Thursday, January 25, 2007


It would appear that the most senior figures in the Catholic and Anglican churches have no real idea just how bad they look to a massive number of people right now. Living in an ecclesial cocoon, they express "shock" at the reaction to their determination to discriminate. I refer, of course, to the unseemly row over the Equality Act 2006 and Catholic adoption agencies. These bodies do a good job, and receive public funds in a variety of ways, including local authority fees. It is reasonable, therefore, that they comply with universal access regulations. But the church, which seems to be fixated on homosexuality at the moment (it counts for much more than baptismal identity in determining one’s standing, it seems), doesn't want to.

If you are an atheist, a Muslim, a lone parent, divorced and remarried, or cohabiting - all estates which put you outside the Catholic fold, or at least its teaching - you can adopt through one of 12 Catholic agencies, provided that you can show you are a good parent. But if you are gay and in a permanent, stable partnership, you can't - even if you are actively Christian. This will strike most people as odd, inconsistent and not a terribly good testimony to the love of God. It will also, from April 2007, contravene the UK law, which wants to give lesbian and gay people the same rights as black people, religious persons, and so on. The Cardinal Archbishop's response (backed by Canterbury and York) has been to threaten to close 'his' adoption agencies, while acknowledging that they assist the most vulnerable. This beggars belief.

In seeking compliance with SORs, no-one is requiring the church to change its teaching on homosexuality - though many of us feel that it can and should on perfectly mainstream, biblical, tradition-generated grounds. Evangelicals, too, are questioning the simplistic 'family values' agenda. No, what is being asked of the church as institution is that, in seeking the kudos and responsibility of sharing a role as a public service provider, it does so with fairness and equanimity. As government minister Harriet Harman says today, you can't be "a bit against discrimination". Overall this is another classic case of Christendom confusion. If the church wants to operate in the public arena (one it does not control, and where it will meet those with different values, moderated by an elected authority which has to make space for all) it has to face the consequences. If its conscience does not wish to do this, it has the option of withdrawing or establishing a private service. There is no threat to freedom of religion in this. Oh, and the C of E adoption agency, the Children's Society, has accepted gay couples as adoptees for the last eight years. And Vatican big-wig Cardinal Levada, when in California, allowed three such cases, too.

The sad thing is, overall the churches are patently not practicing the radical ekklesia of equals created by the Gospel of Christ (except in the breach of their own strictures), and those they are now fighting perhaps have something to show them of God's grace-drenched meaning, as they struggle with the full humanity of the homosexual minority. Meanwhile the scaremongering continues. It's tragic. And no way to promote ‘family’ to the last, the least and the lost. Suffer the little children, indeed. And Ruth Kelly. Update: Tony Blair gives personal backing to gay adoptions 25/01/07, 15:30.

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