That is the subject of a discussion being held, with remarakbly good timing, tonight in the Houses of Parliament by permission of the Lords’ Speaker, Baroness Hayman. Polly Toynbee and Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia will be pressing the case for the prosecution, as it were. The Bishop of Leicester and Baroness Butler-Schloss will give the defence and it is chaired by David Aaronovitch.
On Monday I saw, for the first time, the Bishops in action in the House of Lords. I had the vague impression that they were, unknowingly, sort of measuring themselves up for their own parliamentary coffin. They were behaving a bit like bovver boys. The whole debate was a farce.
But what’s come out of this for the good (bearing in mind that the “truth” of the matter has not yet come out, in my opinion, and I am still listening and reading to search for it) is that I have discovered the wonderful Guardian Cif Belief site, Ekklesia and Thinking Anglicans.
What should be stated loud and clear is that many people in the churches do not agree with the stance of the bishops on the Equality Bill.
On a separate element on Thinking Anglicans, Simon Sarmiento is absolutely brilliant in succinctly stating the legal truths of these matters. There’s a post of his here on Thinking Anglicans with an excellent comments thread. Simon makes this comment:
…the law is entirely clear with respect to bookkeepers. The law is entirely clear with respect to the clergy. Where the law is less clear is for posts that are in the middle ground, of which the “youth worker who teaches bible classes” is a favourite example.
And there you have it. The entire nub of the matter in a nutshell – despite all the whipping up of a massive “Church v State” battle by certain very small factions in the churches. Yes, the law already exists to allow churches to discriminate for (1) priests on various grounds. The law already exists for (2) bookkeepers not to be discriminated against upon selection for employment (and thereafter). What Monday’s debate was about – or more correctly should have been about – is where you precisely draw the line between those two categories. On the more nebulous example of the youth worker who teaches bible classes, the government was quite clear that it if the youth worker mainly took bible classes and led prayers and preached, then they would fall into the (1) priests category. If they mainly organise entertainment then they would fall into category 2 – the bookeeper category. Simples. And by the way, it is even more simple that that. I’ll stick my neck out here and say that I am pretty sure that there abolutely zero youth workers in any church who mainly organise entertainment. They all lead praise, preaching, prayer or bible reading in some shape or form, normally as the largest part of their work.
Finally, let us read a quote from that beacon of legal sanity, Lord Lester, which he uttered immediately after the division on Monday:
I cannot resist making the observation that, in the Division, the Lords Spiritual managed to vote as turkeys for Christmas – if noble Lords will forgive me for saying so – by removing the new and magnanimous protection that they were given. Proportionality was taken out of the Bill, probably encouraging the European Commission to suggest that our statutory powers will infringe its own and lead to further trouble.