Friday, 14 June 2013

Being a bishop and being queer

This is the second time I've responded to a piece in The Telegraph in two weeks. I'm not sure this is a good sign (The Telegraph is hardly my news supplier of choice). Perhaps writing this blog post simply indicates how far I'm being sucked into increasingly febrile debates around gender and sexuality in the church.

After the relatively recent debacle in which the House of Bishops sought advice about whether clergy in civil partnerships could be excluded, de jure, from being consecrated bishop, John Bingham is reporting that any CP'd clergy in line for preferment will be duly quizzed by officers of the Archbishops about the state of their sex life. Queer clergy in CPs will need, in effect, to publicly state they are celibate in order to be bishops.

Quite apart from the horror of even trying to imagine *that* conversation ('Are you now, or have you at any time, been sexually active with the person you love & are committed to...who incidently is of the same gender as you?') the very fact that this General Synod paper exists is significant. It indicates just how very far the C of E is drifting from a society which is committed to a holistic and compassionate vision of humans as sexual and gendered beings.

I can no longer give a plausible account of the church's picture of human being, love and wholeness to a large section of my friends and acquaintances, some of whom have left church and others who are utterly turned off by its perceived judgmentalism. I might mumble about 'doctrinal rationales', 'about bishops as unity figures' but large numbers of intellectually questioning and caring people have just moved on. I'm not sure the church can ever catch up again.

If this General Synod paper were to be adopted as policy it would continue to treat LGBT people as the kind of folk who have to justify their presence in all aspects of church life. As ever I am reminded of that line Rowan Williams is reported to have put to George Carey when the latter was Archbishop of Canterbury: 'Who pays the price?' (Interestingly, I am inclined to say, 'In the long run, *all* of us...'; for though many LGBT people will rightly continue to see the church as a place not for them, the church will be diminished further if it continues its push towards the monochrome.)

Equally, I think of a comment a friend made in 2003 after the debacle over Jeffrey John's 'failed' appointment to the See of Reading. John was all lined up, but Rowan Williams (by now Archbishop of Canterbury) reputedly let John down. The rest, as we know, is history. My friend said, 'Well, I suspect that as Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan thinks, 'Job well done' but, as Jeffrey's friend, he's just heard the cock crow.'

The story being reported by John Bingham has this general feel. That is, that at an institutional level, the church and its senior figures will think, 'This is how it must be...this is what a good job looks like...'. However, to someone carrying this policy out (unless they have a failure of humanity), it will be a bleak day indeed. They will instinctively recognize that asking the questions about celibacy and a couple's sex life has crossed an unhappy, inquisitorial line. They will have sacrificed compassion to institutional self-interest.

7 comments:

  1. We (the CofE) have lost the plot and we have lost the Gospel. Thank God I have the freehold and can celebrate the love between two people regardless of gender.
    (Vicar of large urban parish - please forgive the anonymity .....)

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  3. Powerful words Tess. It is striking to contrast the pronouncements of those in authority with the kind of things that S.D.s (inc me) say to directees/those whom we companion. While I might not use the word ,'Pharisee' myself (I always think they got a raw deal in the Gospels) you point is incredibly potent. TY!

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  4. Amazing comment Tess. I remember reading a book by Peter Morea (?spelling) whose title eludes me at the mo' - about the tension between 'authoritarian' and 'liberal' christianity. Do you know it? He writes as a psychotherapist and skillfully outlines how power and authority can skew perspectives. Well worth a closer look.

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    1. I had a quick look on Amazon, and Peter Morea wrote a book called "Towards a Liberal Catholicism". Is that perhaps the one you mean? I hadn't heard of it, or him, but then I'm not very well read I'm afraid! It does sound like a book I would enjoy.

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