Comments: still more on the McFarlane case

Thanks to Stephen Bates, as so often.

Posted by Sara MacVane at Tuesday, 4 May 2010 at 8:00am BST

Having had dinner once with Mr Justice Laws (albeit in 1997), I can heartily endorse Stephen Bates' point. The part of Lord Carey's case he hasn't really demonstrated is a part that may appear so obvious to him it doesn't need articulating: why views on homosexuality are somehow the core determinant of historic Christianity. However strong the conventional moral disapproval of it by past Christians, it has traditionally been seen as something to discuss with one's spiritual director, not the Great Shibboleth. Blowing it up from the former into the latter is in itself an innovation, and this creates a situation in which Lord Carey can't understand why the court can't own the connection, whilst Mr Justice Laws finds said nexus irrational and capricious. Historically speaking, Mr Justice Laws is closer to the tradition, here.

Posted by Bishop Alan Wilson at Tuesday, 4 May 2010 at 8:50am BST

Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre and Christian Concern For Our Nation says 'What compels us to speak the Gospel is believing in hell and the fact that we don’t want anyone to go there.'

What gives this women the right to pronounce from the pulpit of these narrow minded and, in my view, non Christian, organisations what is best for the rest of us? She wants us to follow like sheep her own perverted interpretation of the gospel. The arrogance is breathtaking. I shall do my own thinking thank you very much.

And Wallace Benn, who is notorious at his end of my diocese, would have turned in his grave at the sermon in Chichester Cathedral last Sunday where a Canon from Westminster Abbey denounced in polite but certain terms the barriers which Christians erect against each other, with particular reference to women and gay and lesbian people.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Tuesday, 4 May 2010 at 9:21am BST

And a female canon at that. But Wally isn't dead yet!

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Tuesday, 4 May 2010 at 9:33am BST

Whatever one may think of Lord Laws' decision, his argument at section 23 of the judgement is questionable, and I'm surprised not to have seen anyone pick this up.
He makes a distinction between a moral position commended by reason, held on objective grounds (he gives the examples of the prohibition of violence and dishonesty), and a moral position held because of its 'religious imprimatur', which is necessarily subjective because it depends on faith and cannot be communicated by proof or evidence.
But no-one can show by purely rational, objective argument that dishonesty, for example, is immoral, without a subjective starting point.

Posted by MH at Tuesday, 4 May 2010 at 10:24am BST

I would still like to get a proper reply as to why this case ever went to court.
Yes, the judgement is right. Yes, Lord Carey is completely misguided. Yes, discriminating against gay people on any grounds is totally wrong.

But this is about therapy and about effective therapist-patient relationships.
No therapist is able to treat every kind of clients, each has their own emotional barriers that get in the way and prevent them from being suitable for a particular client.
There are proper systems in place that enable therapists to refer these clients to one of their colleagues. Why should all personal hang-ups be accepted as grounds for referring a client to someone else, but not when it’s about gay sex that many really really can’t cope with? And I seem to remember that the counsellor was perfectly happy to work with gay couples, he simply couldn’t cope with sexual issues.

I asked this on another thread and the one answer I got was "he was hired to do a job but failed to do it". That is a valid argument in the case where personal feelings don’t come in to it, like with the register officer who refused to conduct civil partnerships.
I don’t think it’s valid in a therapy environment.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 4 May 2010 at 10:41am BST

Wonderful, Stephen Bates. Already bookmarked.

Posted by Lapinbizarre at Tuesday, 4 May 2010 at 12:18pm BST

Thank you, Simon for this collection of articles. As American entertainer Elvira once said, this is déjà vu all over again.
The American and English Christian alarmists are virtually interchangeable. They certainly seem to be using the same phrase book. Give GLBT people rights, and suddenly the usual Christian suspects make the usual ridiculous claims. In much the same words.
His Lofty Sanctimoniousness Lord Carey accepts religious diversity -- at least I hope he does!!!! -- and England long ago gave up being an exclusively Christian realm, but let GLBT people have civil rights, and suddenly the Vikings are once again sacking Lindisfarne and the Spanish Armada is sailing right up the Thames and bombarding Westminster Abbey. Carey & co. are doing a wonderful Pat Robertson/Jerry Falwell imitation.
Even the quotes in the UK are the same as in the US. Secularism is a religion, LOL. Yep, tell someone he or she has to offer their services to all, and Britain is going to the Nether Regions in a perambulator.
Then there's this delicious quote “We need to know what our heritage is, […] and encourage Christians to be informed and stand up and be counted – graciously, but clearly and firmly.” I like the “graciously”. We mustn’t forget our manners. So, shall the Jews be kicked out again? At least the Liberal ones? Launch the -- I don't know, what number are we up to? -- 24th Crusade? This time against San Francisco's Castro district?
And the irony of ironies, the proof that the Maker of Heaven and Earth absolutely has a sense of humor, is the judge who had the opportunity to read Lord Carey his beads is a committed Anglican! Hoist on our own petard, are we? Carey wanted a Christian judge, he got one.

