The newspaper headlines claiming the Church is to approve celibate gay bishops are inaccurate. I don’t think the Church of England has made any moves towards being able to appoint celibate priests who are gay as bishops. It is reinforcing the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, inviting candidates, members of the Crown Nominations Commission, Archbishops and bishops, to collude in a policy which creates dishonesty and secrecy.
The Church of England has sent Synod members a copy of a note issued three weeks ago about the Equality Act, the appointment of homosexual bishops, and civil partnerships. Changing Attitude commented at the time.
A flurry of media reports have been published yesterday and today about the legal opinion prepared by the Legal Office for members of the Crown Nominations Commission and diocesan bishops and their Advisory Groups. Many are inaccurate.
The note assumes the Church has yet to appoint a gay bishop. Changing Attitude knows of fourteen bishops, five of them members of the House of Bishops, who are gay. Most but not all are said to be celibate. Some are married.
The reality the Church of England lives with is that it already appoints gay bishops. It appoints them in ignorance. Questions about their sexual identity are not asked. Not one of them has felt able to be open about their sexuality.
Having read the note about choosing bishops in the context of the Equality Act 2010 no candidate for the episcopate who is gay is going to volunteer information about their sexuality.
The Church of England further compounds its discriminatory policies by proposing that gay candidates should be asked questions that will not be asked of heterosexual candidates.
The guidelines are unworkable. They will not enable the Church to appoint bishops who are gay and conform to the teaching enshrined in Issues in Human Sexuality, teaching which many bishops already reject in their appointment of gay and lesbian priests in civil partnerships.
Changing Attitude calls for transparency, honesty and integrity in our bishops and in the appointment process. This is never going to be possible for those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender until the Church reviews its teaching about human sexuality and rejects many of the attitudes contained in Issues in Human Sexuality.
The Church of England is now confronted with two issues, the appointment of gay bishops and civil partnerships in church, which put it in conflict with Equality Legislation, from which the Church has gained exemptions.
A Nigerian Anglican woman priest ministering in London commented:
“Well I suppose if the celibate gay bishops were to come out and be ‘visible’ and be vocal it could help in the struggle for LGBT human rights, not just church issues. It would be a very tiny step but maybe a helpful one. What we need to hear is more gay Christians across the churches and cultures speaking about their lives and faith. We need to hear their testimony and know the reality of their lives. I know this isn’t an easy thing to do, but barriers need to be broken down and personal testimony is very powerful and alleviates fear – for some of course. There will always be others who will never be happy but there are plenty of people who are searching for answers and who are willing to listen to the voices of others. I am where I am today because I listened to the voices of my LGBT brothers and sisters. The C of E is looking for a comfortable official position, but real testimony will take us beyond our comfort zone.”