Bishops and what to do with them

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!


  1. Christopher Bowman says

    And about time too!

    Judas himself… folk have different opinions about! A whole host of folk do not condemn him but rather see him as trying to push his Lord into a corner to make him act (In a way he may have hoped?) to bring about His kingdom.. Change is needed.. And yes there is a Tsunami from the ground.. pew fodder are getting more disheartened because they are not heard! There is no issue with gays the lenght of the country – certainly amongst younger people – who generally don’t seem to have any time for the Christian message – I wonder why? There is so much more that is at stake Colin and whether you like it or not you become complicit by the ‘silence’ . To knowingly have married gay bishops.. a bishop being gay but non-supportive.. I think there are a good many bishops who are in need of psychiatric help and they may not know it!

  2. says

    I’m genuinely not sure, Colin. I see no sense in profitless confrontation, but I also feel we have made it far too easy for people to sit on the fence publicly and be privately supportive. As the system currently operates, it rewards both liberals and conservatives for behaving dishonestly, and the Body of Christ cannot rest on dishonesty. It needs changing urgently. We need to educate more; many supportive middle-age middle-class people genuinely don’t understand how extreme parts of the Church can be.

  3. Erika Baker says

    Can I ask what, precisely, is supposed to bring this change about? I’ve only been a member of CA for 5 years or so, and during that time we’ve all always agreed that change is “urgently” needed. In practice, nothing has changed and it’s only a few months ago that Colin himself posted here that, all in all, things have got worse for gay people in the church in the last 10 years.
    People in the pews are largely supremely unaware of and disinterested in the gay issue. Most are vaguely welcoming but don’t seem church-political activism as important.
    The activists do what they’ve always done – some politely, others more aggressively, but all in all without having any recognisable impact.
    More and more people just leave or join other denominations.
    Faith still matters to many, the church less so.
    They all get truly worked up only when Bishops and others try to meddle in secular laws but go back to sleep once the church has had another slap on the wrists.

    Where is this change coming from?

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