Sunday, 7 March 2010

Lord Alli replies to the Bishop of Winchester

Lord Alli has written on the Telegraph website about the amendment passed in the House of Lords last week, and the ensuing discussion, see A victory for religious freedom. It reads in part as follows:

…There was nonetheless huge concern from the Church of England and the Catholic Church that they would be forced – against their will – to host Civil Partnerships.

But we had included a specific provision in the amendment to ensure religious freedom which stated quite plainly: “For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this Act places an obligation on religious organisations to host Civil Partnerships if they do not wish to do so.”

Religious freedom means letting the Quakers, the Unitarians and the Liberal Jews host Civil Partnerships: a decision that they had considered in prayer and decided in conscience.

But religious freedom also means respecting the decision of the Church of England and the Catholic Church – decisions also made in prayer and taken in conscience – that they do not wish to do so.

That is what we agreed during the debate, and trying to pretend otherwise is to entirely misrepresent the way which this decision was taken.

I was therefore saddened by the Bishop of Winchester, who tried to characterise this debate by suggesting that Church of England vicars will be forced to host Civil Partnerships in their building.

Let’s not pretend that this amendment forces anything onto anyone. Let’s not pretend that individual clergy are going to face litigation. Let’s not pretend that churches will have to close just for obeying Church of England law.

This amendment was all about allowing religious groups to obey their own law, and the Bishop of Winchester should be above sensationalising the issue.

I was also saddened that the Bishop of Winchester was able to condemn our decision in the press, but didn’t turn up to listen to the debate, or indeed to cast a vote.

Out of the 26 bishops entitled to be there, only two made the effort to join the discussion – despite it being an otherwise well-attended debate.

You have to ask the question: if it was so important, if the consequences of this decision were to be so catastrophic, why were they absent from a debate which had been on the diary for weeks?

So let me assure the Bishop of Winchester and all those concerned: unless their religious organisation wants it, or unless Parliament changes the law, there is absolutely no risk of being forced to carry out any ceremony if they do not wish to…

The newspaper edition reports the story in a separate article, see Lord Alli attacks bishops in ‘gay marriage’ row.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 7 March 2010 at 2:12pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation
Comments

'Lord Ali, who is a homosexual...' begins the Telegraph article. So what? Can anyone imagine the Telegraph beginning an article with 'The Bishop of Winchester, who is a heterosexual...'? The Telegraph obviously thinks that the sexual orientation of a writer can only colour what he or she writes and thus their contribution is diminished or biased. Reminds me of an American evangelical booklet I once saw where a particular translation of the Bible was to be avoided as erroneous because one of the scholar translators was known to be a lesbian.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Sunday, 7 March 2010 at 2:53pm GMT

On the other hand, Richard Ashby, these religious groups insist on the use of a version based on Erasmus' Greek New Testament and commissioned by King James I and VI! Go figure.

But that isn't what I was going to comment on. I was going to comment on the Church of England's bishops not turning up for the debate over Lord Alli's amendment, then denouncing it in sensationalistic terms in the press. It looks very much like the toxic and irresponsible politics indulged in by the right wing in the US, who have for years been getting major traction out of sensationalized culture-wars issues about which they can actually do nothing. That's what might be expected of certain kinds of Southern US politician, but it is not what is expected of any group that calls itself the Establishment. I think someone had better persuade a few of your bishops to retire and/or stand down from the House of Lords before this disaster gets any worse.

Posted by: Charlotte on Sunday, 7 March 2010 at 4:55pm GMT

What's with 'attack'?? He criticises them. Sheesh! Different thing, no?

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Sunday, 7 March 2010 at 5:06pm GMT

Presumably Lord Alli would be neither a peer or overtly gay if he lived in Uganda - if we are to believe certain global reports.

How is it that Lord Alli manages to avoid a fatwa against himself when apostasy is a greater crime in Islam than it is in Christianity?

