The Church of England on January 4 confirmed that gay clergy in civil partnerships can, after all, become bishops, but only if they agree to remain celibate.
Of course, heterosexual men are free to become priests and bishops within the Church of England and pursue their sex lives, so presumably straight sex is morally and spiritually fine, but not gay sex.
As reported in The Independent, Bishop of Norwich Graham Jones, speaking on behalf of the Church’s House of Bishops, said in a statement:
The House of Bishops has confirmed that clergy in civil partnerships, and living in accordance with the teaching of the Church on human sexuality, can be considered as candidates for the episcopate. There had been a moratorium on such candidates for the past year and a half while the working party completed its task.
Thus did the Church of England reopen discussion on this highly controversial issue. Eight years ago, in 2005, the Church decided that someone in a same-sex civil partnership could become a priest as long as they were celibate; bishops were not mentioned. Six years later, in 2011, it was decided that gay clergymen could not become bishops.
The decision comes on the heels of the Church’s failure to approve legislation on women bishops in November, a decision that angered many and caused the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Doctor Rowan Williams to say the Church has “lost a measure of credibility.”
Then came the December announcement by the Government that the Church would be exempt from gay marriage legislation.
And now this. By alienating both women, who are barred from becoming bishops because they are inferior, and gay people, whose sexual activity is regarded as wrong, is the Church of England trying to destroy itself?
Not to mention, how are the authorities going to find out if those bishops are really being celibate? Giles Fraser, writing in The Guardian, has a great take on this:
“So, bishop, are you having sex with your partner?” I can’t imagine anyone asking that question with a straight face. And what constitutes sex anyway? Snogging? Toe-sucking? (Is there a Church of England position on this?) Yet the new line from the C of E – ludicrously, that gay men in civil partnerships can be bishops as long as they refrain from sex (or to put it another way, we’ll have gay bishops as long as they are not really gay) raises the question: how on earth will the authorities ever find out? A CCTV in every bedroom? Chastity belts in fetching liturgical colours? No, the only way the bedroom police could ever really know is if they ask and play a moral guilt trip about honesty on those being interrogated.
Another issue could be exactly how this new ruling will work. Will male, gay candidates for bishop have to promise to give up sex, however defined, in order to go before the interview panel? Once at the interview, will they have to deal with questioning on their personal life?
A further issue is discussed in The Independent:
Symon Hill, a Christian writer and associate director of the Ekklesia think-tank, said the Church was still enforcing discrimination.
“Unfortunately this is being presented as progress but it’s really another announcement of discrimination,” he said. “It’s saying straight bishops can have sex but gay bishops can’t. Celibacy is a gift from God. Some people are called to it, other are not. It’s not a second-best option for second-best clergy.”
Thank you, Mr. Hill, for elevating the conversation to a more dignified place.
As supreme head of the Church, I wonder what Queen Elizabeth has to say about this latest display of homophobia? For myself, I understand why I left the Church of England a long time ago.
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