Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Canterbury and the Equality Bill

UPDATE:  Simon Sarmiento has generously offered some corrections to the following essay.  Since Simon has written extensively on this topic, we will consider him our "resident expert."  Rather than attempt to edit the original text, I am inserting Simon's corrections at the appropriate places.  Note that these insertions are not being made as "debate points."    I consider Simon's additions to be more accurate than my American attempt to comprehend the workings of the UK government.


A couple of weeks ago, one of our readers pointed me to this article by Candace Chellew-Hodge. It is in reference to the Archbishop of Canterbury's Presidential Address to General Synod. Here's part of Candace's take on the speech:

...So, while Williams is so, so sorry for how he has undervalued the lives of gays and lesbians, he continues to oppose a new law that would recognize the value of that same slighted group - and dare to cloak his objection in religious doubletalk...
If you read Dr. Williams' address, I would say that is an accurate portrayal of what he said. He is sorry for the ugly way gays and lesbians have been treated by the Church, but will continue to advocate for the right to discriminate against them when it comes to hiring practices.

His argument is that once you start letting the government meddle in Church affairs, the right to religious freedom is in jeapordy. I'm not so sure that the reason for his apparent double-talk (I'm sorry, but reserve the right to make you suffer) is that simple.

The "new law" that Candace referred to, which Dr. Williams opposes, is known as the Equality Bill. Since Thinking Anglicans has done a fine job of following the Equality Bill, as well as the criticisms of Dr. Williams' Presidential Address, I was going to just skip this news item. However, as an American, who is rather unfamiliar with how the UK government works, I found that getting some understanding of the Equality Bill, and all its implications, required a bit of study. Perhaps a few other Americans might be interested in what I discovered.

The Equality Bill 2008-09 was introduction in the House of Commons on 24 April 24, 2009. The work that led to this bill had been initiated as early as 2005, and by some accounts, even earlier. It was described as an attempt to draw together the various pieces of non-discrimination legislation already on the books into one bill.

The part that was of concern among some of the Church members was the proposed language that attempted to specifically identify what particular positions within the Church would be exempt from anti-discrimination legislation. Previously, the wording of the exemption was quite vague, which allowed the Church to discriminate in most of their hiring practices.

(SS: No. The wording of the exemption in the 2003 Regulations is vague, but a legal precedent defining the narrow scope of the exemption arose when several trade unions challenged it in the High Court in 2004. This is commonly known as the Amicus case. And in any case the EU Employment Directive 2000/78/EC, which the UK regulations of 2003 implement, itself defines a narrow scope.)
Now, common sense suggests there are good reasons for this exemption. Obviously, a Church employee, especially in a leadership or teaching role, would need to be able to affirm the religious tradition they are representing. However, it is still rather ironic that the one institution that was allowed to continue to discriminate was the Church.

(SS: No. There is a confusion here between discrimination on grounds of Religion, and discrimination on other grounds (gender, race, age, disability, sexual orientation). The 2003 regulations relating to discrimination on the ground of Religion are separate now and in the Equality Bill are a separate clause (Schedule 9, Clause 3) still. There is (almost) no dispute surrounding them.

The big dispute was only about the wording of Schedule 9 Clause 2 which relates “only” to discrimination on gender (women clergy) marital status (divorced clergy) gender reassignment and sexual orientation. I am simplifying a little here.)
There was some concern voiced by members of the Church when the new Equality Bill was put forward, as it seemed to require new restrictions regarding hiring practices.
(SS: “Seemed” is the key word here. The UK Government has always claimed that it was not imposing any new restrictions, merely clarifying the existing restrictions. In legal terms, this is technically correct, because the EU Directive wording “trumps” whatever the UK legislation says. But the churches have never accepted this position, and have in fact always argued for total self-regulation in this area, see my recent article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/feb/10/rowan-williams-equality-bill)
It is at this point, as I reviewed various arguments against the Equality Bill, that I began to note references to the European Union. For instance, consider this news report:

...During the debate Conservative MP Mark Harper accused the European Commission of lobbying the House over the Equality Bill.

Mr Harper quoted the European Commission as saying: “We welcome the proposed Equality Bill and hope that it will come into force quickly”.

He responded: “The European Commission has no business telling the Parliament of the United Kingdom whether we should pass legislation.”

Last week the European Commission sent the UK Government a legal document, called a “reasoned opinion”, which argued that the UK needs to narrow the religious liberty safeguard in its employment laws.

The opinion is now in the public domain despite persistent attempts by the Government’s Equalities Office to keep it confidential.

Mr Harper went on to quote the Commission’s reasoned opinion which said: “The UK Government has informed the Commission that the new Equality Bill currently under discussion before the UK Parliament will amend this aspect of the law and bring UK law into line with the Directive”...
What does the EU have to do with any of this? Perhaps more than we might imagine.

In 1997, the Member States of the European Union approved the Treaty of Amsterdam. Article 13 of this new Treaty granted the EU new powers to act against discrimination on the grounds of sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. The United Kingdom was one of those Member States.