Or is he seeking to change the mind of Islam as well as the mind of Christianity?

Posted by: Mezzohelen on Sunday, 7 March 2010 at 6:29pm GMT

Shouldn't the Bishop of Winchester be ashamed of himself? Is he just that stupid or is he just that arrogant?

A long time ago I took a college course in English constitutional development, and one of the things the professor said [and I can't remember the context], was that the political cry of last resort to rally the troops was "Church in danger! Church in danger!" He was from deep in Louisiana, and I would not dare to try and render how he actually sounded.

I bet if he were alive today, he'd say the same about "Marriage in danger! Marriage in danger!"

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Sunday, 7 March 2010 at 7:25pm GMT

Richard - the point is simply that Lord Alli had a moral obligation to declare a personal interest in the issue.

Posted by: Dan on Sunday, 7 March 2010 at 7:54pm GMT

"This amendment was all about allowing religious groups to obey their own law, and the Bishop of Winchester should be above sensationalising the issue.

"I was also saddened that the Bishop of Winchester was able to condemn our decision in the press, but didn’t turn up to listen to the debate, or indeed to cast a vote." - Lord Alli -

Lord Alli is right when he suggests that the Bishop of Winchester ought, in future, to engage his brain before opening his jaws on this issue. His Lordship's (+Winchester's) preference for the theology of the global South and ACNA obviously sets him apart from the majority of English Bishops - if only because of their failure to cast a negative vote on the Amendment.

However, the failure of Lords Spiritual to attend the House of Lords or to vote, in this instance, is mute testimony to their redundancy as members of that House. The 'Upstairs - Downstairs' philosophy of Church Government is proving to be a non-starter in the realm of furthering the cause of the Gospel, so why should it continue?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 7 March 2010 at 9:27pm GMT

"Or is he seeking to change the mind of Islam as well as the mind of Christianity?" - Mezzohelen -

I think, Mezzo, that Lord Alli was just being himself. Whatever that implies about his faith commitment, the noble Lord is acting from his innermost integrity - something which might just prompt other people, of whatever faith connection or none, to search themselves and their inner consciences on this diverse issue of sexuality.

Obviously, Lord Alli is not about to compromise the reality of his own sexual orientation - a matter so important to him that he feels the current atmosphere of hypocrisy about sexual matters needs to be more vigorously challenged. Thank God for Lord Alli.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 7 March 2010 at 9:42pm GMT

My friends Fr. Ron is incorrect when he suggests +Winton's statements have to do with a preference for the theology of the so-called "Global South."

It has nowt to do with theology at all. It has to do either with stupidity or dishonesty. To have said what he has said, Michael Scott-Joynt must be either a fool or a liar.

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Sunday, 7 March 2010 at 9:56pm GMT

Bravo, Lord Alli!
The notion that granting freedoms to some diminishes liberty for me is laughable. And so is His Purpleness, the Bishop of Winchester.
Mezzohelen, I don't think Lord Alli has ever said he speaks for Islam. As a Lord in the House of Lords, I think it's a safe bet he's CofE.
This may come as a shock to you, but some people of Arabic descent are Christian.
And if he was outspoken in Uganda he might be dead. So what is your point? That he presumes too much by being gay and Christian in England?
Because he's in England, he IS free to be gay, Christian, and a Lord. And he IS free to speak his mind and act on his values as he sees fit.
I'm sorry if that distresses you.

Posted by: peterpi on Sunday, 7 March 2010 at 10:33pm GMT

Here is some information about Lord Alli's background:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waheed_Alli,_Baron_Alli

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 7 March 2010 at 10:54pm GMT

Would it be too optimistic to imagine that the absence of the 24 bishops was in part attributable to a desire not to block Lord A's amendment?

While the Bp of Winchester's outcry is on the face of it dishonest, what he really wanted to say -- but couldn't -- may be this: "The amendment will put pressure on us to have these ceremonies in our churches to prevent gay couples from having recourse to Quakers, Unitarians and Jews."

