Thursday, 9 December 2010

How others see the CofE

Here’s a view expressed by Baroness Kingsmill.

It occurs in an article in the St Louis Post-Dispatch which is about the US handling of “Gays in the Military”. She was asked how the UK had dealt with this issue.

Kingsmill offered three insightful reasons.

“First and perhaps most importantly is that we are, by temperamental and historical inclination, a largely liberal-minded society,” she said. “As a small, crowded island we have to be accepting of each other. Wave after wave of immigrants first from the Commonwealth and more recently Europe, have been absorbed mostly without serious concerns. We have acquired the habit of tolerance. Sexual orientation and behaviour is just another aspect of diversity we have learned to embrace.”

Second, the weakening in the influence of the Church and the religious right has also played a role. The Established Church of England is one of the last bastions of anti-gay prejudice still outside the law. It is the only institution that legally can discriminate against the employment of gay people. The church recently fought to retain the right to refuse a religious service to gay couples wishing to marry, even in circumstances in which the church and the priest may wish to perform the ceremony. The Bishops, who have reserved seats in Parliament, face rapidly declining church attendance in the United Kingdom. Kingsmill suggested that it is only a matter of time until this last barrier to full equality falls.

Third, the impact of legislation on social change should not be underestimated. Many major shifts in social attitudes have been preceded by progressive acts of Parliament, sometimes in advance of public opinion. Foremost among these must be the abolition of the death penalty in 1969, when it was likely that a majority of the country still supported capital punishment. Today, polls show there is only a very small minority that would support its reintroduction.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 9 December 2010 at 3:22pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation
Comments

It's upsetting and disconcerting to see that the CofE is one of the last bastions of anti-gay prejudice. My experience of the Church in Canada and the U.S. is that is not so true, although there are outposts of prejudice. I had thought that the CofE was generally progressive. Does the British population really see the CofE that way? Is it actually true? I wouldn't think so, given what actually happens in the CofE.

Posted by: Richard Grand on Thursday, 9 December 2010 at 5:56pm GMT

Perhaps I could offer some experience here. I am gay, a retired member of the armed forces, a member of "Rank Outsiders" (the lobbying group of gay ex-soldiers who successfully took the UK government to the European Court to overturn the ban), and now an active lay member of the C of E.

Both the church and the army are full of human beings who were born and grew up within a specific culture and time period. The elder/senior members bring into the church or army the views they developed in their youth, views which are often (not always) anti-gay. The younger membership of both the army and the church is more in touch with modern life, and much more relaxed about homosexuality (there are obviously exceptions to this broad generalisation). Unfortunately it is the senior, conservative membership that sets the rules and policy, and which is the public face of the church in the media. So the army 15 years ago, and the church now, consists of a generally anti-gay leadership leading a neutral/pro-gay flock.

With the UK armed forces a lobby group took the government to court to overturn the gay ban, and eventually won at the European Court level. Once the ban was abolished gay army members could be open and we found - quelle surprise - that the bosses were wrong, homosexuality was not a problem, and within two years serving armed forces personnel were marching through central London in uniform as part of the annual Gay Pride march. This act had the full support of armed forces leadership who saw it as superb recruiting propaganda.

So how do we move forward in the church? In answer to the first poster - yes the CofE in the pew is often progressive, and often so in the rector's pulpit. But for as long as the church and government self selects it's bishops in its own image that will be the block to progress. What mechanisms are available (like the European Court for the army) to forcefully overturn the prejudices of the senior church leadership? The Government certainly won't do it.

Simon Dawson

Posted by: Simon Dawson on Thursday, 9 December 2010 at 7:20pm GMT

No disrespect to Baroness Kingsmill, but I think it ironic that she speaks of the tolerance of British society and then call the views of those who have differing views to her on this issue as prejudiced and discriminatory.

Posted by: Fr Levi on Thursday, 9 December 2010 at 7:27pm GMT

Richard Grand: my feeling (as an ex-pat) is that C of E people are generally liberal-minded and always have been (they are basically Radio 4 listeners at prayer).

