Sunday, 22 November 2009

EU objections to UK equality legislation

Jamie Doward reports in today’s Observer:

The government is being forced by the European commission to rip up controversial exemptions that allow church bodies to refuse to employ homosexual staff.

It has emerged that the commission wrote to the government last week raising concerns that the UK had incorrectly implemented an EU directive prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation.

The ruling follows a complaint from the National Secular Society, which argued that the opt-outs went further than was permitted under the directive and had created “illegal discrimination against homosexuals”.

The commission agreed. A “reasoned opinion” by its lawyers informs the government that its “exceptions to the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for religious employers are broader than that permitted by the directive”.

The highly unusual move means that the government now has no choice but to redraft anti-discrimination laws, which is likely to prompt a furore among church groups.

Read Brussels says churches must lift ban on employing homosexuals.

According to an EU press release, found via eumonitor.net:

Employment equality rules: reasoned opinion to the UK; case closed for Slovakia

The European Commission has today sent a reasoned opinion to the United Kingdom for incorrectly implementing EU rules prohibiting discrimination based on religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation in employment and occupation (Directive 2000/78/EC, see also MEMO/08/69 ). It has also decided to close infringement proceedings concerning the same Directive against Slovakia as their national legislation has been brought into line with EU requirements.

“Tackling all forms of discrimination – especially at work – has been a priority for this Commission and for me personally. Our legal action has led to better protection against discrimination in workplaces across the EU,” said Equal Opportunities Commissioner Vladimír Špidla. “We call on the UK Government to make the necessary changes to its anti-discrimination legislation as soon as possible so as to fully comply with the EU rules. In this context, we welcome the proposed Equality Bill and hope that it will come into force quickly,” he added.

In the reasoned opinion sent to the United Kingdom, the Commission pointed out that:

  • there is no clear ban on ‘instruction to discriminate’ in national law and no clear appeals procedure in the case of disabled people;
  • exceptions to the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for religious employers are broader than that permitted by the directive.

There’s a response to this news item at Cranmer EU forces Government to put gay equality over Christian conscience.

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Comments

Thank heaven for Europe. It dragged Ireland, kicking and screaming, into the 20th century when it forced us to abolish our smelly Victorian homophobic legislation; today Ireland is grateful for that. The churches will also discover they have reason to be grateful to Europe for this latest intervention.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Sunday, 22 November 2009 at 9:42am GMT

Thank Europe for Europe. And 'Hurrah' for the National Secular Society.

Posted by: Laurence C. on Sunday, 22 November 2009 at 11:00am GMT

Oh, it's all the EU's fault now isn't it? Nothing exempts you from taking responsibility for your life like blaming somebody else....sounds like the ones that are blaming Obama over here.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Sunday, 22 November 2009 at 12:11pm GMT

those rejoicing at the secular elite's rulings might pause to consider what relevance this has to truth or the Gospel.

After all it was the ruling elite who, by virtue of Pontius Pilate, sent Jesus to his death and rejoiced at the martyrdom's of thousands of Christians

Be careful what you wish for.

Posted by: Ed Tomlinson on Sunday, 22 November 2009 at 12:59pm GMT

"those rejoicing at the secular elite's rulings might pause to consider what relevance this has to truth or the Gospel."

As I've said before, it is ridiculous to believe that human rights should ever be seen as contrary to gospel values. Human rights may be hard to discern, but they are always aimed at reducing man's cruelty, injustice and inhumanity towards other people.
Human rights and theological truths can never oppose each other.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 22 November 2009 at 1:53pm GMT

I must be using a different Bible to Mr Tomlinson. In mine, Pontius Pilate tried to release Jesus, but the religiously incited crowd demanded the release of Barabbas and the execution of Jesus. Secular mercy was defeated by religious bigotry. Funny that. Perhaps it's all in the translation.

Posted by: toby forward on Sunday, 22 November 2009 at 2:23pm GMT

You have to smile at Fr Ed, he is such a one!

I used to feel some sympathy for people in his position, now I just have the deepest compassion for the young and innocent who fall prey to parish priests who continue to teach this nonsense.

It is for this reason I am content to see them becoming something else – even if I am sad for my RC friends who view their arrival with trepidation. My hope is that the new parish priest at St Barnabas TW will engage the whole community with the challenge of the gospel of love offered by Our Lord Jesus Christ – and that those becoming Roman Catholics will flourish as they enjoy the new ministrations of the Vatican's monarch and ruling elite!

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Sunday, 22 November 2009 at 3:31pm GMT

Gosh what a bitter attack. My post only warned that secular politics and faith do not often make good bed fellows and BANG - off you all go.

I did not even comment on the rights or wrongs of this news. I just worry that what may be helping your cause now might bite you further down the line as aggressive secularism takes hold.

As to Pilate- he washed his hands of Jesus- that is as much a sin as braying in a hostile crowd IMO...or am I missing something?

