Thinking Anglicans

House of Commons passes Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

The House of Commons completed the Report stage and then voted at Third Reading in favour of the bill as then amended. The Third Reading vote was: 366 for, 161 against.

That compares with the Second Reading vote: 400 for, 175 against.

Uncorrected Hansard available here (will be replaced by final version in the morning).

The bill now goes to the House of Lords where it is likely to have its first vote at its Second Reading at the beginning of June.

Media reports:

Telegraph Gay marriage Bill passes Commons despite Tory opposition

Guardian Rightwing Tory rebels call on peers to reject gay marriage bill

BBC Gay marriage: Commons passes Cameron’s plan


Church of Scotland votes on allowing gay clergy

Updated Tuesday morning

The official news release from the Church of Scotland is headed Church finds common ground in sexuality debate.

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in a groundbreaking decision called for the Church to maintain its historic doctrine in relation to human sexuality but, in line with the Kirk’s historic position of allowing congregations to call their own minister, to permit an individual Kirk Session to call a minister in a civil partnership if it chooses to do so.

The Legal Questions Committee and the Theological Forum will bring reports to next year’s General Assembly about how this will be achieved. In the meantime courts and committees of the General Assembly will maintain the status quo…

The Associated Press reports: Church of Scotland takes step to allow gay clergy

Senior members of the Church of Scotland voted Monday to let some congregations choose ministers who are in same-sex relationships — an important compromise that must still pass further hurdles before it can become church law.

The church’s General Assembly backed a motion affirming a traditional conservative view on homosexuality, but permitted liberal congregations to ordain openly gay men or women if they wish.

The assembly’s vote would require the approval of next year’s General Assembly as well as votes by the church’s regional presbyteries to become law. The process is complicated, and is expected to take at least two years.

There is a discussion of what occurred today by Kelvin Holdsworth at Church of Scotland Debate.

…Three proposals emerged. The first two were in the report itself and labelled rather unsatisfactorily as the Revisionist (option A) and the Traditionalist (option B) position. Option A allows what tends to be called a mixed economy by which that church could eventually allow ministers in civil partnerships to be appointed to churches and gay couples in civil partnerships to be allowed to have their partnerships blessed. Option B would not though anyone who happened to be in a Civil Partnership already would probably not be hounded out of their ministry but no new minister in a civil partnership could be inducted or ordained. The third position emerged during the day and was moved in the name of Albert Bogle. (Confusingly it was option D – another motion C had been proposed and then was withdrawn during the process). This option D was a proposal to reaffirm the traditionalist view on these matters whilst allowing individual Kirk Sessions to opt to do as they like and chose such a minister anyway.

In each case, these were not final votes. The procedures of the Church of Scotland mean that where there are significant changes accepted by a General Assembly they then have to be put to the presbyteries of the church. The final position only emerges if a majority of presbyteries concur during the subsequent year and also the next General Assembly confirms the vote. (If a majority of the presbyteries do not concur then the process fails)…

Frank Cranmer at Law & Religion UK has more explanation: Church of Scotland votes to induct or ordain civil partners – but not yet and includes a link to the full wording of what was agreed.

Frank comments:

The result of the Deliverance as amended by the countermotion is that instead of the change of position with an opt-out for “Traditionalists”, the Assembly have voted to maintain the status quo but with an opt-in for “Revisionists” – a very subtle shift of emphasis in the hope, no doubt, that it will keep the Church together.

As to further proceedings, if I understand the position correctly the next move is for the Committee on Legal Questions to draft an Overture to be considered by the General Assembly of 2014 which, if approved, will be sent down to the presbyteries under the Barrier Act 1697 because the terms of the Overture will engage an issue of “doctrine or worship or discipline”. If my assumption is correct (and if I’m wrong and there’s a Scots church lawyer who can correct me, please, please don’t hesitate to do so) the change will only be implemented if a majority of presbyteries approve the proposal and the General Assembly confirms it in 2015.


Progress at Report stage of Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

None of the hostile amendments to the bill that were voted on so far survived the first of two days of debate at Report stage.

