C of E bishop and a booklet that sanctions marital rape

Update: Following my blog and comments yesterday (below), and those by Bishop Alan Wilson and others, Bishop Wallace Benn has 'wholly and completely' disassociated himself from the extremist pamphlet by Stephen Green. Subsequent to this post and my previous one, Bishop Benn's office has issued a further statement with an apology and a clarification that he has asked Stephen Green to remove the endorsement from his website

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A Church of England bishop has recommended a booklet that supports the legalisation of rape within marriage and the criminalisation of same-sex relationships.

The booklet, by Stephen Green of Christian Voice, is called Britain in Sin. While it was written a few years back, Green’s revamped website now includes an endorsement of it by Wallace Benn, the Suffragen Bishop of Lewes.

It is sad but not surprising that Green’s band of fundamentalists should support policies of this sort. What is more alarming is that Benn should endorse them.

Britain in Sin argues that the UK has declined spiritually, morally and socially due to the abandonment of Christianity since the mid-twentieth century. In the booklet, Green lists government decisions which he regards as contrary to the Ten Commandments, beginning with the UK’s membership of the United Nations in 1945.

The booklet opposes a legal right to equal pay for men and women, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and power-sharing in Northern Ireland. Green supports the death penalty and advocates an extremely right-wing approach to economics, with heavy cuts to the welfare state and the abolition of all inheritance tax. It implies that adultery should be a criminal offence.

A section of the Christian Voice website is devoted to Britain in Sin (see http://www.christianvoice.org.uk/?page_id=79). It includes the following quote from Wallace Benn:

“This makes interesting and disturbing reading. We desperately need to understand, as a nation, that our Creator knows what is best for us, and to return to His way as the best way to live.”

There are also endorsements from Paul C. Weaver, the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God (who calls it “a helpful and challenging resource”) and Barry Ashbourne, a hereditary peer, former army officer and stockbroker (“the list of unrighteous laws passed during the last fifty years is particularly helpful”).

They are joined by John Graham, chair of Protestants Today (“this well-produced and scholarly publication”) and Ray Borlase of Intercessors for Britain (“a valuable resource”).

It is of course possible to endorse a book without agreeing with every point made in it. But this booklet’s overall approach of vicious misogyny is morally repugnant. Its views on the legality of marital rape, same-sex relationships and unequal pay are entirely consistent with its other points, even if the latter seem slightly less extreme. Furthermore, none of those endorsing it appear to have gone out of their way to specify the points with which they agree or disagree.

Bishop Benn is a prominent voice among conservative evangelicals and on some issues may well be more conservative than any other Church of England bishop. It is no surprise that he argues that same-sex relationships are unethical. I fully respect his right to make this argument, however strongly I disagree with it. But it is one thing to believe that something is unethical, quite another to argue that it should be illegal. I am sometimes accused of being unduly critical of Church of England bishops. But even I thought that we were past the point at which a bishop might defend the “right” of a man to force himself on his wife.

To be fair to Wallace Benn, it is possible that he never made this comment and that Stephen Green is misleading us. In which case, Benn should say so and demand that Green remove the comment from his website instantly. To be charitable to Benn, it is possible that he did not read the booklet before endorsing it, or that he made the comment some time ago and has now changed his mind. If this is the case, Benn needs to publicly and clearly withdraw his endorsement.

At the very least, we are entitled to clear statements from Wallace Benn about his views on rape law, rape within marriage, equal pay legislation, the legality of same-sex relationships and the welfare state. Benn risks losing all claim to be taken seriously, particularly on questions of gender and sexual ethics, if he does not disassociate himself from this booklet very quickly.

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(c) Symon Hill is associate director of Ekklesia and author of The No-Nonsense Guide to Religion. For links to more of his writing, please visit http://www.symonhill.wordpress.com.

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