BBC R4 Sunday programme interview with Colin Coward and Canon Chris Sugden by Edward Stourton

The segment was introduced by a pre-recorded interview about the selection of bishops with Christina Rees, in the course of which she said: “It’s highly political in Church terms, particularly since the Church of England has not yet come to a common mind about it’s attitude to things such as the suitability of people who are engaged homosexual practice, it’s prone to bullying by pressure groups.”

Having introduced the guests, the interview started.

Edward Stourton

Edward Stourton: Colin Coward, one of the intriguing statements in the memo that was leaked was the suggestion that there are in fact several gay bishops and, as it’s put, quote, who have been less than candid about their domestic arrangements and who in a conspiracy of silence have been appointed to senior positions. Is that true?

Colin Coward: I’m sure it’s true, yes, I’m aware of, I think, 13 bishops who are gay, 5 of them in the House of Bishops, and it’s understandable that they are going to be less than honest about their own sexual identity given the culture of prejudice and homophobia in the Church

Edward Stourton: And is that position tenable?

Colin Coward: I don’t think it is, no, I think that what has been exposed last week is a problem that lies at the roots of the Church’s anxieties and tensions; that there is an entrenched homophobia and prejudice against lesbian and gay people by a minority in the Church and that prejudice is poisoning the Church of England and results in kind of behaviour we have seen in Colin Slee’s memorandum.

Edward Stourton: Let me put both the same questions to you, Chris Sugden. Do you think it’s true there are existing gay bishops in the Church of England and do you think it is tenable to allow that to continue while the position of the Church remains as it is.?

Dr Canon Chris Sugden

Chris Sugden: Well, I think there are important distinctions that so far have been unrecognised in this morning’s section and that is, there is a distinction between orientation and behaviour. There is a distinction between someone’s intention and someone’s action, and there’s a distinction between those who are celibate and those who are not.

Now, the Church has never, ever said that orientation or inclination is of itself sinful. What the Church has said in accordance with the scriptures and histories Christian teaching is that practice, sexual practice between people of the same sex is sinful, just as adulterous practice outside marriage between men and women is sinful but people’s inclination that way is not. There is a distinction between temptation and practice.

Now, if Colin is saying there are bishops currently, and there have been, bishops who have an orientation towards same-sex behaviour but who have been faithfully celibate and followed the Church’s teaching throughout their Christian lives then that distinction means that, yes, it’s quite reasonable that there may be people with that orientation who exercise a ministry as bishops but they exercise it in conjunction with and following the promises they make at their consecration which are to be an example of righteous and godly living and to fashion there households according to the way of Christ and that is entirely acceptable.

Edward Stourton: Let me ask Colin Coward to respond to that.

Colin Coward: I think that this distinction is not now and never has been tenable. It brings in a dualism which is unacceptable to heterosexual people and is equally unacceptable for lesbian and gay people. We need to integrate our orientation with out behaviour, with ouir desire to love and to be in relationship, and the church has got to change its teaching, that is the only possible outcome that is going to resolve this.

Edward Stourton: Well, while it hasn’t would you at least accept that saying that certain leaders of the church don’t live up to it’s ideals and to its teaching doesn’t necessarily in and of itself invalidate it’s ideals and its teaching?

Colin Coward: I think this is more complicated. There are at least 40 bishops in the Church who do not conform with the teaching of the church as Chris has outlined it. Who are supportive of their lesbian and gay clergy and who actively encourage them to engage in civil partnerships, license them to parishes, so there is a deep dishonesty and deceit at the centre of the church’s life and that is why last week’s row erupted.

Edward Stourton: And you would accept, wouldn’t you, Chris Sugden, that at the very least this issue is proving extremely corrosive for the Church at the moment?