And Martin, any sympathy shown to me on this board has only ever felt paper thin (with a few commendable exceptions) and your comments regarding my parish and my future ministry, at what is a very painful time for orthodox Catholics, says more about you than it does me. Insenstive, cruel and spiteful are three words which come to mind.

Posted by: Ed Tomlinson on Sunday, 22 November 2009 at 3:48pm GMT

Pontius Pilate crucified thousands. He was recalled to Rome for brutality -- and that's saying a lot. Despite the revisionism of the Gospel writers, Pilate didn't care what happened to a single itinerant rabbi from Galillee whom the authorities said was raising the rabble on a Jewish holiday, rebuking tax collectors, and disturbing the peace on the Temple grounds.
Furthermore Ed, sometimes the Christian ruling elite rejoiced at the martyrdom of Jews, religious "heretics" (those who chose to worship or think differently) and atheists innocent of any crime.
But, back to the EU ruling, does the EU ruling refer to employees like priests, rabbis, mullahs, pastors, etc., or does it mean staff like administrators, secretaries, bookkeepers and the like? I loathe and despise religious discrimination against women and GLBT people, but I also feel that ministerial staff directly and explicitly related to religious functions ought to be chosen by a particula religion according to its understanding of divine knowledge.

Posted by: peterpi on Sunday, 22 November 2009 at 4:07pm GMT

Fr Ed: "those rejoicing at the secular elite's rulings might pause to consider what relevance this has to truth or the Gospel."

Fatherdear, it has every relevance to the Gospel, because it reminds us yet again that the institution of the Church can descend to the level of mere Pharisaism.

I was a chaplain at a detention centre for asylum seekers, a good number of whom were seeking asylum on the basis of persecution on account of their sexual orientation. It caused me great shame that very often the Church, and the Anglican Church at that, whose cassock I was wearing, was amongst the enforcers of oppression in their home countries so manifestly severe that they needed to cross deserts and oceans at great personal peril in order to find refuge in the UK where the evil dictates of their churches do not hold sway in law. Thank goodness that they don't. Churches often get things wrong, and if the EU can remind them of that, then so much the better.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Sunday, 22 November 2009 at 4:30pm GMT

"Toby Forward put that Bible down at once ! Who do you think you are?! Father will tell you what it says, and what it means."

Ah yes, the old saying, ' a pope in every pulpit' !

I am glad of the European Commission. And any body that can protect lgbt people or enable or enhance our flourishing.

Now I am engaging in a spot of Ignatian meditation -- I am trying to imagine an anglo-catholic congregation which is a totally straight congregation...

Nope, sorry I just can't manage it. (It's Totally beyond my experience you see.)

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Sunday, 22 November 2009 at 4:49pm GMT

Thinking Anglicans, seem only to be thinking about matters relating to equality and diversity issues and very little else these days. It has got so bad that father has found himself migrating more to Fulcrum than here simply for a more diverse read (diversity issue I know).
I fully appreciate that such issues are important and I probably deserve a verbal wack for this post but can we try for once in a while to think as Anglicans about say spirituality or liturgy or how about some other suggestions?

Posted by: Rev Simon on Sunday, 22 November 2009 at 5:49pm GMT

Well, as far as I can see, on many readings, Pilate attempted to set Jesus free but was forced to condemn him by the religious mob. Now, have I got that wrong or not? The problem was, he didn't have a Human Rights Commission to make him stand up to the religious crowd. Throughout the ages, the world has needed secular powers to protect people from the vicious behaviour of religious bigots. If we're going to use the Bible to shore up our arguments, then let's at least read it. I'm reminded of the old criticism of the man who used the Bible as a drunk man uses a lamp post, more for support than illumination.

Posted by: toby forward on Sunday, 22 November 2009 at 6:50pm GMT

Rev Simon: "Thinking Anglicans, seem only to be thinking about matters relating to equality and diversity issues and very little else these days"

Perhaps because the rest of the Church is refusing to think properly about these issues nowadays, and for it to have any credibility with the world outside its closed doors that situation needs to change urgently?

I doubt whether going to a conservative Evangelical site is the best way to be sure of getting away from the gay issue, somehow... the number of straight Evangelical men apparently obsessed with the topic is staggering beyond belief.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Sunday, 22 November 2009 at 8:17pm GMT

"But religious groups expressed alarm at the move. The Christian charity, Care, said: 'If evangelical churches cannot be sure that they can employ practising evangelicals with respect to sexual ethics, how will they be able to continue?'

I suggest an answer to the question. Perhaps they will be able to continue in the manner in which Jesus did.

Christian charities are not make-work programs for like minded Christians nor are they a mean of attempting to convert the recipients. Take care that you in the England do not find yourselves in the position of we Americans who have to put up with Catholic Charities threatening to close down homeless shelters during the winter if the government of the District of Columbia, the national capitol, passes legislation authorizing same sex marriage.

