Tuesday 13 October 2009

No truth in the House of Bishops

Bishop Peter Selby named several key issues about the Church of England’s attitude to the human sexuality debate and the implications for the Covenant in his paper given at Word on the Street last week.

The Church of England is fact divided on sexuality. The House of Bishops is divided - they are not of one mind about homosexuality. The House of Bishops does not speak with honesty and the members of the House are not honest amongst themselves. The bishops are not in agreement about the policy which they claim is the mind of the church. Many bishops ignore the notional teaching of the church in ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ (which was written as a discussion document) and ignore their own rules set out in the House of Bishops statement on Civil Partnerships.

Many bishops positively encourage their clergy to register as civil partners and to follow this by seeking the blessing of God on their partnership in a service held in their parish church. Bishops have attended both civil partnership registrations and the service which follows.

Peter Selby comments that the picture of the House of Bishops speaking honestly, adhering equally and in every place to one pattern of teaching and discipline, united on the question of human sexuality, is an illusion. He says that “recent years have brought more mistrust and less openness than at any previous time I can remember.”

Conversations with members of the House of Bishops confirm the truth of Peter Selby’s comments. There is deep frustration amongst the trustees and supporters of Changing Attitude. We know many bishops actively dissent from the policy but will not publicly say so or make public their active dissent. We collude with them in maintaining a silence about it.

If we continue to be silent, we betray those we are here to advocate for and we help maintain “the pretence of unity” which has about it “a ring of falsity” that, says Peter Selby, “needs to be confronted for the sake of the integrity of our ecclesial life.” It allows the false notion to continue that “the sexuality issue is decided in the CofE - in fact everywhere except among a few dissidents in TEC and Western Canada” and that "betrays us all."

The House of Bishops is failing not only itself and the wider church but the lives of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members of the Church of England, lay and ordained, their families and friends and congregations. The impact of the House of Bishops’ dishonesty is deep and widespread in the church.

It’s almost impossible to undertake accurate research – congregations can be as closeted as LGBT Christians and the House of Bishops itself. We are reliant on anecdotal evidence, but the Changing Attitude network provides ample evidence of the huge gulf between the stance of the House of Bishops and the moral, ethical and theological thinking of ordinary Anglicans about human sexuality.


  1. Sue, the only person I can out is myself and I've done that.
    Other than exposing privately supportive but publicly cowardly and career protecting bishops - straight and gay - I don't really see how we can stop colluding. And as I don't like exposing other people, there's not a lot left but what CA has been doing for years - try to persuade.
    Or am I missing some untried tactic?

  2. You say that Issues in Human Sexuality is a discussion document. Do I detect an unwritten "just"? What then is your view of the Higton resolution? The CofE website as a summary on homosexuality at http://www.cofe.anglican.org/info/socialpublic/marriagefamily/humanrelationships/humansexuality/

    Do you accept that this represents the official position of the church?

    I note with a certain irony that you share with Reform a frustration with bishops who hide behind a wall of silence!

  3. I'm not asking you to "out" people, Erika ( Peter Tatchell tried that with some bishops if I remember and it is hardly humane.)

    I suppose this survey of gay Anglicans lay and ordained that has been mooted could be a start in exposing the numbers. Otherwise, I just don't know. I think CA is doing the right things but might be in for the long haul I am afraid.

  4. The CA position has been morally admirable but practically, a non-starter

    The best strategy should gave been to reject compromise, uncover hypocrisy and look towards active support for TEC in leading a new international formation of churches

  5. I'm with Merseymike. I've only been engaged in this debate for about 5 years but it's becoming clearer and clearer to me that the whole anti-gay thing is not my problem, it's theirs.
    And just as I don't patiently explain to people any more why women should be considered equal to men, and pretend to have any kind of respect for misogynist dinosaurs, so I'm getting ready to say to "them": go and educate yourselves, the information is out there, the theology is out there. This is YOUR problem, not mine.

    It's different in Africa where we still do have to engage, but in the CoE it is becoming ludicrous to continue this outlandish debate.

  6. Anonymous (I do the courtesy of responding to someone who lacks the courage to reveal him or herself).

    You don't detect a just, you detect what is the reality - 'Issues in Human Sexuality' IS a discussion document.

    I accept that the page on the CofE web site represents the official position of the church. I disagree with it, I don't adhere to it, and neither do many church members, priests and bishops. That's because it's deeply flawed, doesn't represent reality or truth, and is based on ignorance and a flawed reading of Scripture.

    Yes, along with people from many shades of opinion in the church, I get frustrated with bishops - nothing new there!