This question, or something like it, is asked of candidates for ordination, frequently, and at various stages. It is the ultimate question: the only one that truly matters, though the call, or vocation, must be tested by the wider church, which usually involves a long and rigorous discernment process.
Why then should three Church of England Bishops be so concerned to screen out candidates who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LBGT)? And not just those who feel that God is calling them to ordained ministry but lay ministry as well; in fact, anyone who aspires to a leadership or public role in a faith community?
I am referring, of course, to the Bishops of Winchester, Exeter and Chester, who are said to be campaigning in the House of Lords to defeat the Equality Bill, lest faith communities find themselves accused of discrimination, as happened in the case of John Reaney, a diocesan youth officer, in the diocese of Hereford.
A rigorous discernment process, which the Church of England has in place, combined with professional interviewing and human resources processes, should be more than sufficient to ensure that those who are selected for training, or particular posts, lay or ordained, are indeed the people that God has duly called.
It is, therefore, an absolute disgrace to seek to prevent a person of faith from entering the selection process, or to disqualify them from a post, simply for being LGBT. It is, nothing less than an assault on their God-given humanity and a dreadful denial of the integrity of their faith journey.
Much has been heard recently from the bishops in the Lords about the need to balance individual rights with the rights of the faith communities, but we hear very little about the incredible gymnastics that goes on in the hearts and souls of faithful LGBT people who have to manage the call of God to service and membership of the body of Christ with such apparent rejection from their senior pastors. For some the tension is too much, and they turn to other, more welcoming churches, like the Metropolitan Community Church, while others turn away completely and begin to hate the Church with a passionate hatred, and who can blame them?
But the call of God continues – that, at least, cannot be frustrated by amendments to Parliamentary Bills. And God calls people – often indiscriminately, or so it might seem according to our prim and proper notions of who should and should not be called. God doesn’t seem to notice the labels that we attach to ourselves or to other people: he calls men and women, and – to quote playwright Jo Clifford – those who are ‘something in between’ (God’s New Frock) as well.
And there’s another thing that puzzles me about the current episcopal agitation. I’ll let Colin and others consider their amendments from the sexual orientation point of view, but twice now, within the last few weeks, in the House of Lords, bishops have pointed out that the Church of England has not yet made up its mind about ‘transgendering’ (by which, presumably, is meant transitioning). Indeed one of the three bishops I’ve mentioned stated that he would be willing to ordain or to officiate at the marriage of someone who had transitioned from one gender to another, though he admitted that he was aware of colleagues who would not be prepared to do this. In that case, if no agreement has been reached, why is it thought necessary to include transgender people in this list of exemptions at all? Evidently it has not yet become a matter of dogma on which all believers concur.