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.