The Bishop of Durham claims to speak for the House of Bishops and to know the mind of the Archbishop of Canterbury better than the Archbishop knows himself. He takes it upon himself to clarify and expand upon what the Archbishop ‘really meant’.
He sees demons everywhere in the Communion. He warns the Archbishop that the Covenant process is ‘far too important to be left to a small group advising the Archbishop’ (para 17). The small group criticised by the bishop was, of course, chosen by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Complexity, says the bishop, ‘simply hands power to those with time on their hands and with well-developed skills in political manipulation’ (para. 18). Complexity is woven into creation and characterises human thought and activity. The members of the group appointed to advise on the Covenant are neither people with too much time on their hands nor politically manipulative people.
Durham has a solution to the problems of complexity and manipulation. ‘The ABC himself is now the main person, if not the only person, in a position to give a clear and authoritative answer’. The bishop has spoken. The Archbishop of Canterbury must take unilateral, authoritative action now, and the action must be what Durham has decided is for the best. But as the Archbishop has made very clear, he doesn’t have any legal, canonical authority over the Communion and neither does he want it.
The bishop uses language in a way which abuses LGBT Anglicans. He categorises some of us as ‘non-celibate homosexuals’. This is equivalent to calling married people ‘non-celibate heterosexuals’. It is a deeply offensive way of describing people.
He refers to people’s ‘sexual preference’ as if lesbian and gay people choose to be attracted to people of the same sex rather than being innately attracted just as he is attracted to the opposite sex. He is one of a small minority of people in the UK who continue to think in this way. Sadly, a significant proportion of this minority are to be found in conservative Christian congregations.
Durham refers to ‘certain habits and styles of life’ which are left behind when people rise to new life in Christ (para. 6). LGBT people do not have ‘certain habits’ which are different from the habits of heterosexuals. Nor do we have distinctive ‘styles of life’. His language is deliberately chosen to demean LGBT people. I have met hundreds of LGBT Christians whose lives are characterised by holiness and a renewed humanity. The bishop cannot know the people of his own diocese well if he hasn’t discerned holiness in many of his partnered lesbian and gay clergy and laity. Perhaps, like other bishops I know, he is blind to their presence.
In para. 12 the bishop addresses sex and ‘rights’. He refers to ‘those with homosexual and similar instincts’. He is wearied by the need to spell out yet again the difference, for those with such instincts, between their human dignity and civil liberty and their ‘rights’ as practising let alone ordained Christians.
I am wearied by his use of the phrase ‘homosexual instincts’. Lesbian and gay people do not have ‘instincts’ that distinguish them from heterosexual people. We have exactly the same range of human physical and emotional desires, the same ability to engage in appropriate adult behaviour and relationships. In the bishop’s mind we are not human beings similar in every way to heterosexuals but deficient in some way, corrupted, perverse.
In a confusing paragraph Durham writes about the categories of chastity, celibacy and a weak or negligible sexual drive as if they are alternative choices for Christians. Chastity – fidelity in love and sexual relationships - is for all, as he rightly says - the same for lesbian and gay people and heterosexuals. It is totally distinct from the call to celibacy, a charism given to very few people, and utterly different from having a weak or negligible sex drive. I know what the bishop really wants to say – no sex for gay people – God doesn’t approve. Why can’t he be honest?
Prejudice and bigotry
The bishop distinguishes between prejudice and bigotry and a principled, thought-out moral stance. He says the Archbishop ‘clearly indicates’ that the two must be sharply separated. I don’t think the Archbishop of Canterbury splits head from heart, prejudice from moral stance, in the way Durham imagines. However, the Archbishop does seem to have lost his empathy for the LGBT minority in his attempt to maintain the unity of the Anglican Communion in the face of those driving towards schism. I can only hope and pray that this is a temporary loss.
Durham states that ‘the Christian notion of personal identity has never before been supposed to be rooted in desires of whatever sort’. Durham knows perfectly well that desire is a fundamental theme in the Bible. The IVP New Bible Dictionary states that:
“in their numerous references to ‘desire’ the Old and New Testaments provide many acute and incisive psychological insights. Indeed both by the diversity of the vocabulary of ‘desire’, and the manner of handling it, the Bible makes plain an important part of its doctrine of man.” It continues: “In Hebrew psychology the whole personality was involved in desire.”
Durham wants a notion of identity which incorporates emotional and physical desires to be articulated on the basis of scripture and tradition. Those who, like the bishop, believe that the head can be split from the heart, that the self of emotions and physical desires is different from the rational, cognitive self, are dangerous. Durham introduces an attack on emotion and desire into his comments on human rights. He refers to the ‘supposed’ modern and scientific discovery of a personal ‘identity’ characterised by sexual preference.’
Head not heart
The Bishop of Durham is at his most dangerous in thinking that it is better to live predominantly or exclusively in the head rather than from the heart. People who live in extremis in the head with no emotional empathy are psychopaths. The bishop distrusts feelings and trusts only the rational intellect. Because his self is head-centred he has little or no empathy for the lesbian, gay and bisexual Christians and priests in his own diocese nor in the worldwide Communion. No wonder he is unable to appreciate the trauma suffered by so many LGBT people at the hands of the church.
The Bishop of Durham concludes by naming the main priority for the Communion as prayer. I agree 100% with his commitment to prayer and with the intentions he outlines:
‘Prayer for the church; for our beloved Communion and the many other Christians with whom we seek to deepen fellowship; for Archbishop Rowan; for wisdom, courage, clarity and vision; for God’s glory, the extension of his kingdom, and the power of the gospel and the Spirit at work in hearts, lives, communities and throughout our world’.
Changing Attitude also prays for these intentions and for the full inclusion of LGBT people in the church of which we are already full members, though disenfranchised and condemned in many parts of the Communion.