Opinion: Church of England, call off your modern day inquisition

Archbishop Justin Welby Some rights reserved by Messiah Lutheran (Mechanicsville, VA)For those of you in York, and indeed last September at Glasgow, one of the loudest cheers in the closing day of the Leaders Speech always comes when the pre-film, or Nick as leader mentions the Same Sex Marriage Act.

Indeed Lynne Featherstone will go down in Liberal Democrat history, indeed in wider history, as the MP who made such a massive impact and a positive one upon society.

It’s a small irony that the MP who in a former role designed the cover of the Liberal Democrat History Group Journal will herself be the subject of historical research in the future and in almost universally glowing terms.

Same Sex Marriage was not in either party’s manifesto, nor in the Coalition Agreement and yet stands out as one of the crowning achievements in the last four years.  Not least because it had the overwhelming support of society.

Yet the ripples of controversy continue to cause waves. Today the Bishops of the Church of England have started the process of interviewing and requiring those clergy who are gay and in a same sex relationship to get them to agree to not marry.  In short, the Church of England have launched a modern day inquisition.

To an extent, the response could be ‘who cares?’.  But this is the established Church of England and the House of Bishops have 26 seats in our upper house legislature.  And for those individual clergy who have been summoned this is unusually cruel and intimidatory.

So as the Church of England seeks to hold back the tide of public opinion and the full force of the law, I think it is time that we sent them a clear message.

If you lay one finger on any member of the LGBT+ community, if you seek to refuse their rights under the law to marry their partners, then you should and will be exposed to a full campaign, battle, even war.

Your seats in the Upper House affect all areas of our lives, you are the established church (sadly).  If you touch the LGBT+ community today they you will provoke a battle between equality and prejudice and I guarantee it is a battle that you will lose.

LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, the community, the law or the land, and indeed your own communion will not stand by whilst you undertake an inquisition against gay and lesbian priests.

You have a long heritage, and that should teach you on which side of history you have too often found yourselves. Don’t make that mistake today.

Archbishop of Canterbury – call off your Bishops, stop the appointments requiring your clergy to submit to their Bishop, and wise up to the law, to the new expectation of society, your flock and indeed of your communion.  Please, for all our sakes.

* Ed Fordham is a party member and activist in Chesterfield, Derbyshire.

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29 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Mar '14 - 2:12pm

    I strongly disagree with the tone of this article. There are millions of genuine god-fearing people on this planet and they deserve to be spoken to and about as fellow humans with good intentions.

  • An interesting viewpoint on this from Giles Fraser..

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2014/mar/11/gay-clergy-marriage-anglican-communion

    And a transcript showing a Bishop dodging providing a straight answer…

    http://changingattitude.org.uk/archives/7903

    Please bear in mind that the Bishops do not talk for all members of the CofE as resources such as inclusive church and changing attitude demonstrate..

  • Gwyn Williams 12th Mar '14 - 2:32pm

    The Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1869,Lloyd George drove through the legislation which eventually created the Church in Wales in 1922. When will we end this medieval theocratic link between Church and State in England .

  • Richard Wingfield 12th Mar '14 - 6:05pm

    I’m not sure I agree with Ed on this. I say this as a very strong supporter of same-sex marriage and as someone who devoted a significant amount of time to lobbying MPs and peers last year and campaigning outside of the House of Lords iny July in favour of the Bill. However, the internal doctrines and policies of religious organisations where they concern clergy (as opposed to cleaners, administrative staff, etc.) should be decided by the religions themselves under whatever structure they have established. Catholic priests, for example, are not permitted to marry at all, contrary to their right to marry under human rights law, but by taking the decision to become a Catholic priest, they have accepted this restriction. It would not be appropriate to challenge them on this through legal action or government interference. Equally, disciplinary procedures within religious organisations are a matter for the religious organisations themselves.

    I absolutely support campaigning and awareness-raising of this issue in an attempt to persuade the Church of England to change its policy, but I wouldn’t go so far as to support government or Liberal Democrat involvement, or taking the Church of England to court. The battle is one to be fought within the Church of England by its own members, LGBT or otherwise. It is not a battle for the Liberal Democrats as a party.

  • Both Andy Hinton and Richard Wingfield are right. The Church of England is indeed an established church, created and supported by Parliament, in which it has a voice, and subject to certain types of governmental control which no other religious body requires. At the same time, it is offensive to the spirit of religious liberty, and indeed intrinsically absurd, to have the dogmas and internal regulations of a religious determined by partisan political debate. The answer to this conundrum is simple: immediate and complete disestablishment of the Church of England. The Church of England seemingly wants and certainly deserves to act as a self-regulating, independent body, free of political ties — so let it be exactly that.