If a Member State breaks one of these non-discrimination laws, an 'infringement procedure' will be initiated. This "infringement procedure" has three steps. The Member State first receives a letter of "formal notice," and is given two months to respond. If the reply is not satisfactory, a "reasoned response" is sent. If there is still no change, the matter is sent to the European Court of Justice. The Court may impose a fine on the Member State for non-compliance.

According to a June 27, 2007 "press release from the European Commission (right sidebar pdf link), the UK received a "formal notice" that they were not in compliance. On November 20, 2009, the UK received a "reasoned opinion" from the EC, the second stage of legal action.

(SS:  This press release and associated links refers to a much earlier stage of the EC dialogue, and is not the current item.)
Some of the details regarding the specific areas of non-compliance are worth noting:

...In the reasoned opinion sent to the United Kingdom on discrimination based on religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation in employment and occupation, the Commission pointed out that:

- there is no clear ban on 'instruction to discriminate' in national law and no clear appeals procedure in the case of disabled people;

- exceptions to the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for religious employers are broader than that permitted by the directive...
Note that the only specific issue mentioned regarding "religious employers" was "sexual orientation."

So, from Brussell's point of view, the matter was the equal opportunity for employment within the Church for gay and lesbian members.

There are those who have suggested that government was hesitant to admit that some of the language of the Equality Bill was intended to meet the requirements of the European Commission, and so avoid a possible fine.

(SS: No. The issue here is not a fine, it is a court case to make the UK legislation conform to the Brussels legislation.)
There certainly is some confusion regarding the assurances offered by government that the new language did not change the previous exemptions granted churches, when it seems clear that there was indeed an attempt to be more specific regarding these exemptions in order to placate the EC. Beyond that, if Mr. Harper's accusation above is valid, that government did indeed assure the EC that the new Equality Bill would address their concerns, there is even more reason to believe that the government was intentionally misleading in their claim that no changes to the previous exemptions were being made.

Next came the reaction from the churches. The Bishop of Winchester called the bill "irrational and ignorant." The Archbishop of York claimed that Christianity was being wiped out of public life in the name of equality. Even the Pope weighed in, declaring that the Equality Bill violated natural law.

(SS: No. The Pope did not specify which legislation he was referring to. Although many people believed he was referring to the Equality Bill, it is much more likely in my view that he was referring to the 2007 Regulations which banned RC Adoption Agencies from discriminating against homosexual couples. See recent article by Clifford Longley at
The rewording of the section of the Equality Bill governing church employment was defeated in the House of Lords, primarily due to the lack of support it received from all of the bishops, with one exception. When the bill returns to the House of Commons, we are told that the new wording will not be reintroduced.
(SS: No. All eight diocesan bishops voted against the government. Two retired bishops who have seats as Life Peers in their own right, also voted, one for the government (Harries) and one against (Carey).)
In other words, nothing will change. The Church will still be allowed to legally discriminate against gays and lesbians.

(SS:  There will be no change in the present law. This allows some “direct” discrimination but only in limited circumstances, which will remain as poorly defined as they are now. The current law does not allow any “indirect discrimination” e.g. by establishing a policy which it is easier for one group, e.g. male heterosexual clergy, to meet than for another, e.g. lesbian clergy.)
And the UK will be brought before the European Court of Justice for not conforming to the anti-discrimination laws of the EU.

Meanwhile, some Christians (including, it would seem, the Archbishop of Canterbury) are celebrating their "victory." Apparently, to them, if bigotry is still legal, it is also moral.

Personally, being granted the right to discriminate is not something I would feel like celebrating. And to claim that such discrimination is based on your "freedom of association" or your beliefs, or ethos, or to avoid "legal challenges" or any number of other code words seems so dishonest. If you are going to discriminate, just say plainly what group you wish to exclude.

But please, don't do it in the name of Christianity. Such behavior really turns folks away from Jesus.

We live in very strange times.


Friday, February 12, 2010

General Synod to ACNA: "No, No and No"

For some reason there is quite a bit of confusion regarding what exactly happened regarding the motion calling for the Church of England to recognize the hybrid group of extremists known as ACNA.  We've got conflicting headlines all over the net.

Mark Harris offers us some assitance. He has posted a report from Brian Lewis, member of General Synod from the Diocese of Clemsford. Here's a brief excerpt:

...The original motion had asked the synod to express OUR desire to be in COMMUNION with ACNA.

The replacement recognised and affirmed THEIR desire to remain part of the Anglican FAMILY...

...Synod declined to express "a desire to be in Communion with ACNA". That matters. Questions not asked are one thing but when a question is asked and the answer is politely No Thank You that changes where you are...
Brian also describes two amendments; one that would have put the original language back into the motion and another that called for recognition of the orders of ACNA clergy. Both amendments were defeated.

That's three no votes for ACNA. How this can possibly be spun as any kind of a victory is beyond my comprehension. But, no doubt that's exactly what will continue to happen. After all, if you repeat lies often enough, some might start to believe them.

On a lighter note, do take a moment to appreciate Dave Walker's take on this matter.


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

General Synod to Debate ACNA Motion

The motion and background paper can be found here. The wording of the motion is as follows:

That this Synod express the desire that the Church of England be in communion with the Anglican Church in North America
The numerous inaccuracies found in the background paper are addressed by Simon Sarmiento here.

