Gee, Thanks Bishops

As you probably all know, the UK has allowed civil partnerships for some time. However, when the bill became law the Church of England bishops (who for stupid, arcane reasons have a voice in our government) insisted that they would not allow such things in their churches, and no other religion should be allowed to do so either. At long last someone has pointed out to them that this amounts to religious discrimination, and that if, say, Quakers, or Unitarians, or some Jews, want to bless the union of same-sex couples they should be allowed to do so. As The Guardian explains, the law may finally be about to be changed.

Of course what the bishops are afraid of is that they’ll lose congregations to other Christian churches who are less bigoted. But they are equally afraid of losing congregations to the Catholics if they stop being bigoted. Time to come off the fence, Archbishop?

(Also kudos to the Bishop of Salisbury for being the only serving bishop to have signed the letter to The Times, though I do wonder why so many ex-bishops are sensible when serving ones are not.)

8 thoughts on “Gee, Thanks Bishops

  1. who for stupid, arcane reasons have a voice in our government

    As opposed, perhaps, to America, where the religious lobby has no power at all? 🙂 I still maintain that our system is better. Keep your enemies close and all that. Under the thumb, where they can’t garner more power than you.

    I strongly believe, as I hope I’ve made clear, that there should be no restrictions on who can marry whom, or on what you have to call it. I believe Christianity should openly embrace tolerance, admit that the rules are changing all the time and allow them to change for this. And I welcome the change in the law, if it happens.

    However…I’m bemused. I thought the whole point of a *civil* partnership was that religion played no part in it, and rightly so according to my many atheist friends. Surely a civil partnership solemnised on religious premises is in fact a marriage? Isn’t this, in other words, from the point of view of those who would rather get religion out of the marriage business altogether, a retrograde step?

    1. The religious lobby in America has a huge amount of power because huge numbers of Americans are very religious and they all vote. In contrast the UK is a much less religious country, and I suspect that the majority of those who are religious are not CofE members. Nevertheless the CofE has a significant amount of political power, which it has been flexing a great deal of late, almost always in the cause of defending its right to hate other people. That’s a very unhealthy state of affairs.

      As to it being a retrograde step, no, I don’t think it is. People have a right to be religious if they want to be. Having a law that bans people from celebrating their partnership in a religious ceremony, even if the celebrants, their families and the church all want to do it, seems wrong to me.

  2. Re your last point (and at the risk of overstating the blindingly obvious, because many comments in these and similar forums don’t seem to have any organisational nous at all): Presumably because, like many other ex-anythings, ex-bishops are private individuals no longer bound by their direct obligations to the organisational collective to which and for which they were once responsible. Once you are free of the organisation you are free to talk about how you wish things could be, no longer hampered by the constraints and costs of office.

    Any management body of any institution has an obligation to act with respect to its past and current state and its existing (contractual and informal) obligations, as well as to its future. As you move up the management hierarchy in an organisation, at each level you discover more about the (many, interlocking) reasons why you were imposed upon in the way you were at lower levels, and more about how hard it is to change that. You may be more or less free to try to make changes, but always have to deal with disagreement about what changes should be made. The interplay between all the areas of discussion, what is possible within and without the organisation, and what is wanted is what makes politics, and history.

    1. This is entirely true. But at the same time we don’t see ex-bishops demanding that gay people be stoned to death. Ex-bishops appear to be primarily in favor of gay rights. That either means there has been some sort of anti-gay coup in the Church, or that serving bishops are pushing a line they disagree with out of fear of a backlash from their congregations. If the latter case is true, I wonder what is the point in allowing good and Godly men to progress through the ranks of the clergy if all they do when they get to the top is surrender to the wishes of hate-filled mobs?

      Of course if you want to argue that the CofE is just another political party whose leaders do whatever they have to do to stay in power, that fine. But they they should damn well get elected just like any other politicians. And they should stop claiming special moral standing and exemption from laws.

      1. What you say is also entirely true, and I agree they should stop claiming special treatment from the outside world.

        To the extent to which I read the news I would say it is entirely consistent with a generational succession within the Church from a management group and active membership that was ‘liberal’ on gay rights to one which is more-or-less actively anti.

        Remember that in this case the forty years or so we’re talking about as the length of career for a clergyman who gets to retire from a bishopric is also the forty years in which the outside world has liberalised and the Anglican Church has become marginal to most of its members lives. There a number of things going on simultaneously here.

        But we must be careful what we wish for. Separation of the Church from the State has not saved the US from an even more virulent case of this particular problem.

        1. As I’ve just pointed out to Zander, America’s problem is that a substantial proportion of its citizens are deeply religious. In a democracy, if the people are religious then politicians who espouse religious views will get elected and have political power. In the UK a very small number of people identify as religious, and an even smaller number as CofE, and yet the CofE has significant political power.

        2. Separation of church from state means that the evangelicals can vote for who they like, but the Methodists will keep running TV commercials advertising their openness to gay couples, as they have for years. Remember we also have a lot of deeply religious liberals, and they vote too.

          Age is actually the biggest divide on the gay-marriage issue, even in the US. (I wish I could find Cheryl’s post on the survey in California after Prop 8, but my search-fu is failing me.)

          The weird part for me, as an American reading about this, is having to remind myself that not only does the UK not have separation of church and state as we know it, but the CofE technically is a branch of the state.

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