  • Excellent. Ed Fordham is quite right to challenge the CofE. If they behave like some Salafist sect in Saudi then the Bishops should be treated with the contempt they deserve.

    Whatever happens about equal marriage we should throw these Bishops out of Parliament. It is an affront to democracy to have reserved places in Parliament for this group.

  • Stephen Hesketh 12th Mar '14 - 9:15pm

    Some excellent thoughts/posts.
    I too am absolutely committed to equal marriage irrespective of the gender of the couple and believe in a number of things that many people of strong religious belief would vehemently oppose. I am also a secularist who believes that organised religion still exercises a disproportionate influence over our society and certain of our institutions and their procedures; I also support the removal of Bishops from the House of Lords when they sit there by virtue of that occupation alone.

    However, whilst I believe their stance on equal marriage to be completely illiberal and out of touch, and sincerely wish lesbian and gay couples of faith every success in their quest to be treated with equality and respect, I don’t think it particularly valid for me to say on one hand “don’t you dare presume to impose your values on me or wider society” and then to seek to impose my (entirely reasonable) twenty first century libertarian values on their internal workings.

    Should the Church of England wish to pursue such values they should push for, or be pushed into, disestablishment. Just as secularists like myself can’t have it both ways, neither can they.

  • Katherine Hesketh-Holt 12th Mar '14 - 9:52pm

    @Stephen Whilst I agree in general with your views, I feel more strongly that this begins to infringe on the rights of those people. They are suggesting that you have to make a compromise – the rights of a Christian or the rights of same-sex couples. How do we discriminate between reasonable parts of a faith and religious beliefs that prevent equality for other groups of people?

  • I strongly doubt that Ed Fordham would write a similar article castigating Islam!

    How many LGBT will marry in Mosques any time soon?

  • Jack McKenna 12th Mar '14 - 10:37pm

    The other day I was sat in a cafe, on the counter there were a number of leaflets for local businesses. One of these leaflets was for a local hotel seeking to take advantage of the legislation of same-sex marriage and had on the front “Plan your same-sex marriage here!” personally i was quite impressed by a business being so open and accepting of LGBT people and also admired it as a shrewd business move as many businesses seem to have missed the boat on this.

    Anyway, a middle-aged woman came looked at the leaflet, then threw the entire stack in the bin. I would of said something but my gob was fairly smacked at the time and I figured that it would be impossible to reason with such a person. I know this isn’t strictly relevant to the article but I think it illustrates how far the LGBT population still have to go to gain true equality in both law and society. To quote Gandalf: “The battle for LGBT legal equality is over, the battle for quality in society is about to begin.”

  • “Whereas bishops and other persons in holy orders ought not to be entangled with secular jurisdiction, the office of the ministry being of such great importance that it will take up the whole man, and for that it is found by long experience that their intermeddling with secular jurisdictions hath occasioned great mischiefs and scandal both to church and state, His Majesty, out of his religious care of the church and souls of his people, is graciously pleased that it be enacted, and by authority of this present Parliament be it enacted, that no archbishop or bishop or other person that now is or hereafter shall be in holy orders shall, at any time after the 15th day of February in the year of our Lord 1641, have any seat or place, suffrage or voice, or use or execute any power or authority in the Parliaments of this realm, nor shall be of the Privy Council of his Majesty, his heirs or successors, or Justice of the Peace, of Oyer and Terminer, or Gaol Delivery, or execute any temporal authority by virtue of any commission, but shall be wholly disabled and be incapable to have, receive, use, or execute any of the said offices, places, powers, authorities, and things aforesaid.”

  • Stephen Hesketh 13th Mar '14 - 7:32am

    @Katherine Hesketh-Holt ” How do we discriminate between reasonable parts of a faith and religious beliefs that prevent equality for other groups of people?”
    My core argument is that followers of religious faiths have every right to reasonably discuss with but never imposed such beliefs on those of different beliefs. Here though we are talking about their internal policies. I personally believe that the Church of England IS infringing upon the entirely reasonable 21st Century rights of its members but, just with any organisation, people have the right to leave if members find the policies incompatible with their own values. How many long standing genuinely committed members of our own party have felt their personal beliefs are no longer compatible with those of the party? To them leaving will in many cases have been equally heart-rending.

