Can Christians Foster and Other Questions

As many of you know, the High Court sitting in Nottingham is deliberating over a judgement concerning a Christian couple and their fitness to foster children. Owen and Eunice Johns had fostered previously but they withdrew their new application when it became clear that there would be a problem with the social workers accepting their conservative christian views on homosexuality.

Let’s assume for the moment that Eunice and Owen actually present a reasonable conservative position (i.e. something on the lines of “God is not in favour of sex outside of marriage”, rather than, “gay people are going to hell”). If the court rules that they are not allowed to be foster carers if they tell the children in their care what they think, it raises a very interesting question beyond the immediate issue at hand, namely this.

Why is the Church of England still being permitted to operate as the State Church?

At first this seems unconnected to the original issue of fostering, but once you explore the underlying issues you see where I’m going here. If the High Court rules that the State (in this case the local council) is allowed to view a theological opinion as grounds to not allow someone to represent the State (in this case caring for children in the trust of the State), why should it permit the Church of England (which holds the identical theological position as Owen and Eunice Johns) to represent it in any form? Isn’t it logical that as soon as the High Court rules that the position of the Johns’ is unnaceptable, it follows that that is the same for any person or organisation who holds the identical position?


10 Comments on “Can Christians Foster and Other Questions

  1. Hello Peter, I have been following your blog off and on for a while, and have just read your bio. What is postgay? I have googled it, and there are so many definitions that I am still confused. What is your definition? Thanks, Anita

    • Hi Anita,

      Simply put, postgay for a
      Christian is the concept that one has moved beyond “gay” as a descriptor or prescriber of your life. Postgay doesn’t mean one’s orientation has changed, but rather signifies that orientation has no baring on sexual activity and sexual identity.

  2. Hello Peter,

    looked at one way your question’s a little odd, isn’t it…? It’s not a question of the C of E being “permitted” to be the state church, surely – it’s just a fact that in England it is the established church. The High Court has no jurisdiction over that fact, so if the Johnses lose their case it won’t follow that any organisation which (officially) holds the same view as Mr and Mrs Johns is illegitimate or can’t represent the state. The language of ‘represent’ sounds odd to me too – am i just flaunting my ignorance… but is it the case that the C of E represents the state in any sense? If so in what sense? There’s another tangle in the background in that the constitution’s a right muddle – England has an established church but Wales, Scotland and (I think….) Northern Ireland don’t, yet we also speak of one state of which those 4 countries are parts. So again, I don’t see why any great dominoes (if you will) should fall if the Johnses lose this case.

    I probably say this to the point of tedium but I still think it’s worth remembering that this isn’t only about a theological opinion, but is (I suggest) a disagreement over a question of truth. Is the conservative Christian characterisation of homosexuality, and the teaching linked to it, true or not? One way to look at this could be that the state in effect, now takes the view that it is not true, and has enshrined this in law, albeit clumsily and cackhandedly sometimes. Those Christians who believe that that characterisation and teaching are true, and naturally want to say so in public and pass the teaching to others, then find themselves in conflict with the authorities. I’m not expressing things very well today but I suggest it’s important to remember that this is a disagreement over a question of truth – so it is (a) not simply a conflict of rights, and (b) appeals to conscience on this aren’t as compelling as they might be, because truth is prior to conscience.

    End of somewhat pompous burbling ;)

    in friendship, Blair

  3. Peter

    I can see where you are going with this… But there are significant differences between the situations. Foster carers are in the pay of the state – the CofE is not, it does not receive tax payers’ money for the pay of the clergy. People can choose whether they enter a church or partake of religion – children don’t have a choice when it comes to being placed with foster parents. So it is not really possible to draw any conclusion from two different circumstances.

    What is interesting is that it is an Afro-Caribbean/black couple that is making their complaint; as was the case with Mr MacFarlene, Lillian Ladele, Theresa Davies etc. Obviously there are white people who make similar complaints but there does seem to be a bias towards Christians from Afro-Caribbean churches who make these claims. Of course there are a greater proportion of Afro-Caribbean and Africans in the UK who are regular church members – hence it is somewhat ironic that it is these communities that are troubled with social problems: absentee fathers, high teen age pregnancy rate, a greater proportion in the criminal justice system. But more than this, a long standing history of family breakdown. There are structural reasons for some of these problems (poverty, poor educational attainment and of course the impact of racism) but it seems these alone cannot explain the disproportionate social problems found in these communities that are less ‘secular’ than wider society.

    The fact that homophobia is also culturally acceptable in many of these communities (particularly in Jamaica, West Africa etc.) does raise the question why the present cohort of “professional martyrs” appear to be disproportionately black. Given the demographics of many black churches – high rates of family breakdown, single mothers etc. and in African churches HIV infection, one can’t help but think some of the ‘troubled souls’ who have such firm views about homosexuality, are perhaps looking for the ‘easy’ morality of queer-bashing. From my own experience, as a onetime social worker who worked in many of these communities in inner London, I can’t help but think there may be a grain of truth in this conclusion.

    Well, whatever, I don’t think you can think of the case of foster carers being the same as that of the CoE. But I would warmly welcome the latter’s disestablishment – I think it is the only it stands any chance of surviving.



