Yesterday in Synod we had question time (a slightly less fractious affair then the one that happens over the road from where Synod meets) and there were one or two questions up to discuss issues around the Equality Bill and human sexuality. As it happened, John Sentamu answered most of those queries and his responses proved to be slightly less dangerous then some of the other things he sometimes gets up to. Still interesting though.
Questions 48 and 49 came from Canon Simon Butler of Southwark who asked the following.
Q48 In the debates on the Equality Bill currently undergoing parliamentary scrutiny, the Church of England has expressed a desire to maintain exemptions in respect of the recruiting of ministers of religion, or others to a small number of senior lay posts. Concerning appointments by the Archbishopsâ€™ Council to its boards, councils, divisions and Central Secretariat, can the Council inform the Synod of those posts to which, if they were to become vacant today, this exemption would currently apply?
Q49 Given the Church of England’s support for amendments to the Equality Bill which maintain the current exemptions, can the Archbishops’ Council indicate:
(a) what steps they have been taking since the implementation of the 2003 Regulations to ensure that, when seeking to appoint people to “senior lay posts that involve promoting and representing the religion” candidates “are able to demonstrate an ability to live a life consistent with the ethos of the religion, as well as sharing the faith”; and
(b) whether any changes to this historical practice are now to be made?
Sentamu gave what amounted to non-answers to these questions, outlining the status of the Bill and affirming in non affirming language that the Church did what the law said. However, Butler’s supplementary caused a stir (he asked how the Council go about finding out whether a candidate met the “genuine occupational requirement” in the area of human sexuality) when it was ruled out of order by the Chair. That ruling was challenged from the floor by a Point of Order and the supplementary was rephrased. Sentamu answered with another non-answer.
Synod then moved to April Alexander’s questions
Q50 Can the Archbishopsâ€™ Council spell out the nature of the exemptions currently available to the Church in respect of equality legislation and employment law as they apply to lay employees which are referred to by the Bishops of Winchester, Exeter and Chester in their recent statement and which might be lost under the present Equality Bill?
Yet again another non-answer from Sentamu, but the follow up from April Alexander began teasing out the question. Issues in Human Sexuality, she said, referred to sexual behaviour for clergy. Was the Church now changing its stance by applying the same criteria to laity as well?
Suddenly Sentamu moved from diplomat to diplomat with a conservative agenda. No, he replied, the stance hasn’t changed. The Church believes that sexual practice should only take place within the marriage of a man and a woman. All Issues in Human Sexuality does is say that laity who don’t hold to that standard will still be welcomed into our congregations.
And there you had it. In one blow Sentamu affirmed the conservative stance, confirmed (as President of the Archbishop’s Council) that it was still the official position of the Church of England and signalled very clearly that there was no intention to change that doctrinal stance.
Nice one John.