The Church Taliban get their way again

12:44 pm - January 26th 2010

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contribution by Bob Piper

When Tony Blair and his small band of ‘New’ Labour modernisers swept into power in 1997 they had all sorts of wild and wonderful plans for Britain. In one area though, Tone and the Gang were decidedly conservative in their promises.

Despite all the pledges to ‘modernise’ Britain, our democracy was still going to contain an outdated and illogical second chamber. The ‘modernisation’ of the House of Lords was simply going to remove the rights of hereditary Peers. That was it.

All the rest of the stuff on the House of Lords was the usual Blairite flim-flam about having a wide-ranging review of possible further change.

And so it came to pass, that 12 years later, an attempt to introduce measures to prevent the Church discriminating against gay and transsexual people in employment floundered in the wake of opposition from the Christian Taliban and old duffers appointed on the basis of political patronage and grace and favour appointments.

With no hint of irony, John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York was able to tell the assembled Peers that although the population may think the Church was barking mad in it’s Victorian attitudes on sexuality….

But, if religious freedom means anything it must mean that those are matters for the churches and other religious organisations to determine for themselves in accordance with their own convictions.

What Sentamu was telling them was, we should be allowed to discriminate if we want to…. because discrimination is at the heart of our beliefs.

I suspect his attitude might have been distinctly different if the discrimination took the form of blokes with sheets over their heads placing fiery crosses on the lawn outside his cathedral.

I await Sentamu’s defence of the BNP’s racism on the grounds that they should have the right to discriminate because racism is “in accordance with their convictions, is central to their beliefs and they really, genuinely believe it in a heartfelt way.”

Bob Piper is a Labour Councillor and blogs here.

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Reader comments

1. astateofdenmark

A democratically elected Lords is something Blair should have introduced with his massive majorities. It would have been a significantly more justified use of the parliament act than the others.

I’m glad Bob Piper is denouncing discrimination and hope this extends to Harman’s positive (sic) discrimination.

hope this extends to Harman’s positive (sic) discrimination.

Positive action is different to negative discrimination.

3. Dick the Prick

What business is it of government who the church employs? Why would LGBTG want to work in the church anyway? Why should the church conform to a relatively modern set of values that are untested? Why should the church conform to values that are wholly secular when its activity is by its very nature spiritual?

Is there nowhere that this government feels ashamed? It’s like going into your granny’s house and turning over from Murder she Wrote and banging on some gay porn.

Can they just not STFU sometimes?

Positive action is different to negative discrimination.

So, if a BNP skinhead positively discriminates in favour of the “indigenous” people of Britain by refraining from kicking their heads in, that’s somehow okay?

5. astateofdenmark

Positive action, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

So, politician mourns the pacification of the ‘Christian Taliban’, on the ground that their ethical and moral strictures to not measure up to his own secularist agenda, something which he thinks they ought to be forced into doing irrespective of any other consideration,…

That word taliban is indeed apposite

‘What business is it of government who the church employs? ‘

As long as religious groups are publicly subsidised by being exempt from taxation and so long as Bishops sit in the House of Lords simply because they are Bishops the government has every business interfering.

The Church is never shy in leaning on the government or in attempting to impose their supertitions on the rest of us.

8. Dick the Prick

@7 – not being taxed is completely different from being subsidized I think you’ll find. Just because the government doesn’t charge them is hardly an argument for them having dominion.

So, if a BNP skinhead positively discriminates in favour of the “indigenous” people of Britain by refraining from kicking their heads in

It’s fine with me if a BNP member does not kick in the heads of ‘indigenous’ people (who would that be btw?).. as long as he/she does not kick anyone else’s head in 🙂

10. Shatterface

‘@7 – not being taxed is completely different from being subsidized I think you’ll find’

In what way? I pay more tax so they don’t have to.

I’m happy to have a total seperation of Church and State. If they want to ban homosexuals from ritual cannibalism they can pay for their own silver cracker boxes.