    • Steven,

      Thanks for your comment. You’ll see in my reply to Blair what I meant by “represent”. The point of my post was less to put forward a particular interpretation as my “fixed view” but rather to think out loud and provoke a conversation.

      It’s a very interesting point you make about the Afro-Caribbean (AC) communities in this country. I don’t think it’s fair to label conservative societal structures and beliefs (and their defence) in the AC communities as just easy “queer bashing”. I think it’s more to do with the fact that since these communities have very strong bonds around religious expression, and since there is also a cultural history of liberation and freedom (remember – for some of these families slavery is only five or six generations ago), they are much more willing to stand up for what they believe. For many of these cases it’s NOT an attempt to restrict or repeal rights for sexual minorities – it’s more to do with the ability to act in conscience with their own beliefs.

  4. Peter

    Yes, as I note there are ‘structural’ reasons for moral ‘problems’ within AC and black communities. However I think there is tendency on the part of white middle-class people to become overly romantic about these communities – itself a species of inverted racism. When I first began to change my orthodox stance on Scripture, in the late 80s, a friend of mine made strong appeals for the need to eschew Western Liberalism and noted that AC and esp. African churches were rooted in Biblical orthodoxy and hence a much more ‘uncontaminated’ expression of Christianity.

    My friend and his wife were later ordained and went to work for an Evangelical missionary organisation in Africa. Both took on roles in a Bible college in sub-Saharan Africa – within a year they had returned to the UK, disillusioned with African Christianity. Yes, the Evangelical churches had strong, orthodox views on homosexuality, but this was coupled with evidence of corruption, adultery and (ironically) racism (i.e. tribal hatreds) as commonplace in many churches. Later my friend visited Nigeria and noted that the only place he felt there was any sense of ‘righteousness’ was in the Muslim north – indeed a church official had tried to bribe him in the south!

    For several years I worked in palliative care at a central London hospital and found myself working with many patients from the AC and African community. A good deal of my work involved sorting out the financial and familial problems of people at the end of their lives (aged 16+). It seemed to me so many Black Christians (both AC and African) put a great deal of effort into outward appearances. A familiar example would be visiting a male patient to plan discharge home; wee wifey would be sitting by the bed, sometimes reading a Bible and holding hubby’s hand. I would then discuss what help would be needed etc. on discharge and presume the wife would doing some of the care, only to find out the couple lived at separate address and had actually been split up for years! This was a common occurrence. On other occasions debt would be the over-riding problem – not to mention the problems in AIDS defining cancers.

    Obviously one can’t infer much from two people’s experience, but I think it presents enough evidence to suggest it is foolish to believe AC/Black churches are somehow a bastion of orthodoxy. A quick search in Google Scholar suggests (with more substantial evidence) I am not alone in my thinking. Whatever, it returns to my old chestnut that it seems the more overtly religious communities are often the ones with the greater proportion of the very social problems we are told greater ‘faith’ and ‘religion’ in society would prevent or reduce (high divorce, teenage pregnancy, violent crime, illegitimacy etc.). This paradox cannot be glibly side-stepped AC and Black (not to mention Muslim) children/youth are far, far more likely to be part of a practicing faith community and receive religious instruction in morality, yet seem to be prone to greater incidences of social deviance. I do regret the use of the term ‘queer-bashing’ in the above, because it is emotive and overly simplifies my argument. What I am really saying is that I think there is a degree of transference going on here. “If I make a stand against homosexuality then I am showing my religious morality’” The fact such a moral stance seems to be a frequent cry from members of churches and communities where there are far more pressing and nearer to home moral stances that could be made suggests something else might be going on.

    I will add that given the subject of homosexuality is hardly likely to come up with children of the age range this couple are seeking to foster, I do think a bit too much fuss is being made of the issue than is really necessary. Though I get the feeling with these cases (as with Macfarene et el) that we are not being told the full story – on either side.



  5. When single people and same-sex partners were allowed to adopt in recent years the argument that children probably need a father and a mother for a healthy balanced upbringing was countered by the argument of the best interests of the child… because there are insufficient foster carers and adoptive parents and the outcomes for children in childrens’ homes are so poor.

    Now, it seems, the argument has moved away from the actual best interests of the child and on to ideology. I’m not sure that I would feel very comfortable, were I a gay rights campaigner, with the thought that not only are people who are known to be good caring foster parents losing their careers as foster carers, but some children in care homes are being condemned to poor outcomes because of gay rights!

    After all, most people in the UK today were brought up by parents who had negative attitudes to same-sex sex, yet had much better outcomes that children condemned to being raised in institutional childrens homes!

  6. ps Isn’t Steven in danger of being labelled a racist? If he used anecdotal arguments, such as those he pick on to criticize other racial groups, to criticize gay people I think he would be accused of homophobia. How can he justify extrapolating from the few bad examples that he chooses to talk about (not even balancing it with any good experiences that he has heard of) to the attitudes and motivations of the John’s?
    And has he any justification for labelling people who have lost their careers and professional reputations just “professional martyrs”??

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