Lobbying by the Church

Uniformed organizations’ loyalty oaths are not an obvious point from which to begin a consideration of church lobbying. However, recent events have raised some interesting questions in relation to the manner in which this is conducted by religious organizations.  In its Media Release Keeping the Promise of 23 January, the Church of England asks

“those with links to uniformed organisations in the Church and other interested parties to complete the consultations [being conducted by Girlguiding UK and UK Scouting] with a view to the retention of the reference to God and the Queen.”

This was accompanied by a Briefing Paper which summarizes the situation within the two organizations regarding the consultations and urges action

  • through the Diocesan Communications Directors to access the Church communication networks to alert parish members and clergy to the two consultations; and
  • to encourage Guide/Scout members, leaders and other interested Church members to respond to the consultations.

A follow-up Media Release on 24 January, Bishops urge parishes to Keep the Promise, refers to an open letter in the Church Times in which the Bishops of Jarrow, Southwell and Nottingham, Grantham and Truro encourage “all to engage in the public dialogues being run independently by the Scout Association and Girlguiding UK”.  This also provides a link to the Briefing Paper on the CofE site, which reproduces, albeit in a less user-friendly form, the content of the Diocese of London’s Ministry Matters, dated 16 January.

Comment

Those who follow the advocacy initiatives of the Church of England may have been surprised to read of its involvement in the essentially peripheral issue matter of loyalty oaths.  This is acknowledged in a section within the Briefing Paper entitled “Why Should the CofE get involved?” [Answer: on account the continuing relationship between many uniformed organisations and their local parishes. More formally it is the role of the Church of England to defend the exercise of faith, especially where it is being squeezed].  However, this raises two more fundamental questions:

  • why did the Church identify this issue of loyalty oaths for lay involvement in the consultation process, and not the more high-profile government initiatives on the marriage of same-sex couples?
  • how desirable (and effective) is laity involvement in general?

Part of the answer is to be found in the responses to the publication on Friday of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill which we reviewed here.  The responses from the Church of England and the Church in Wales were essentially similar, expressing their doctrinal and canon law position on marriage but acknowledging the constructive discussions that had taken place with government.  In contrast to these conciliatory approaches, that of the Roman Catholic Church (EW) was more hostile in tone and focused on reiterating its views on the sacrament of marriage, and concluded by commenting on the “shambolic” consultation process and a hope that the Bill will be defeated.  This statement was accompanied by a link to a postcard campaign Contact your MP, including a concise briefing, relevant links, and pro forma response with “points to make”.

The ‘dark arts’ of lobbying is an area that few individuals or organizations are willing to discuss openly, except perhaps at interview or (as a consultant) when bidding for work.  However, an insight to the workings of the Church of England may be gained from a 2008 paper by Dr Philip Giddings (as Chair, Mission and Public Affairs Council), ‘Voice of the Church in Public Life, GS Misc 898A (revised), which stated

“[i]t is therefore often necessary to judge when our interventions should be made in public, and when our objectives are better served by building on our relationships with key people and offices. It is thus not possible to assess the volume of the Church’s contribution by reports in the media of what has been placed on the public record.”

The relationship between the Church of England (and to a lesser extent the Church in Wales) and government differs from that of the Roman Catholic Church, and given the recent history following the “women in the episcopate vote”, it is perhaps not surprising to observe different approaches to the same-sex marriage Bill.

In terms of lobbying strategy, Stonewall has adopted a similar approach to the Catholic Church, here, and in addition to a postcard campaign has provided links to MPs twitter accounts, here, and other material that can be used on-line and in social media communications.  However, the effectiveness of such strategies is dependent upon an organizational membership that will respond to requests for action, and unlike the Roman Catholic Church,  the CofE does not have an established tradition of laity engagement.

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