Report on Same-Sex Marriage and Places of Worship in England and Wales

CRPL member Professor Robert Vanderbeck was involved in a research project on the solemnization of same-sex marriage in places of worship in England and Wales. The report with the research findings was recently released.

The report highlights the disadvantage faced by same-sex couples seeking a religious marriage ceremony. It shows that same-sex couples are prohibited from marrying in approximately 40,000 places of worship that permit different-sex couples to marry, and there are only 182 places of worship registered for same-sex marriage. The majority of places of worship that permit same-sex marriage only carry out a small number of ceremonies, with roughly half having actually married a gay couple.

During debates over the enactment of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, considerable attention was given to the need for protections for individuals who do not want to participate in same-sex weddings — as ministers, or choristers, for example. However, the report shows that very few people refuse to participate and therefore require these legal protections.

Study co-author, Robert Vanderbeck, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Leeds and a member of the CRPL, carried out the project together with researchers at the University of York. According to Vanderbeck, “Although many claims have been made about how the introduction of same-sex marriage would affect religious groups that offer it, this study provides the first systematic glimpse of what is actually happening on the ground in churches and other places of worship.”

The report found that many places of worship say that registering for same-sex marriage has produced positive benefits within a congregation. These include strengthening the solidarity of existing members, supporting existing LGBT members, and attracting new members. The research report further shows that among places of worship that have performed a same-sex marriage, three-quarters have provided a religious marriage ceremony to a same-sex couple that has not previously worshipped there, indicating that they welcome couples who are excluded from marrying in their own place of worship.

The report Religious marriage of same-sex couples : A report on places of worship in England and Wales registered for the solemnization of same-sex marriage is available on the White Rose Repository.

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Sikh Radicalisation in Britain

CRPL researcher Dr Jasjit Singh writes about the findings of his recently completed research project on Sikh radicalisation in Britain, the report of which was published last week. He found very little evidence of religious radicalisation but did find that Sikh activism in Britain actually contributes positively to integration and social cohesion.

Sikh Radicalisation in Britain

By Dr Jasjit Singh 

In November 2015 the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the UK. According to media reports during this visit he presented a dossier on ‘Sikh radicalisation in Britain’ to his counterpart David Cameron, which included information on Sikh groups in the UK trying to revive the movement for a separate Sikh state (Khalistan), providing training on how to make explosive devices (IEDs) and funding hate-propaganda against India. Despite these Indian media reports, the British government publicly denied ever receiving this dossier when formally asked in Parliament.

Recent years have also seen a number of incidents involving Sikhs in Britain, including mobilisations around mixed faith weddings in gurdwaras (literally ‘house of the Guru’, refers to a Sikh institution where the Guru Granth Sahib Ji is present) campaigns against the serving of alcohol and meat in halls linked to gurdwaras and reports about Sikh/Muslim tensions and links between Sikhs and the far right. To explore these various incidents and reports, I led a CREST funded research project to examine the idea, context, framing and realities of ‘Sikh radicalisation in Britain’. I gathered evidence from historic and contemporary media sources, academic literature, social media, internet discussion forums, ethnographic fieldwork and a series of semi-structured interviews. The report from this project is available to download for free.

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Image credits: CREST

I found that two events in 1984 fundamentally changed Sikh activism in Britain: The storming of Harmandir Sahib (often referred to as the Golden Temple) during Operation Bluestar in June 1984 and the violence that took place against Sikhs across India in November 1984, following the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister by her Sikh bodyguards. Before these events, Sikhs in Britain generally supported India and were mainly focused on campaigning for the right to maintain Sikh symbols in Britain. However, anger about Operation Bluestar remains an issue which continues to move Sikhs in Britain to protest. Although 1984 remains the main political driver to activism, there are also a number of religious and cultural narratives which also lead to Sikh activism, including instances of beadbi (disrespect) being shown to the Guru Granth Sahib Ji (regarded by Sikhs as the eternal living Guru, in the form of a book), the need to maintain the izzat (honour) of the Sikh community and the wish to uphold edicts issued from the seat of Sikh temporal authority (the Akal Takht).

Another prevalent narrative is that of Muslim grooming gangs targeting Sikh girls for grooming / conversion and these cases not being sufficiently dealt with by the authorities. This narrative often feeds on existing historical narratives and more contemporary Sikh/Muslim tensions and has led some Sikhs to engage with far right representatives and organisations. Narratives are transmitted in different ways, through families, organised events, lectures, camps, music and Sikh media (newspaper, broadcast, online and social media). As there are few places and spaces within the British education system for Sikhs in Britain to examine their heritage and history, many undertake such engagement and learning on an ad hoc basis, primarily online.

I categorise the different types of publicly visible Sikh activism in Britain as focusing on a) social justice and humanitarian relief (e.g., seeking justice for 1984, providing aid/food relief), b) diasporic nationalism around Khalistan, c) ‘enforcing’ Sikh practices so they are carried out according to established codes of conduct and/or Akal Takht decrees, d) ‘defending/policing’ the Sikh community against a variety of perceived ‘external threats’ and e) personal/factional disputes. I also found that although Sikh women regularly participate in Sikh activist rallies and protests, they are underrepresented in Sikh organisations. A number of female Sikh activists in particular are highlighting the fact that issues including gender inequality, sexual abuse, domestic violence and substance abuse (drugs, alcohol) have not been sufficiently addressed by Sikh organisations and institutions.

