Archbishop Jonathan Blake

The Most Reverend Jonathan Blake, Presiding Archbishop of the Open Episcopal Church B.A. (Hons), Dip. Pastoral Studies. Mobile: 07767 687711 The Church is a member of The International Council of Community churches and the World Council of Churches. Married and a proud Dad.

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Location: London, Kent, United Kingdom

Gassed Tehran, seized Kabul, helped Mother Teresa, funded TB hospital, priest 1981, went Auschwitz, wrote on Parliament, convicted, began 1st inter-faith NHS chapel, 12 yrs Anglican cleric/vicar - left, baptised 1000's in homes/Mt Snowdon/at circus, wedding underwater, wrote ‘For God’s Sake Don’t Go To Church’, nailed 95 Theses 2 Canterbury cathedral, arrested, co-founded the Society for Independent Ministry, consecrated a bishop, co-founded the Open Episcopal Church, did 1st gay wedding on morning TV, sued Associated Newspapers, co-consecrated 1st women bishops 4 England,Wales,Scotland, accommodated the homeless, posted Mass/took it 2 sex workers, elected Archbishop, arrested 4 climbing with sons,founded ‘When No One’s Watching',made ICV, did Jade Goody's wedding,invited 2 Downing St, wrote 'That Old Devil Called God Again', conviction 4 campaigning against child abuse quashed on appeal, convicted 4 successful blogging 2 stop paedophile. His Christmas Lights raising £79,000 4 Water in 4 Gambian villages. Published "The Tales of Henry the Lovable Hedgehog", the SAFE New Testament + Psalms + radical Book of Common Prayer, ordained priests for UK,US,Thailand,Spain,Ireland

Monday, October 26, 2009

The need for inclusive marriage legislation

I was invited to open the debate in support of a motion for gay and lesbian rights at The University Philosophical Society of Trinity College Dublin on October 15th.

I delivered extracts from the following:

I am assuming I can be bold.

I am hoping that before me are those who are at the threshold of inaugurating a new Society.

I am believing that you are not in the grip of anyone, or any philosophy, religious teaching or cultural presupposition.

I am expecting that open minds can fly above the past mistakes and cobbled compromises and at least in thought and vision aspire after the best.

That is why my proposal is that this house should not only approve of Marriage legislation for the gay and lesbian community but legislation that would accommodate any relationship commitment between adults.

This because the only legislation that is fit for a modern inclusive society is that which affords equal access to the state of marriage and its concomitant rights to any people who wish to express or have already expressed a relationship commitment to each other.

Their commitment may or may not involve sexual intimacy.

This will apply in the main to couples and will include heterosexual couples, gay and lesbian couples, bisexual, transgender and transsexual couples, transvestite couples, sibling couples, platonic friendship couples, and any form of cohabiting couple.

Additionally it may also include more than two adults, committed to living faithfully together.

My argument rests on six factors.

1. That society benefits from securing stability in the practice of relationships and encouraging their longevity.
2. That sexual intimacy is not an essential ingredient.
3. That procreation is no longer an obligation or expectation of marriage.
4. That committed relationships create a family unit.
5. That children thrive where people are committed to each other and to them.
6. That children are often raised by adults other than their birth parents.

Any legislation that falls short of incorporating these factors enshrines discrimination within the law at the very time we are attempting to eradicate it.

Of course, some may gasp at the audacity of such a proposal particularly from a Bishop, but then again this whole journey since 1993, when homosexual sex was decriminalised, has been one of gasps.

Ireland has astonished the world. Having been imprisoned by the church into reactionary models of thinking, in under two decades it has undergone an extraordinary transformation.

There have been significant milestones:

Mary Coughlan’s social welfare legislation in 2004 that caused a storm over the definition of the word spouse.

Franco Frattini’s statement the same year that EU states were obliged to recognise the family life of couples in non marital relationships.

In 2006, the reform of the EU residency rules that included the right of gay couples to reside anywhere and have their relationships ‘facilitated’.

In December of that year the Kal case.

The years have seen political parties scrambling to be first to present avant garde approaches and proposals.

Campaigning groups have arisen such as MarriagEquality, Glen, Glue and Noise.

And what has taken the world’s breath away is the overwhelming support that has been indicated within Ireland for reform.

The survey in 2008 that indicated that 84% of Irish people supported Civil Partnerships.

Then the Irish Times poll that 63% of people favoured same sex marriage.

That 58% of those polled under 50 agreed with same sex adoption.

