Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Cornwall B&B case: a funeral oration for Christian Britain

Back in ad 2000, Callum Brown wrote a book called The Death of Christian Britain. Yesterday, Judge Andrew Rutherford delivered the funeral oration. It begins with these telling, and I think remarkable, words:
In 1882 Her Majesty Queen Victoria opened a new court building. It is in the Strand just at the entrance to the City of London. It was built to house the superior courts of this land with the exception of the House of Lords. No one who enters can fail to be struck by the similarity of the Great Hall with the interior of those gothic cathedrals with which this kingdom is so richly endowed. But if, before entering, you gaze upon the façade of the building you will notice 4 statues.
There you will find King Alfred who made such a notable contribution to Saxon England by codifying the laws of his day. You will find Moses to whom was given the ten commandments and to whom, by tradition, is ascribed authorship of the first 5 books of the Bible in which you will find in great detail the laws governing the children of Israel. Also there on the façade is King Solomon whose wisdom has become a legend and who displayed outstanding qualities as a judge when sitting in the Family Division in the only reported case of which we have details. And the 4th statue is that of Jesus Christ who, I imagine, needs no introduction to those involved in this case.
Why are those statues there? Perhaps there were many reasons for them but I venture to suggest that one was to emphasise the Judaeo-Christian roots from which the common law of England was derived.
A great deal has however happened since King Alfred and his Saxon laws, and even more has changed since Moses, King Solomon and Jesus Christ walked upon this earth. Those Judaeo-Christian principles, standards and beliefs which were accepted as normal in times past are no longer so accepted.
We live in interesting times.

Incidentally, his comment about Solomon and ‘the Family Division’ may be a better joke than he intended, but the fact that he knew the reference, and assumed his readers and hearers might actually ‘get it’, simply shows, as he acknowledges, how much things have changed in his lifetime. I have no doubt that almost no one under the age of fifty would know what he meant without looking it up.
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  1. Interesting comment at The Guardian on

  2. .. and a fascinating one here too:

    Were the Christian hotel owners right? No. Was the law right? Also no.

  3. I can't help thinking about the increasing number of taxi drivers who, apparently, refuse to take blind people (because of their guide dogs). Their grounds are religious, but as they are not Christians, but Muslims, presumably no action will be taken against them, such as against the hotel couple or the counsellor. Clear proof that the real purpose of these laws is to bash Christians, and remove Christian morality, etc. from our culture.

  4. First and foremost, this is the old chestnut of how we are now living in immoral times and that somehow the past was less immoral and more virtuous. As Rev John has noted in previous blog posts – Christianity has always been a minority religion in the UK; but then changes tack on such subjects as homosexuality and sees its acceptance as ‘signs of the times’ when it comes to leaving behind the ‘guiding hand’ of Christianity.

    Cast your minds back a hundred and fifty or so years when the churches were a good deal fuller than today – church attendance was around 49-50% in the 1850s. Was England a more morally upright country than today? Well it depends on what you take as your measure of morality. The acceptance of homosexuality was extremely limited and there was overt public condemnation of homosexual behaviour etc. Lev 18:22 firmly acknowledged and upheld. Good for Biblical morality! However instead of looking at a few – and some would say ambiguous (since there is no word in Hebrew or Koine Greek for homosexual) – verses of the Torah and St Paul’s epistles (they come to four or so in a Bible of thirty-odd thousand verses). Let’s look at the bulk of moral guidance in the Bible. There is an emphasis on looking after widows and orphans, treating the poor fairly, treating foreigners fairly, giving a fair wage for a fair day’s work, not judging others, practicing hospitality without judgement (wonder if the B&B owners in Cornwall read that bit of the Bible?) etc.