In conclusion, I found no threat to the British state or to the wider British public from Sikh activism as there is no conflict with ‘the West’ or with Britain. Indeed, the main threat to community relations in Britain is from individual or group vigilantism resulting from internal Sikh issues/disputes or from the exploitation of local intra- and inter-community tensions. Much Sikh activism in Britain actually contributes positively to the integration agenda, particularly in the form of humanitarian relief provided during natural disasters (e.g., the floods in Somerset and Hebden Bridge) and incidents (e.g., Grenfell) where members of the public require support.

Dr Jasjit Singh is a Research Fellow in Religious and Cultural Transmission at the University of Leeds. This project, Ethno-National, Religio-Cultural or Anti-Muslim? Investigating Sikh Radicalisation in Britain was funded by CREST. The full report and executive summary are available to download for free.

Also read his recent contribution to The Conversation, “Alarm spreads in Sikh diaspora at arrest of British man Jagtar Singh Johal in India“.

Clamour: Pentecostal Contestations over Women in Ministry

Jamys Carter – a PhD student associated with the Centre for Religion and Public Life –  writes about the picture he submitted to the University of Leeds’ “Postgraduate Research Image of the Year” competition, which captures his research about the question of women in ministry in a British Pentecostal church.

By Jamys Carter

Sometimes people wonder why I started researching a feminist subject, and why after fifteen years of pastoral ministry I would take a break from that to undertake a full time postgraduate research degree for three years. The answer to these questions is varied, but some of it lies captured in this recent image I took in response to the University of Leeds’ “Postgraduate Research Image of the Year” competition. As a ‘hobbying’ photographer I thought this competition would be a good challenge, and a reason to try out my three flashes and remote controls! The first problem was that I needed an appropriate venue, some thing identifiable as a church building. A year ago I could have used my own, but now I am involved in a church-plant in a sports hall (not the image I was after for this shot). A fellow minister gave me the keys to his venue, which overcame my first hurdle. The second hurdle was more technical, and I won’t bore you with the details, but I needed to remind myself how to use my equipment. Trial and error, and a light-meter, and I was good to go. The shoot itself took more than an hour, although my willing female preacher only needed to pose for about five minutes. The rest was all me, resulting in a slightly surreal image (but saved on consent forms and lots of waiting around). Lighting-rigs repositioned, slogans altered, clothes changed, and a while later I had many photos to work with. The longest part of the process was to come. This is the zoomed-in pixel by pixel editing required to layer one image over another. There may have been a better way, but with no green-screen big enough I was left with this painstaking process. However, I was pleased with the outcome, and the photo has been sent to the competition (please vote for it at the Leeds Doctoral College Showcase on the 4th December at the Great Hall and U.G 09 before 13.30 – only if you like it though).Jamys Carter Thesis photo - SMALL

 

The image caricatures the mix of opinions about women in ministry that I have experienced and heard about when the surface is scratched in Pentecostal churches. I am sure this is not limited to Pentecostals, but that is my area of research and experience. My MA by Research found that women ministers had all experienced some negative views about their ministry simply because of their gender. The opposition generally took a few arguments, based on their interpretation of the Bible, as captured in this photograph (“Leadership is male” or “Women should be silent”). The women ministers I talked to had been robust enough to find a way to minister, which for some meant moving to another church, or for others became a protracted disagreement at the local church leadership level. These oppositional voices almost clipped the wings of these women before they could obey the perceived call of God on their lives. Only God knows how many women have had their wings clipped and have not been able to find a way to minister because of such voices.

The oppositional voices are represented in the image ‘robustly’ shouting down the sound of the woman preacher. As I said earlier, this is a caricature and I have never actually heard of that kind of behaviour in a church service. But I know of people who have walked out, won’t turn up, or sit with a stony expression and folded arms if a woman takes the platform. It may just be one person in a congregation, it may be more, but that kind of response can spread. There is an uncomfortable atmosphere when someone expresses their disapproval, and those around them can feel the vibe and be discouraged. It is worse for the woman preacher. She has to face the disapproval,  she sees the expression and body language; as a preacher I know that one person who looks at you like that can seriously outweigh all the positive expressions in the rest of the congregation, it takes courage to carry on.

Despite the spotlight on the oppositional voices, the encouragers also have a spotlight. They can lift the preacher, they can keep them going, they provide a balance to the ‘other side’. Of course, this is hugely significant for the woman preacher who needs to know that people are with her and for her. My research demonstrated that the women ministers would reflect back on one or more voices that brought the encouragement for them to find a way to minister.

But then there is the congregation. The message is for them, as Jesus said “he who has ears, let him hear”. The problem, as depicted in the image, is that the congregation is rather in the shadows. Whether they look disengaged, or straining to hear, the spotlight remains on those who are either denouncing or encouraging the woman preacher. The clamour of voices can drown out the good news of Jesus. The woman preacher wants to preach the good news, but is faced with an issue that first has to be dealt with: is it God’s will for a woman to minister? Until the grassroots of the local church has answered that, then the women in that church may not fulfil their God-given potential.

Why did I start this line of research? I had the audacity to address this issue in my local church. Some people walked, some people crossed their arms and stared at me, but I carried on. Of course I hope and pray that the church in question will continue in the liberty I fought for; but my calling from God expanded beyond that one congregation. So here I am, with God’s grace, wanting to quiet the storm, wanting to quell the clamour.

About the author

Jamys Carter is a PhD student in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Leeds and an ordained minister in the Elim Pentecostal Church.