It is amazing that the Holy Spirit has to resort to the courts of the European Union to confront the Churches about their unholy demands for the "right" to discriminate. She blows where she wills and goes wherever there is an openness, even when that is among people who do not believe in her. The dream of God for the Beloved Community will not be thwarted, even by the Churches.

Posted by: karen macqueen+ on Sunday, 22 November 2009 at 9:19pm GMT

Oh yes, let´s think about some rosy colored shafts of light that have covered us in holy bliss (as our Anglican LGBT brothers and sisters/family/friends/priests are murdered and thrown in prison in Uganda). Holy, Holy, Holy...how silly of me to object to following the ABC´s (and Yorks) purish example of DENIAL!

Posted by: Leonardo Ricardo on Sunday, 22 November 2009 at 9:48pm GMT

"Now the government must demonstrate its commitment to equality, rather than continuing to jump to the church's tune."
- Keith Porteous-Wood -

It speaks volumes about the Churches' attitude towards common human rights, when a secular government has to over-rule their discrimination against the LGBT community. Thank God for Britain's membership of the E.U.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 23 November 2009 at 12:56am GMT

I am an Irish Anglican and would like to find some forum for 'Anglican Thinking' - this is genuinely my 1st tme on this site. This thread so far doesn't encourage me much though unfortunately. My primary concern on this issue is not the state ruling what are permisable attitudes towards homosexuality, but it ruling on what are permissable attitudes towards sexual ethics in general. For instance, could these laws make a requirement of monogomy illegal? If my wife and I were into 'swinging' should a church be permitted to see that as an impediment to participation in full time ministry? Sorry if my question is rude or a bit blunt

Posted by: Paul on Monday, 23 November 2009 at 1:23am GMT

In Luke's passion narrative Pilate thrice declares Christ guiltless and thrice offers to let him go.

Yes, the Church has to be discriminating over against secular authority, but that includes warmly approving and supporting the godly values of secular authority, such as justice. Human rights is a core value of our civilization; we cannot mount a mature critique of their interpretation and application in a given case if we adopt an Augustinian scepticism about the authorities to begin with.

Gays have found secular law to be a blessing over against church attitudes (ever since the law ceased to be a pawn of church homophobia). Ratzinger's "no conceivable right" attitude is barren. If the churches had taken a responsible stance about gay rights their protests might have some credibility now. Past indifference to the human rights of gays is reaping its nemesis now.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Monday, 23 November 2009 at 1:26am GMT

"After all it was the ruling elite who, by virtue of Pontius Pilate, sent Jesus to his death and rejoiced at the martyrdom's of thousands of Christians"

And the Ugandans proposing to do the same to people by what they're born as??? In the name of the big religion in town...except it's Christianity this time and not Judaism. Proud aren't you Ed?

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Monday, 23 November 2009 at 2:52am GMT

".... at what is a very painful time for orthodox Catholics,..."

Even more painful for others buddy.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Monday, 23 November 2009 at 2:55am GMT

I disagree with this completely. The churches have not taken any steps to violate the rights of the state that I know of and the state needs to take a similar approach.

The issue of whether church's should have homosexuality staff is really secondary here. The real issue is about whether the state has the right to force churches to take stands they don't agree with on issues like this. If Britain is a free society, then a church has every right to take whatever position it wants to regarding homosexuality. If a state can dictate that position, then how do you have freedom of religion at all?

Posted by: Eric on Monday, 23 November 2009 at 2:55am GMT

Fr Ed is right; much as I applaud the effect of the decision, forcing the church to act against its its wrong beliefs is not very far from forcing it to act against its right ones.

The application of force in this case is doing the right thing for the wrong reasons (or perhaps the wrong thing for the right reasons).

And as for it being ridiculous to assume that human rights could ever run counter to the Gospel,
how might a universal secular principle of toleration of religious beliefs be interpreted within the mindset of a secular authority with the power to enforce its will? How far can I or anyone insist publicly on the divine nature of Christ before someone counters by arguing that my articulation of this runs counter to the claims of Judaism (or Islam, come to that) and is therefore offensive?

Doesn't this lead to a 'secular-compatible' form of religion consisting of those faiths which have subordinated their coneptual architecture to fit the prevailing (and constantly changing) secular ethos?

And Erika - haven't you alreasdy decided that the requirements of human rights have primacy over the claims of the Gospel?

And Martyn - you do owe Dr Ed an apology; this is not like you at all.

Posted by: ordinary vicar on Monday, 23 November 2009 at 7:25am GMT

"For instance, could these laws make a requirement of monogomy illegal? If my wife and I were into 'swinging' should a church be permitted to see that as an impediment to participation in full time ministry?" - Paul, on Monday -

I suppose Paul, that as this is your very first time looking in and commenting on this site, you perhaps have already gained the wrong impression.
I don't thinkl anyone here has ever made the crass suggestion (which you proffer here) that the Church will ever outlaw conventional marriage as the preferred vehicle for the production of children. So you would never be kicked out of a Church of England Church (I don't know about Ireland, but you could perhaps tell us) for being married to a person of the opposite gender. As to how the Church would treat you and your wife as *swingers* (whatever you mean by that term), you would probably be counselled to modify your behaviour - as a conventionally married couple.

