Having introduced the guests, the interview started.
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?
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.?
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.