Please remember this is not all Christians; this is mainly the established church and a few wingnuts. For a more balanced Christian perspective (which actually argues that the legislation did not go far enough), read:

DtP – I have asked many times, but no-one taking your line has ever been able to explain why some churches want the freedom to be able to discriminate against “practising homosexuals” in, say, a job application for a cleaner. It doesn’t affect their ability to do the job, and if you exclude everyone who you believe has some area of sin in their lives, the church premises is quite literally never going to be cleaned again (“Let he without sin cast etc etc”).

12. Dick the Prick

@11 – there are gradations. Where representing the church I think it’s fair to ask.

Why would LGBTG want to work in the church anyway?

Well, the two possibilities that spring to mind are (1) because they need the money / want to work and can’t find anything better (surely more admirable than sponging off benefits, yes?), or (2) because they are actually members of that church themselves.

Why should the church conform to a relatively modern set of values that are untested?

Because those values are espoused by a significant proportion of their members? (Maybe, maybe not, I don’t know.)

Why should the church conform to values that are wholly secular when its activity is by its very nature spiritual?

Some might argue that values such as universal human dignity and equality are spiritual values. Some even argue that they derive such values directly from their reading of scripture.

You can’t honestly claim that there is only one possible set of values and attitudes for anyone who believes themselves to be an Anglican. Perhaps you think there should be, but that’s a rather different matter – and if you want to push it, I hope you enjoy your schism. I love a good schism myself, but then I’m an atheist…

Ah, cack – blockquote fail. If an admin could sort it, that would be lovely.

First things first – credit where its due to Ekklesia for coming down on the right side of the argument yet again.

Second, this isn’t about a secular agenda but a moral agenda founded on the premise that everyone should be afforded equality before the law, which is just about as fundamental a principle of British life as anything else I can think of.

Its certainly up there with habeus corpus, for example.

What this is about is, ultimately, moral cowardice at the heart of the Church of England’s current hierarchy.

There is, for example, at as much if not more scriptural authority behind he practice of slavery in the Bible than their is for prejudice against homosexuality.

In fact, for Christian’s who should, in theory, place far more store by the content of the New Testament than the Old Testament, the disparity is even greater than some suppose.

The biblical commentaries on slavery in the New Testament are not subject to dispute over the accuracy of the translations from the oldest available source materials, unlike those relating to homosexuality where its certainly argued that Paul was referring to was specifically pederasty and not homosexuality, generally.

The biblical character of Jesus was, by the way, almost entirely silent on the subject but for a couple of verses in the Gospels that have been stretched by conservative theologians to cover it by way of very tortured and unconvincing interpretations.

So, there is far more authority for slavery than for homophobia in the New Testament and yet, a couple of centuries ago, many Christian;s found no difficult in disregarding the passages relating to the tolerance and acceptance of slavery in favour of a broader interpretation of scripture that viewed the proposition that all people should be treated as equals as being of far greater importance. Sufficient, in fact, to override those passages that do support the practice of owning slaves.

Now, if Wilberforce and others could make that leap in understanding in regards to slavery, there is no intrinsic reason why today clerics cannot make the same leap in relation to homosexuality.

That they don’t, in terms of the Church of England’s leadership, has everything to do with preserving the Anglican communion as a unified political entity and fuck all to do with providing moral guidance to that same communion.

Hence, moral cowardice.

Blockquote fail fixed.


That isn’t what organisations such as Christian Institute have been arguing. At least your position is more balanced than theirs.

But if that is your position, I don’t think you have understood the legislation correctly (and certainly critics of it have relied on spreading misinterpretations). As I understand it, there is nothing to stop a church demanding that someone representing it teaches the agreed positions of that church, including on homosexuality.

(I would however endorse much of what Unity says above: there is little biblical evidence at all on homosexuality and pretty much all of it is ambiguous – I would argue that the only NT passage where there is enough consensus on translation to draw conclusions about homosexuality from is Romans 1 v 26-27, and even that is subject to debate about context and interpretation.)

I think Archbishop Sentamu has a point: if we have professed freedom for religions (as we do) then those religions have the right to interpret their own holy texts as they wish, not as any of us do. But clearly therefore none of these religions should be eligible for government funding or even charitable status, as these carry certain obligations. I think most commentators are agreed on this to a point, although some seem more concerned about telling religions what to think, which is not our perogative any more than it is say Archbishop’s Sentamu’s perogative to tell us what to think.

