How to change the Church of England – quick recap

Here’s a quick recap of the way in which I think LGBT inclusion will be won in the Church of England.

[Repeated from a post I put up last year]

Things down south are very different to how things work in my own dear church but sometimes being outside a province and looking in can give one a useful sense of perspective. This is how I see things just over the border from here.

  1. This can only be won in the Church of England in the General Synod of the Church of England. Notwithstanding anything else I say below, it can be won no-where else. That means building up a formidable synodical operation that works vote by vote for inclusive policies. The key here is that getting permission to marry gay couples in church unlocks all the other things you want too. Yes, it is worth making every debate about pensions, the forces chaplaincies, schools etc all debates where LGBT issues are paramount – these are all things where LGBT rights need to be talked about. However, equal marriage is the goal.  And deliciously in a synodical system it is possible (difficult admittedly, but possible) to get things on the agenda. Oh, and don’t forget that the best way to provide jollity to a diocesan synod is to get enough people elected onto it and propose a motion or two about the national policy of the C of E when it comes to LGBT people. Don’t forget that  it was in Diocesan Synods that the dreaded covenant was defeated in England. Synods are your friends.
  2. Although things can only finally be sorted out in the General Synod, it is important to remember that there are other places in which pressure can come. One of the most important of these is the one debating chamber where the bishops of the Church of England are present but don’t possess either a majority or a veto – yes, the House of Lords. We know already that Archbishop Justin doesn’t like it when members of the House of Peers tell him he is being a rotter to the poofs. I’ve never heard of anyone campaigning around these issues in England who is cultivating members of the House of Lords but if they did it would pay dividends. The Church of England is essentially part of the establishment and it is the establishment which will need to be involved in sorting out all the anti-gay policies of the C of E, just as it has done with other institutions.
  3. Pressure can also be brought in the House of Commons, of course. However, here it needs to be targeted towards government policies. We need MPs, good, solid, shire-based Anglican MPs standing up and asking Theresa May whether she really intends to give more money to an anti-gay institution such as the Church of England to run even more schools. Oh, I know it is ugly to be accused of using schoolchildren as bargaining chips but it is even more ugly to be a bullied gay kid and putting pressure on the peculiar English school system over this issue pays dividends both to that kid who needs our support and the wider cause too.
  4. Every single political party needs to be asked repeatedly whether it will remove the Quadruple Lock on the C of E. Every single one without exception. So who is going to do that and when and how will that be decided? (Oh, I know, that’s a tricky question I slipped in there. I know, I know).
  5. Now, the joyful thing about the Church of England is that it claims to be a church for the whole English nation (whatever that is). This means that the whole English nation (whatever that is) can be enjoined to have a say. It would be good to hear a bit more of the old campaigning noises coming from Stonewall to put pressure on government, particularly about the schools issues and the quadruple lock. Postcard campaigns to MPs, being noisy in the media, using the undoubted skills of Ruth Hunt in the public arena – all these things will help. The important thing is that the way in which change will happen is when LGBT campaigners work to make Stonewall and other equality institutions work harder to call the establishment to account in the faith zone and not the other way round. Trust me on this one Stonewall – this isn’t about you trying to get LGBT faith campaigners to do the work here. Change is going to happen precisely the other way around and it is worth doing because the streets of England will not be friendly streets for LGBT people until the homophobia of the churches has been beaten. It needs to be a public, mass campaign using all the tricks of the previous Equal Marriage debates. Don’t be squeamish about telling religious people what to do – even the bible recognises that sometimes those outside the community of faith speak holy words of wisdom most clearly.
  6. One of the things that I think would be most effective most quickly would be for those who campaign on these issues in England to realise that their enemy is not those with whom they disagree. Their enemies consist entirely of those who agree with them but who stay silent. There’s really no need to fight people who disagree with you. It is mostly pointless and promotes the heresy that there are two equal sides to this conflict, which we all know there are not. However, there’s every reason to fight tooth and nail to get all those who might believe in the depths of their hearts in the haughty homophobes of the hierarchy being brought low and the lowly lesbian ordinands being raised up, to sing out their own magnificat of LGBT justice for all to hear. (Here’s an insider tip – start with Great Expectations for the Deans – bishops are not the only people in the hierarchy of the C of E).
  7. Oh, if only there were an actual international Anglican LGBT Network that was an official network of the Anglican Communion. So, why don’t we start working for one? There is much one can learn from other Provinces once you start buzzing about he world. A formal LGBT Network is the only real answer to that last Primates’ Communique that condemned homophobia, isn’t it? Sorry, I meant, “Isn’t it, Archbishop?”
  8. One of the things that I hope for is that Changing Attitude Scotland soon goes out of business and ceases to be. I’ve a feeling that I might struggle to find such sentiments in organisations in  England. Would campaigning organisations be prepared to sacrifice their own identity and existence if it brought about victory for the cause? I’ve a hunch that the current plethora of competing campaigns isn’t doing justice to Justice. Just a thought.
  9. If people don’t want to engage in campaigning in this way, they do in England have another unique option, which is to pray in the privacy of their hearts (or in public if they dare) for the Lord to bless Prince George with a love, when he grows up, of a fine young gentleman. A royal wedding might sort things out remarkably easily though we might have to wait 25 years for that to happen. Who knows whether that might be sooner than things might work out by other means?

To this I would add number 10 – All of this needs to focus entirely on the priorities of the LGBTImission which spells out exactly what LGBT people in the C of E need. It is excellent – succinct and just. You can find that here: https://lgbtimission.org.uk/our-priorities/

Christians cannot be allowed to discriminate against gays – #gaycake

This article first appeared at the STV news website.

Over the weekend, I had the kind of birthday that is impossible to ignore.

