendly link from TheyWorkForYou is here.

I will have my own comments in a while about the first part of the first session of the day, at which I was present.

There was no written statement from the Church of England. The written statement from the Roman Catholic bishops has been linked previously, and is here.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 10 June 2009 at 3:08pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation
Comments

If I read the commiteee proceedings properly, with regard to the C of E and RC Church, in cases where being a practising member of a particular religion is a genuine occupational requirement, partnered gay people (who knows whether they are sexually active or not?) are not qualified: i.e., they are not really Anglican or RC.

It sounds like a whole lot of people just got virtually excommunicated -- whether or not they ever apply for such jobs....

Joe

Posted by: Joe on Wednesday, 10 June 2009 at 4:28pm BST

William Fittall said: "The distinction that is drawn in most employment situations between private life and the workplace does not hold where people have a representational, pastoral or teaching role."

Oh dear, we have to move on from a situation where church representatives talk like this. It wasn't many decades ago that schools, the civil service, the armed forces and many other employers all saw themselves as having the right to pry into their employees' private lives - all, no doubt, on grounds which they would have justified similarly to William Fittall. However, that way of viewing things has changed radically in all other professions in recent years, partly as a result of all the sackings that took place. We no longer require army officers to leave regimental duties when they divorce, for example, as was the case until the 1970s.

If we have a right to a private life, then we really do have a right to a private life, and the Church needs to be respectful of that. The Church has an opportunity to show a wonderful witness to the Gospel by developing policies which respect the dignity and ethical maturity of each individual working for it.

The other thing that worries me about William Fittall's submission is that it assumes a monolithic doctrine on the gay issue. In fact, Anglicans disagree on this issue: there is not a common sense of the church's teaching on the subject. So it seems pointless to present a case to Parliament as if we all hold a common line as Anglicans - we clearly don't.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Wednesday, 10 June 2009 at 4:28pm BST

Thanks for exposure to this process. I especially like reading through the views of such a diverse panel.

My general sense of it combines three themes. One theme is that it is hard to legislate fair behavior, period, if/when people feel they have very good religious or cultural reasons for unfair behavior. This seems to hold right across the boards, no matter whether we are looking at sexual orientation, disability, age, gender, or other targeted classes/clusters.

In this regard, I read the Roman Catholics and the CoE mainly still wanting to eat their unfair discrimination behavior cake, and have it too, by claiming that everybody outside the church realms should obviously (no questions, no questions at all) be required to abide by a high strict standard of fairness; while they alone are authorized to contradict intellectually, and which they must be applauded for misbehaving since they possess the special doctrinal justifications for misbehaving.

I'm quite puzzled at how religious thinking works this through.

How does what is fair outside church life suddenly become, not just less fair, but entirely turned around 180 degrees inside church life? (Makes one utterly grateful that more churches or faith groups are NOT running more life stuff. Given this contradiction, the churches could preach how much they love folks while sternly closing them out of jobs, housing, medical care, and goodness knows what else?)

Another theme is that making law or public policy in a time of multiple-layered transition in knowledge and attitudes is particuarly vexed. No matter what you do, it will not quite fit as things continue to change, complexly.

The last theme is that I am sensing again, a kairos moment, tinged with a lingering suspicion. If these standards of fairness are entirely unremarkable in general public life; then the church alone is reserving its rights to keep making holy buggy whips. They've become the anachronistic practices society, and are proud of it. What an odd godliness, for Anglicans?

My lingering suspicion? I still hear mention of widening the buggy whips leeway so that believers at will may claim exemptions to fairness outside church life. Better know which dotted line your doctor or shop merchant has signed, then, before you get sick. Or the person at your local government office, too? We will need warning signs in lots of windows. This would be a silly proposition, but the usual I-alone-can-discriminate suspects are still mentioning it, wistfully.

Posted by: drdanfee on Wednesday, 10 June 2009 at 8:11pm BST

I can't quite understand how this issue of a right to a private life is relevant. If it is a right to not answer the telephone when it rings during Eastenders, then that's one thing, but a right to behave in a way which is inconsistent with Godly living is something that no Christian has.

This is all just symptomatic of the muddle that the church has got itself in to because of the fundamental differences in opinion over issues of sexuality.