But the leadership is almost entirely made up of people who have the mindset of those at least a generation older than their actual ages. This is because being involved in church at all in Britain is an increasingly eccentric pastime which "normal" people indulge in less and less.

Therefore churchy types (amongst whom I am the chief of sinners) tend to be old-fashioned, and the more they go up the hierarchy, the more insulated they are from real life, where bishops etc are really not of the slightest importance to anyone else. Hence we have a situation where the only British people still passionately committed to the Weltanschauung of the 1950s are the BNP and a significant portion of the Church's leadership...

Posted by: Fr Mark on Thursday, 9 December 2010 at 8:03pm GMT

Despite the nonsensical discrimination of LGBT folk, not to mention female bishops by what is surely a very vocal tiny minority, I still see the CofE as this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E48tDob8jtM

It is still far too elegant and intelligent to be anything but.

Posted by: evensongjunkie on Thursday, 9 December 2010 at 9:53pm GMT

"No disrespect to Baroness Kingsmill, but I think it ironic that she speaks of the tolerance of British society and then call the views of those who have differing views to her on this issue as prejudiced and discriminatory. "

Would you say the same thing if the issue in question were race? Or nationality? It is somewhat oxymoronic to say that we should be tolerant of prejudice and discrimination.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Thursday, 9 December 2010 at 10:39pm GMT

'No disrespect to Baroness Kingsmill, but I think it ironic that she speaks of the tolerance of British society and then call the views of those who have differing views to her on this issue as prejudiced and discriminatory'.

The point, surely, is that the arguments against gays in the military are proven to be false, so what remains is prejudice and discrimination, that is thus, by definition, irrational. It is surely right to oppose views which are prejudiced and discriminatory and we should be proud to do so.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Thursday, 9 December 2010 at 10:45pm GMT

" Unfortunately it is the senior, conservative membership that sets the rules and policy, and which is the public face of the church in the media. So the army 15 years ago, and the church now, consists of a generally anti-gay leadership leading a neutral/pro-gay flock."

- Simon Dawson -

Thank you, Simon, for your overview of attitudes in both Army and Church communities on this issue: of the acceptability (or not) of gays in both arenas of life. It would seem that, since I was an RAF National Service-person in the mid-1950's, the culture has changed for the better in the Armed Services - but not so in the Church.

I cannot but think that the Church is lagging, and has always lagged, behind the community at large on issues of justice and freedom for its *citizens*; and the handling of the gay issue and the issue of gender preference on the promotional ladder, is way behind that of society at large.
Whether or not this is the reason behind growing tendency to ignore the Church in England, one has to really examine the tendency. The fact is, however, that the Church's influence can be seen to be remarkably irrelevant to those whose sense of human justice prevails.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 9 December 2010 at 10:45pm GMT

"No disrespect to Baroness Kingsmill, but I think it ironic that she speaks of the tolerance of British society and then call the views of those who have differing views to her on this issue as prejudiced and discriminatory."

Father Levi.

"Prejudice" and "Discrimnation" ae defined under UK law. Baroness Kingsmill is right - the Church IS acting in a prejudiced and discriminatory manner as defined by law. In most other institutions this would be illegal, but the church is amost unique in having succesfully pursuaded the government to give it legal excemption, allowing it to discriminate on prejudicial grounds without facing prosecution.

What this will do to the church's long term ability to carry out mission is anybody's guess.

Simon Dawson

Posted by: Simon Dawson on Thursday, 9 December 2010 at 11:38pm GMT

Denise Kingsmill's second paragraph refers to the House of Lords debates in Jan-Mar 2010 when the bishops defeated the Labour government's attempt to narrow the scope of church exemption from anti-discrimination law, and two of them objected in the same breath to three small denominations which wanted to hold civil partnership ceremonies on THEIR OWN premises. Elsewhere I have described this as the bishops' "1909 moment". Like the whole House of Lords who rejected the 1909 Budget, they called their legitimacy into (I think fatal) question.