Early media reports:

Guardian Gay marriage bill survives after Ed Miliband votes against amendment

The gay marriage bill has been saved after Ed Miliband agreed at the last minute to vote against an amendment to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples that had prompted government warnings that it would derail the entire measure.

The Labour leader, who had planned to abstain in a Commons vote on the amendment, agreed to change tack after the government chief whip Sir George Young sent a message to his opposition counterparts that the Tory leadership was facing defeat.

The move meant that the amendment, tabled by the anti-gay marriage Tory, former children’s minister Tim Loughton, was defeated by 375 to 70 votes, a majority of 305…

Independent David Cameron offers review of civil partnerships as gay marriage Bill clears major hurdle

Moves to legalise gay marriage cleared a crucial parliamentary hurdle as it emerged that civil partnerships could be abolished as the price for getting David Cameron’s plans on to the statute book.

A wrecking amendment tabled by Conservative opponents of same-sex marriage was defeated by 375 to 70 votes after the Tory front bench was supported by the vast majority of Labour and Liberal Democrats.

As the Commons debated the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, Labour threw Mr Cameron a lifeline in his latest battle with Tory right-wingers. He faced the prospect of losing the vote on the wrecking amendment, which could have delayed the introduction of gay marriage until after the election…

The Hansard record of yesterday’s debate is available, starting here.

Some of the key voting figures:

To accept Maria Miller’s new clause 16 providing for a detailed study of Civil Partnerships: 391 for, 57 against.

Amended to do so immediately by Kate Green’s “manuscript amendment: approved by voice vote.

To accept Tim Laughton’s new clauses 10 and 11: 70 for, 375 against.

To provide marriage registrars with an option for conscientious objection: 150 for, 340 against.

Amendment to Equality Act 2010 to make belief in traditional marriage a protected characteristic: 148 for, 339 against.

Amendment to define the meaning of the word “compelled”: 163 for, 321 against.


More data on Religion from the 2011 Census

British Religion In Numbers reports on 2011 Census Detailed Characteristics for England and Wales:

On 16 May 2013 the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the first outputs from the third wave of results (Release 3.1) from the 2011 census of population of England and Wales. They comprised detailed characteristics for local authorities in terms of cross tabulations for the questions on ethnicity, national identity, country of birth, main language, proficiency in English, religion, provision of unpaid care, and health. The full tables can be consulted at:

The BRIN article linked above contains a helpful summary.

There is a Statistical Bulletin here, and there is a shorter paper: What does the Census tell us about religion in 2011?

And David Voas has published Religious Census 2011 – What happened to the Christians? (Part II)

The Census detailed characteristics on religion for Northern Ireland were also published on 16 May and can be viewed here.

There is a press release: Census 2011: Detailed Characteristics for Northern Ireland on Health, Religion and National Identity and a Media briefing.



Ruth Cartwright explains in the Guardian Why I’m leaving social work to become a vicar.

Martin Vander Weyer of the Spectator has been talking to Richard Chartres: Bishop of London Richard Chartres on bankers, Occupy and Justin Welby.

Nick Baines writes for the Guardian that We need more religious broadcasting, not less. The text is also available on his blog: Religious broadcasting (again).

Mark Vernon asks When did people stop thinking God lives on a cloud? for the BBC News Magazine.

Giles Fraser writes for the Guardian Bean-counters will never understand the transcendent value of art or religion.


New clauses and amendments to Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

Updated Monday morning

The updated list of new clauses and amendments to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, arranged in the order in which they will be considered next week, is available here as a PDF file.

Towards the end of the file there is an amended programme motion, showing the proposed timetable for Consideration and Third Reading.

If you are confused by this long list of suggested changes, there is some help at hand.

David Pocklington has written Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill: the story continues which contains several very useful links to earlier material.

And last Thursday, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry, responded to some Questions in the House of Commons on this bill, which you can read here.

This page contains information about the detailed timetable, and provides links for video coverage of the debates, etc.


More on that CofE marriage report

Stephen Bates writes in today’s Diary column in the Guardian about that report.

