Bending the Knee

The Three Jewish Princes in the FireThe last paragraph of the recently published “Manhattan Declaration” makes for interesting reading.

Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryodestructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other antilife act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.

Them there’s strong words and I wonder whether we might get something similar from the Church of England fairly soon. Let me explain.

As Simon Sarmiento pointed out in the Church Times last week, a joint parliamentary committee rejected suggestions from the Church of England that religious organisations be allowed to discriminate in the field of employment on the basis of religious belief. The Archbishop’s Council wrote:

“It seems to us both logical and necessary that in the case of a post in respect of which it is legitimate to im­pose a requirement that the holder be of a particular religion, it should equally be possible to impose a requirement that the holder of the post should not engage in conduct contrary to the tenets of that religion.

“Indeed it is only in respect of posts that are subject to a requirement to be of a particular religion or belief that the Church would ever wish to impose any of the [other] requirements listed. . . It is our view that the scope of the ex­ception . . . should simply be expressed to apply to posts in respect of which a requirement to be of a particular religion was (lawfully) applied. . .”

What this comes down to is that the Archbishop’s Council was seeking to put in law a defence against not employing someone when their sexual behaviour was contrary to the doctrine of the religious body involved. This seems to be a way to get around the complications thrown up by the Priddis / Reaney case two years ago.

The response from the JCHR was to the point:

“We consider that substantial grounds exist for doubting whether the ‘reli­gious ethos’ exception . . . permits organisations with a religious ethos to impose wide-ranging requirements on employees to adhere to reli­gious doctrine in their lifestyles and personal relationships, by, for example, requiring em­ployees to manifest their religious beliefs by refraining from homosexual acts.

“We agree with the Government that it is ‘very difficult to see how, in practice, beliefs in lifestyles or personal relationships could consti-tute a religious belief which is a requirement for a job, other than ministers of religion’ (which is covered by a different exception). This should put beyond doubt the position that the [religion or belief] exemption cannot be used to discriminate on the basis of sexual conduct linked to sexual orientation. We sup­port this view and recommend that this be made clear in the Bill.”

So the answer is a very clear “no”. Be under no illusion – were the JCHR to have its way in the wording of the law, it would effectively make the current pastoral guidance in “Issues in Human Sexuality” which says that clergy cannot be involved in sexual relationships outside of marriage illegal.

Here’s the question. If the Equality Bill passes in its present form, what is the Church of England going to do? Will it find the courage of its convictions, or will it bow the knee to Caesar. Watch this space!

7 Comments on “Bending the Knee

  1. Peter

    I don’t think your conclusion about IHS follows from what the JCHR said. The current dispute between the Abps Council and Government/Parliament is not about the discipline to be applied to clergy, it’s about whether such discipline can be extended beyond the clergy.

    However, the EU opinion reported over the weekend, see URL below, does strike at the heart of the policy re clergy.


    • I’m aware that the discussion is mainly in relation to non-clergy (i.e. Reaney vs Priddis), but I can’t see on reading the Equality Bill in its current form how one could assume that the restrictions on clergy will not be challenged on the same basis.

      You are correct that the EU opinion just exacerbates the situation.

      • Peter you said “if the Equality Bill passes in its current form”.

        The JCHR is not proposing any change to Schedule 9 Clause 2, which would replace the SO regulation 7(3).

        Clause 2 contains a new definition of the “purposes of religion” which has generated controversy, but which clearly keeps ordained CofE clergy (among others) within the scope of all the items listed in para 4, of which “a requirement relating to sexual orientation” is but one. See the full wording at

        The bill as drafted has no links at all between clause 2 and clause 3. It is the Archbishops’ Council which has proposed making a link.

        • Yes I understand that, but I’m left wondering where the dividing line is made. 8(a) and 8(b) don’t necessarily refer just to clergy (Readers for example lead services and teach the doctrine – how do you handle the definition of “employment” if some kind of honorarium is paid?). How about an employed lay worker with licence to preach and to assist with the distribution of the Eucharist? You might also reasonably argue that the head of youth provision in a diocese is responsible for promoting the religion (just to bring that one up again). Or what about a diocesan book store manager tasked to increase distribution of particular literature?

          If the only thing supporting the exemption for CofE clergy is the teaching document IiHS (as recognised by the Tribunal in the Reaney case), then couldn’t you argue that the 1987 General Synod motion covers the same criteria but for a wider scope?

          Just being devil’s advocate (as it were).

  2. There was discussion at the European Council for Human Rights a few years ago that religious rights should be subordinated to all other rights… and I wonder whether that is the mood of many of the European and UK political elite – maybe partly because of the perceived need to put pressure on Islam in Europe, partly to enforce culture change on sexual rights, and partly because the Church is perceived as a major supporter of unwelcome political and moral views.

    It always amuses me that political elites from time immemorial have alway seemed to believe that they should have the competence to impose their “morality” on everyone…. whilst doing whatever suits themselves and the people they approve of.

    “The Divine right of kings” rearing it’s ugly head again, maybe?

  3. ps. Personally I do think that UK churches, including the various Houses of Bishops, do need to make a similar declaration now, and be prepared to stand by it under the inevitable media, legislative (and maybe some physical) attacks.. but in the end few politicians would want to be seen to be prosecuting Christian leaders, and facilitating people to sue vaste numbers of Christian charities etc, because they insist on the right to express and run their organisations according to their Christian beliefs and values etc!

    [It reminds me of the declaration made by leaders of african-caribbean churches a few years ago when civil partnerships etc were introduced, and I expect that the responses it would provoke would be similar too.]

  4. On a different note…

    “…we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryodestructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other antilife act …” [emphasis added]

    So, are the good folks behind the Manhattan Declaration opposing both war and the death penalty then…?

    Just wondering.

    in friendship, Blair

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