Chris Sugden: Well, things have changed, Ed in the last ten, fifteen years. There’s been a more insistent approach by gay pressure groups to change the whole of society’s practice to heterosexual marriage,  to normalise the interchangeability of gender and redefine marriage by making the multiple partner approach of many, not all but many gay people, the norm. Now within that I quite understand what Colin is saying about, he wants to and these people want to, eliminate the distinction between orientation and inclination and practice, but if we integrated it as Colin is suggesting and we took that to something like adultery or promiscuity …

Colin Coward: Chris I am not …

Edward Stourton: Hold on a second, Colin Coward…

Colin Coward: Chris, I am not taking it to adultery or promiscuity. You are taking it there, I am not.

Chris Sugden: Well, I want to hear you then say that there is a difference and you denounce those who in these pressure groups are saying they’re wanting to change the whole construction of marriage.

Edward Stourton: Okay, you’ve got 30 seconds to say what you want to say, Colin Coward, because sadly we’re coming to end of our time.

Colin Coward: I am not going to denounce anybody. I am simply going to repeat that society has accepted equality for lesbian and gay people. It is the church, a minority in the Church, who are opposing it, and that minority has to repent of its own homophobia and change.

Edward Stourton: We must leave it there.


  1. says

    The anti-same-sex marriage folks often tend to hit below the belt with their suggestion that those in favor of same-sex marriage want marriage redefined to include adultery and promiscuity. One idiot ex-senator in the US even suggested that there would be no limits if marriage was “redefined”, that people would wish to marry animals – I believe box turtles was his example. I find it sickening.

    • says

      The Senator was right. Once you say that Evil is Good and Good is Evil. All sorts of perversions are acceptable. You also not longer have a Christian Church, you get the argument that ” I was born to be a pedophile (God made me?) so I must act on it”. Utter rubbish, also I believe that Bishops who have Homosexual tenancies and are appointing active Gay clergy should be sacked. The whole thing makes me very sad for a Church I love very much.

  2. says

    I’d like to see the Rev. Coward come to Lesley Pilkington’s defense and the sincere clients who seek our her help to overcome unwanted same-sex attractions. The rights of gays and lesbians in the UK now over rule the rights of men and women with unwanted homosexual attractions to seek change.

    • Changing Attitude says

      Mario, if someone has unwanted same-sex attractions, they are free to seek help from you but would be far better off seeking counselling or therapy from a practitioner who is properly client-centred and free from assumptions that to desire intimacy with someone of the same sex is wrong. You would agree, I hope, that gay and lesbian Christians are free to express their faith in the context of a loving, faithful same-sex relationship and for whom pressure to change would be wrong.

  3. JAMES says

    Interesting comment from the your website

    “Killer question not asked of Chris Sugden on Sunday programme: Must straight bishops publicly repent pre-marital sex before appointment?”

    Pre- marital sex is a sin. I repent of mine and I wish it had not happened before I met my wife. I assume that straight Bishops would also. Why would they not?

    • Mark says

      James, the Archbishop of York said recently in the press that it was good that Prince William lived with Kate Middleton before getting married. The Archbishop’s image was that it is good to test the milk before you buy the cow.” Yet, John Sentamu is allowed to be an archbishop despite teaching views clearly counter to the Christian tradition (and in fact, what’s worse the hypocrite then got involve in blocking Jeffrey John, as we now know). Likewise, the current Bishop of Winchester was the leading proponent of the change to allow divorcees to be remarried in church, clearly against all Christian tradition (yet he also does everything he can to block acceptance of gay people in the Church and in the House of Lords). So what you are advocating sounds merely like hypocrisy to me.

  4. Changing Attitude says

    James, I do not agree that pre-marital sex is intrinsically sinful. It is a view held by some Christians but I am not going to be aligned with those who want to induce unnecessary guilt into people’s lives, straight or gay. Straight bishops might not want to repent of sexual activity before they married because like me, they didn’t and don’t believe there was anything wrong in the pleasure they enjoyed.

    But the point of the comment about the killer question is, why are gay prospective bishops being asked the question and not straight prospective bishops?

    • JAMES says

      Amazing reply!