Though her language is harsh, it is salutary to see how the bishops' action looked to one of the 95 peers who successfully voted (against both front benches and the duty bishop) to allow Quakers, Unitarians, and Liberal Judaism the spiritual freedom to celebrate their own members' civil partnerships on their own premises.

Posted by: Iain McLean on Friday, 10 December 2010 at 2:42am GMT

Yes, evensongjunkie, it is lovely. But without justice it becomes an empty shell, reduced to a mere cultural experience which makes us feel cosy but has no meaning. With justice it becomes the gate of Heaven. Surely the Magnificat is to be lived as well as sung?

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Friday, 10 December 2010 at 9:20am GMT

Iain makes reference to the disgraceful behaviour of the so-called Lords Spiritual in demanding that Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jews be prevented from registering civil partnerships on their premises. The truly galling part was that these pompous prelates pretended that they were defending religious freedom.

Yes indeed. Religious freedom means that the state sanctioned religion should have a veto over what other religions do on their premises.

Those bishops were either wicked or stupid - and neither is a worthy quality in a bishop or a legislator. Though I do find it more charitable to believe that their Oxbridge degrees simply aren't worth the parchment they're scribbled on.

Posted by: Malcolm French+ on Friday, 10 December 2010 at 9:40am GMT

I want to thank Simon Dawson for his comment. I found it very helpful and encouraging to hear of his experiences of the services and of getting the law changed, as a gay person, himself.

Maybe there are pointers towards ways forward in Simon's account ?

I have a sense that when the then government and queen put Rowan into Canterbury, it was intended ( based on his words and actions / track record until then) that he would initiate a process of gradual, slow but sure improvement, of the lot of gay & lesbian ministers and our families, and a consolidation of the position of gay and lesbian laity & families, in the Church, following on from, and building on the explicit liberalisation of CofE policy expressed in 'Some Issues in Human Sexuality'.

An opportunity missed. Please forgive the understatement.

Either a lot of ground has been lost for good,over the J John affair, and the general goings-on as the Anglican Communion implodes; or may people in the UK have been so shocked and sickened by the anti-gay prejudice shown in word and deed, (with murderous intent clear in various countries) that it will lead to a new development, a corner turned, repentance even.

But that would mean Synods, appointments committees, bishops and archbishops taking moral courage, and showing new sensitivity to the beauty of all people - even 'minorities', and not a little L'abandon ...

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Friday, 10 December 2010 at 12:18pm GMT

All the more reason we have to keep spreading the gospel and counteract the forces exclusion and hate within it, Richard. I'm sure that there are choristers in that very video that know what they are, and despite the detritus shoved at them from the leadership of the C of E, sing their hearts out anyhow.

Posted by: evensongjunkie on Friday, 10 December 2010 at 1:55pm GMT

Oh dear, I just quoted The Rev. George Herbert. There is hope for this literary deaf singer.

Posted by: evensongjunkie on Friday, 10 December 2010 at 2:39pm GMT

And that quote is "Living Well is the Best Revenge".

Posted by: evensongjunkie on Friday, 10 December 2010 at 7:22pm GMT

The good Fr Levi is letting his malice show. It is a piece of meaningless philosophical grandstanding to write of an irony that defenders of tolerance can call the views of those "who have differing views to them" prejudiced and discriminatory.

It assumes that there is no standard against which prejudice and discrimination may be measured. So the views of the prejudiced are equal to other views.

By that means Hitler's death camps can rationally be discussed today as a solution to the 'Jewish Problem' and David Irving can articulate the view - in the teeth of the evidence - that six million Jews didn't die in the holocaust.

From the same disreputable stable comes blaming the victims for their own horrific treatment.

Like saying that the greed of Jewish financiers led Hitler to adopt his 'Final Solution' or that the promiscuity of gays justifies the stance taken against them by the church.

Pfui.

Posted by: William on Thursday, 16 December 2010 at 7:23am GMT
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