Tuesday 30 March 2010

Bishops who complain about crucifix ban maintain prejudice against LGBT people

The bishops of Winchester, Chester, Hereford and Blackburn, with the retired Lord Carey of Clifton and Michael Mazir-Ali from Rochester wrote to the Sunday Telegraph about Shirley Chaplin, a Christian nurse who has been “prevented from working in a patient-facing role” because she refused to remove the cross she has worn every day since her confirmation 40 years ago.

The bishops argue that this “is yet another case in which the religious rights of the Christian community are being treated with disrespect.” Discrimination is being shown against Christians, they claim and they “call on the Government to remedy this serious development.”

On the face of it, Shirley Chaplin’s treatment by the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust seems unjust. They have categorized her cross as "just an item of jewellery" rather than a Christian symbol. The uniform policy of the NHS trust permits exemptions for religious clothing and this has been exercised with regard to other faiths.

The bishops extend their argument to claim that Christian beliefs on marriage, conscience and worship are not being upheld with “numerous dismissals of practising Christians from employment for reasons that are unacceptable in a civilised country.”

Isn’t it sad that these five bishops and a retired archbishop can motivate themselves to write in support of the right of a Christian nurse to wear a cross and complain that other Christians have been dismissed because of beliefs about marriage, conscience and worship but don’t relate this to church attitudes to and treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people? Most of the cases referred to by the writers are connected with people who objected to having to deal with LGBT people in their work place.

In a civilized society like the United Kingdom, the population, led by Government initiatives, realised very quickly that discrimination against LGBT people is unfair and unjust. The equality granted to us under the Equality Bill, Civil Partnership lesgislation and other recent measures has been accepted by the majority, many of whom have LGBT family members or colleagues.

The bishops want a civilized society for certain groups of people but claim exemptions to enable the church to continue to discriminate against LGBT people. The majority of people in the UK see through the prejudice that such bishops have imposed on the church. They treat church attitudes to human sexuality with contempt and derision.

The bishops discriminate against LGBT people and treat us with disrespect. If the Church of England continues to claim exemption and maintains a policy of prejudice informed by Biblical fundamentalism against gays and lesbians, I hope and pray that the population of this country will continue to desert the church and seek spiritual inspiration and nourishment in healthier and more holy places.


  1. Point taken.

    What right did these bishops have in citing a legal case that hadn't even got to court?

    Christian Nurse Shirley Chaplin is today the “face” of UK Christianity in the Media

  2. I cannot agree with you on this one Collin, desertion of the church isn't the answer. Firm disobedience in the form of marriages, acceptance of LGBT people on the parish level and a general attitude of the treating the leadership like it's their problem and not ours is the way to take the church back. It is their problem and not ours, and they need to be reminded of that, every day. Remember, we are the church.

  3. As an NHS chaplain I am fairly unsympathetic to these so-called examples of "religious discrimination". There are things to be said about this case from both sides.

    From the Christian side I am not aware of any requirement in our religion to wear a symbol of our faith. Indeed, there is a much more substantial and biblical case AGAINST Christians wearing visible marks of their faith in the form of jewellery or anything else. And someone like Lord Carey would have been against wearing crucifixes in his younger days. And even if you accept that some Christians will want to wear these symbols, it is in no way integral to our faith. It is a cultural personal optional extra. (Incidentally, from all I have learnt, the Muslim wearing of the headscarf COULD be regarded as not integral to Islamic faith, and just a strong cultural accretion - and both of these symbols, headscarves and crucifixes, are then UNLIKE the Sikh turban, which is integral to their faith.)

    So bishops are trying to beef up a case that, even from the Christian side, is weak to start with. And making themselves look ridiculous in the process.

    Then from the point of view of the Trust, it seems to me that this is not in the slightest about religion but about uniform dress codes. There are strong health grounds for the kinds of dress code which allow only the wearing of a wedding ring. They are the same sort of codes that insist upon all those who have contact with patients and who work on wards following the "bare below the elbow code". This is not popular with many Muslims, but is there to reduce and control infection, and all of us who work in clinical contexts have to abide by it whether we like it or not. I am afraid that nurses who insist on wearing visible bits of jewellery might well be falling foul of health and safety codes as well. Leaning forwards it could get caught in patients' hair or in equipment - and it is a source that will harbour infection as it can't be washed in the way that hands can. Working in the NHS requires some restrictions on personal preferences in the form of dress and adornment. The bishops should stop trying to look ridiculous on this one and should quietly tell right-wing pressure groups like Anglican Mainstream and the Christian Legal Centre that attempts to whip up a victim mentality among Christians will get no support from them.

  4. The Archbishop of Canterbury's ecumenical Easter letter http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/2804
    is being taken as a rebuke to these bishops for whingeing about being 'persecuted Christians' in the UK.