    Religious belief is not (contrary to strong followers of faith) held more deeply than many other personal beliefs. I for one cried when we entered into coalition with the Tories, against whose values I have fought all of my adult life.

    The C of E is however the established church of England (the country). I have always believed that it should have been disestablished long ago. Their illiberal stance on this matter is yet another reason why it can not continue to officially represent the English nation.

  • Stephen Hesketh probably spoke for a lot of Liberal Democrat activists and members (and former supporter) when he wrote —
    ” Religious belief is not held more deeply than many other personal beliefs. I for one cried when we entered into coalition with the Tories, against whose values I have fought all of my adult life. ”

    This is what Clegg does not understand. Clegg grew up as a Conservative with a capital C but by some bizarre twist of cruelty ended up leader of the Liberal Democrats. If there is a God, he is not on our side !

  • I think I agree with the LDV servers on this one, which promptly crashed for several hours after publishing this. I’m glad this article has got its detractors already. Quite why we have any right to be lecturing organisations with their own processes who can make their own decisions is beyond me. (although if there’s a grain of truth here it’s that the establishment status needs to be justified, as this is where there is an overlap with public office.)

    I’ve been honest on here that I couldn’t support gay marriage, but in all the trials of coalition my lowest point as an activist, and the closest I’ve come to walking out on the party has been reading the abuse heaped on Sarah Teather on the evening she stepped down, all around this issue. It made me question just where the intolerance was.

    I see this from the other side on the EU where I strongly support the party view and I’m delighted to see us have more confidence in making the case for working within Europe. However we have a local activist who can’t wait to get out of the EU, and he’s looked grumpier than ever in the past month. I know how he feels; we all have our areas where we don’t agree with the party line and we learn to live with it or campaign for change. But as soon as we make them into a credo where you’re not part of the party if you don’t toe the line on one issue, we’re heading into a dangerous place where we seek purity and head towards irrelevance.

    I think the most constructive thing I can say is that I’m coming to the view that I’m glad Ed isn’t my PPC – I think I’d be in an awkward situation working with him and would have some difficult decisions to make. I hope he’ll take some time to reflect on some of the responses to this article.

  • Steve Griffiths 13th Mar '14 - 12:23pm

    I am a supporter of SSM and supportive of LGBT rights for many years.

    However I do not like the tone of this article, with expressions like “If you lay one finger on any member”, or ” will be exposed to a full campaign, battle, even war.” Has LDV edited this? Were they happy with the content/style?

  • Until last year, almost exactly 12 months ago, I was a regular churchgoer (08.00 spoken Communion) who had been Baptised and Confirmed into the Anglican branch of Christianity. Thus, it was profound sadness that my social and religious views forced me to leave the CofE over its continuing sexism (re female Bishops) and homophobia (re gay Marriage).

    UK Anglicanism is already trying to revisit and revise its declared antipathy to women Bishops. However, my former church continues to refuse to formally accept either gay Priests or the principle of gay Marriage.

    I find this disgusting and totally un-Christian. My Saviour excluded nobody from his acceptance or forgiveness. It’s high time the CofE also tried full inclusiveness.

  • Jack McKenna 13th Mar '14 - 6:05pm

    @Stephen W- Do you have to be elected to express a opinion?

    @tpfkar- Equality before the law is at the core of liberalism if someone does not believe in that key principle you have to ask why they are in a party with “Liberal” in it’s name. Plus if i’m right didn’t Sarah Teather praise SSM then vote against it.

    @Steve Griffiths- LGBT people wouldn’t of got far if they spent their time trying to be nice to people who hated them. The phrase in the article is a bit strong, i’ll admit, but when fighting a powerful established institution such as the C of E you can’t hold back.

  • Paul In Twickenham 13th Mar '14 - 9:43pm

    If I might point you to Mill – being offended is not being harmed. Being denied equal treatment in law is being harmed. Let me ask a question that is not directly related to Ed’s opinion piece but which seems relevant given the BBC’s cowardice: “when will it be accepted to be Muslim and gay?”.

  • @jackmckenna. Not sure if Sarah spoke in favour but there was a syndicated story on her website. You’d have to ask her – but I think her position came as a surprise on the night to most who didn’t know her, and it would probably have been better to telegraph in advance as I believe the other opposing MPs did.