  • Rumblings of discontent emerge from the distant shrubbery as some diocesan bishops quietly take issue with the church’s recent report outlining its adamant opposition to gay marriage. The wobble is important as the coalition’s bill is up for report stage and third reading in the Commons next week. The report by the church’s standing faith and order commission was subcontracted to be written by two conservative academics, Oliver O’Donovan and Michael Banner, and has been widely criticised, including by members of the commission and by church conservatives as well as liberals They say it is badly written, incoherent and theologically superficial. Its launch too was naively mishandled, with the commission’s chairman Christopher Cocksworth, bishop of Coventry, declining to answer questions at a joint press conference but instead seeing selected journalists separately – a sure sign of institutional nervousness and one bound to fail since the reporters compared notes anyway. John Sentamu, the archbishop of York, apologised – a very rare event – at a private meeting of diocesan bishops for the botched publication and the way the report was railroaded through. The trumpet’s certainly giving an uncertain sound (Corinthians 1, 14:8). Good old CofE!

Fulcrum has published an article by Andrew Goddard which is titled Men and Women in Marriage: Study or Ignore? It starts out this way:



Church of England issues Report stage briefing on Marriage bill

Updated Friday evening and again Sunday afternoon

Update Sunday afternoon The entire briefing paper has now been published as a press release here.

The Parliamentary Unit, Mission and Public Affairs Division and Legal Office of the Church of England, at Church House, Westminster has issued this briefing note. It begins this way:

The House of Commons will consider the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill at Report Stage and Third Reading on Monday 20th and Tuesday 21st May.

A Church of England briefing for MPs in advance of the Bill’s Second Reading was published in February. That briefing summarised the principled reasons why the Church could not support the Bill and included a detailed Q&A on some of the more commonly asked questions (and misconceptions) about the impact of the legislation on the Church of England. It can be seen here.

This briefing should be read alongside the document produced for Second Reading and focuses on some of the issues that are likely to arise during debate on Report and Third Reading.


The Church of England cannot support the Bill, because of its concern for the uncertain and unforeseen consequences for wider society and the common good, when marriage is redefined in gender-neutral terms.

We are grateful for the positive way in which the Government has sought to engage with the Church of England on the detail of the Bill prior to Report and Third Reading.

We do not doubt the Government’s good intentions in seeking to leave each church and faith to reach its own view on same-sex marriage and offering provisions to protect them from discrimination challenges. The ‘quadruple lock’ does, in our view, achieve the Government’s policy intentions in this area and we believe it is essential that the various locks in the Bill are preserved. The Church of England, whose clergy solemnize around a quarter of all marriages in England, has not sought or been granted any greater safeguards in substance than those provided for other Churches and faiths.

In our Second Reading briefing we said:

“The Church of England recognises the evident growth in openness to and understanding of same-sex relations in wider society. Within the membership of the Church there are a variety of views about the ethics of such relations, with a new appreciation of the need for and value of faithful and committed lifelong relationships recognised by civil partnerships.”

“Civil partnerships have proved themselves as an important way to address past inequalities faced by LGBT people and already confer the same rights as marriage. To apply uniformity of treatment to objectively different sorts of relationship – as illustrated by the remaining unanswered questions about consummation and adultery- is an unwise way of promoting LGBT equality.”

“The continuing uncertainty about teachers, the position of others holding traditional views of marriage working in public service delivery, and the risk of challenges to churches in the European courts despite the protections provided, suggest that if the legislation becomes law it will be the focus for a series of continued legal disputes for years to come.”

Those concerns are now the subject of several amendments at Report and Third Reading.

The following commentary does not address specific amendments, but is a guide to Church of England concerns on the presenting issues…

The paper carries a footnote which reads:

It draws on the formal position on same-sex marriage as set out in the official Church of England submission to the Government’s consultation of June 2012, which was agreed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council.


A press release has been issued, titled Opposite-Sex Civil Partnerships. The full text is copied below the fold. The same wording is contained in the briefing paper.