What is being seriouly discussed on this thread at the moment is whether the Churches in countries of the European Community should have the inalienable right to refuse employment to an LGBT person - on the grounds of their being Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual or Trans-gender. Simple really. You obviously have your own view about this, and we would be pleased to hear it - but in terms that we might be able to understand, without having to guess at your agenda.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 23 November 2009 at 10:24am GMT

Ordinary Vicar,
"haven't you alreasdy decided that the requirements of human rights have primacy over the claims of the Gospel?"

What I have said is that human rights can, by definition, not run counter to gospel principles.
If you think that doing away with man's injustice towards man can ever be against God's wishes, you have to make a sound theological case for it.
To me it is self evident that once something has been recognised as a genuine human right, it is automatically a theological truth.

If the two are genuinely out of kilter, you will have to take another look at your theology.

Eric
the same applies. The state has a duty to protect the rights of all its citizens. Churches may discriminate againts priests if they absolutely must, but they cannot discrimminate against teachers in their schools which provide a service to the public.

Freedom of religion means your own freedom to your own faith, not your right to impose it on everyone else.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 23 November 2009 at 11:21am GMT

ordinary vicar: "how might a universal secular principle of toleration of religious beliefs be interpreted within the mindset of a secular authority with the power to enforce its will? How far can I or anyone insist publicly on the divine nature of Christ before someone counters by arguing that my articulation of this runs counter to the claims of Judaism (or Islam, come to that) and is therefore offensive?"

I think what you are describing here is a situation that arises not from living within the mindset of a secular authority so much as living within a society which contains many different religions. A level playing field is surely necessary for all: there has not in the past been a level playing field with regard to the choice to hold (or not hold) particular religious views in England. Christianity has always had special protection in law (cf the law of blasphemy in England) in the past. Obviously, that needs to change now out of respect towards those who have a different faith or no faith. So your need to insist on the divine nature of Christ should be seen in that context.

I used to work as part of a multi-faith chaplaincy team, where it would have been quite inappropriate to "insist on the divine nature of Christ" in my working relationship with my Muslim or Sikh colleagues. Isn't that simply a question of good manners? I wonder increasingly whether it isn't just the kind of Christians who feel they have to always be insisting on things who might be the real problem in society.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Monday, 23 November 2009 at 11:58am GMT

Erica; thank you. Very thought provoking.

You have conceded my point, I think. By holding as a first principle that the two cannot run counter, you have established that the human rights agenda is one of the ways in which you accord value to and understand the value of the Gospel and, by turns, the scale by which you judge human behaviour. Can you conceive a human right which ran counter to the gospel? I don't think you can logically acknowledge the faintest possiblity.

I can’t think of one, but I own it as a possibility. And how do you see God’s failure, in these terms, to respect human rights?

Fr Mark - thank you, and I acknowledge your experience in such a challenging environment, of which I have some comparable experience.

But again, I think you make my point for me in describing exactly such a limit to the circumstances in which you would own and articulate the central tenet of the Christian faith.

What you describe as a courtesy, others might describe as good practice. And if you were drafting a code of practice for an inter faith chaplaincy team something of the kind would no doubt be included and a chaplain running counter to the prevailing working doctrine would no doubt be a cause for intervention by the secular authorities.

So the answer to my question ‘how far ...?’ is ‘thus far ...’; and by it the following possiblity is demontrated; that a secular authority would insist on its mindset prevailing irrespective of the beliefs of individual adherents and that this possiblity has moved beyond the regulation of the practices of a faith, as in the case of employment, to its expression and articulation in particular circumstances.

Which I think was what Ed was pointing out in the first place.


Posted by: ordinary vicar on Monday, 23 November 2009 at 6:58pm GMT

The 'elephant in the room' here just might be our shifted evidence?

Thanks to empirical sciences still flooding out, plus changed common sense experience in daily life (those labeled oxymoron by traditional religious thinking? - gifted-competent women, competent queer folks?) - if Ed T or other conservative posters preach the same old legacy sex stuff, they increasingly fly in the face of the heavy call to go do their change homework.

Push is coming to shove.

In the 1950s, we all could grant that the research was very new, the changed experiences of competent gay and lesbian soldiers in WWII still completely unprecedented and surprising. Nobody could much figure out, either, what to do with all the women who had been running airplane plants and farming and technologies while the men were away fighting on the front lines. Women all seemed to want to get back to homemaking and white picket fences; so nobody thought much more about it. We were going right back to how things were, before the war?