      So I should not feel guilty if I had an affair tomorrow, not worry if my daughter took up prostitution, not worry if I rip off a customer at work and indeed perhaps even to worry if I murder my neighbour, (provided of course it was done in “love”!). Perhaps just take up worshiping other gods just to be on the safe side!!!

      And of course not repent if I had done all this in my past! Certainly not feel guilty!

      The Church has gone mad!

  5. Changing Attitude says

    Thanks James for demontrating in an even more extreme manner than Canon Chris Sugden on Sunday the extraordinary mindset which is obsessed with extremes and is responsible for the poison that is infecting Christianity.

    You asked a perfectly reasonable question about repentance for sexual activity before marriage, and I disagreed with you.

    From there, you jump to yourself, a married man, having an affair tomorrow, your daughter becoming a prostitute, ripping off a customer at work, murdering your neighbour and worshipping other gods.

    I suggest that your mind is working in a very unhealthy, obsessional way, and you demonstrate why the Church needs to guard against extremists who want to corrupt the beautiful essence of Jesus’ teaching about lovem goodness and infinite goodness.

    • Ron Wilson says

      Why so obsessed with sex. I can think on many things that people would be better off worrying about, not the least being an amazing lack of mercy in so many christians? Micah 6:8 could be a good place to start

  6. JAMES says

    Has sarcasm been banned in the UK as well now?

    The point is if you decide to change one part of God’s teaching (because you feel like it) then the rest rapidly deteriorates.

    I think perhaps we do need to split in the Anglican Church. A Church for believers and those that want to build a church and worship a god that can be fashioned to whatever they want. Can you see a middle ground? I cannot.

  7. Chris B. says

    Has one never noticed or dared to ask of candidates for priesthood whether they are eunuchs? Surely they must be? Created as they are in the image of God / albeit for a specific purpose.. Gay.. but without a sexual urge in their fibres? Come off it – what is this deity? One that demands a sacrifice on the altar itself? How many more sacrificial (non-virgins) are there to be placed on the altar of such a malign god?

  8. says

    Colin, I find it very hard to converse sensibly with people like Chris Sugden and James here. They seem to arrogate to themselves a judgement that is not seen in Christ himself. In James’ case, he believes his own pre-marital sex was sinful – now! But what did he think at the time of it happening? There needs to be some sort of consistency. Does he believe that sexual acts are in themselves, sinful? Or are they just OK in hetero-sexual marriage?

  9. Chris B says

    Colin you must get so angry at times.. You can always get some relief by bashing your bishop! (As they used to say!) Hehe.. Seriously, honesty will out in our modern world. I don’t think people (albeit bishops) realise the power of the ‘tinternet’! I am now just about to go onto the next level myself = Twitter.. Information is being disseminated at a click out the mouse & quicker than a phone call.. keep up the good work and enjoy God’s blessing in bringing about His kingdom.

  10. Richard Ashby says

    ‘The point is if you decide to change one part of God’s teaching (because you feel like it) then the rest rapidly deteriorates’. Oh dear, so we ought to have retained slavery and forbidden usery? No wonder the world is going rapidly down hill!

  11. Chris B says

    Well stated Richard..
    If the press in this country appear to be gagged (as indeed most believe!) Then there are indeed other newspapers out there – highly respected.. e.g N.Y. Times and they in turn are accessible on the net! In this modern world of communication things are so easy… To my mind; when a person accepts a public position they must be uniquely aware that they are to be called to account.. The consecration service is clear in its content & intent! If the C of E is to have any credibility – it has to be transparent. You cannot have people ‘playing the game’ – then to get their name on the ‘board’ and subsequently change the rules.. The board will all too soon become riddled with snakes (having taken the ladders away!)

  12. JAMES says

    Three points

    If a drunk is driving a lorry own a road killing a maiming people as they are run over, others then as a Christian we have a duty to try to stop them, not to day ” Well it is OK if that is what they are in to”. If we find a group such as yours, spreading a false Gospel then we need to try to stop them as it damages the Church and their chance of salvation.