The House of Bishops has offered an amendment:

That this Synod:

(a) recognise and affirm the desire of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family;

(b) acknowledge that this aspiration, in respect both of relations with the Church of England and membership of the Anglican Communion, raises issues which the relevant authorities of each need to explore further; and

(c) invite the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011.
If you want some background as to what this is all about, I recommend Jim Naughton's Follow the Money. We have also had numerous discussions about this group, known by different names over the years (AAC, Network, and now ACNA...same group, different labels). One summary post from 2005 is a good starting point for understanding this ongoing saga: A Closer Look at the Attempted Coup.

One of the most revealing documents from 2003 is the Chapman letter, which describes the plans of a small group of extremists within the Episcopal Church to ignore canon law and utilize "offshore bishops" to create a new Anglican presence in North America, with the intent of replacing the existing Episcopal Church. The Via Media groups offered the most concise explanation of the Chapman letter:

The letter speaks for itself. Property, not piety is keeping dissident parishes in the Episcopal Church. In the longer term, the AAC expects to use foreign intervention to trump American law and the Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons. Its leaders are assuring dissident parishes that the Anglican primates, a consultative body with no governing authority or standing in the United States, will ride to the rescue of Network parishes, negotiate property settlements and transfer the assets of 2.3-million-member church to a group representing perhaps a tenth of that body. The Chapman letter reveals the AAC's "realignment" for what it really is -- the overthrow of the Episcopal Church by extra-legal means.
And so here we are in 2010, with this long promised new Anglican body seeking recognition by the Church of England. They are depicted in the "background paper" as a poor, persecuted group of orthodox Anglicans seeking refuge from the evil beast known as TEC. Such a characterization would almost be humorous, except most likely some uninformed members of the Church of England might actually accept such a bizarre misrepresentation.

The presenting issue has been the role of our GLBT members within the Church. In some parts of the Anglican Communion, this debate continues. It is often masked by the extremists in the US as the claim that they are defending "the authority of scripture." The reality is that there are a number of divergent views on exactly what scripture has to say, if anything, on this matter. Personally, I've grown weary of such debates, but, if some of you are new to the argument, I recommend this resource, which briefly addresses the various verses from scripture that some consider relevant from both a conservative and a liberal point of view. As you can see, to claim the bible is "clear" on this matter is an extreme position.

Because TEC has moved towards the inclusion of all the baptized in the life of the Church, the movement to replace it with a "purified" Anglican presence in North America was launched. A popular tactic of this extremist group has been to align themselves with a foreign bishop (usually from Rwanda, Uganda, Nigeria or the Southern Cone), and then announce that they were no longer a part of the "apostate" Episcopal Church. Backed by their foreign bishop, many of these groups also claimed ownership of all assets, including their physical plant, contrary to canon law. These brazen border crossings by foreign bishops are, in my estimation, acts of larceny, and should be treated as such. But, apparently, calling a thief a thief is not the Anglican way. So, we have taken these...ummm..."misguided" congregations to court to attempt to regain those assets that have been wrongly acquired by these pillagers in purple. And now we have a few dioceses that have also decided that they cannot tolerate gay cooties in their church. Imagine that.

To get an even clearer view of this extremist group, consider this post by Scott Gunn; Tales from ACNA-Land: "Church Militant" Gets New Meaning, in which he notes this group's violent tendencies, summed up in his closing statement:

...So make no mistake. These people are out for blood. I wish I could say in confidence that this is just a figure of speech.
For those members of the Church of England who might be considering supporting this schismatic group of extremists, you may want to consider Battle for Britain by Tobias Haller:

...What would be done in the Church of England if a bishop from the convocation of Canterbury were to announce one day that he no longer considered himself to be under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury and had transferred his allegiance to the Archbishop of Tanzania, but intended to remain in his present location and exercise episcopal functions as a representative of his new archbishop...
Do make sure you read the whole thing.

There are other matters that members of the Church of England might want to consider as well. For instance, do keep in mind that ACNA is a melting pot of various groups that have claimed to be Anglican at one time or another. Some of them have not been in communion with Canterbury for some time. The Reformed Episcopal Church, of which ACNA proudly claims as contributing 130 congregations, has been out of communion with Canterbury for over a century. For those of a more Anglo-Catholic inclination, this would seem to me to be reason to at least pause to consider their holy orders, among other things. The REC is basically quite similar to the ELCA in regards to its relationship to the Anglican Communion. The long dialogue we had with the Lutherans before entering into full communion would suggest that some similar process might be necessary with the members of the REC before grafting them into the Anglican Communion.

No doubt this motion being considered by General Synod is simply another step in the overall plan of the extremists. If they are not recognized this time, at least they will get their cause placed in the limelight once again, and so will move a little closer, by small, incremental steps, towards their goal of becoming the replacement Anglican presence in North America.

But, of course. such limelight also allows their more unpleasant characteristics to come under closer scrutiny as well. May the members of the Church of England consider the full picture of this group before making any hasty decisions.