My new year thoughts begin with bishops – what to make of them and what to do with them? They’re a curious subset – very human until the mitre settles, the bishop’s house inhabited and the Anglican Mainstream letter arrives.
Of the forty four diocesan bishops, Changing Attitude estimates that 20 are publicly supportive of LGB&T inclusion, 13 are opposed to LGB&T inclusion, 6 are undecided and the views of the remaining 5 are at present unknown.
The 20 are both privately and publicly supportive. I’ve had extensive conversations with all of them. They ordain and licence LGB&T clergy and licence lay people, including those in civil partnerships or in relationship. They don’t ask inappropriate questions about sexual activity but affirm love and fidelity. Clergy spouses are often affirmed at ordinations and inductions and licensings.
With a core of 20 of the 44 diocesan bishops being supportive, why is there such a problem in the House of Bishops? Why isn’t the House able to make better and speedier progress towards the full inclusion of LGB&T people in the Church of England? The reasons are numerous:
Collegiality Bishops have been unwilling to break rank and publicly dissent from the House’s agreed positions on civil partnerships in church, clergy in gay relationships and equality in lay ministry.
Support for the Archbishop of Canterbury There is a great reluctance in the House of Bishops to do or say anything which is seen as being disloyal to or undermining of Archbishop Rowan.
(There’s hope in both the above – bishops have voted far more independently in the women in the episcopate debates)
Support for the Covenant See above! The Archbishop of Canterbury is wedded to the Covenant as the answer to the Communion’s problems, but those of us campaigning for inclusion, justice and change in the church fear it will be used to block progress for LGB&T people. So, see below!
Anglican Communion There is heightened sensitivity to the effect of LGB&T issues on the links between dioceses around the Communion. For example, Salisbury is sensitive about its link with the Sudan, anxieties which will have increased following Archbishop Deng’s rejection of TEC and recognition of ACNA as the Anglican Church in North America.
Conservative pressure groups Bishops are more inclined to worry about the noises made by conservative groups and parishes (with accompanying financial threats) who are not slow to voice their negative opinions about homosexuality. LGB&T Anglicans are far less vocal, less visible, less confrontational and less demanding (and I know some who would disagree!)
Gay bishops There are 13 gay bishops among the 114 English bishops, nearly 15% of the total. They are all closeted to a greater or lesser degree, those in the House unable openly to contribute their personal experience to the conversation. In the House of Bishops, 2 gay bishops are privately supportive, one is opposed.
What should CA’s tactic be in 2012?
Should CA expect more from the 20 publicly supportive bishops in 2012? Should we rather collude with their fears and anxieties and maintain a respectful silence about our campaign goals, accepting that to disturb the House of Bishops might be counter-productive?
Or should we adopt a tactic of disarming honesty, speak the truth as we know it in the church and prepare ourselves for the fall-out?
Throughout the drama of the Arab Spring last year, I wondered whether is wasn’t time for the Church of England to be visited by her own tsunami of grass roots expectations for changed relationships and attitudes – we the people rising up against the institutional inertia, power play and prejudices in the House of Bishops and General Synod.
At the moment, the jury is out. But regime change is needed, not just for LGB&T Anglicans in England or for the tens of thousands yearning for spiritual transformation. Change is desperately urgent for LGB&T people, Christian, Moslem and secular, in Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe – in every Province and every country where we are routinely abused and treated as less than fully human, inferior members of God’s creation.
Mmmmmm …. I feel the urgency for change stirring in my heart and guts!