Now, six or seven decades later – those shifts have kept bubbling along. So many research studies have been published in peer reviewed journals that our theological anthropology cannot simply trot on, along nothing but traditional rail tracks, blowing its happy condemning whistles at every local stop.

For reasons known only to the traditional religious believers, the queer folks have been chosen as targets above all, alleged to be exemplars of everything that is wrong and bad in sexual ethics. While sexual ethics and by implication, all of theological anthropology, gets summed up via repeating pat, neat, closed, traditional categories and preachments. The homework has shifted dramatically, however.

Anyone who prizes traditional religious ideas faces new challenges. One has to wrestle with empirical evidence of wide open competency among queer folks. Wrestle with our decent, positive everyday experiences of queer folks in daily life – as family, friends, coworkers, and yes, local believers. Ed T has leeway, still.

We can cling to being traditional: we may pay the price that others increasingly view us as out of touch. So what? Okay.

Services, charities, paid public monies, indebted to such views? Ooops. Farther out of bounds than anybody would have predicted, back in say, 1936?

The really big rub: False traditional condemnatory witness is not true? Women without men presiding mightily over them are deeply beloved of God?

Posted by: drdanfee on Monday, 23 November 2009 at 8:21pm GMT

Come now, Fr Ron - you can do better than that; where's your normally open and pastoral heart? Paul's asked a question - courteously as a newcomer- and you deride him. You were a newcomer once.

And much more besides he's absolutely right to frame his question in the way that he has: how far a church can set and maintain its own code of ethics and that is precisely the question at point here.

Paul asks 'Could these laws make a requirement of monogamy illegal? The EU is telling the UK government that it cannot allow the churches as much freedom and licence to order their own affairs as they have indicated that they wish to.

A ‘swinging vicar’ is in precisely the same legal situation as a settled gay clergy couple. They are breaking no secular law, and there is no certainty that secular law will not take the view that what it does not forbid cannot by any other agency be forbidden except by permission of the state. And then we're in a situation where an appeal for secular justice from within an agency operating differently will nearly always result in the state upholding it.

A *requirement* of monogamy could therefore easily be ruled illegal and may already have been ruled so. I don't give a fig for the chances of the CDM if taken to European Court of Appeal, for instance, or come to that, the new UK Supreme Court.

And that's at the heart of Paul's concern; that the state has increased its remit from being the governor - that which kicks in when excess is threatened - to that of licenciate - the owner of the territory in which activity is to happen and without whose consent no activity is possible.

State-compatible religion, operating by licence and permission. Last seen in China, and even they're abandoning it.

Posted by: ordinary vicar on Monday, 23 November 2009 at 10:09pm GMT

Thanks for the replies folks. Ordinary Vicar has picked my concerns up precisely.

While there may be some co-beligerant payoff for some people from this current EU ruling. I don't believe that this form of intervention is to be welcomed by any.

Strikes me that the more secularly minded european governments don't seem to consider whether the principle of seperation of church and state might carry bi-directional obligations.

Fr. Ron - I'll share more shortly.

Posted by: Paul on Tuesday, 24 November 2009 at 1:11am GMT

There will be no peace on such issues until the state finally gets wise and becomes blind to religion. Religious organizations ought to be held to exactly the same legal requirements as any other organizations. No exceptions, including exceptions for ministers. Law is the prerogative of the state.

Posted by: anthony on Tuesday, 24 November 2009 at 4:38am GMT

"Christian charities are not make-work programs for like minded Christians nor are they a means of attempting to convert the recipients." - Karen MacQueen

News to me.

Posted by: anthony on Tuesday, 24 November 2009 at 4:41am GMT

"To me it is self evident that once something has been recognised as a genuine human right, it is automatically a theological truth.

If the two are genuinely out of kilter, you will have to take another look at your theology." - Erika Baker

Having taken another look at my theology, I find this statement tantamount to a claim of infallibilty for whoever does the recognizing.

Posted by: anthony on Tuesday, 24 November 2009 at 4:53am GMT

The thread narrative which seeks to categorically separate human rights and gospel is doomed to falsity, if not triviality. Human rights for believers is surely deeply rooted in the gospel news of the Incarnation/Resurrection - the cross upon which we crucified Jesus of Nazareth is all too familiar as an instrument of the genocides we continue to pursue and celebrate.

The thought experiment sounds plausible; but it sets up a bad faith argument whose end can be seen coming fifteen miles ahead of time. A case example which predict of course that if any change should or could occur, then the whole tradition has to fall apart and dissolve into nothing by conservative definitions, presupposed. Starting with all that, it is then all to facile to strike up a story line in which theoretically marriage could suddenly become something else, something strange indeed, something twisted out of human recognition just because it stopped being traditional enough.