The big round 50 is one of those things that need to be marked somehow. That’s certainly what members of my congregation seemed to think and I found myself whirling and birling round my church at a birthday ceilidh on Friday night and then being presented with a cake and a card and a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday to You at the end of the Sung Eucharist on Sunday morning.

Those who organised this staggered up the aisle after the last hymn carrying the largest, stickiest and most colourful cake they had been able to procure in all of Glasgow.

Not content with an off-the-peg cake, they had decided to go for something a bit more made to measure; something a bit more personal. And so, acknowledging my role as a gay rights activist as well as someone who runs a cathedral congregation, they appeared with a cake bearing a joyfully garish rainbow.

It was my gay cake moment.

Je suis le #gaycake.

But what if those involved in the production of my cake had refused? What if they had been allowed to say no to producing such a cake for an LGBT-identified church leader?

There would have been two obvious consequences. Firstly, I might have woken up on Monday morning a little slimmer, which would have been no bad thing. But secondly, I would have woken up on Monday morning back in the days when I could be discriminated against by those providing goods and services.

Now, a cake seems a trivial matter and a cake such as the one that all the fuss is about in Northern Ireland even more so as it bears the images of a couple of Muppets. However, discrimination is a serious business and every little moment where one is treated as less than someone else in society adds up.

I don’t want to go back to the bad old days when people could refuse to serve you based on their perception of your sexuality (or any other protected characteristic).

I’m sure the gay cake case has been determined correctly by the courts in Northern Ireland, for if the judgment had gone otherwise then the legislation which protects people from prejudice in their daily life would not be worth the vellum it is written on.

Many people are now asking whether there should be a conscience clause to “protect” people from having to provide goods and services to people whom they do not wish to do business with.

Such a clause would mean the effective repeal of legislation that enables me as a gay man to do business in the world in the same way as a straight person. It means that you can’t charge more for a service to a woman than you do a man (or vice versa). It means that you can’t refuse to have a black couple in your B&B because you don’t want “people like that” under your roof.

We must remember through all this debate that racism was justified for decades on religious grounds.

I find it puzzling that some who would be appalled at religious views being used to justify racist actions seem to think that religious views are a legitimate reason for someone opting out of identical legislation preventing discrimination against those of us who are gay.

Actually, saying I find it puzzling is a bit of a euphemism. In truth, I find it terrifying.

It is almost as though a nice white “Christian” heterosexual couple could never be the perpetrators of prejudice.

If gay people are going to be able to live in a world where they are not discriminated against then godly Christians don’t get to choose not to have that law themselves.

The views of Daniel and Amy McArthur, the owners of Ashers bakery in Northern Ireland which was sued because they refused to provide a cake supporting equal marriage are worth considering for a moment.

Their position is clear. As Bible-believing Christians they feel they simply have no alternative but to refuse to make a cake that contradicts their belief that same-sex marriage is wicked.

Clearly not all Christians hold to these views. Those who do hold them usually depend on a misreading of a couple of verses from the New Testament epistle to the Romans.

The trouble is, the epistle to the Romans has rather a lot to say about living under the civil law.

Why do the McArthurs take a fundamentalist line in relation to verses in Romans 1 that are perceived to be about same-sex couples yet seem to completely disregard Romans 13 where St Paul says:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement.”

And how, in heaven’s name, can you refuse to bake a cake you don’t agree with in the name of a Saviour who said, “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well”?

If the McArthurs wanted to be Christian about that cake, they would have offered a bonus dollop of fresh cream on the side.

The gay cake row is not a clash of rights between the gays and the Christians – plenty of us fit into both categories in any case.

Gay people have a right not to be discriminated against in shops but crucially the same law gives the same right to Christians. If a Christian wants to go into a shop and order a cake then gay owners can’t discriminate against them on the grounds of religion.

The point of all this is not that gay people are privileged in the law; they are not. The point is that customers, all customers, are protected from being discriminated against due to their sexuality or their religion or indeed a number of other categories too. This isn’t about gay people having more privileges than religious people – it is about everyone having the same rights.

Neither is this about limiting free speech. A bizarre argument has been put forward by Peter Tatchell suggesting that this case means that bakers will be forced to write anything that anyone asks for on cakes no matter how offensive. He has raised the suggestion that printers could be forced to print cartoons of Mohamed or that Jewish printers could be forced to print the words of Holocaust deniers.

This is palpably nonsense and, unusually for Tatchell whose views are always worth considering, a complete misunderstanding of the legal point on which this case turns. The cake should have been made because refusing to do so discriminated against someone in one of the protected characteristics that the law quite rightly demands are not used as justification for prejudicial treatment. The courts have simply not determined that bakers have to print anything that people ask them to print on a cake.

Being a Holocaust denier is not a characteristic protected by the law. Being anti-Muslim is not a characteristic protected by the law.

Bakers will not be forced to make cakes with swastikas on them because being a Nazi is not a characteristic protected by law and isn’t going to become so any time soon.

The protected characteristics are easy enough to understand when you list them. You can’t discriminate on the grounds of someone’s age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership status, and pregnancy or maternity.

Anything else, you can turn down just because it suits you.

You can’t refuse to bake a cake because your customers want it to say, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son Jesus” on the grounds that you happen to be a queer atheist. You can’t refuse to have a Christian couple staying in your bed and breakfast because you happen to be a pagan. That is right and proper. And you can’t refuse to produce a pro-gay cake nor refuse a gay couple a bed in a B&B. And that’s right too.

These rights are what we need for a good society to flourish.

People sometimes remember the kind of signs that used to appear outside premises before various anti-discrimination laws were passed.

“No Irish, no blacks, no dogs” is one famous example of appalling discrimination.

Those in Northern Ireland need to remember that these laws now protect us all.

No exceptions.