RC bishops issue Report stage briefing on Marriage bill

The Roman Catholic Church in England & Wales has issued a briefing on the amendments that have been submitted for next week’s Report stage debate in the House of Commons.

The document is available as a PDF file and its introductory section is copied below the fold.

Archbishops Vincent Nichols and Peter Smith have commented as follows:

We urge members of the House of Commons to think again about the long term consequences of the Marriage (same sex couples) Bill in deciding how to vote at the report stage and third reading debates next week (20-21 May).

Many people within and beyond the faith communities deeply believe that the state should not seek to change the fundamental meaning of marriage. This proposed change in the law is far more profound than first appears. Marriage will become an institution in which openness to children, and with it the responsibility on fathers and mothers to remain together to care for children born into their family, is no longer central to society’s understanding of marriage. It is not too late for Parliament to think again and we urge MPs to do so.

Furthermore, the Bill as currently drafted poses grave risks to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. If the Bill is to proceed through Parliament we urge members to ensure it is amended so that these fundamental freedoms we all cherish are clearly and demonstrably safeguarded.

Even more detail than the Briefing Note can be found via this page.



Supreme Court decides Methodist ministers are office-holders

Frank Cranmer at Law and Religion UK reports in detail:

The Supreme Court today handed down its judgment in President of the Methodist Conference v Preston [2013] UKSC 29. By four votes to one (Lord Hope DPSC, Lords Wilson, Sumption and Carnwath JJSC: Lady Hale JSC dissenting) the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeal and restored the original order of the Employment Tribunal dismissing Ms Preston’s claim…

And as Frank says, in a comment at the end of his article:

…the Supreme Court’s decision has put something of a brake on the gradual evolution of employment rights for clergy under the common law…

The official press release summary of the case is here.

The full text of the judgment is here as a web page and over here as a PDF file.


Church Commissioners announce annual results for 2012

Updated Wednesday morning, Thursday morning

The Church Commissioners for England have issued their Annual Report and Accounts for 2012 today, together with a press release which is reproduced below. General Information about the Church Commissioners is available here.

Church Commissioners announce annual results for 2012
14 May 2013

The Church Commissioners have today published their full Annual Report and Accounts for 2012, announcing a 9.7 per cent total return on their investments during the year and confirming the fund’s strong long-term performance.

The Commissioners’ fund is a closed fund, taking in no new money, and has performed in line with or better than its target return of RPI +5.0% p.a. and its comparator group over the past, three, 10 and 20 years.**

Andrew Brown, Secretary to the Church Commissioners, said: “2012 has proved to be a better year for markets following 2011’s challenging environment and we have performed very satisfactorily. The fund grew by 9.7%, comfortably exceeding the inflation plus five per cent return target. The Assets Committee made wise decisions keeping away from certain longer term bonds, within equities our managers significantly outperformed the market and our residential and rural property holdings performed strongly.

“Much of our expenditure, representing 15 per cent of the cost of the Church’s mission, is devoted to clergy pensions, but in partnership with the Archbishops’ Council we aim also to invest in Church growth and in maintaining a nationwide Christian presence, identifying areas of need and opportunity in all contexts.”

The Commissioners – who contributed nearly £210 million in 2012 towards the cost of supporting the mission of the Church of England – manage assets which were valued at £5.5 billion at the end of 2012. More than half of their current distributions meet the cost of clergy pensions earned up to the end of 1997. The generous giving of today’s parishioners accounts for around £700m of the Church’s annual budget.

Writing in the report’s foreword Andreas Whittam Smith, First Church Estates Commissioner, reflected on the long term success of the fund: “The best way to judge the investment performance of an endowment fund like the Church Commissioners is to examine the results over a lengthy period of time. This shows whether the workings parts of the investment process are in good order.

“From 2003-2012 the Commissioners funds grew by 9.1% per annum. This exceeded our target, which was the rate of inflation in the period plus five percentage points, which was 8.3% per annum. Our performance was nearly a percentage point better than that of similar funds.