Ireland has shaken free of many of the shackles of the church and is coming to terms with a new identity.

In 1949 it had been one of the poorest countries in Western Europe.

It joined the EU in 1973 and is now the 31st economic power, has the 6th highest GDP and is ranked as having the highest quality of life in the world.

The economic boom has attracted international companies to invest bringing with them good equality and discrimination policies.

People have become empowered to make their own choices and be honest and go public about them.

Divorce was legalised in 1995.

In the 2006 Census cohabiting couples rose from 77,000 4 years before to 121,000.

Same sex couples from 1,300 to 2090.

The rise of the super pub and gay venues has helped to make minority communities visible.

In September there was the biggest ever gay pride march in Dublin.

Even the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Martin, has indicated that he has no problem with providing legal rights for same sex couples, but not by being brave enough to lead on the issue. His argument being that society should be protective of any couple in a caring situation where issues of dependency have arisen.

Against this though there has been the Article 41 backlash. ‘That the State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of marriage, on which the family is founded, and to protect it against attack.’

And Cardinal Sean Brady has spearheaded the manipulative attempt to halt this push for equal rights with the remark ‘Stand clearly on the side of Christ or depart from him’

Ironical as Christ never once said anything about Gay and Lesbian issues.

So I’d like to turn the Cardinal’s words on their head and claim them as our moral imperative. Christ is the reforming radical requiring us to aspire to the resurrection vision that society must be structured so that there are no walls or barriers, no exclusions or discriminations, that all are equal in the sight of God and must be afforded equal rights.

And if I may deal swiftly with one area of potential criticism. The Bible Brigade.

Lets be clear that anyone suggesting the Bible provides a marriage blueprint has to be intellectually challenged. King Solomon had 700 wives and co-habited with 300 other women for his additional pleasure.

King David appears to have been bi-sexual as well as polygamous.

Jesus never disclosed his sexuality but from the accounts could have been bisexual, with intimate references to John and Mary Magdalene.

The nature of how the community recognised commitment in relationships evolved over the centuries of biblical tradition and there is no one divinely favoured model.

Just as we don’t barbeque bulls for God anymore. ( Lev 1.9) .

We don’t sell our daughters into slavery Exodus 21.7)

Tampons and Sanitary Towels mean we continually have contact with women the bible warns us are unclean (Lev 15 19-24).

We don’t take up God’s offer of buying slaves from other nations. (Lev 25.44)

We don’t put the staff at Tesco’s to death for working on the Sabbath, even though the Bible says we should, and they sell shellfish too and that is an ‘abomination’ (Ex 35.2) –(Lev 11.10)

We don’t believe in a prejudiced God who doesn’t want the wheelchair bound or even those with contact lenses to be priests. (Lev 21.20)

These are some of the admonitions made by this Bible that is often quoted at us.

But we have moved on.

In the past what the priest said was law and you quaked at their rebuke. Not so any more. Their control over our lives has been broken. There is no easy set of religious answers to roll off the tongue at the pressing social issues of the day. We have to think for ourselves, aspire after the mind of God particularly as we are made in God’s image and God’s Holy Spirit abides is us.

What God’s mind and God’s Holy Spirit in me tells me is that the present legislation is flawed, is second rate.

Yes it may be a historic step in the right direction, a stepping-stone towards equality but Amnesty International’s Ireland Executive Director Colm O’Gorman expresses it well ‘ It will create a second class form of marriage for what the government clearly feel is a second class group of people.’

So let me pause a moment.

The word marriage includes among its meanings ‘any close or intimate association or union’.

The word family includes among its meanings ‘ a group of persons who form a household.’

The definition used by the United Nations is:

Any combination of two or more persons who are bound together by ties of mutual consent, birth and/or adoption or placement and who, together, assume responsibility for, inter alia, the care and maintenance of group members, the addition of new members through procreation or adoption, the socialisation of children, and the social control of members.

Article 16.3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that:

The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

The United Nations accepts that the concept of family is not restricted to that of the traditional family based upon marriage.

It is claimed that because Article 41 connects family to marriage it precludes reform.

Not though if the legislation broadens these definitions to include all unions.

NOISE reminds us that the majority in Ireland are calling for same sex marriage rites.

The founder of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Kadar Asmal supports the right to marry irrespective of sexual orientation.

However, the mistake of many campaigning groups is that they push their own agenda but leave out the agenda of other affected groups, though the issues are the same.

