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Andrew Brown: Breaking news - General Synod not all about sex

14 July 2017

Sam Atkins/PA

THE General Synod penetrated very little into the newspapers. The three stories that broke through were not all about sex: there was also mitres and vestments more generally.

Since hardly anyone in a position of power in the newspaper industry ever goes to church, there was widespread surprise and de­­light at the thought that priests might appear without silly clothes on, or bishops without silly hats. As an old cynic, I am amused by the belief that it is the hat, rather than the head underneath, which makes a bishop prone to pomposity or appearing out of touch.

But, in the same character, I was pleasantly surprised by the triumph of sex-related motions. They suggest that opinion is moving decisively away from the conservative Evangelical position, and will presumably have moved still further by the time the next report on sexuality emerges from the long grass.

The motion welcoming transgender people might appear to have been more of a revolution than condemnation of conversion therapy, but in fact it was the other way round. Motions against being openly beastly will always be popular at Synod. Even those who are most in favour of driving gay people out of the Church claim to welcome them so long as they behave themselves.

But there is a perfectly respectable case to be made for something quite like conversion therapy: if an adult genuinely wishes to be rid of impulses they genuinely think are wrong, shouldn’t a therapist be able to help them? It seems to me unarguable in principle that if a straight married person, or even a vowed celibate, wanted help remaining faithful in
the face of heterosexual temptation it should be ethical to offer it. Why should the temptation of homosexual love be any different?

That it does appear vitally different is a sign of a profound change in understanding. At­­tempts to convert or deprogramme gay people are now understood as necessarily exploit­ative, certainly in a Christian context.

The kind of Christianity associated with Andrea Minichiello Williams, the director of Christian Concern and a member of the House of Laity, is generally understood as hostile to gay people in their essence. They sound rather like ministers defending arms sales to Saudi Arabia: even when they tick all the boxes, and say all the right things about observing hu­­manitarian law, we know what they really mean.

The minister means that money is far more important than the lives of Yemeni civil­ians; Christian Concern means that no gay people should ever have sex with each other. And that is the position that the Synod is really repudiating.


OUTSIDE the Synod, life went on. I wrote a column earlier this year saying what a good and inspiring man Nicolas Stacey had been, first as a parish priest and then as director of social services in Kent (Press, 26 May).

It now emerges that in the second job he was responsible for a home for young adults where the inmates were heavily drugged and in some cases sexually abused. A BBC inter­view has emerged from the archives in which “Mr Stacey . . . never reported staff to the police, ‘because I never felt that we had a serious case’” — although he did ask some to resign.

”‘I would try and get them to go to coun­selling,’” he said. “[It’s] terribly sad if you’re sexually orientated towards children, you know’.”

This is the kind of thing that would end anyone’s career today. It’s certainly no different from the way in which Lord Carey treated Peter Ball. I can’t see I have any good reason to feel that only one of them deserves sympathy and understanding.


MONDAY’s Sun carried an opinion piece about immigration by the paper’s former political editor Trevor Kavanagh, which showed with astonishing — if unintentional — clarity how the fear and hatred of Muslims is being used to baptise racism, even though that kind of liberal criticism is grist to his mill: “Expressions of concern have been muted by taunts of ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘racism’. But they are exploding afresh this summer as TV images show thousands of illegals from Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan swarming ashore in Italy and Greece . . . this crisis is nothing less than an oil and water clash of civilisations . . . painfully to the point, almost all of them are Muslim.

“Individually, Muslims are no worse and no better than anyone else, but they be­­long to an exclusive and frequently intolerant faith . . . They believe the entire world belongs to Allah, not the nations in which they happen to reside. . .

”It is not always easy to distinguish between news footage of boatloads of young men in orange life-jackets and CCTV images of young men in blood-soaked suicide vests. When they sometimes turn out to be the same people, Europe’s leaders must surely under­stand how badly they have got this wrong.”

Thus the biggest-selling newspaper in Britain — although he also writes: “We cannot have satire, criticism, or jokes about Islam.”

I would be astonished if, in real life, Kavanagh expects anything but applause for his piece.

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