“Finally, in reviewing past performance, it is interesting to review the 20 year record. It would be difficult not to be proud of it. Inflation ran at 2.9% during the period. Add five percentage points to establish our target: 7.9%. The Commissioners’ assets, however, grew through this long 20-year period by 9.9%. In other words, a substantial amount of extra resources has been created to put at the service of the Church.”

The Commissioners’ overall 9.7 per cent return was achieved against a comparator performance of 8.4 per cent for 2012. Over the past 10 years, total returns averaged 9.1 per cent per year, against the comparator group’s 8.3 per cent per year. Over the past 20 years, the Commissioners outperformed the comparator group with an average annual return of 9.9 per cent against 7.8 per cent.

The Commissioners manage their investments within ethical guidelines with advice from the Church of England’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group.

The fund is held in a broad range of assets. Returns contribute to the ministry of each of the Church’s 44 dioceses by: paying for clergy pensions for service up to the end of 1997; supporting poorer dioceses with the costs of ministry; funding some mission activities; paying for bishops’ ministries and some cathedral costs; and funding the legal framework for parish reorganisation.

In 2012, the Church Commissioners continued to provide significant support to encourage the growth of the Church’s existing ministries and new opportunities. Along with the Archbishops’ Council the Commissioners have earmarked £12 million (2011-2013) for research and development funding to help understand better which parts of the Church are growing and why, and to seek to develop that growth.

The main items of expenditure were (with 2011 figures in brackets):

  • £120.3 million (£114.6 million) for clergy pensions based on service before 1998
  • £42.2 million (£37.7 million) for parish mission and ministry support, primarily to less-resourced dioceses
  • £31.0 million (£30.8 million) for supporting bishops, including Archbishops, in their diocesan and national ministries, mainly for staff costs.
  • £8.7 million (£8.4 million) for stipends of cathedral clergy and grants to cathedrals, mainly for staff salaries
  • £5.1 million (£4.1 million) for other charitable expenditure including support for other Church bodies, and support costs for pastoral reorganisation.


Watch the video on the work of the Church Commissioners and the 2012 annual results.

** as measured overall these time periods by the WM All Funds universe.

The Church Commissioners picked up two awards at last month’s Portfolio Institutional awards: Best charity/endowment/foundation and Best investor in property


Three papers write about what the report has to say about Barclays Bank.

Hannah Kuchler in the Financial Times Barclays let down society, says Church
Jill Treanor in The Guardian Barclays has ‘repeatedly let down society’, says Church of England
Victoria Ward in The Telegraph Church accuses Barclays of “letting down society”


Government proposes amendments to Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

Updated Wednesday

A number of amendments have been filed, in the name of Maria Miller, the chief sponsor of this bill.

See here or more conveniently for many as a PDF file here.

Also today, the Joint Committee on Human Rights took evidence from Maria Miller and also the Pensions Minister, Steve Webb. There is a video recording of that session here.

Update Wednesday

An updated consolidated list of amendments has been published, with many names of MPs added to some of them. See this PDF file here.

The amendments include a number of new clauses including provisions for:

– a referendum to be held before the bill can become law
– conscientious objection on religious grounds for all existing registrars
– religious schools under no obligation to promote a new definition of marriage
– those who hold traditional beliefs about marriage not to be discriminated against in various ways

One of the latter is the addition of these words to the Equality Act 2010:

The protected characteristic of religion or belief may include a belief regarding the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman

There are also amendments/new clauses from other MPs dealing with topics previously raised, such as provision for humanist marriage ceremonies, opening civil partnerships to mixed-sex couples, the repeal of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, etc.


Bishop Wallace Benn – all complaints and charges dismissed

Bishop Wallace Benn, who was Bishop of Lewes until October last year until his retirement, has this morning issued a public statement (dated 11 May) concerning the dismissal of complaints made against him under the Clergy Discipline Measure.

The full text of his statement is copied below the fold, and is also available here.



Lunch with the FT: Justin Welby

Lucy Kellaway has interviewed the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Financial Times: Lunch with the FT: Justin Welby. “The Archbishop of Canterbury talks to Lucy Kellaway about baiting bankers, trusting God over Google and having pizza delivered to Lambeth Palace.”