The problem is the confusion about freedom of religous belief, an important freedom allowing us all to be Jedi (is the plural Jedi or Jedis?) if we so wish, without having to follow any set of rules or perscriptions we have not signed up to. This seems to be confused with allowing freedom for religions, which are allowed to exempt themselves from responsibilities and rights decided as appropriate by democratic elected government. It is this culture of accepting that if a bunch of people get together and declare themselves described by a particular label that they are worthy of different treatment, rather than recognising they are welcome to get together and believe what they want, but no label makes them any better or worse than any other person.

As a side point, how does this square with the seemingly generally accepted point here that comparisons with totalitarian regimes indicates the intellectual failure of your argument?

Comparing the CofE with the Taliban (especially given the fact that we are at war with them at the moment) is so obviously fatuous that it detracts from whatever point you’re making.


A couple of minor points which, taken on board, would actually strengthen your argument.

First of all, Christians don’t set more store by the New Testament than the Old Testament. There are very few examples where teachings in the NT directly replace those in the OT, and Jesus himself said he had come not to destroy the Law but to fulfil it. A better way of looking at it would be that we interpret the OT through the light of the NT. It’s for this reason that I take biblical passages on immigration like Leviticus 19 v 33 very serious: whereas a “replacement theory” might see fit to ignore them, seeing them through the prism of the more universalist NT including passages like the parable of the Great Banquet and Acts 15 actually strengthens a literal interpretation of them.

On the stuff about slavery, I would argue that stuff about slavery is culture-specific. It was calling Christians to follow God where there were, instead of removing themselves from all the relationships they found themselves in. The argument was that a display of force, in forcibly rebelling, is not as powerful a witness as prayerful submission. The ideal would be that the slave converted his slave-master, and that the slave-master subsequently realised that slavery was immoral and release his slave. However, this did not set a pattern for all time. Paul does say that “if you can gain your freedom, do so” in 1 Corinthians 7 20-24, and some people argue that the church’s immediate purposes was not transformation of the social order; that would come later. (After all, Jesus’ teaching about taking the log out of your own eye before fixing the speck in others’ seems to suggest we should make efforts to deal with our own sin first, and at a time when the church was spreading incredibly quickly, that may have taken priority. It is however worth noting that most of the church’s recruits were not respectable people; the church attracted slaves, prostitutes and other outcasts because of its teaching that the Son of God became nothing and went through suffering just like they did.)

Now, you could very well argue that the stuff on homosexuality is culture-specific too (God hasn’t traditionally been too hot on temple prostitution whether heterosexual or homosexual, and many would argue it’s those practices in Corinth, from where he wrote the letter to the Romans, that he was describing in Romans 1.) However, it is at least possible to argue that one example is culture-specific and the other isn’t.

First of all, Christians don’t set more store by the New Testament than the Old Testament.

And Scotsmen don’t put anything other than salt on their porridge.

Remind me, what was the point of the Reformation again?

“Remind me, what was the point of the Reformation again?”

To allow militant churchmen to preach a more literal and less tolerant interpretation of the bible?

I think that is far more honourable than the argument it was to allow Luther to get married.

The non-reform of the House of Lords will be remember amongst the biggest missed chances of Labour’s spell in power 1997-2010.


Well there wasn’t one reformation, but if you’re talking about the English Reformation, the point was so that Henry VIII could shag who he damn well felt like shagging.

Did you read what I said? The point is that the NT doesn’t replace or “trump” the OT; that’s not a proper understanding of the relationship between the two. That doesn’t mean that the NT is dispensable; clearly without it there would be no Christianity.

Well there wasn’t one reformation, but if you’re talking about the English Reformation, the point was so that Henry VIII could shag who he damn well felt like shagging.

No, I was talking about the continental one, which I believe (although as I am neither a Christian nor a historian, I’m willing to be corrected here) had something to do with overthrowing the idea that there was One True Christianity, with both doctrine and praxis defined by some central authority, from which no deviation was permissible.

