MUSLIM leaders have expressed their “deep concern” that their convictions that marriage can only be between one man and one woman, and over ‘identity politics’ in CofE schools were not sought by Church of England bishops ahead of next week’s General Synod crunch debate on ‘gay blessings’ in the ‘Established church’.
The leader of the oldest representative group of British Muslims has written to the Archbishop of Canterbury expressing frustration that the proposals have not been discussed with leaders of the other main faiths in Britain – despite many joint meetings of faith leaders on other topics at Lambeth Palace these past six years – when the church has been considering changes to marriage and sexual ethics via the Living in Love & Faith (LLF) project.
The controversial changes to marriage, and teaching in church schools might now see Imams changing their position on commending church schools to Muslim parents, according to Anglican Orthodox, a grassroot campaign group of clergy and churchgoers opposed to the bishops’ proposals which have been working with the Association of British Muslims (AoBM). “There is now the worrying potential of Muslim parents starting to withdraw children from CofE schools to protect them from sexual ethics contrary to their beliefs,” said the Revd Paul Eddy, Convenor of Anglican Orthodox, “and that can obviously lead to segregation of children of different faiths in some Muslim-majority cities if the CofE proceeds.”
In a letter to Archbishop Justin Welby, ahead of General Synod’s London gathering (Feb 6-9) at which ‘blessing’ gay unions could be given the green light, and CofE clergy no longer restricted to sex only within a heterosexual marriage, Paul Salahuddin Armstrong, Managing Director of the Association of British Muslims (AoBM) expressed his “deep concern”.
He said: “The Association of British Muslims is concerned about the lack of open and inclusive discussions regarding the traditional understanding of marriage within faith communities. We are also concerned about the teaching of sexual identity politics in schools, including Church of England schools.”
He warned the current bishops’ proposals, if implemented, would see that “every Church of England Primary School will teach that both heterosexual and homosexual marriages have equal validity, starting from this summer – which would cause Muslims deep concern.”
Whilst the AoBM acknowledges that British secular law recognises the validity of both types of marriage, the leader says: “it is important to note that many faith communities, both locally and globally, still hold to the traditional definition of marriage, the formal union of a man and a woman, as recognised by law, by which they become husband and wife.” Muslims also believe the Koran strictly forbids all homosexual sexual acts.
Muslims in the UK are concerned that despite the six-year LLF ‘listening process of discernment’, the House of Bishops failed to hold even one specific meeting with Muslim leaders on the subject. They say that they were not warned of the potential change in church policy, or given the opportunity to discuss how this might impact their communities – especially teaching in church schools.
The letter, by such a widely-respected and influential faith body, will come as a shock to Synod members who are already divided by the proposals. LGBTI+ lobby groups in the church, as well as traditionalist Anglicans, are equally aggrieved at the proposals up for discussion next week.
Now, members will be concerned about the potential impact of ‘gay union blessings’, and CofE school teaching in cities and communities which are majority Muslim. Here, the CofE is often the main school provider at primary level. The integration of Muslim and non-Muslim children, learning together, and breaking down religious and cultural divides is seen as essential to current and future community cohesion and harmony. The fact that representative Muslim leaders were not consulted will be received with concern by Synod members, especially considering how the bishops’ proposals could damage inter-faith relations.
The Convenor of Anglican Orthodox has been liaising with other faith leaders over the bishops’ proposals and came across the major oversight. He said: “Across England, have commended CofE schools because they taught the ‘overall shared values’ of the three faiths (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) – especially in relation to marriage and sexuality. Now, the Association is concerned if the bishops’ proposals go through, Imams may want to reassess their advice. In future, they may also want to protect their own value-systems by campaigning for single-faith schools – thereby, sadly, breaking up community cohesion.”
The Muslim representative ended his letter to Archbishop Justin Welby by saying: “As people of faith, it is important to ensure that we have a voice in matters that pertain to our beliefs and practices. This includes the traditional family structure, which many consider to be a fundamental aspect of our faiths.”
Anglican Orthodox is calling on Synod members to reject the bishops’ proposals whilst the inter-connectedness of the CofE to other faiths in England – and to community cohesion via its schools are fully considered. Mr Eddy said: “For Synod to proceed, when the leaders of the other faith communities have so clearly been left out of the discussion is unthinkable.”
Over recent months, Anglican Orthodox has warned how the bishops’ proposals will ostracise the CofE from other churches in the UK, the Anglican Communion, and the global church. “Now”, added Mr Eddy, “we learn the bishops have embarrassingly failed to consult with, or take into account, the deeply held convictions of Muslims who send their children to CofE schools. Synod must stop the plans, send the bishops back to the Bible, to the drawing board, and to an urgent meeting with Muslim and other faith leaders, at which they need to sincerely apologise.”