This push thus ignores the fact that marriage has indeed become something new and strange; something that hardly any ancient near eastern patriach of any mediterranean culture would much recognize; NOT least thanks to gospel roots, and strongly demonstrated to both religion and civil society the very large moment that men stopped owning women and children as sheer brute property at their utter godly disposal.

The narrative/question/case is false, then, presuppositionally.

As usual we are invited to frame the tensions and contradictions in ways that fly right in the real face of the real change facts about modern marriage, women, and children. Women, children, queer folks are not these penciled in abstractions which signify nothing but failure or contamination or evil in a idealized traditionalistic system or narrative; NOT reducible to hot button exemplars, no matter how horrid the imaginary possibilites a tilted case or assertion can drum up?

Gee the whole business is feint and parry, then thrust. Queer folks, women, children are not real people with brains or hearts or ethical consciences in this thought experment; I smell a set piece coming? The people (males?) who try to indulge this stuff ought to maybe, maybe, maybe get a grip?

Posted by: drdanfee on Tuesday, 24 November 2009 at 6:12am GMT

Ordinary Vicar and Athony

I’m not sure I understand what you say, but I think you both have a dual reference system in which people discern something about their own lives on the one hand, and then there is this external God who does and requires completely different things.
But religion and our experience of God ARE of this world. There is no way that we can separate ourselves out from this human world and our human lives. And so, Anthony, yes, there has to be an element of implied infallibility somewhere in the system.
We believe that God is love. We believe that the 10 Commandments are a sound basis for living, that there is Truth in elevating good over bad.
Whether this is truly infallible or not, I have no idea. But I am living my whole life based on the conviction that these assumptions about life and about God are true.
And I suspect you do too.

So, Vicar, I’m not sure what point you think I’m conceding – that human rights can run counter to the Gospel? Emphatically no, because unless you truly believe in a God who can want to maintain man’s injustice against man – and this would no longer be the Christian God from the Gospels, it is axiomatic that the two have to run so parallel as to be one.

The problem of God apparently failing to respect human rights arises only if you read your bible literally and believe he genuinely intervened in some people’s lives to the deliberate detriment of others. It’s a limiting, making-God-small-and-like-us ways of reading the bible.
If you subscribe to it, then we have come to the end of this conversation. I’m not saying that dismissively, but if that is your approach, then we have genuinely run out of touching points because all our basic parameters are different.

If you are not a literalist, then I would be interesting to know where you think God has failed to recognise human rights.

And, Anthony, I would like you to answer my real question: is the God of the Gospels someone who is opposed to man eradicating his own injustice to man?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 24 November 2009 at 9:00am GMT

Paul,
OK, let’s take your question seriously.
First of all, if you haven’t been reading Thinking Anglicans for a while, you have to understand that you have been pressing a few very sore buttons. If homosexuality is acceptable, what next – bestiality? Paedophilia? Polygamy? Having affairs outside marriage? Whatever you might mean by not living monogamously .....
Do you see what happens here? Homosexuality is always ever only compared to something either illegal or definitely morally wrong.

And we are, quite frankly, sick and tired of explaining that our contention is that homosexuality is NOT to be included in the list of moral failings, but that is, in itself, a morally neutral state of being and that it becomes moral or immoral depending on how it is being expressed, just like heterosexuality. The point is that both groups have to be treated absolutely 100% the same. Just like whites and blacks. Just like men and women.

The other obvious point to make is that no-one is actually talking of any other regulation than employment equality for lgbt people, so I don’t see what is to be gained by adding other potential scenarios into the debate. They’re not being debated! To that extent, they’re red herrings designed to distract from the issue at hand.

As to your actual question, could the EU make a requirement for monogamy illegal?
I didn’t know there was such a requirement laid down in people’s employment contracts, but if there is – the whole point of EU legislation is that the requirement is applied evenly to all people.

You see, you are not talking about one requirement that applies to everyone, but you are talking about different requirements of different kinds of people. THAT is where your thinking is wrong.
Treat gays and straights alike, and you won’t fall foul of employment law.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 24 November 2009 at 9:16am GMT

Why are people making this so complicated when it’s all pretty simple? Human rights are defined, not by what we demand for ourselves, but by what we think we should grant to others. Based on a theology of creation, we accept that God’s world is good and should be respected. So, we respect people, as part of God’s creation. Further, people, unlike the rest of creation, are made in the image of God, so we offer them the respect we would to God. That’s all people, no matter what their gender, sexual orientation, skin colour, whatever.
The stories about Jesus show us a person who acted according to this idea. Samaritans shouldn’t be singled out as being second class, even if they’re lepers. Five thousand hungry people should be fed. A woman caught in the act of adultery shouldn’t be stoned to death. Pharisees and others who oppress people should be challenged and not let off the hook.
These rights, once they have been granted to others, also make up part of who and what we are, so they apply to us as well, and it doesn’t fly in the face of the Gospel to expect them. They are a right and a responsibility. We may be a Samaritan or a Pharisee. We are comforted and challenged on the basis of human rights. That's a Gospel imperative.