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Sunday, 7 March 2010 at 11:56pm GMT

My sincerest apologies to Lord Alli. I should definitely have done some research before posting. I made a very bad assumption about his faith.
And to Mezzohelen, I also apologize. I don't understand your pont, and made remarks where they perhaps weren't warrented.
Just because Muslims (or Christians or Jews or whomever) behave one way in one country, doesn't mean they will behave that way in another.

Posted by: peterpi on Monday, 8 March 2010 at 1:28am GMT

I have noted several times that, for Bishop Scott-Joynt to have said what he is on record as having said, he would be either a fool or a liar.

While I do not dismiss the possibility that he might be both a fool and a liar, his Cambridge MA leads me to conclude he is not a fool.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Monday, 8 March 2010 at 1:39am GMT

"Or is he seeking to change the mind of Islam as well as the mind of Christianity? "

Yeah, probably is, and bully for him for doing so.

Really rare that you get a legislator that has integrity and conviction, you all should be proud of this man.

Posted by: evensongjunkie (formerly cbfh) on Monday, 8 March 2010 at 3:06am GMT

Lord Alli quoted in the Wikipedia article, from a 1999 debate in the House of Lords: "I have never been confused about my sexuality. I have been confused about the way I am treated as a result of it. The only confusion lies in the prejudice shown, some of it tonight [i.e. in the House], and much of it enshrined in the law."

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Monday, 8 March 2010 at 6:33am GMT

Please could I take issue with Malcolm for saying that the Bishop of Winchester must be either a fool or a liar? I think that in the interests of fairness we should leave open the possibilty that he is both.

Posted by: toby forward on Monday, 8 March 2010 at 8:06am GMT

Dan said -'the point is simply that Lord Alli had a moral obligation to declare a personal interest in the issue'.

Actually it is the Telegraph which is declaring Lord Ali's personal interest to make the point to its largely elderly and Conservative-voting readers and thus immediately give its own particular veneer to the report. One can just imagine the sharp in-takes of breath in the drawing rooms across England as the paper is opened and the report read. 'Daphne, the buggers are at it again...'

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Monday, 8 March 2010 at 9:46am GMT

'...his Cambridge MA leads me to conclude he is not a fool'.

I am not aware that an MA, from Cambridge or anywhere else for that matter prevents one from being a fool.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Monday, 8 March 2010 at 9:50am GMT

Fool or liar, Winchester is an increasing embarrassment.The Bishop of Liverpool's speech to the Diocesan Synod reveals what we already know..that the House of Bishops is not of one mind.I cant imagine the Government, this or the next, will pay them as much notice as I suspect they think they deserve and as I said in a previous posting the bishops will probably go in the next round of Lords reform. There was no plan B when it came to the ordination of women. I think the Bishops need to start thinking hard about how a dis-established C of E will look in 30 yrs time. My betting is that a disestablished C of E would fracture badly...but then substantial fracturing may precede such a development as it is, especially as financial problems increase. Icabod

Posted by: Perry Butler on Monday, 8 March 2010 at 12:53pm GMT

I think there are serious question marks about Bishop of Winchester's veracity and moral integrity.

If he was honestly mistaken he has the opportunity to promptly correct himself and apologise for misleading people.

The duty is especially clear as he is not only a bishop but a legislator.

It is of course possible to believe in lying for a good cause.

Or he may be a relativist and believe that the duty of veracity applies to others but not him. Perhaps when you're a bishop these duties don't apply so long as the intent is pure.

Of course it pains one to question someone's integrity at any time, let alone during Lent when one wishes to believe church folk will be less inclined to base politics.

Nevertheless we all have a duty to maintain veracity and not be complicit in falsehoods.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Monday, 8 March 2010 at 12:58pm GMT

You know, Dan, Bishop Scott-Joynt also has a personal stake. It may not be the same as Lord Alli's, but he is certainly personally involved in decisions made about liturgy in the Church of England, including but not limited to his episcopate.

