Monday 3 June 2013

Perils of the Aristocracy: A Political Scientist Writes...

Where does the Lords debate on equal marriage leave Lord bishops? The Telegraph reckons that “top officials” have told them to stay away on Tuesday, to avoid a constitutional showdown on the subject:
Officials in Church House are said to have urged bishops to limit their numbers to around six at the most for the controversial debate. It is thought that up to 10 of them could defy the advice and vote against the bill.
This may well be sage advice. An interesting analysis of the constitutional implications came my way recently from an impeccable source, Dr Iain McLean, Professor of Politics at Oxford University, Fellow of Nuffield College, and Vice President for Public Policy of the British Academy
There are reports that the Lords Spiritual, or some of them, will support Lord Dear’s “fatal motion” to deny the Bill a second reading. This would be disastrous to the mission of the Church of England. The Bishop of Leicester, as Convener of the Lords Spiritual, should do all in his power to ensure that at least a majority of the bishops present do not support the fatal motion. 
The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, who has led the bishops in the House of Lords on the issue, said: "We clearly cannot support the Bill because it is contrary to the Church's historic teaching on the nature of marriage." He said, however, that he would want to recognise "that the Government has done a great deal to accommodate some of the Church's concerns, and to make it clear that individual clergy cannot be proceeded against by anybody". "Hard work" had been done "to ensure that the Canons of the Church of England will not contravene the civil law of England"…. Bishop Stevens said that the House did not traditionally take a vote at this stage, but that this might happen. Individual bishops would then have to decide how to vote (Church Times 24.05.13) 
The Bishops of Leicester and Chester have put their names down to speak in the debate, as have Lord Carey of Clifton and Lord Harries of Pentregarth. 
Six reasons why supporting the fatal motion would be disastrous for the C of E’s mission.

  1. The core proposal is to allow same-sex civil marriage. The elected house of Parliament supports this by a majority of 2 to 1. The people support it by a stable majority. Although religious people are less supportive than non-religious people, Anglicans are close to evenly divided. The unelected house needs to move very cautiously in the face of these figures. The statutory regime for civil marriage in England & Wales was created in 1753 and has been changed numerous times, with civil divorce being permitted since 1857. The civil marriage regime is not a creature of canon law, despite a recent mistaken claim by the Archbishop of York.
  2. Success of the fatal motion would violate the religious freedom of those who in conscience wish to solemnize same-sex weddings: currently the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Unitarians, Liberal Judaism and Reform Judaism. All of these have suffered from religious discrimination in the past. British Quakers came to unity in 2009 in support of same-sex marriage in Meetings according to the usage of Friends. The Quaker method relies on discernment of the inner Light, not on majority rule. If there is not unity as to the leadings of the Light, Quakers do not take a position. Their position on this matter should therefore be given considerable deference. An explanation of the Quaker theology behind it is here.
  3. As the bishop of Leicester’s reported remarks acknowledge, the Government has put very substantial protections in place for the religious freedom of those whose conscience does not permit them to approve of or take part in same-sex religious weddings. If the fatal motion succeeds, the Lords Spiritual will have no further opportunity to improve the protection of conscientious objectors because the bill will be enacted under the Parliament Act without Lords’ consent (see below).
  4. The Church of England often states that the role of the Lords Spiritual is to provide a religious perspective on current moral issues. But on this subject religious opinion is divided. See above; also the recent letter from the Bishop of Salisbury to Lord Alli. When religious opinion is divided, the only proper course for a religious representative in the legislature is to plead for freedom of conscience. That must mean, equally, the freedom of Quakers to conduct same-sex marriages, and the freedom of Anglicans to refuse to conduct them.
  5. Opposition to the will of the Commons (on this matter, and on the matter of women bishops) imperils the future right of bishops to sit in the legislature. If the bishops, or their convener, support the Dear motion, it is extremely likely that a proposal to remove them from the legislature will be in both the Labour and the Liberal Democrat General Election manifestos for 2015.
  6. If carried, the Dear motion will lead only to the Commons’ use of the Parliament Act 1949 to pass the Bill without Lords’ consent. Even if the Prime Minister does not want to invoke the Parliament Act, there is a sufficient majority in the Commons to ensure that it will be invoked if needed. The Lords Spiritual should consider what happened in 1832 and in 1911.
Heeding Professor McLean’s advice, however sensible, will annoy irreconcilables who want the Bishops to be the last ditch against the destruction of civilisation. It will at least prevent a situation where the bishops run the whole establishment onto the rocks in the name of a policy many of them didn't really believe in anyway, but were too afraid to say. It's a historic dilemma. 

