Church of England struggles with single-sex marriage proposals

Bishop Tim Stephens

A discussion on gay rights from a mute eavesdropper

I was listening on breakfast-time radio [Jun 12th 2012] to the latest episode of a long-running story concerning the rights of gay people in the United Kingdom.

I caught only two snippets of discussion. The same presenter first interviewed a Bishop, and later someone representing a gay rights organisation [Stonewall].

First snippet:

Interviewer: You seem to be discriminating against the rights of gay people to marry?

Bishop: Not at all. If you read the document from start to finish you will see we do not discriminate”

ME [Mute Evesdropper] Thinking aloud]: What document? Doesn’t matter. That’s the ‘map’ being tested by the interviewer. The Bishop rejects the authority of someone who hasn’t read the whole document.

Interviewer: But you are discriminating. You reject the rights of gay people to be married in your Church.

ME [thinking aloud]: Nice one. She’s denying she needs to read whole document to explore the point she is making.

Bishop: We are not discriminating, we are distinguishing between people.

ME [thinking aloud]: Maybe the same way the Church is ‘distinguishing’ between the rights of males and females to become bishops.

Snippet ends

Second snippet:

Interviewer: The Government seems to be offering more rights for gay couples

Spokesman: It’s still a discriminatory document proposed by a minority of noisy clerics

ME: Reminds me of the ‘noisy neighbours’ remark about a certain football club…

Interviewer: The church says it’s not discriminatory.

Spokesman: They would say that wouldn’t they.

Interviewer: The bishop says it’s distinguishing not discriminatory.

Spokesman: He would say that wouldn’t he.

ME [thinking aloud]: Spokesman ‘reads’ the document as discriminatory. Avoids semantic debate. Implies that the Church is arguing from a special interest position rather that a rational one.

End of snippet.

Map testing

In legal debate, the snippets would have to be carefully examined, applying skills and knowhow which accompany legal training. You do not need that level of sensitivity to legal subtleties to examine and interpret what is being implied within a discussion. It’s testing the map you are reading.

In digging more deeply it is useful to consider the dilemmas that might be most urgently occupying those involved. The Bishop faces the dilemma of accepting the universal right to the Church’s care and the theological objections to homosexual practices.

I don’t find it as easy to read the map offered from the STONEWALL representative. He clearly rejects the ‘map’ proposed by the Bishop as scaremongering. He may be uncomfortable about the relationship between Church and State as inappropriate for non-Christians, and for Christians who are non-Anglicans. However, maybe he is aware that the Church will be able to collect support in the media if he appears to be undermining their theological position.

Dialogue of the mute

There are many aspects of this complicated story which I can’t pretend to understand. But I hope I have indicated how it is possible to ‘tune in’ even with limited information. With respect to Bishop Tim you don’t have to ‘read the whole document’.

Having a ‘mute dialogue’ (also called talking to yourself) also has its merits. By active listening you may well figure out aspects of your own leadership beliefs and actions.

To go more deeply

The Guardian takes its customary libitarian position

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