It was a bewildering experience. While the main action was taking place in a studio in London, I was alone in studio 100 miles away surrounded by remote control TV cameras, trying to take part in a debate with people I couldn’t see! It was definitely a learning experience.
But what bewildered me more was Chris Sugden’s assertion that Government plans to give permission for Civil Partnerships to take place in religious buildings was nothing more than intimidation. He implied that it was part of a co-ordinated campaign against the Church, (I assume he meant the Church of England) which was designed to coerce and intimidate.
While I found the surroundings I was in strange, I found his accusation mind-blowing. How can ‘permission’ be ‘intimidation’?
The fact is that there are many same-sex couples who would love to have a spiritual element to their Civil Partnership, but this is currently prohibited by law in the UK. There are also numerous churches (and other religious groups) who would love to offer Civil Partnership in the context of a religious service of blessing, but are similarly prohibited by law.
Last year, Lord Ali introduced an amendment to the Equalities Bill which would remove this prohibition by giving permission for religious buildings to be used and religious content included. The amendment was supported in a public letter by no less than 7 Bishops and many leading church people, and was passed by the House of Lords.
What the Government is doing now, is acting on this democratic vote to give such permission to those who seek it. This is the very opposite of intimidation, and will not force any church or anyone to act against their faith.
Yet clearly Chris Sugden and Anglican Mainstream feel intimidated by this permission. Why?
Is it because they feel intimidated by religious freedom? Is it because they feel intimidated by anyone who doesn’t agree with them? Is it because they are frightened of the differing views on sexuality which are present in the church? Is it because they are scared of people who don’t agree with them?
Whatever the reason, their attempts to prevent those who want to include their faith in their most important relationship, and to prevent churches from meeting those spiritual aspirations, are both morally indefensible and spiritually repressive.
Jesus had a saying for this kind of approach – “You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” Matthew 23:13
I think the taxi driver who took me to the studio had the right question.
He was white, male, heterosexual, married, down to earth working class in his 50’s, and he said “What is their problem?”