    On the issue itself, polling found a consistent 6:1 ratio of LD supporters in favour, pretty much matched by MPs when it came to the vote. So maybe 1/7 of the party’s supporters should leave? That’s my point about setting up issues as ‘credo’ issues, sooner or later you’d be in a party by yourself. Fair to say the 1 in 7 would question that it’s a simple issue of equality.

  • Matt (Bristol) 14th Mar '14 - 10:31am

    Agree with others who find the aggression in the article offensive. Now is not the time for a kulturkampf between people claiming to represent the LibDems and people claiming to represent the CofE.

    Granted the party’s membership, in reaction to the coalition experience, are trying to identify what they now stand for and whether that’s the same as the leadership think it is. But creating certainty by making Christian members of and voters for the Party feel they don’t have anything to contribute is probably not sensible.

    What would be sensible is disestablishment, pretty soon. We are (as I have pointed out before) sleepwalking into a situation where the nation thinks that the role of an established church is to purely to do what the wider culture think it should and the church is divided fairly equally between those who agree, those who oppose, and those who don’t realise or care the debate is happening.

    Gladstone (the arch-conservative Anglican) realised in regard to Ireland that the best defence of a conservative church is a liberal constition where the church is free from the dictates of the state.

    I personally have no problem with the Bishops requiring (if canon law allows) their priests not to engage in same-sex marriage, and the CofE is not the only Christian church to require this, it’s just that it is one of only 2 churches in this country to be regarded by many in our society (not entirely justifiably) as the voice/conscience of the nation/state (the other one is the Church of Scotland which is not directly religiously linked to the Church of England and is not in the same Christian tradition).

    I believe profoundly that Christian believers, agnostics, and atheists working and talking together, without heat, and with respect for each other’s differences, need urgently to get the state out of the church so that the Church of England can have its own debate in its own way about how it wants to behave as an organisation without damage to its own life or the life of the nation, on this and on so many other issues.

  • Matt (Bristol) 14th Mar '14 - 11:24am

    @ Joe Otten, so what in your definition, consitutes diversity within a society, if there is only one set of high ethical standards to which all must subscribe? Do you want a monocultural Britain?

    @Paul i Twickenham, as I understand it, the Church is currently _asking_ people to _choose_ not to do something, not denying them the right to do it. That should not be ethically problematic, surely? The ethical issue comes with whether there will be any compulsion around the choice. I would note that it is extremely unclear whether the church has the legal right under the church’s own canon law to withdraw or restrict priests’ employment rights if they do engage in a same-sex marriage. In practice, I suspect they will not be able to do so, and the resulting mess will be of the church’s own creation and I don’t actually have a lot of sympathy for that.

  • If someone’s name appears in blue in LDV I always check out their website. It helps to understand where people are coming from ad what they are saying. Stephen W is a classic example,of this. If you go to his website you will find all sorts of fascinating things:: actually some people might find it mystifying but I found it fascinating.
    But you can immediately understand why he thinks and says what he does.

    That aside I fail to understand why he regards the Church of England as a “private organisation”. it is patently not a private organisation.

    It also has power and influence far beyond its numbers. Even on the CofE’s own website they do not claim more than 2 million regular worshipers (once a month). The UK has a population of well over 60 million. Why should this small sect have power and influence when they are not accountable to 95% of the population?

  • Simon Banks 15th Mar '14 - 9:57pm

    God-fearing people deserve to be listened to and treated with respect? I agree, though I think our default position should be to listen to everyone with respect until they’ve done something to lose the respect.

    All of us, religious or not, are entitled to our opinions on social and political issues. I think the C of E is wrong on this one and that is as much a matter of religion as of politics. They are, though, entitled as is any other voluntary association to have their views and rules which others may think wrong-headed. There are two problems about just letting them get on with it and look silly – one, that many of their own clergy, by no means all of them gay, strongly disagree with the line they’re now taking; and two, as others have said, the C of E is the established church. I’m tempted by disestablishment (Rowan Williams was not hostile to it, having operated as head of a disestablished church in Wales), but I’ve developed doubts about the idea because I’ve seen how much good the C of E can do as an unofficial voice for and peacemaker between different religious groups Christian or other, and I’m not sure if this would work under disestablishment. Just not sure.

  • Jack McKenna 15th Mar '14 - 10:27pm

    @Tpfkar- Fair enough, We’ll have to agree to disagree. My personal view is that SSM is a basic issue of equality before the law. Of course that’s not a view you share and while I don’t understand your reasoning i’ll do my best to respect it.

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