It’s well worth reading.


A Testimony of Hope

The Consultation of Anglican Bishops in Dialogue is “a fluid group of bishops from Canada, the U.S., and various African countries. Together they seek to build common understanding and respect among parts of the Communion that have been in conflict.”

The latest report from the Consultation is now available: A Testimony of Hope.


C of E accused of cover-up over child abuse

Updated Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning

Madeleine Davies reports in the Church Times on a joint investigation by The Times and The Australian: C of E accused of cover-up over child abuse.

The Times story is behind its paywall, but other UK media have online reports.

David Batty in The Guardian Church of England facing new child abuse allegations
Rob Williams in The Independent Former Archbishop of York accused of covering up allegations of Church of England abuse
Alice Philipson in The Telegraph Former Archbishop of York accused of covering up abuse allegations
BBC Lord Hope denies abuse claim ‘negligence’


The Archbishop of York has issued the following statement.

Robert Waddington – Independent Inquiry To Be Established
Saturday 11th May 2013

A statement from the Office of the Archbishop of York regarding allegations relating to the late Robert Waddington follows…

‘The Archbishop of York is in the process of setting up an Independent Inquiry specifically into the issues surrounding the reports relating to alleged child abuse by the late Robert Waddington. When any church related abuse comes to light the Church’s first concern must be for the victim offering support and apologising for the abuse, acknowledging that the effects can be lifelong. When the Inquiry makes its report the Archbishop will make its findings public. The Church of England continues to review its Child Protection and Safeguarding policies regularly to ensure that the Church is a safe place for all. Child abuse is a heinous and personally damaging crime, it is therefore incumbent on the Church to treat such matters with the utmost seriousness.’

Notes to Editors:

1. The Terms of Reference and membership of the independent inquiry will be announced in due course.

2. The Archbishop of York is not available for further comment on this matter at the current time.

The Sunday papers carry reports of the setting up of an inquiry.

Jamie Doward in The Observer Church to set up inquiry into claims of abuse by former dean of Manchester
Josie Ensor in The Telegraph Archbishop of York to launch inquiry into Church sex abuse claims
BBC News Inquiry into CofE cleric abuse claim set up



Claire Maxim has written Let the Little Children Come and Children in Church – the Rules.

These two articles have inspired Archdruid Eileen to write If We Wrote the Church Welcome Leaflet Like a Child.

Zachary Guiliano writes for The Living Church about Two Anglo-Catholic Moments.

Jody Stowell writes about the Death of a Dean.

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Los Angeles court rules against Newport Beach church

Episcopal News Service reports: Court orders return of Newport Beach property to Los Angeles diocese

Orange County Superior Court Judge Kim G. Dunning today reaffirmed her May 1 final orders that property occupied by St. James Church, Newport Beach, is held in trust for the current and future ministry of the Diocese of Los Angeles and the wider Episcopal Church.

“All the church property acquired by and held in the name of St. James Parish is held in trust for the Episcopal Church and the diocese, which have the exclusive right to possession and dominion and control,” Judge Dunning ordered. “The diocese is entitled to enforce the trust in its favor and eject the current occupants.”

This is the fourth and final case involving congregations in which a majority of members, having voted to disaffiliate from the Diocese of Los Angeles and the Episcopal Church, sought to retain church property for themselves. In each instance, however, courts have ruled that the property rightfully belongs to the diocese and Episcopal Church…

The congregation issued this press release and a prominent conservative lawyer issued this analysis of the decision.

Anglican Mainstream issued this Letter of support to St James Newport Beach:

The following letter was sent to the rector and congregation of St James’ Newport Beach and read out at the three main services on Sunday May 5.

To the Rev Richard Crocker and people of St James, Newport Beach

Dear Friends and Fellow Christians

We were very disturbed and saddened to read the news that legal proceedings against you by other Anglicans mean that you may soon be deprived of your property at St James and have to find alternative accommodation.