Since you seem to be having trouble understanding my point, let me state it more directly: who exactly gave you the right to define what the “correct” interpretation of scripture is? Again, not a Christian, etc, etc, but I was under the distinct impression that the interpretation of scripture remains a matter of some debate. Given the diversity of opinion, I’m pretty sure you could find at least some Christians who believe that the NT does replace the OT. Are they wrong? Are they not really Christians? How would you tell?


Okay, I see the point you’re making now. I’d argue that wasn’t precisely what the continental reformation was about, either, but I’d be splitting hairs as I’m all for dissent, looking at different interpretations of scripture, the idea that every Christian has it within them to interpret scripture etc (although that doesn’t lessen the duty to submit to others; even the denominations that place the most emphasis on all that stuff do not teach that it doesn’t matter what you believe and how you interpret the bible).

Of course people believe different things, and of course you’ll find some people who understand the relationship between the NT and OT in that simplistic way. But it’s not a view which is consistent with what’s in scripture itself, nor is it the normal view. Nor is it mine, which after all I’m likely to express as forcefully as possible.

If anything I’d argue that it’s right-wing Christian lobby groups like Christian Institute and Christian Voice who claim to speak for all Christians (or all evangelicals) more than those who disagree with them.

27. astateofdenmark

23 – Agree and it gets precious little attention.

21. Dunc. It could be said the the beginning of the Reformation started with J Wycliffe mid 1320s -1384 which lead to the rise of the Lollards and belief in return to the authority of the Gospels. Wycliffe was critical of many of the Church practices, especially the wealth. The C of E and Protestants have placed more emphasis on the written Bible an less on the interpretations made by priests in the RC Church and the varioius doctrines which have developed over the centuries.
By the time of Henry V111, there were a significant number of people who were critical of the RC practices . Tyndall translated the Bible into English so every ploughboy could read it and make their own mind up rather than depending upon the opinions of a priest.

Cromwell showed a a degree of tolerance towards Jewish people rarely seen in Continental Europe.

Many historians have said it was the Protestant work ethic which allowed the Industrial Revolution to occur; as from the late 16C it was believed that those who worked hard, were honest and sober would be rewarded in this World.

The belief by Protestants that all people should be able to read the Word of God, was a major driver of literacy from the16c onwards. It has bee said that many believe that the Labour Party has owed more to Methodism than Marxism. Labour leaders such as Callaghan were Sunday School teachers.
If one removes the Church from the education of Europe up to the 19C, then we would be left with a very small number of literate aristocrats, lawyers, priest,merchants,clerks and judges.

@28 Charlie2: “If one removes the Church from the education of Europe up to the 19C, then we would be left with a very small number of literate aristocrats, lawyers, priest,merchants,clerks and judges.”

I accept your argument to a degree. One or two ploughboys may have learned to read, but “universal education” became a concept around 1870 (acknowledging the schools established by manufacturers in the first industrial revolution). That education was more universal that what preceded it (the ability to write your name and read the Bible does not define education), more people experienced it and it created the concept of curricula for the masses.

The established churches that provided schools prior to the Gladstone reforms were acting in self interest. Provide a little of what the masses seek in order to pacify them. The establishment of school boards recognised the work of educational charities and put in place the idea of a more active government. The latter is what we argue about today.

This vote is excellent news, indeed.

31. Just Visiting

Tim F et al

You can debate chuirch history all you like.

But Tim, what are your sources for saying:

> First of all, Christians don’t set more store by the New Testament than the Old Testament.

This sounds wrong to me. Else Christians would be Jews !

I googled your exact phrase, and on the first page found a link that seemed to contradict you:

1. The New Testament Covenant has a higher authority than the Old Testament covenant.

2. The New Testament will endorse, continue, confirm, modify, or abolish any form of Old Testament law or principle. For example, the New Testament frees us from food regulations declared in the Old Testament Covenant

32. Just Visiting

Bob Piper

By the way, I too am highly disappointed at such ridiculuous titling – linking the Taliban to the church in the UK is mind–bogglingly stupid.

And devalues the level of debate on LC.