Posted by: Marshall Scott on Monday, 8 March 2010 at 2:58pm GMT

In the days when I knew a little about these things, the 26 "non-senior" bishops had a rota which meant that three of them would be on House of Lords duty each week, supplementing Canterbury, York, London, Durham and Winchester. Full attendance would thus be eight. Attendance was taken very seriously and could add complications to diocesan calendars.


I seem to remember that it was the convention that if a bishop wished to speak in a debate he would be there for the whole debate, and not just speak and leave.


Perhaps someone could enlighten us about present practice and conventions.

Posted by: John Roch on Monday, 8 March 2010 at 3:36pm GMT

Thank you for apologies in my direction regarding Lord Alli – I had checked his credentials before posting.
I do not regard the “Muslim” adjective as being indicative of race, just as I do not regard the “Christian” adjective as being indicative of being a citizen of the West, or even the kind of “cultural Christian” as Nigel Farndale does in this comment piece from the Sunday Telegraph - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/nigelfarndale/7386930/Is-the-Church-of-England-still-in-Gods-own-country.html
Having said that, if people wish to identify themselves as “Christian” in this way, that is between them and God – and they are my “neighbours” who I am to “love” as myself.
However, I take the terms Muslim and Christian as being indicative of a “faith position”.
I had always believed that Islam was less forgiving than Christianity, arrogating to itself more punitive measures than excommunication practised by Roman Catholicism. What I cannot understand is why someone who claims to be both Islamic and gay does not require physical protection as people like Salman Rushdie or Davis Mac-Iyalla do. My understanding is that overt homosexuality, like overt adultery, is a sin, punishable by death in Sharia law, and by refusal of entry to Paradise according to Islamic precepts. That is why those with same-sex attraction from Islamic countries seek refuge in the United Kingdom.
That was the basis for my question – “is he seeking to change the mind of Islam as well as the mind of Christianity?”

Posted by: Mezzohelen on Monday, 8 March 2010 at 7:00pm GMT

John Roch: "Perhaps someone could enlighten us about present practice and conventions."

Judging from Bp Scott-Joynt's behaviour, apparently the new standard is:
a. Avoid the Lords unless you think you can win the debate, and
b. Lie about the legislation you don't like.

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Monday, 8 March 2010 at 9:28pm GMT

"Out of the 26 bishops entitled to be there, only two made the effort to join the discussion – despite it being an otherwise well-attended debate." - Lord Alli -

"You have to ask the question: if it was so important, if the consequences of this decision were to be so catastrophic, why were they absent from a debate which had been on the diary for weeks?" - Lord Alli -

In this latest revelation of Lord Alli's response to the scare-mongering tactics of + Winchester, one can only echo his concern that the importance of this issue to the Lords Spiritual was so low a priority for them in the debate, that they were notable by their absence. So much then for the real desire of those Bishops to participate in the legislature which gives hope to those who would like the Church to affirm their monogamous same-sex relationships.

Thank God for the democratic system, then, which does not require Bishops in the House of Lords to put their money where their sidelong mouths are. In Uganda they might receive a harsher sentence than just our mild disapproval.

OR: Were the recalcitrant bishops, by abstaining from voting, wanting also to abstain from perjury?
In any event, the absence of the majority of the Lords spiritual on this important issue involving the integrity of the Churches' attitude towards the LGBT community ought to render their presence in the house of Lords redundant from now on.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 8 March 2010 at 10:45pm GMT

Dear mezzohelen,
Christians and muslims tend to look at homosexuality in rather different ways.As a middle eastern gay christian once put it to me, .."In christianity you can be it, but not do it; a muslim can do it but not be it".

Posted by: Perry Butler on Tuesday, 9 March 2010 at 12:11pm GMT
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