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Church and Human Rights

By / 6 May 2013

I read the report in Anglican Taonga of the matter about potential human human rights violations by the church. For those who have not seen it, it can be found by clicking here.

It makes disturbing reading really, for a few reasons. Two of them are these:

Firstly, I’m disturbed such a matter even needs to get to the situation where one party is acting in such a way that the only way the other party feels they can be heard and any kind of justice or fair hearing take place is through recourse to the legal processes of the state. As a church, are we not called to do all that makes for forgiveness, and to love our enemy? As a church, we should be practising a different way.

Secondly, I’m aware that the article is actually incorrect. Title D, which is the Church’s canon to which the article seems to be referring, does indeed talk about and define chastity. The article says “The canons presently define chastity as being either married, in the traditional sense, or single and celibate.”

Yet if you look at the canon it doesn’t say that at all. It says this:

Chastity is the right ordering of sexual relationships.
10.4.1  Ministers are to be chaste. Promiscuity is incompatible with chastity.
10.4.2  The sexual abuse of children is an utter disregard of humanity and a complete repudiation of the teaching of Christ.

Now, if we are going to layer an interpretation over that, or any other canon/statute, we need as a church to be clear that it is in fact one interpretation. From what I have experienced it happens quite a bit with different canons. Now, if it is the interpretation of General Synod then that might indeed carry authority commensurate with that body. But if it is in fact the interpretation of a few we need to be very careful to highlight it as such, or else people will be falsely misled into believing something is true when it is not. We don’t want to be doing that. We would be guilty then of the same kind of spin we see political parties taking part in, and I know we don’t want to be doing that.

The at hand around same sex relationships and ordination comes back, once again, to whether the church believes a same sex relationship is a “right ordering” of relationships, or whether it is “promiscuous”. I have left the part about sexual abuse of children in my quote for two reasons. Firstly, it is an important matter. And secondly, it’s really very helpful to see that when the church wants to be clear and decisive it can be. The lack of precision around other things could be seen therefore as entirely intentional.

Quite clearly, as the church faces being held to account for potential human rights violations it is seeking to report what is happening so that the rest of us know. In so doing, however, it needs to make sure it is accurate and unbiased in its reporting.

I recall the debate and tension when Title D was being introduced. There was a concern among many that it would become a legalistic set of rules used to punish rather than liberate, and could easily end up being used very selectively to justify actions against some people that might otherwise not be so easily justified. I wonder if those concerns are still around?

This and other matters all remind a bit of, generally, how in the biblical saga we see a people who journey away from God, a prophet is sent, people are called back and remain faithful, they then get a bit too comfortable with the power this gives them and start creating their own customs and rules so that belonging requires adherence to rules in excess of the original (as if we can save ourselves by our own purity), and then in the end it’s all stripped back to simple commands to us – telling them to basically do the opposite of what they had come to learn to do: love your enemy, love your neighbour, forgive, turn the other cheek, give your cloak, welcome all those who are despised and unwelcomed. When people had found comfort in life following God, Christ’s instruction is plain and challenging to this day: live an uncomfortable life, do not settle for the superficial. That, it seems to me, the is “law” we are called to follow, and the “human right” we have with each other.



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