We wish first to assure you of our fellowship with you as you continue to take your stand on biblical and orthodox Anglican teaching. We share with you a passion to proclaim the gospel of our risen Lord Jesus Christ and affirm you in your faithful discipleship.

Although we have not experienced the depth of hostility that has led some people with responsibility in the Church of Christ to act in this way against you, we do want to assure you of our love, our prayers and our support. You are not alone: anyone who touches you, touches us.

This further evidence of continuing litigious acts against those whose only “wrongdoing” is to stand firm on biblical and orthodox Anglican teaching should convince all those in authority in the Churches of the Anglican Communion that your stance is the mark of authentic Christian discipleship and fellowship. For this reason we are copying our letter to Archbishop Justin Welby and Archbishop Eliud Wabukala.

With warmest greetings in our risen victorious Lord

Dr Philip Giddings (Convenor, Anglican Mainstream)
Bishop John Ellison (Chairman, Anglican Mission in England Panel of Bishops)
Rev Paul Perkin, (Chairman, Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (UK and Ireland))
Canon Dr Chris Sugden (Executive Secretary, Anglican Mainstream)


‘Should We Legislate to Permit Assisted Dying?’

The final event in this year’s Westminster Faith Debates series took place last week. The debate itself is reported here.

As explained in the advance press release

A YouGov poll commissioned for the final 2013 Westminster Faith Debate on assisted suicide this Thursday sheds light on the reasons people have for supporting or opposing a change in the law on assisted suicide – a change which would make it possible to help someone with an incurable disease die without risk of prosecution for doing so.

And it continues with this:

Most religious people ignore their leaders and support a relaxation of the law.

An absolute majority of religious adherents – i.e. those who identify with a religious tradition – support assisted suicide: 64% of religious people support a change in the law on euthanasia, 21% think the law should be kept as it is, 14% don’t know (sums to 99 due to rounding).

The only constituencies for which this is not true are Baptists, Muslims and Hindus. (See Appendix 3)

Adherents of all other traditions favour a change in the law. In doing so many are rejecting the official message given by their religious leaders.

  • Anglicans are in favour of change by a margin of 57% (total in favour 72%) – which is greater even than the general population at 54% (total in favour 70%). Only those who say they have those “no religion” show greater support – by a huge margin of 72% (total in favour 81%).
  • Roman Catholics are in favour of change by a margin of 26%,
  • Jewish people are in favour of change by a margin of 48%
  • Although many Hindus don’t know, those with a view are in favour of change by a margin of 8%.

Those who actively participate in a church or other religious group – rather than merely identifying with a religion – also support change (49% support, 36% against, 15% don’t know; see Appendix 3 for a breakdown by tradition)

Those who say they have “no religion” are most likely to support a change in the law – 81% for, 9% against. The vast majority (87%) do so because they believe in a person’s right to choose when to die.

The full results of that survey are available (PDF).

The survey is discussed in some detail by Clive Field in an article at British Religion in Numbers titled Assisted Dying and Other News

The British public overwhelmingly (70%, with just 16% in disagreement) favours a change in the law to enable persons with incurable diseases to have the right to ask close friends or relatives to help them commit suicide, and without those friends or relatives running the risk of prosecution (as is currently the case). Moreover, while those who profess no religion are especially likely (81% versus 9%) to support reform, even people of faith back it overall (64% versus 21%), with the conspicuous exception of Muslims, who take the contrary line (by 55% to 26%). A plurality (49%, with 36% against) of individuals who actively participate in a religious group also wants to see the law amended. Not until we reach the ‘strict believers’ – the 9% of the population who take their authority in life from religious sources, who certainly believe in God, and who actively participate in a religious group – is there a religious core hostile to legalizing assisted dying and thus in tune with the teaching of many mainstream faiths and denominations. These believers’ motivations are that ‘human life is sacred’ (80%) and/or ‘death should take its natural course’ (69%).

