O Tempore, O Mores. George Carey, ex-Archbishop of Canterbury, has been evicted by King’s College London from its "wall of fame" on The Strand (a public gallery of illustrious people associated with the university).
Meanwhile, dozens of other alumni continue to gaze imperiously from an otherwise grey concrete facade. Was Carey too male, pale and stale? Perhaps not, as Desmond Tutu also lost his pane. Yet we smell a rat.
Back in 2010, at the height of the gay marriage debate, LGBT student campaigners demanded the removal of Lord Carey for opposing this policy. The university, however, stood firm, a spokesman explaining that "Lord Carey’s views are his own and offered as part of an open debate".
King’s was originally founded as a Christian institution, and Carey had graduated there in 1962 as a Bachelor of Divinity. Acting on his Christian beliefs, Carey tabled an amendment to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in the House of Lords. LGBT campaigner Ben Hunt (now president of the Students’ Union) condemned Carey’s views as "outdated, hurtful and offensive".
By 2013, a new principal had been appointed. Ed Byrne was keen to put students at the heart of university policy, and according to Pink News, he invited KCLSU to submit an alternative list of alumni to refresh the Strand gallery.
Ben Hunt declared that "the scheme will mean the removal of Lord Carey, and the inclusion of minorities in the discussions for new alumni". So, Byrne had agreed, at least indirectly, to students’ demands. Hearing of this, Carey was not so much worried about his own publicity but by the creeping censorship in academia.
Two years later, LGBT activists were impatient: the allegedly homophobic ex-Archbishop was still there, traumatising students. Dust had settled on the "Rhodes Must Fall" controversy in Oxford, where administrators had resisted calls to eradicate the statue of the college’s benefactor.
King’s may have feared similar adverse publicity, particularly as the Rhodes campaign had caused a backlash (and threatened loss of major alumni donations). But now Ben Hunt was back knocking on Byrne’s door. Meanwhile, Carey’s image was repeatedly defaced by graffiti.
Last year a King’s spokesperson stated that while there were no current plans to remove any figure, including Lord Carey, "our proposed redevelopment of the Strand campus is likely to require a review of the display of our alumni". As was widely reported, King’s plan to demolish a row of 18th-century buildings to make way for a steel and glass monstrosity was loudly criticised, and Westminster Council rightly rejected it.
For the university a huge investment project was halted, but for LGBT activists this meant that Carey might linger indefinitely.
Well, he has gone now. The current edition of ROAR, the King’s Student Union newspaper, announced "Archbishop removed from wall five years after success of LGBT campaign". The delay had troubled campaigners, Nik Sas arguing that "it reflects a worrying trend in universities to put money or prestige above students’ well-being and – frankly – morality". But he and Ben Hunt felt very proud that the university had finally acted.
Is ROAR misrepresenting the facts? The reason for Carey’s departure is tailored to whoever asks the question. To outsiders, King’s say that space was needed for a new video screen. But we are inclined to accept the students’ account, while the university appears to have been managing the truth.
Student agitators may be sanctimonious petty Napoleons, but they seem honest in their endeavour. For a prestigious institution of Christian heritage to allow this campaign to claim victory is worrying.
To label Carey a homophobe is to enter the theatre of the absurd. The Established Church does not restrict membership or ministration of sacraments to a holy huddle of Hallelujah criers who sign a confessional statement. By law, an Anglican cleric is required to minister to every soul within the parish. He or she does not choose who enters the sanctuary, but must hatch, match and dispatch all and sundry – extending to an avowed atheist (or a Christianity-basher).
Indeed, it is commendable that clergy do this with great compassion – albeit sometimes torn between their own convictions and the imposed whims of modernisers.
George Carey was admired as a parish priest. Anyone reading his book The Church in the Market Place cannot fail to be inspired. He became principal of Trinity Theological College, Bristol, and Bishop of Bath and Wells; certainly he would have encountered homosexual students and fellow clergy in these roles. No cleric in his diocese, or later when Carey became Archbishop of Canterbury, felt marginalised because they were gay.
In 2003, Carey admitted to ordaining two bishops who he suspected were gay, despite adhering to orthodox Christian belief that "sex should be restricted to monogamous heterosexual marriages". Carey was hardly a conservative evangelical when he vigorously and successfully pushed for ordination of women in the Church of England. To the disillusionment of Christian and secular conservatives, he is a recent convert to the cause of assisted suicide.
Carey is not homophobic, but his name has been tarnished by people who refuse to acknowledge that a clergyman cares for all, while maintaining a traditional view of marriage. In a lecture on tolerance, spoken from head and heart, Carey explained how he could love a homosexual neighbour while following the Gospel:
It is simplistic to think that tolerance is achieved merely by a shoulder shrugging indifference to people who believe and act differently. That attitude is not tolerance: it is apathy. Genuine religious toleration is achieved when people hold their religion as so important, so absolute that to part from it is to die, and at the same time realise from their absolute centre of being that another person’s values and beliefs are just as important and as real. That is the moment of genuine tolerance, because there is a cost involved in the act of tolerating another person’s way of living and believing. The pain involved is not only in preserving inviolate one’s own convictions but enduring the reality of the other person’s, and, whilst deeply disagreeing, respecting them… For tolerance involves entering into the ‘strangeness’ of others and feeling their pain.
Only by Orwellian "doublethink" can the LGBT activists who attacked Carey carry the baton of tolerance. Their world is framed by identity politics, with positive discrimination for those of favoured status, while any unfavourable attributes (as arbitrarily determined) are open to attack.
Last week an experienced nurse was sacked for offering prayer for patients of shared faith. Although she is black, thus meriting sensitivity from politically correct authorities, her status was tainted by the one religion that is freely criticised.
If only Carey had kept his beliefs to himself, perhaps he would have been tolerated. We could take lessons in accommodating Christianity from communist China.
Niall McCrae is a lecturer at the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery at King's College, London. Jules Gomes is pastor of St Augustine's Church, Douglas, on the Isle of Man.
This is an edited version of a blog that was originally published on The Conservative Woman.