Hence the principle of partiality is allowed.

The Civil Partnership Bill does not apply to opposite sex couples or siblings or friends or dependents who are living together.

There can be little progress if some couples are protected but others not.

Additionally, a much more profound problem with the legislation involves children.

By creating a separate legal status for Gay and Lesbian Partnerships, children born within and raised by such relationships are left in limbo with no constitutional or legal protection.

Amnesty International has branded the failure to legislate for the children of gay and lesbian couples as ‘cowardly’.

This issue must also be broadened, because it may be that a single parent has a child and moves to live with a friend or their sibling and together they raise the child.

It may be that a number of people form a household or a commune and share sexual relations and raise children in the community.

A law which is not to enshrine discrimination recognizes and accommodates every identified benign form of domestic choice made within society.

So, in my submission, people, whoever they may be, who have pledged to live together should be able to apply to the State for Marriage.

Some may wish to undergo a secular or religious ceremony of Marriage, some ( cohabitees – as they are described ) may rather that their commitment demonstrated over more than say a three year period is recognized as Marriage, without any such ceremony.

It would be important to protect the Prohibited Degrees that prohibit marriage for those with a close blood relationship.

However this could easily be done by noting that those seeking marriage with co-sanguinity had by law to be non sexual relationships.

Across the country the State would be encouraging and resourcing stable relationship units and stable family units and the children raised within them would be protected.

I understand it was the Greens back in 2002 who were the only party to refer to rights for gay and lesbian couples.

By 2004 all had taken up the issue with Fine Gael the first to launch an explicit policy document.

By 2007 all parties supporting same sex unions with only the Greens and Sinn Fein supporting full civil marriage.

But despite such activity, the path to political reform has been littered with broken promises, snail like progress and now a weak and dissatisfying Bill is being considered.

Why can’t Ireland, with its bold emergent identity, do better than this?

Why can’t you make history and give the world a moral and visionary lead into how to become a truly inclusive modern society?

Why instead are you grubbing about trying to catch up with the other EU states, but doings so with further discriminatory legislation that will have to be changed.

I don’t say this from just a theoretical background.

In 1994 I became the first priest in the United Kingdom to announce my willingness to provide Marriage ceremonies for the Gay, Lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and transgendered Community.

Awhile later I became the first priest to put an advertisment in the Gay and Lesbian Press offering such marriages.

I travelled the country taking hundreds of such services providing communities of family and friends with the experience of how normal, everyday and proper such ceremonies were and what a positive influence they had upon all involved.

The Media were fascinated by this innovative and groundbreaking approach from within the ranks of the Church. Finally a cleric was helping to spearhead a revolution instead of lagging grudgingly behind.

Many articles and broadcasts covered my work.

The most notable of which was my conducting the first gay wedding to be broadcast on the UK’s most popular morning TV show ‘Richard and Judy’ on Valentine’s Day, 2001.

It created a furore and has come to be regarded as one among the most controversial pieces of Television. The criticisms of it were dismissed by the Television Standards Commission and it advanced significantly the moves towards Civil Partnerships.

Since being consecrated a Bishop and founding the Open Episcopal Church I have worked hard to secure within the Canons of the Church the facility for the Sacrament of Marriage not to be reserved for heterosexuals but for adults pledging themselves in Marriage.

Wherever true, unconditional and unselfish love is to be found, there is the presence of God, there is a window to heaven.

All this has been something of a miraculous journey but this is the age of miracles.

Ireland believes in miracles.

Ireland is a miracle.

I urge you to be bold enough to add non discriminatory marriage legislation to the list.

Don’t settle for the starched clothes of prejudice and philosophical poverty.

Don’t become ensnared by the squabbles of yesterday’s world and the power broking of church and state.

Strive for a new world, a heavenly world, where justice and equality reign, where peace and harmony prevail and where people are free to live and to love and to care for others, enjoying equally the protection of the State.

Please support the motion.

The Motion was carried overwhelmingly.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fr Ed Tomlinson's views on funerals

The last thing most families want or need at a funeral is religious dogma, stylised prayers and archaic biblical readings. People can choose their particular diet of such things during their lifetime, but taking advantage of these intensely vulnerable moments of grief to do some bible bashing or religious promotion is offensive and distasteful.

The funeral service is a time to concentrate on the life of the deceased and the emotional needs of the mourners. It is a time to accompany family and friends through this rite of passage sensitively and with a desire to serve them rather than dictate to them.