The term Anglican Communion seems to be a wonderful oxymoron.

Posted by: PeterTheWomble on Thursday, 11 June 2009 at 12:09am BST

Will the Equality Bill Committee be hearing from those who are LGBT people of faith? Yet again, it appears that there is little integration of the issues with Ben Summerskill of Stonewall quoted as speaking on the 'sexual orientation' side but no expertise to speak as a person of faith. William Fittall and Richard Kornicki, the latter also Chairperson of the highly partisan Thomas More Legal Centre which has led the campaign against same-sex adoption and Catholic agencies, speak for religious institutions, but not for LGBT members of those faith communities. It is hard to see how Kornicki can affirm the following official statement from the Catholic Bishop's Conference of England & Wales: "The Church has a serious responsibility to work towards the elimination of any injustices perpetrated on homosexuals by society. As a group that has suffered more than its share of oppression and contempt, the homosexual community has a particular claim upon the concern of the Church." (An Introduction to the Pastoral Care of Homosexual People, 1979)

Posted by: Martin on Thursday, 11 June 2009 at 11:20am BST

There is another dimension to all of this Church politicking - that of the are of so-called *Spiritual Direction*. Most spiritual directors I know of who have been trained in New Zealand are called to exercise a special discretion towards directees who happen to be L,G, B, or T.

Presumably the Church of England will not have to issue a directive to Anglican S.D.s forbidding them to give positive 'direction' to LGBT people who are practising Christians?

If this were the case, then that may just be the end of this helpful process in the lives of both S.D.s and their directees. If LGBT people are considered unworthy of being either 'director' of 'directee' in this traditional spiritual ministry of the Church, then how on earth will such people be able to continue in this ministry if discrimination is to be allowed on this basis?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 12 June 2009 at 1:47am BST

Peter the womble: "I can't quite understand how this issue of a right to a private life is relevant.... a right to behave in a way which is inconsistent with Godly living is something that no Christian has."

You make it sound a very cut-and-dried matter to decide what is or isn't godly, whereas I think that a pastoral attitude tends not to put things in such stark terms. We all fall short in all sorts of ways, yes, even married heterosexuals do. The issue is whether putting cameras in people's bedrooms is a really sane or feasible way for churches to proceed nowadays. It doesn't strike me as a way to witness to anything good, more like a blackmailers' and witch-hunters' charter.

Do you not remember the days, not long ago, when tabloid newspapers were full of people in public life being caught with their trousers down? I knew many clergy whose lives were ruined by featuring in the newspapers at that time, and I hoped we'd moved on to a better understanding by now. Prurience and sexual hypocrisy have been big features of British Protestantism, unfortunately, miserable characteristics apparently not shared by the other European Protestant cultures, principally in the Netherlands and Scandinavia, which seem to have been able to develop much more healthy attitudes to sex and sexuality. They have much more tolerance for gay people; more equality for women; and much lower rates of teenage pregnancy and STDs than the UK. So I think there is something wrong with traditional British Protestantism in the area of sex, and that is what is at the root of the problem, not "political correctness."

Posted by: Fr Mark on Friday, 12 June 2009 at 9:31pm BST

Fr Mark, I did not mean to come across in quite such a harsh manner re Godly living, if it came 'naturally' for us to live as God wants us to we'd all be in a very different situation.
And as a married heterosexual I am exceedingly aware of the many ways in which I fall short in many areas of my life.
The point I was trying to get at was that we should aim to be no different in private than we are in public, and the term 'right to a private life' seems (to me at least) loaded with the supposition that our behaviour behind closed doors is secret and safe and no-one can know what we get up to and it's that attitude which bothers me as it's too reminiscent of Luke 12:1-3.

Posted by: PeterTheWomble on Saturday, 13 June 2009 at 12:33am BST

The right to privacy is often enshrined in law, as in the Irish constitution. Sexuality is one sphere in which what is glorious in private can be tawdry and disgusting when made public. Indeed one wonders what people mean by "godly" sexuality. D H Lawrence had his views on this, which may be closer to the Gospel than the intrinsically hypocritical puritan ethos that has such a long innings in Christian tradition.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Monday, 15 June 2009 at 6:16pm BST
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