Posted by peterpi at Tuesday, 4 May 2010 at 2:47pm BST

Judge Laws a communicant member of the Church of England - Carey need not have worried.

Posted by Rev L Roberts at Tuesday, 4 May 2010 at 7:27pm BST

Loved Bates' piece.

The real issue is that there are some very selfish and manipulative christians who have tried to make themselves "above the law". It's not just about whether or not gay couples can receive counselling, it also comes back to how women are treated and excluded, accountability for abuse of children, misuse of power, bullying.

One feature of this wave of reforms is that the idea of religious organisations being "above the law" is being overturned. It is not appropriate for souls to be abused, tormented, deprived, shunned, or insulted; nor for souls to gloat over their suffering or swagger that they are going to be extinguished. Those who do such things are nothing more than sociopathic torturers.

We are horrified when released hostages talk about how they were not allowed to show emotions lest they be beaten or murdered. Yet we are myopic that we have called upon women, GLBTs, pedophile victims, the marginalised and minorities to sit through centuries of misogynistic and hateful sermons without showing emotions lest we be called evil and tormented further by our parishes.

God never sought to be outside the law. The dialogues with Adam before Sodom and Gomorrah, or with Job and Ezekiel demonstrate that God seeks to uphold justice and accountability, for both God and all of Creation. It is only stupid angels and selfish humans that seek to be "above the law".

Posted by Cheryl Va. at Tuesday, 4 May 2010 at 7:43pm BST

"As American entertainer Elvira once said, this is déjà vu all over again."

FTR, this should properly be attributed to American baseball player Yogi Berra.

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Tuesday, 4 May 2010 at 8:10pm BST

It might be worth remembering something the great social philosopher, Mahatma Ghandi, said: "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ."

Posted by Larry Bradford at Tuesday, 4 May 2010 at 8:19pm BST

Hear, hear, Bishop Wilson.

What is worrying, however, is that the message that all Christians are - indeed must be - homophobic is now being put out so strongly, and so regularly, that it is widely accepted by those outside the Church - to our shame.

It is troubling for liberal Christians. But I fear it may be toxic for the future of the Church of England.

Posted by badman at Tuesday, 4 May 2010 at 9:09pm BST

MH wrote, " can show by purely rational, objective argument that dishonesty, for example, is immoral, without a subjective starting point."

Actually, the philosopher Immanuel Kant did it rather nicely with his concept of the categorical imperative. Agree or disagree with where Kant winds up, he at least met your conditions.

Perhaps though you have slipped in the concept of God in to your use of the word "moral." Which makes your point something like "no one can demonstrate a godly morality without God." Circular argument.

Anyway, back to a discussion of the links. I would be curious to see if any members of the English bar have posted comments about this case that a non-legal mind could follow.

Posted by Dennis at Wednesday, 5 May 2010 at 1:35am BST

Sir John Laws has a reputation for defending people's rights against the “tyranny of parliament”and other institutions, so along with Stephen Bates' splendid news that he is a devoted Anglican, it is hard to think of a judge less suited to the abuse and allegations of devil (secularist) worship being directed at him by a few conservative Christians.

Its no surprise that the Principal of Oak Hill gets a F- for his research on Lord Justice Laws, for as I read it Sir John was saying that the view faith was subjective and incommunicable by any kind of proof or evidence was held by everyone EXCEPT the believer, and as we know even among believers there is a great deal of argument about how faith is “caught or taught” and what “experience” of God is necessary for salvation.

In a unscientific poll of my friends who have no faith – they certainly concur with what Sir John says about us!

Then there is the mantra from Benn and Nazir-Ali of the sacred place of Establishment of the Church of England – putting aside the complex reality that in Wales and Ireland there are no such ties and that the ties are very different in Scotland – these constitutional realities seem to pass them by.

George Pitcher too seems to forget the this has UK implications and does not just touch on merry England with its Church. And why is he advising the Lord of Appeal to calm down in a dark room? – wasn't it Carey and cohorts warning of insurrection and blood in the streets? Sir John it seems to me is sensible to the painful truth that in the UK we are still working our way through the last stages of our most recent religious war where we witnessed all too bloodily how those espousing faith as their guide can be “divisive, capricious and arbitrary”, and that in the world around us most people identify religion as the most divisive force in society and often this manifests itself in arbitrary and capricious violence.

