‘My task is to bear witness to the truth. For this I was born; for this I came into the world, and all who are not deaf to truth listen to my voice.’ John 18:38
Yesterday evening I attended the reception hosted by John Berkow, Speaker of the House of Commons, to launch Kaleidoscope International Diversity Trust. John Berkow introduced the evening, Ed Milliband, Leader of the Opposition spoke next, followed by Lance Price Director of Kaleidoscope and finally, Bisi Alimi, who talked about the trauma and violence in Nigeria following his interview as an openly gay man on Nigerian TV.
Among the 150 people present were Ben Bradshaw MP (who will be speaking at Changing Attitude’s Civil Partnership Conference), Alan Johnson MP, Glenda Jackson MP, Andrew Mitchell MP, Matthew Parris, William Chapman, Angela Mason, Amy Lame, Jide Macaulay (House of Rainbow Nigeria) and Godwins Onwuchekwa (Justice for Gay Africans). Four Anglican priests were present including Nigerian Ije Ajibade but no bishops or other senior clergy.
Kaleidoscope plans to work alongside other groups internationally, lobbying against homophobic legislation, facilitating groups who take a stand against injustice and discrimination in their own countries, and engaging with governments, religious leaders and opinion formers.
Changing Attitude was present because of our commitment to justice for LGB&T people in the Anglican Communion, our engagement with bishops and councils of the Church and our direct support for LGB&T Anglicans in the Communion.
There were no bishops present yesterday, let alone the Archbishops of Canterbury or York. None of the fourteen bishops know to be gay were present. Those reading this blog will know that Changing Attitude has brought to public consciousness the reality that fourteen of the 114 Church of England bishops are gay, some of them married, some single, at least one partnered. We have been challenged to name them but Changing Attitude is not in the business of abusing people or outing those in the closet.
The Anglican Communion’s Primates and bishops are part of the problem that Kaleidoscope has been created to engage with. This is a disgrace. It has become more and more shocking to myself as Director of Changing Attitude and to the trustees that we have two Archbishops who by allowing their voice for compassion, justice and truth to be contained by the anti-gay rhetoric, based on ‘Biblical teaching’, which is a constant in many parts of our Communion, allow prejuidce to be maintained. Archbishops and bishops who are in private supportive of individual LGB&T people are tyrannized by homophobia, both virulent and mild, in the Church.
As damaging for us, for the Church, and for their own Christian integrity, is the silence of the 14 bishops who are gay, married gay, or bisexual. In the context of British civil society and yesterday’s Kaleidoscope launch, where lesbian and gay MPs were named and applauded, isn’t it shocking that gay bishops are so intimidated by hostile forces in the Church and their internalised fear for their ministry and reputation were they to be as open and honest as +Gene Robinson and +Mary Glasspool, that not one of them is out. Even I have never had a conversation with them about their sexuality – though of course, mine has often been part of the conversation.
It is intolerable that meetings take place, clergy appointments made, decisions taken which damage the career chances of gay clergy at which everybody present is allowed to assume they are talking about some alien other ‘them’, and the bishop may well be gay himself.
I write this in the hope that at least one, just one of the fourteen, will have the courage to talk with me about his sexuality and come out to the wider Church. What’s the big deal? What are they and the Church so frightened of? Well, we know what – it’s the bullying, prejudice, homophobia and foul un-Christian attitudes that both Jeffrey John and Gene Robinson had to endure.
The Kaleidoscope launch material said it is now widely accepted in the UK that a diverse society that respects human rights of all its citizens is stronger, more prosperous and more just than one that discriminates against people for the way they were born.
Not in the Church of England, brothers and sisters – we have to endure secrecy, collusion, dishonesty and lily-livered weakness.
For God’s sake and for the sake of LGB&T people across the world (and across our Communion) who live in fear and secrecy of a rampant prejudice often fuelled by Christians, now is the time for bishops to come out and take a stand, those who are gay, those who are gay affirming. Failure to do so is a failure to stand for truth and stand against ignorance and prejudice.