Every week I listen to the Sunday programme on Radio 4, largely through inertia. Most weeks it manages to wind me up. I was a bit worried that I may be repeating myself here, so regular is the rage that I thought I must have written about it before. It turns out I have, but on a different topic.
The specific cause of my ire this week is the Church of England, the Equalities act and the inadmissibility of gay bishops. Forced by the Equality Act 2010 the Church has sought legal advice on how it should treat its gay clergy, it turns out they think that they may be obliged to accept gay bishops but that they can demand that they are celibate. You can read the BBC report here.
Why should this concern me, as a British atheist? Several reasons:
- the Church of England is an established church, it takes (unelected) part in our legislation through the Lords Spiritual, it has a special position in teaching our children;
- the Church of England claims moral authority, it specifically claims that it’s views on morality are superior to mine because they are faith-based. See the Bishop of Oxford’s comments this week on the Today programme;
- I am ethnically Christian and English, so their position reflects badly on me;
- the church’s position puts us all on shaky ground when we argue against inequality in other communities.
The Church could take a principled position that any group should be able to follow it’s faith: that the BNP should be allowed to exclude non-Caucasians from their number, for example. It could take the principled position that it should be subject to the same laws as the rest of us, without exemptions. It choses to do neither of these things, it choses instead to lobby for exemptions from the law and work out the minimum they can get away with in complying with that watered-down law.
What is the Church trying to tell us through this position? That the gays are OK, but not for them and not for positions of power?
Can you imagine a company, such as the one that I work for, demanding of it’s employee’s that they not only reveal their sexual orientation but also their sexual activity and if they confessed to the wrong sort of sexual activity they should be denied promotion?