Michael Nazir-Ali gives a list of the “trickle” of cases that have found their way to court and it's worth asking what area of Christianity and a Christian's life is being undermined, attacked, eroded, destroyed by the fanatical secularists that now control government. There is, of course, a unifying factor that connects the magistrate, the paediatrician the registrar and the Relate therapist – they did not want to treat with gay people as the law requires. That's it really. The wearing of crosses and praying with patients are silly sideshows.

There is a determined attempt by conservative Christians to recast the debate and it is interesting to see Nazir-Ali using the arguments of those who are promoting diversity in the Church by reference to the the hugely varying views on such things as abortion and war/pacifism and arguing that in a society that can tolerate dissent in these area, NHS doctors do not have to perform abortions, and conscientious objectors do not have to fight – then Christians can be further exempted from dealing with gay people in a way that offends their conscience. I understand some conservative Christian strategists see this as a real possibility during the next government.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Wednesday, 5 May 2010 at 1:41am BST

Pat O'Neill, thank you for the clarification. Now that I think about it, it would be something Yogi Berra would say. But my first instance of hearing it came from an Elvira commercial in which she was pitching beer, not baseballs.

Posted by peterpi at Wednesday, 5 May 2010 at 5:41am BST

Just to continue the Kantian idea: Kant's argument is really about internal contradictions in a system. If one makes truth-telling optional, then no one will be able to trust anyone. But if you can't trust anyone, then lying is no longer an advantage. Kant's famous example was making a false promise to get medicine: if this were moral, then it would undermine the system that enables chemists to supply drugs in the first place.

If you accept the need for coherence as a prerequisite for any ethics, or for any rule-bound system, then this is probably about as objective an argument as you can get.

The are famous problems with the categorical imperative, but Kant did have some neat insights into sustainable social structures -- though perhaps no better than Lk 11.17's 'a house divided upon itself....'

Joe (who taught ethics for a couple of decades and couldn't resist)

Posted by Joe Cassidy at Wednesday, 5 May 2010 at 10:21am BST

While we are on the subject of professional anti-gay campaigners, the co-founder of the Family Research Council, one of the most powerful fundamentalist pressure groups in the U.S. and source of much of the "scholarship" being pushed by the likes of Carey and Orombi, has been caught taking a European vacation with a male prostitute he picked up on a site called

Here in the U.S., we have become used to professional scolds getting caught up in lurid sex scandals. It's becoming about as predictable as the sun rising in the morning.

Details here:

Posted by JPM at Wednesday, 5 May 2010 at 7:26pm BST

'While we are on the subject of professional anti-gay campaigners, the co-founder of the Family Research Council, one of the most powerful fundamentalist pressure groups in the U.S. and source of much of the "scholarship" being pushed by the likes of Carey and Orombi, has been caught taking a European vacation with a male prostitute he picked up on a site called'

Why am I not even slightly shocked ?

What does this man's confessor or spiritual director have to say to him -- or does he feel no need of such ancient medecines. (after all on any reckoning it is a grave sin to be duplicitous and to be caught red er handed !).

Ten hail marys

Posted by Rev L Roberts at Thursday, 6 May 2010 at 1:12pm BST

"What does this man's confessor or spiritual director have to say to him -- or does he feel no need of such ancient medecines. (after all on any reckoning it is a grave sin to be duplicitous and to be caught red er handed !)."

You assume that these people would be humble enough to ever have a mentor to begin with.

Posted by evensongjunkie (formerly cbfh) at Thursday, 6 May 2010 at 2:04pm BST

The Rekers story has now hit the BBC:

Posted by JPM at Thursday, 6 May 2010 at 7:14pm BST

The George Rekers scandal proves that there is a God afterall, and He has a sense of humour!

Posted by Richard Ashby at Thursday, 6 May 2010 at 9:34pm BST

Hypocrisy is horrible of course - but do imagine how terrible it must be to be intellectually committed to the belief that it is terrible to be gay, whilst BEING gay and unable to control your behaviour, and driven to condemn others and to make them as miserable as you are. Poor poor man- trapped in a web of self disgust and anger and destruction.

Posted by Rosemary Hannah at Friday, 7 May 2010 at 5:37pm BST

"whilst BEING gay and unable to control your behaviour"

I don't think that the "unable to control your behaviour" is a given.

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Tuesday, 11 May 2010 at 4:38am BST
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