The idea that certain prayers have to be said or rituals performed to aid the deceased into the arms of God is so much stuff and nonsense. If God were to open heaven on such an arbitary and vindictive basis we should dismiss such a deity outright.

The only things that are important are the wishes of the family. I go with the flow, wherever it leads. In the course of my ministry this has involved some mourners dancing around the coffin, putting beer upon it, wishing the deceased to be baptised, having the funeral at home, in the garden, around a bonfire, sifting the ashes through their hands, climbing into the grave plot, releasing doves, balloons, fireworks, singing, every sort of music, atheist services, requiem masses, Jewish funerals, just music, just silence. When the family ask can we, I always reply, ' Its your service, you may have or do whatever you want'.

Most of the time though, their requests are modest. Music that has meaning for them and a eulogy that honours and celebrates the life of the deceased with a few personal prayers to bring comfort. In contrast, I listen sometimes at the door of the crematorium as the cleric, just drones out the set prayers with scant reference to the bereaved.

Tomlinson suggests that the main aim of other celebrants is to make money. Doesn't he realise that the main aim of the Church of England in trying to protect their monopoly of the funerals in this country is financial. As one undertaker put it to me recently, the Anglican Church is in crisis. Whereas most funerals were once taken by their clergy, in the Diocese to which he was referring, the rate had now fallen to under 50%.

Why? Because most people regard the repetitive funeral liturgy peddled by the churches as babble and as an insult to their loved one.

Tomlinson gets a thrill from high church religion and its practices. No problem, as long as he keeps his wishes for himself. What is despicable is mocking the choices of others and forcing upon them his subjective pleasures; that is what the Churches have done for too long and that is why they are emptying rapidly.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