29. Charlieman. I would argue that a priestly cast which translates a holy book from a foreign language into one the people understand ( Latin to English) and then teaches them to read, is actually acting against their self interest. As a priestly cast largely derives it’s power from their ability to read and interpret their holy book; by teaching the people to read it, enables them to question their authority. Knowledge is power. In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king. Sharing knowledge from which one derives one’s authority and power, tends to diminish it. The establishment of schools by the Quakers and Non-Conformists provided the craftsmen and merchants with the education which enabled the Industrial Revolution to occur . Mothers teaching their children to read using the Bible has been fairly commmon practice from the mid 16 C onwards , especially amongst mercantile /craftsmen classes.

It would be interesting to know how of the endowments of the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge come from Church property- New College for start. In fact it would be difficult to see how Dawkins has not benefitted from money given by the Church to the University of Oxford since it was founded.

34. Just Visiting


That’s a lovely lateral thought, he hee:

>In fact it would be difficult to see how Dawkins has not benefitted from money given by the Church to the University of Oxford since it was founded.

35. Just Visiting

sorry, I was tickled by Charlie 2’s comment … not Charlieman.

R Dawkins fellow of New College , founded by Bishop William de Wykeham. New College Edowment £143M. C. Darwin went to Christ’s College Cambridge( God’s House ). Looks like the Church provided the education and funds which enabled Darwin to develop Evolution and Dawkins to support atheism, Evolution and criticise religion in the 20C. The Church appears fairly far sighted and tolerant to me. It would be interesting to see whether Dawkins would support a Chair of Divinity from his earnings – return the favour to William de Wykeham.

@28: Yes, that’s all more-or-less true (I’m sure a serious academic historian of the period would have a great deal more complexity to add) but it has absolutely no bearing on my point, which was quite simply that since the Reformation (in fact, since the Great Schism, if not before) there hasn’t been one single universally accepted definition of Christian doctrine or practice, and that anyone who attempts to define what is or isn’t “proper” Christianity is wasting their time.

I’m really not interested in having a debate about whether the Reformation was or wasn’t a good thing here (a bit of both would be my trite answer). That’s a topic for a PhD thesis or two, not blog comments.

Organizations that exist to promote an ideology (religion,politics etc.) in a not-for-profit manner, should be able to employ people who think in a like way. After all, Sunny wouldn’t want to employ me.

These organizations are not in “business” to provide jobs in a non-discriminatory way; like this website they exist to promote an ideology, and shouldnt be compelled to employ people that would hurt their cause.

It’s a legitimate seperate question, in the case of the BNP, if they should even be allowed to exist.

The Church does NOT discriminate against LGBT persons. It is or should be quite entitled to ordain and employ whomsoever it wants on the same basis that other organisations do: sympathy for its ethos, adherence to its teachings and values.

Bob Piper should be ashamed of himself for writing such bigoted anti-Christian rubbish. So should Sunny for publishing it.

If religious liberty falls, so, inevitably will fall a raft of other liberties we all take for granted. You fools, you will rue the day you wouldn’t stand up for religious liberty. Soon, there will be no one left to stand up for you.

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Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Daniel Selwood

    RT @libcon: The Church Taliban get their way again

  2. Jane Fleming

    RT @libcon: The Church Taliban get their way again and old duffers appointed political patronage grace favour

  3. The Fact Compiler

    RT @libcon: The Church Taliban get their way again >Deo Gratias!

  4. Matt Lodder

    If the BNP can't discriminate, why can churches? Why does metaphysics give you a free ride through discrimination law?

  5. Mr. Wax

    CofE discrimatory? Who would have thunk? When is this whole religion thing going to blow over and mankind grow up?

  6. David Kudish

    CofE discrimatory? Who would have thunk? When is this whole religion thing going to blow over and mankind grow up?

  7. Liberal Conspiracy

    The Church Taliban get their way again

  8. Will Morton

    RT @libcon: The Church Taliban get their way again

  9. Chris Wiggin

    RT @libcon: The Church Taliban get their way again #fb

  10. Tweets that mention Liberal Conspiracy » The Church Taliban get their way again --

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