England's Wars of Religion

Same-Sex ‘Marriage,’ Prayer Ban and Faith Cards

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By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, FEB. 24, 2012 (Zenit.org).- “(W)we cannot allow this act of cultural and theological vandalism to happen.” This was how Lord Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury, described his opposition to the British prime minister’s desire to legalize same-sex “marriage.”

Lord Carey is one of the people behind the recently formed “Coalition for Marriage,” which has launched a campaign to protest the legalization of same-sex “marriage,” the Telegraph newspaper reported Monday.

The coalition was welcomed by the Catholic Church. “Marriage is a fundamental social institution and neither the State nor the Church has the right to redefine its meaning,” said Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark, chair of the Bishops’ Conference Department of Christian Responsibility and Citizenship.

“Together with the Church of England and the new ‘Coalition for Marriage’ we will be encouraging people to sign the petition registering their opposition to a change in the law on marriage,” he said, in a Feb. 20 press release.

It promises to be a heated debate. “Lord Carey places himself on the wrong side not just of history, but of morality, compassion and reason,” declared a Tuesday editorial in the Independent newspaper.

Council prayers

Changing marriage laws is not the only controversy at the moment. The High Court recently ruled that Bideford town council had acted unlawfully by allowing prayers to be said at meetings.

The case, begun in 2010, was brought by the National Secular Society. It came as a result of a complaint by an atheist member of the council, Clive Bone, about the prayers, the BBC reported Feb.y 10.

According to the decision by Mr. Justice Ouseley prayers could be said as long as councillors were not formally summoned to attend.

“The marginalization of Christianity is hollowing out our value system and our culture and this worries me more than anything else,” declared Lord Carey in an article published Feb. 11 by the Times newspaper.

The town council later announced that it would appeal the ruling and that in the meantime it would have prayers before their meetings started, the BBC reported Feb. 16.

Such is the level of tension over religion in Britain that Queen Elizabeth II made a rare public declaration on the topic. “The concept of our established Church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly under-appreciated,” she said, as the Times reported Feb. 15.

In a speech made at Lambeth Palace, the London home of the archbishop of Canterbury, the queen addressed the leaders of nine different faiths (Christians, Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and Zoroastrians).

“Our religions provide critical guidance for the way we live our lives, and for the way in which we treat each other,” she said.

There is a long history of controversies and legal clashes in recent years. The hostility toward Christians was the topic of a report published in January by Premier Media.

The media organization’s “Report on the Marginalisation of Christianity in British Public Life 2007-2011,” found that a significant number of Christians perceive a strong bias exists against Christians and against Christians in public life.

The report criticized the way in which the media has covered legal cases related to the discrimination of Christians. As well, their research found that there is an undue number of negative portrayals of Christians in television soap operas and dramas.

In regard to the way in which the courts have interpreted equality and anti-discrimination laws Premier Media said that: “When it comes to competing rights between different groups, the rights of Christians seem to be ‘sacrificed on the altar of political correctness.'”

Catholic ID

One reaction to all this from the Catholic Church is the distribution of one million “faith cards” during February and March.

It is an idea of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. According to a Jan. 31 press release they are the size of a credit card and have a space for the owner to sign, a clear statement that the carrier is a Catholic, and a list of six things that Catholics are called to do.

There is also a sentence that reads: “In the event of an emergency, please call a Catholic priest.”

“The faith card for Catholics aims to offer a daily reminder of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ,” said Bishop Kieran Conry, Chair of the Bishops’ Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis.

While the media does come in for criticism, one positive development is the screening of a three-part television series on BBC Four, starting Feb. 23, about Catholics. The first episode looks at seminarians and the other two will look at the lives of some children and women, a press release from the English bishops explained.

With regard to seminarians there is positive news, the Independent newspaper reported Feb. 19. According to Father Christopher Jamison, director of the Catholic Church’s National Office for Vocation in London, numbers hit a low in 2001 with only 26 entering seminaries in England and Wales. By 2010, however, it had more than doubled, to 56. 

Good news at a time when it is much needed.

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