    How does the past stand up if we look at the wider morality of the Bible? The irony is that the social morality of the Bible has been far, far better achieved by liberal, secular democracy than centuries of Christian Britain. There is a wonderful phrase in Bennett’s play ‘History Boys’ – ‘We remember in order to forget...’ And think this is apt when Christians whine on about how the past was somehow more moral than the present and that Christianity was the moral conscience of Britain. This is of course rot – yes, there were some notable (mainly non-conformist) reformers (and pray, why did they need to reform, when the Bible was well known and the churches full?), but Christianity was often content to maintain the status quo – in the words of Mrs Alexander ‘The Rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate; [God] made them high and lowly and ordered their estate...’

    So please, please stop harking back to a past that didn’t exist.

    As for guide dogs and Muslim taxi drivers – they are prosecuted (see: from a local paper). But in some ways the Cornish B&B case is the same as the taxi drivers. Muslim taxi drivers are happy to carry a single woman and her shopping (which will often contain pork products, alcohol and the odd lottery ticket) but then a MINORITY make a fuss about guide dogs – more, I suspect, because of dog hairs than religious virtue. Religious virtue becomes a righteous excuse for prejudice. Similarly, I am sure the Cornish B&B owners have happily given double rooms to people who may have a marriage certificate, but are far from Christian in many aspects of their lives. Fred and Rosemary West would have happily been accommodated as ‘righteous’ guests by the B&B owners while the sinful homosexual couple, would have been turned away – or offered a twin room. Which perhaps illustrates the illogicality of trying to impose moral sanctions which are based on (like much in religion) trying to make yourself, feel better about yourself. If you provide a service to the public, then that is what you do. If you have a problem with that, then perhaps it isn’t the job for you!


    Ken Simpson

  5. Ken wrote, “First and foremost, this is the old chestnut of how we are now living in immoral times and that somehow the past was less immoral and more virtuous.”

    No it isn’t. Rather the point is, as Judge Rutherford points out, that the conscious foundation of our laws has changed. Whether that is a good or a bad thing may be debated. That it has happened is, I suggest, beyond contradiction and we must await the outcome of that development.

    Incidentally, there was, I believe, a common Greek word similar to ‘homosexual’, namely ‘kinaidos’, which applied to the passive partner in homosexual acts. The kinaidos was widely despised in Graeco-Roman culture as being an innately degenerate character. It seems, however, that Paul coins the word arsenokoitai (1 Cor 6:9) — which means something like ‘bedders of men’, suggesting a wrongful act rather than a person beyond redemption (see 1 Cor 6:11).

    As to “harking back to a past that didn’t exist,” I believe I am not — though it is, of course, still possible to hark back to the past. We cannot assume that the present and the future are always and in everything an improvement.

    Nevertheless, I believe my main point, the one to which Judge Rutherford refers, stands. Most of the rest of what you've said, Ken, is tilting at your own particular windmills.

    I would just observe in conclusion, however, that the law cannot, of course, ever make people virtuous (though it can champion virtue and punish what is defined as lacking in virtue). That, though, is a matter for another post.

  6. Good reply John.

    Also worth noting two glaring and immense omissions in Ken's list of social issues in which he asserts secularism has shown itself superior to Christianity.

    First is the stark fact that the sexual revolution in general, and the family breakdown it predictably and inevitably spawned, has been a massive contributor to child poverty and anti-social tendencies in youth.

    And second, there's the small matter of the defence of the most vulnerable of classes - unborn children - in the enjoyment of the most basic right of them all.

    I also feel it's worth pointing out that much of the improvement he cites has been facilitated by advancing technology - ultimately based on the rise of science which rested on Biblical assumptions about the world and man's appointed role in it.

    Re. Muslim cabbies, perhaps Ken wrote before learning about the openly discriminatory playgroup in St Neots? Now who I wonder is going to sue them into bankruptcy....

  7. (Sorry, forgot to sign myself just now. Dan)

  8. Interesting comments in William Crawley's "Will and Testament" Blog:-

    which links to an "evangelical Christian commentator" from "The Jubilee Centre" in Cambridge; I'd have to admit to being a bit out of my depth on these links...