Posted by: toby forward on Tuesday, 24 November 2009 at 9:44am GMT

No, Erika, no, the God Jesus speaks of in the gospels demands that we treat each other with justice, at the very least. If what you call "human rights" is precisely and only the virtue of justice, we have no argument.

But I thought you had a wider referencee, so just for the record, I regard rights ethics as wholly secular, a product of Rousseau and the eighteenth century enlightenment. I think it is a workable ethical system, and respect the people who follow it. I do not think it matches up precisely with scriptural ethics, though of course there is a lot of overlap. It is probably superior to scriptural ethics, as such things are measured.

What I was rather too cleverly, I apologize, trying to say is that your statement above claimed the status of "theological truth", whatever that is, for anything "recognized" as a "genuine human right." You claim this status is "self-evident" and is granted "automatically."

Well, this requires two things: 1) a criterion of genuineness, and 2) an authority, i.e. Pope or Parliament or General Convention, or perhaps individual person judging for her or himself, to do the recognizing. And because of the self-evidence and automaticity, the recognition would turn out to be infallible. I think this is an extraordinary claim, Erika. IMO human rights are defined by humans for humans on a human level, and can differ in different times and cultures. I think it is very possible that human rights can sometimes be recognized that are contrary to what we think of as Gospel ethics. The right to own slaves, for example, which was certainly recognized as a genuine human right in both the ancient and modern worlds.

Human rights is a very political ethical theory. I am very leery of claiming Gospel authority for political ideals. Many people have suffered deeply from that practice. Anthony

Posted by: anthony on Tuesday, 24 November 2009 at 12:58pm GMT

Erika, you are inferring far too much from my comments. People do have sensitivities and we should be courteous towards them. I do feel as though you have made a bit of an 'appeal to sympathy' in your 1st paragraph though. Calling taboo seldom does little more than get people's backs up.

My point is that it is for the church itself to determine and apply it's own ethics. Much as I would like the Catholic church to revoke it's rules on mandatory celibacy for preists (not to mention admission of females also), I respect that they have the independence to determine these rules for themselves, and that state interference would be a violation of freedom.

Posted by: Paul on Tuesday, 24 November 2009 at 1:26pm GMT

Paul
You may feel that I’ve made an appeal to sympathy, I’ve tried to get you to see other people’s point of view. I am not one little bit interested in your sympathy. Your very first post here started by questioning whether this was a forum for thinking people – this is not the best way of making new friends. As you have also said that you are new to Thinking Anglicans, I thought I’d try to explain why you got fairly short shrift here.

Of course the church can determine and apply its own ethics in its own religious sphere. No-one doubts that, which is why it is still allowed to engage in shameful discrimination against gay priests.

But we’re talking about employment here. About teachers in a church school, for example, who are not fulfilling a religious function.
If the church wants to continue to discriminate at leisure it must restrict itself to its core business – that of providing church services to the like minded.
But if it wants to venture into the outside world and provide commercial services there – it has to respect the values and the laws of the country it finds itself in and it has to treat all employees alike.

I really fail to see why that should be so contentious.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 24 November 2009 at 3:17pm GMT


Anthony
You say that if what I call “human rights” is a virtue of human justice, we have no argument.

But then you merely shift the goal post to defining what “human justice” is. As you point out, there was a time where it slavery was not considered to be unjust.

So do we have an argument or don’t we?

I agree there is a huge danger in claiming gospel authority for political ideas. It’s what causes the church’s insistence that lgbt people aren’t equal. And of course human rights are discerned in a particular cultural context in time.

But unless we want to be completely paralysed and never do anything for fear of getting it wrong – where does that leave us?
For better or worse we have discerned that slavery is wrong. Our theology has adapted to this. And we actually do believe that it is for better, because it reduces the volume of injustice in the world. We're not really ambiguous about the morality of abolishing slavery.

For better or worse, many countries have discerned that women are equal to men. And our theology has adapted.
For better or worse, we are now discovering that lgbt people are as moral as everyone else. And our theology is adapting.

I suggest that there is a kind of parallelism here – for good and for evil. When we believed in slavery, we found it supported by the bible. When we believed in inequality for women, we found it supported by the bible. Those of us who still believe that homosexuality is immoral also find their claims supported by the bible.

All we can truthfully say is that we use philosophy and our understanding of what the bible says as tools to help us make sense of the world around us. It is fraught with danger and doesn’t mean we’ll never get it wrong.

So what? We have no choice but to try.