October 15, 2009
A Manifesto! The Time Has Come! Bishop Spong writes:
I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility. I will no longer discuss with them or listen to them tell me how homosexuality is "an abomination to God," about how homosexuality is a "chosen lifestyle," or about how through prayer and "spiritual counseling" homosexual persons can be "cured." Those arguments are no longer worthy of my time or energy. I will no longer dignify by listening to the thoughts of those who advocate "reparative therapy," as if homosexual persons are somehow broken and need to be repaired. I will no longer talk to those who believe that the unity of the church can or should be achieved by rejecting the presence of, or at least at the expense of, gay and lesbian people. I will no longer take the time to refute the unlearned and undocumentable claims of certain world religious leaders who call homosexuality "deviant." I will no longer listen to that pious sentimentality that certain Christian leaders continue to employ, which suggests some version of that strange and overtly dishonest phrase that "we love the sinner but hate the sin." That statement is, I have concluded, nothing more than a self-serving lie designed to cover the fact that these people hate homosexual persons and fear homosexuality itself, but somehow know that hatred is incompatible with the Christ they claim to profess, so they adopt this face-saving and absolutely false statement. I will no longer temper my understanding of truth in order to pretend that I have even a tiny smidgen of respect for the appalling negativity that continues to emanate from religious circles where the church has for centuries conveniently perfumed its ongoing prejudices against blacks, Jews, women and homosexual persons with what it assumes is "high-sounding, pious rhetoric." The day for that mentality has quite simply come to an end for me. I will personally neither tolerate it nor listen to it any longer. The world has moved on, leaving these elements of the Christian Church that cannot adjust to new knowledge or a new consciousness lost in a sea of their own irrelevance. They no longer talk to anyone but themselves. I will no longer seek to slow down the witness to inclusiveness by pretending that there is some middle ground between prejudice and oppression. There isn't. Justice postponed is justice denied. That can be a resting place no longer for anyone. An old civil rights song proclaimed that the only choice awaiting those who cannot adjust to a new understanding was to "Roll on over or we'll roll on over you!" Time waits for no one.
I will particularly ignore those members of my own Episcopal Church who seek to break away from this body to form a "new church," claiming that this new and bigoted instrument alone now represents the Anglican Communion. Such a new ecclesiastical body is designed to allow these pathetic human beings, who are so deeply locked into a world that no longer exists, to form a community in which they can continue to hate gay people, distort gay people with their hopeless rhetoric and to be part of a religious fellowship in which they can continue to feel justified in their homophobic prejudices for the rest of their tortured lives. Church unity can never be a virtue that is preserved by allowing injustice, oppression and psychological tyranny to go unchallenged.
In my personal life, I will no longer listen to televised debates conducted by "fair-minded" channels that seek to give "both sides" of this issue "equal time." I am aware that these stations no longer give equal time to the advocates of treating women as if they are the property of men or to the advocates of reinstating either segregation or slavery, despite the fact that when these evil institutions were coming to an end the Bible was still being quoted frequently on each of these subjects. It is time for the media to announce that there are no longer two sides to the issue of full humanity for gay and lesbian people. There is no way that justice for homosexual people can be compromised any longer.
I will no longer act as if the Papal office is to be respected if the present occupant of that office is either not willing or not able to inform and educate himself on public issues on which he dares to speak with embarrassing ineptitude. I will no longer be respectful of the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who seems to believe that rude behavior, intolerance and even killing prejudice is somehow acceptable, so long as it comes from third-world religious leaders, who more than anything else reveal in themselves the price that colonial oppression has required of the minds and hearts of so many of our world's population. I see no way that ignorance and truth can be placed side by side, nor do I believe that evil is somehow less evil if the Bible is quoted to justify it. I will dismiss as unworthy of any more of my attention the wild, false and uninformed opinions of such would-be religious leaders as Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Albert Mohler, and Robert Duncan. My country and my church have both already spent too much time, energy and money trying to accommodate these backward points of view when they are no longer even tolerable.
I make these statements because it is time to move on. The battle is over. The victory has been won. There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of this struggle will be. Homosexual people will be accepted as equal, full human beings, who have a legitimate claim on every right that both church and society have to offer any of us. Homosexual marriages will become legal, recognized by the state and pronounced holy by the church. "Don't ask, don't tell" will be dismantled as the policy of our armed forces. We will and we must learn that equality of citizenship is not something that should ever be submitted to a referendum. Equality under and before the law is a solemn promise conveyed to all our citizens in the Constitution itself. Can any of us imagine having a public referendum on whether slavery should continue, whether segregation should be dismantled, whether voting privileges should be offered to women? The time has come for politicians to stop hiding behind unjust laws that they themselves helped to enact, and to abandon that convenient shield of demanding a vote on the rights of full citizenship because they do not understand the difference between a constitutional democracy, which this nation has, and a "mobocracy," which this nation rejected when it adopted its constitution. We do not put the civil rights of a minority to the vote of a plebiscite.
I will also no longer act as if I need a majority vote of some ecclesiastical body in order to bless, ordain, recognize and celebrate the lives and gifts of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church. No one should ever again be forced to submit the privilege of citizenship in this nation or membership in the Christian Church to the will of a majority vote.
The battle in both our culture and our church to rid our souls of this dying prejudice is finished. A new consciousness has arisen. A decision has quite clearly been made. Inequality for gay and lesbian people is no longer a debatable issue in either church or state. Therefore, I will from this moment on refuse to dignify the continued public expression of ignorant prejudice by engaging it. I do not tolerate racism or sexism any longer. From this moment on, I will no longer tolerate our culture's various forms of homophobia. I do not care who it is who articulates these attitudes or who tries to make them sound holy with religious jargon.
I have been part of this debate for years, but things do get settled and this issue is now settled for me. I do not debate any longer with members of the "Flat Earth Society" either. I do not debate with people who think we should treat epilepsy by casting demons out of the epileptic person; I do not waste time engaging those medical opinions that suggest that bleeding the patient might release the infection. I do not converse with people who think that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans as punishment for the sin of being the birthplace of Ellen DeGeneres or that the terrorists hit the United Sates on 9/11 because we tolerated homosexual people, abortions, feminism or the American Civil Liberties Union. I am tired of being embarrassed by so much of my church's participation in causes that are quite unworthy of the Christ I serve or the God whose mystery and wonder I appreciate more each day. Indeed I feel the Christian Church should not only apologize, but do public penance for the way we have treated people of color, women, adherents of other religions and those we designated heretics, as well as gay and lesbian people.
Life moves on. As the poet James Russell Lowell once put it more than a century ago: "New occasions teach new duties, Time makes ancient good uncouth." I am ready now to claim the victory. I will from now on assume it and live into it. I am unwilling to argue about it or to discuss it as if there are two equally valid, competing positions any longer. The day for that mentality has simply gone forever.
This is my manifesto and my creed. I proclaim it today. I invite others to join me in this public declaration. I believe that such a public outpouring will help cleanse both the church and this nation of its own distorting past. It will restore integrity and honor to both church and state. It will signal that a new day has dawned and we are ready not just to embrace it, but also to rejoice in it and to celebrate it.