… Assisted dying has been a contested matter for decades. The campaign organization now known as Dignity in Dying was founded as the Voluntary Euthanasia Legalisation Society as far back as 1935. Soon afterwards, in 1937, Gallup conducted the first opinion poll on the subject, asking its sample whether ‘doctors should be given power to end the life of a person incurably ill’, and finding that 69% thought that they should. The proportion in favour of physician-assisted suicide has grown since, hovering around four-fifths in six British Social Attitudes Surveys from 1983 to 2008; in 2008 it stood at 82% (90% for those of no religion, 85% for Anglicans, 75% for Catholics, 70% for other Christians, and 63% for non-Christians). Endorsement of non-doctor-assisted suicide has run at a somewhat lower but still high level; a question worded not dissimilarly to that in the Westminster Faith Debates poll, asking about a change in the law to enable friends and relatives to assist in a suicide, was posed by YouGov on five occasions between 2008 and 2012, recording majorities for legislative reform of between 68% and 74%. However, it should be noted that the public is less approving of suicide in instances where an incurable disease does not exist; indeed, in the most recent (January 2013) Angus Reid poll only 29% of Britons deemed suicide in general to be morally acceptable.

Today’s Church Times publishes a letter from Professor Linda Woodhead under the headline Unhelpful comments from Church House in which she says that “the Church of England’s Communications Office is making the C of E look ridiculous”.

…The C of E Communications Office simply attacked the survey (which it did not ask to see), and concluded: “This survey adds nothing of value to the current complex debate on assisted suicide, but seeks to reduce to ‘sound-bites’ issues that deserve proper and full consideration.”

In fact, the survey adds considerable new knowledge. Its findings were extensively debated at the Westminster Faith Debate on euthanasia last week. It was also featured in The Times, the Telegraph and Guardian, BBC News Online, The Washington Post, the BMJ, on Radio 4, and elsewhere.

Last week, another large poll reported in The Independent found that many single Christians felt isolated and out of place in their congregations. A C of E spokesperson (unnamed) commented: “If the church doesn’t fit then try another one.”

“Get lost” is not a good message for the Church to give, whether directed at serious research, or at the Christians whose views it reports.


Scrap seats for bishops in the House of Lords?

In the Independent today there is an article by Frank Field MP titled The new Archbishop should stop this gesture politics. It begins:

It is about time the Church became serious about politics. The debacle over its opposition to the Government’s welfare reform programme offers the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, a God-given opportunity to totally reshape the role of bishops in the House of Lords.

A week before the House of Lords voted on key aspects of the Government’s welfare cuts [in March], 43 bishops issued a statement to the effect that this was the most vicious attack on children since Herod slaughtered the innocent. The welfare cuts are serious in the impact they will have on the living standards of some families, but let’s leave aside the judgment as to whether the cuts were almost of a criminal nature. What did the bishops do?

And it continues with this:

…Why doesn’t the Archbishop introduce his own House of Lords Reform Bill? It would surrender most of the bishops’ places that lie unused which should then be redistributed to the different denominations. This bill should give the Archbishop the power to appoint bishops and senior women to the places that would be designated to Anglicans.

Included in the redistribution of seats should be those groups who assert that they have no faith in a Godly presence, but have shown themselves to be concerned about the ethical standards by which individuals and groups live their lives. It would be up to those groups to elect their representatives. If they fail to do so they will find that the political tide runs strongly against them.

Such a move would set both the temper and basis for further reform. It would speak loudly on how voters regard representation as being a fundamental part of our democracy. It would also set in hand how the new House of Lords would be elected, but not on absurd party lines…

The Independent also has a news report about this, Exclusive: Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, urged to scrap most bishops’ seats in House of Lords

A Church of England spokesman said: “This article is an interesting contribution to debate but it does not look as if there is a favourable political context for returning to the subject of constitutional reform just at the moment.” Lambeth Palace did not comment.

Some Church figures believe that Mr Field has misunderstood the way the bishops in the Lords work, saying they do not “vote as a bloc”. They said six bishops voted a total of 14 times on welfare on 19 March.

And an editorial: Editorial: The bishops in the House of Lords are the least of the problem.

There is a curious mistake running through all three of these pieces, namely that the number of seats for bishops is misstated. The correct number is 26.