Wednesday 29 September 2010

Gay bishops still don’t exist in the public domain (except in the USA)

"Gay bishops are all right by me, says Archbishop" was the front page headline in The Times on Saturday. More accurate but far less enticing might have been the line proposed in a comment on Thinking Anglicans - "Single, celibate, preferably virgin and never-once-promoted-gay-equality bishops are all right by me."

I’ve now read the Times interview with the Archbishop in its entirety and want to begin by focussing on something that wasn’t reported elsewhere but is key to my Christian life and witness. Archbishop Rowan told his interviewer that “... the point of praying is to open yourself up to God so God can do what he wants with you. You come with empty hands, as silent as you can be and say, ‘Over to you.’ So you could say the function was to make you the person God wants you to be – in the full awareness that that might not be quite the person you think you want to be.”

Yes indeed. Prayer is opening yourself up to God and both ++Rowan and I pray in a similar way. The intention is to make you the person God wants you to be, and there’s the rub. Does God want me to be a priest? Does God want me to be gay? Does God want me to be celibate? Does God want me to love my partner and enjoy my life with him to the full? What do I do when these conflict, as they do at the moment? When I centre in prayer and say, ‘Over to you’, God still seems to be saying that each of these aspects of me are part of the person God wants me to be.

When Tom Butler became Bishop of Southwark in 1998 I had been given Permission to Officiate (PTO) by his predecessor, Bishop Roy Williamson, having left parish ministry and licence in 1995 when I founded Changing Attitude. Tom arrived having accepted a mandate from Archbishop George Carey that Southwark needed sorting out and the liberal, pro-gay tendency brought to heel. When my PTO needed to be renewed, I met Bishop Tom and he asked me to write a letter confirming my pattern of life. I said I could write such a letter but we would mean different things by it. He acknowledged that would be so. I wrote the letter and my PTO was renewed.

A year later, I came out as having a partner and not being celibate in front
of Bishop Tom at a meeting of the Southwark Lesbian and Gay Support Network. Twenty minutes later, David Page, then Vicar of St Barnabas Clapham Common (with freehold) and chair of Changing Attitude Trustees, did the same, telling Tom that he was about to celebrate his 25th anniversary with his life partner. David continued as Vicar, Tom refused to renew my PTO.

I met David Stancliffe, then Bishop of Salisbury, for the first time in the garden of Buckingham Palace at a garden party held during the Lambeth Conference of 1998. Later, hearing that Tom had refused me a PTO, David offered me one in Salisbury Diocese, where I had no connection apart from my parents living in the diocese. Questions about relationships and celibacy weren’t asked. A year later I accepted, so that when I moved to Devizes 7 years ago with my partner I already held a PTO in the diocese. The PTO was renewed for 3 years on 14 May 2007 by Bishop Stephen Conway of Ramsbury.

In the Times interview, Archbishop Rowan said “there’s no problem about a gay person who’s a bishop … there are traditionally, historically, standards that the clergy are expected to observe. So there’s always a question about the personal life of the clergy.” The interviewer commented that it is an unappealing idea that the Church makes such unnatural demands on its clergy.

If there is no problem with a celibate gay person being a bishop, why are none of the 3 gay Primates in the Anglican Communion able to be open about their sexuality and why are none of the 10 to 13 gay bishops in the Church of England able to be publicly open? Some are married, some or single and celibate, some are not, all are closeted. The recently published survey estimated that 1.5% of the UK are gay or bisexual. Eight percent of Anglican Primates are gay and 10% of Church of England Bishops.

Why have I tucked these statistics away so far down this post? - because it is dangerously unsafe in the Anglican Communion to be openly gay in Nigeria or Uganda and still unsafe to be openly gay (and partnered) in parts of the Church of England. I feel less safe this morning than I did 6 weeks ago before the question of our Civil Partnership became such a contentious issue at the local, diocesan, national and international church levels.

Gay bishops and LGBT clergy are able to exist in the Church of England under two separate conditions. Either they stay in the closet and the Church doesn’t know they are gay (or pretends it doesn’t know) or they live under the care of a bishop who ignores church teaching and the claims made by the Archbishop of Canterbury and licenses and PTOs are given in full knowledge of someone’s sexuality and relational status.

This is intolerable and is what makes me so angry with the Church. Gay bishops are clearly not all right, and it is still impossible in England for the Archbishop to preside over a Church which ordains bishops who are known to be gay. At the moment, we don’t, knowingly, have any gay bishops. Instead, we have don’t ask, don’t tell (Tom Butler’s preferred model in his early Southwark days), dishonesty, duplicity, secrecy, denial – anything but transparency and truth. This is not conducive to a good, holy, Christian pattern of life.

Colin Coward

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  1. "there are traditionally, historically, standards that the clergy are expected to observe."

    well, yes. I recall the Bishop's Court trial of Jim Ferry (1992) in Toronto, when he was basically in hot water for Being Found To Have A Boyfriend. One of the people quoted at that trial was Archbishop Robert Runcie: "Celibacy never HAS been a requirement for Anglican clergy."

    It's explicit in Article XXXII: "Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, are not commanded by God's Law, either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage..."

  2. It is this utter duplicity that keeps me out of communion with the Anglican Church.

  3. Absolutely - Peter Selby talked about the 'Don't ask, don't tell' approach - it is appalling.. blogged about it here

  4. "A year later I accepted, so that when I moved to Devizes 7 years ago with my partner I already held a PTO in the diocese. The PTO was renewed for 3 years on 14 May 2007 by Bishop Stephen Conway of Ramsbury."

    I'm intrigued by the lack of any mention of 2010. Are you intimating that the renewal of your PTO has been refused, or am I reading too much into that?