Premium Members of the English aristocracy have faced Gay Juggernauts with equanimity in the past, and lived to tell the tale:


Anonymous said...

Are you so unspiritual, so out of touch with God that you think the most important thing is politics?

Do you think that there is a human right to act immorally? Is it to go against the rights of the worshippers of Molech to ban child sacrifice?.

What a fool you are. You are encouraging the downward spiral of sin in our society that God describes in Romans 1.


Bishop Alan Wilson said...

No, Marting, I don't think the most important thing is politics, but debates in the Houses of Parliament do involve politics. The problem with Molech from a human rights point of veiw is that it violates several human rights of the Children concerned. The use of religion as a "get out of jail free"strategy from compliance with human rights might indeed appeal to worshippers of Molech ("It's our absolute right to practice our religion") but the principles of rights and proportionality applied to the situation would make the answer to your problem here straightforward.
Please read Romans 2 and 3 and you will see that even you have no righteousness in which to stand before God. Brother, people need Christ, not Caiaphas.

Malcolm+ said...

I'm not sure I follow the references to 1832 and 1911.

Simon said...

I strongly agree with your sentiments. Seriously, did you have to cross your fingers to become a bishop or is there really no conflict with accepting the discipline of the church and holding your views?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Malcolm, 1832 was the year of the Great Reform Act, opposed, notoriously, by all the bishops of the Church of England. The Bishop of Bristol's palace was burnt down by a mob. They believed that the extension of the franchise was un natural and offensive to the social order instituted by God. Public reaction to the Bishops' voting record was very severe. Sidney Smith wrote to the Bishop of London about "the old-fashioned, orthodox, hand-shaking, bowel-disturbing passion of fear" there had been in 1832: "You choose to forget it but I remember the period when the Bishops never remained unpelted; they were pelted going, coming, riding, walking, consecrating, and carousing. The Archbishop of Canterbury, in the town of Canterbury, at the period of his visitation, was only saved from the mob by the dexterity of his coachman. If you were not frightened by all this, I was..." 1911 was the year of the Parliament Act, forced through against the will of the House of Lords by the threat of the Prime Minister to create new peers until he had the majority he needed to divest the Lords of its ancient powers to block legislation. That's how I read those dates from this source, anyway. I gladly accept the discipline of the Church and keep the rules; even those which are too narrow to serve the life of the people we exist to serve and need to change if we are to bring the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and make him known to those within our care.

Archbishop Cranmer said...

Sadly, you lost His Grace with 'an impeccable source, Dr Iain McLean', whom His Grace knows well (in a fraternal and congenial way).

What is 'impeccable' about this source? Impeccability is etymologically linked with infallibility: Professor McLean is undoubtedly learned in matters of politics and highly intelligent in matters of philosophy, but as a Scottish Quaker his perspective on what may be good, better or best for the Established Church of England is most certainly not beyond question - especially as a disestablishmentarianist.

Malcolm+ said...

I'd presumed the two dates had to do with the various reform acts. I'd forgotten the tale of Lloyd George threatening the mass production of peerages.

Ironically, the only political party in Canada defending the status quo in our upper house is the Liberal Party. The Conservatives want reform and the New Democrats (the democratic party) wants abolition, but the Liberals think it's perfect the way it is.

Anonymous said...

As a Christian, and as a democrat, I would like to see all bishops removed from the Lords.They have no democratic legitimacy.

As a Christian, and as a democrat, I would like to see all bishops removed from the Church of England. They have no democratic legitimacy.

While we are about it, let's disestablish the Church of England too.It's a national embarrassment.


LondonVicar said...

Your vows according to the Ordinal are that you will 'drive away all strange and erroneous doctrine'.
By campaigning for same sex marriage you are propagating false doctrine.
You should step down from being a Bishop.
You are a cause for scandal and disunity.
I'm sure this post won't be approved though.........

Anonymous said...

Indeed. Episcopacy should be looked at again. It is an outmoded relic of the feudal system. The diocesan structure can also be largely dismantled. Parishes should buy in to those services they require and the parish quota can be drastically reduced.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

LondonVicar — why are you so sure this post won't be approved? Of course Unity does matter. But what kind of unity? Abusive unity that rests on taking sides against gay people? how does it promote Unity to play off some against others? That isn't unity! No family which bands together one of its sections against another is united — a house divided against itself cannot stand. Furthermore it is the calling of bishops to obey Jesus command to beware the leaven of the Pharisees within the household of God. You bind burdens on people too heavy for you to bear, you scour land and sea to make people like yourself, you care for the letter of the law, but ignore justice and mercy...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...