And so I continue to maintain – when we have discovered a new positive truth about humanity and about what it is to be human, we will find that the gospels support it too.
The God of love is never one to insist on people harming each other. Whether the recognition arises from doing theology or from observing the Spirit in action in society – if a new force for good has been discovered, it is automatically also gospel truth.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 24 November 2009 at 3:36pm GMT

"My point is that it is for the church itself to determine and apply it's own ethics. Much as I would like the Catholic church to revoke it's rules on mandatory celibacy for priests (not to mention admission of females also), I respect that they have the independence to determine these rules for themselves, and that state interference would be a violation of freedom."
- Paul, on Sunday -

Paul, I find this a very interesting argument - especially when it comes from a Christian Believer (R.C.?). You speak here as if the Church was some sort of purely secular society, and not bound by the Gospel of Jesus Christ - for whom justice was more than mere fairness (as shown in the parable of the Vineyard, where employees were treated the same, no matter how long they had been working). This is not the same principle of 'justice' as obtains in a secular society.

When you say here that: "It is for the church itself to determine and apply it's own ethics" - this sounds more like a secular body than the Body of Christ - which is, or should be, bound by Christian ethics.

The fact that the RCC still applies its own rules about the non-admissability of women and married candidates into priesthood seems to many of us to be 'following its own rules' and, in the process, directly contrary to what Jesus might be saying to the Church today. This is why some of us are trying to bring the Church into what we believe to be a more Christ-centred & aptly theological acceptance of ALL people (women, married people and gays) as bearers of the Imago Dei, and therefore capable of representing Christ at the altar - amongst other 'godly' pursuits.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 24 November 2009 at 9:38pm GMT

I do apologise. My remarks were off topic and unhelpful in assisting this important thread to move in the right direction.

I am sad (on this evidence) to be thought "insenstive, cruel and spiteful" - my expressed hope that those who are to become Roman Catholics should "flourish" was sincere. As one who made the journey the other way, painful as it was at the time, I have no regrets.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Tuesday, 24 November 2009 at 9:54pm GMT

There is a good deal of discussion in the Churches about what 'the Gospel' might be. It is far from clear.

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Tuesday, 24 November 2009 at 10:27pm GMT

Paul -- and others.

Quite right that the church should determine its own standards and rules. BUT, and it's a large one, when those standards and rules come into conflict with the standards and rules of the society within which the church lives, then the church forfeits -- ought to forfeit gladly -- all the rights and privileges of a participant in that society and becomes an underground group.

I don't see any of the churches willing to go that route. They are therefore in the position of trying to have it both ways -- they want out of society when it imposes requirements, but want to stay in when there's a benefit. And that's not a position of integrity, IMO.

Discussion on this one is particularly pointed because the CofE is in a tighter relationship with its state and society (in the sense I'm using the term) than other anglican churches or, indeed other established churches in other parts of the EU. Most members of the CofE take its privileged position vis a vis the state for granted -- they may not like it, but it's there and part of their reality. It makes the particular question of how to react when the state/society interferes particularly difficult. Especially when, as in the case of the CofE on moral issues, it has always eventually given in and done what society wanted rather than maintaining its traditional point of view. Other churches have done the same, world-wide, but they're not part of the problem right now in the EU.

Posted by: John Holding on Tuesday, 24 November 2009 at 10:52pm GMT

"Can you conceive a human right which ran counter to the gospel? I don't think you can logically acknowledge the faintest possiblity. I can’t think of one, but I own it as a possibility. And how do you see God’s failure, in these terms, to respect human rights?"


Good googly-moogly, OV: this takes me back to the issues I wrestled with in my first year of seminary!

But this is the way I frame(d) it:

1. Is God "God" because God is Good?

*OR*

2. Is Good "Good" because God is Good?

The first, I (and CS Lewis!) would argue is "The Faith."

The second is *idolatry* of the word "God" (and related concepts: idolatry of a Burning Bush, for example!).

Erika [24 November 2009 at 9:00am GMT] has it right: either God IS Love (love reflected in human rights) . . . or to hell w/ Him! >;-/

[NB to Anthony: it's not a question of "infallibility", it's a question of CONSCIENCE. My conscience may well be fallible---but I HAVE to follow it anyway. There simply isn't a Higher Authority than one's conscience. Or if there is, you'll know it through . . . your conscience! ;-)]

Posted by: JCF on Wednesday, 25 November 2009 at 2:44am GMT

John Holding: that's a very good comment.

You say "Most members of the CofE take its privileged position vis a vis the state for granted -- they may not like it".

I think they do like it, very much, in fact. I don't hear any on the conservative side of current debate in the C of E wishing that their voices received only the same amount of public attention or airtime that they would receive if they were Methodist, Baptist or Pentecostal ministers engaging in fierce internal doctrinal debate, for example.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Wednesday, 25 November 2009 at 11:34am GMT

Well, I am not going to argue with anyone any more on this thread. Erika, when you put it the way you did in your last post I couldn't possibly want to argue with you, in fact I'm going to have to read that post a couple of times more, I liked it so much. And to JCF, all I can say is "Oh. OK." Best wishes to all. Anthony

Posted by: anthony on Wednesday, 25 November 2009 at 11:52am GMT
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