    The Archbishop of York said that some people want to live together before marriage. He did not say he approved of it only that that it was more important to make the commitment to marriage.

    I live in Germany, every day I drive past a concentration camp where hundreds of thousands perished. Every day I am reminded what a secular state does to its people. In the 1930s the German Church was weak liberal and in the main welcomed the rise of Hitler by reinterpreting the Bible to say what they wanted it to say.

    Once we start down a road you may not want to be where we end up.

    • Kate says

      Ah yes, support for loving, consensual faithful relationships: Chris Sugden thinks that’s like adultery – you’d go one further and say it’s like slaying several people with a big lorry.

      Your mention of concentration camps does have some relevance here. Because if you want to get people into one – then first it’s good to dehumanise them with wild exaggerations and false comparisons.

      Luckily for LGBTs, loopy demonisations just aren’t happening in mainstream society any more – the only place you’ll really find it is in the more vitriolic postings on Christian websites. Do you want to think that one through again maybe?

    • Mark says

      I don’t think that’s an accurate characterisation of German Church history, James. Rather, the Nazis picked up on lot of nasty threads long present within Christian culture – anti-Semitism and persecution of other outsiders in particular. The lesson to be learnt is for Christians not to demonise those who are different. Plenty of gay people were victims of Hitler, so your choice of illustration is very odd, not to say insensitive, in fact.

    • says

      What amazes me is that so few people in authority – such as Diocesan Directors of Ordinands – have refused to implement the policy which requires ministerial candidates and others to ‘submit’ to the teaching of ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ even when they disagree with it and are well aware that it promotes the invisibility and oppression of LGBT people. Far from being compliant Changing Attitude represents a pocket of important resistance to distorted teaching about the human person.

  13. says

    Still surprised when folks like Chris S. advance the morally bankrupt distinction between inclination and action. According to Jesus the inclination is where the sin really lies. So too the Decalogue, which places covetousness on the same level as adultery or theft.

    As long as we have a double standard we have no standard.

  14. Mavis Ogden says

    Would it be not prudent in future to only consecrate ‘out’ gay bishops? As this surely is a much safer bet – than having people who are otherwise seen as deceitful? Further, it would appear to enhance the CofE to disaffected or otherwise disassociated peoples – giving the church some street credibility in the modern secular world!
    It is about time what ever branch or diocese or authority realised that the world in which they find themselves is increasingly tranaparent and people in any authority and in the public domaine – are viewed as ‘public property.’ This serves only as a shot across the bow!

  15. Daniel Nield says

    Hey all,

    Firstly, well done Colin!

    A few points to make here:

    1. This obsession with the difference between orientation and behaviour is ludicrous in a community that reinforces its identity through behaviour as much as anything else, the act of communion being a perfect example. The over-riding message of the Gospel is one of tolerance , and also one that places more emphasis on common humanity- through communion, than it does on difference. To take this position and classify those who have same sex intention as gay is therefore incorrect, you cannot by this absolutist tradition of reasoning be a’ non-practicing gay’.
    2. Pedophilia is a sin/crime as it is a distortion of power relationships; it is taking advantage – to compare it to two consenting adults is offensive. There are also plenty of heterosexual pedophiles, in fact this forms the vast majority of cases.
    3. Anyone who brings up the Nazis as a justification of their position is usually over simplifying. The Nazi’s were not secular, in practice…maybe by intention. It is inaccurate to infer that any ‘Western’ government is not totally infused with secularised Christian ideology – ‘natural law’ being a case in point.
    4. There seems to be a predisposition suggesting that if the Church accepts homosexuality this will lead to promiscuity in all its forms. I would ask people who hold that view to consider the possibility that a lifetime of rejection by society at large and the Church – to think of yourself as inherently sinful is actually creating – not preventing such behaviour. This position also supposes that heterosexual versions of promiscuity do not already exist in spades….I’ll just leave that one hovering there.

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