A quartet of notable fellows made headlines in England during January, each by staking out some interesting – and even eccentric – territories in the area of religion and society.
The Archbishop of York, Primate of England, is second (technically third) in command of the Church of England. His immediate earthly superior is the Archbishop of Canterbury. The ABC, of course, reports to the Queen who is technically the Head of the COE. Her son and heir, Charles, promises to restructure that royal role, preferring a more ecumenical position as the Head of all Faiths over his subjects, but I digress.
The current Archbishop of York is an unforgettable character. Dr. John Sentamu (pronounced: SEN-ta-moo) hails from a little village near Kampala, Uganda. He holds degrees in both divinity (a PhD) and the law. He became a refugee to the United Kingdom in 1974 after running afoul of and being imprisoned by the infamous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.
England proved not to be quite the refuge for which he had hoped. Sentamu has recounted at least eight instances, over eight years, when he was stopped and had his car searched by police (on suspicion of being black). He can also be highly amusing, as when he refers to three of England’s most prominent sweets manufacturers as “the Chocolate Trinity.” His services and special events at York Minster (it’s a Cathedral, but “minster” means that monks once lived there) are known for their contemporary aspects. He is instantly recognizable owing to his endearing gap toothed smile and colorful cutting edge clerical wardrobe.
Sentamu regularly pronounces on a variety of social and cultural issues from the need for the Church of England to reach out to black people (i.e. not to be so white and middle class), to why the young should avoid the moral pitfalls of premarital cohabitation (ref: Prince William and his now wife Kate), to the perils of removing Fathers from the process of creating and raising children (single women having artificial insemination, etc.).
His most recent public rant was on the topic of rebranding same sex civil partnerships as “marriages.” Sentamu’s position (echoed by many) is that marriage is forever theologically defined as being between a man and a woman (or several women in succession as in the case of Henry the 8th). He sides with those who believe that this sort of engrained social context cannot be changed overnight. Sentamu’s impetus for making a policy statement on shifting the language of same sex civil unions to marriage came after Prime Minister David Cameron hinted that he might be inclined to support this controversial change of terminology.
Primate Sentamu asserts that to impose a change in the language of such relationships would be a dictatorial act which amounted to overthrowing the Bible itself. He warned the Prime Minister that he would face “a rebellion” if Church of England clergy were forced to perform same sex civil unions under the category of marriage.
A marriage reform bill comes up for UK government “consultation” (translation committee hearings) in March. Civil partnerships were legalized by an Act of Parliament in 2004 without dispute from the Church of England bishops who sit in the House of Lords. File under “pending.”
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