What type of gay priest is acceptable as a bishop in the Church of England?

Recent appointments to the House of Bishops raise a question for Changing Attitude. What type of gay priest is acceptable to be appointed as a bishop in our Church?

There are clearly categories which are not acceptable and another category which is acceptable.

The acceptable categories

  • A priest who presents himself to the Church as single and asexual and not apparently gay is acceptable. To be gay is who you are existentially, not what you do sexually. The gay priest in this category does not have a partner and is not sexually active in any way (at least as far as those making the appointment are concerned).
  • A priest who is partnered and lives with his partner and is widely known to be gay.
  • A priest who has identified in the past as bisexual but who was sexually active as a gay man and may still be involved in a relationship with a gay partner.

The unacceptable categories

  • A priest who conforms to the rules laid down by the House of Bishops, who is partnered and celibate and in a Civil Partnership, and open about being gay, partnered, celibate and in a civil partnership – I’m writing about Jeffrey John, of course.
  • A priest who is partnered and is open with his bishop and congregation, and who is affirmed by both and is licensed as an incumbent is not acceptable as a bishop despite being an outstanding parish priest.
  • A priest who is gay and lives with his gay partner who is said to be his lodger. This priest denies when asked by parishioners and his bishop that he is gay or sexually active.

What’s the difference?

As I thought about the categories, I realised that there are not two distinct sets of categories, which could be used to predict with confidence which gay priests are likely and which unlikely to become bishops.

The 14 bishops who are gay in the Church of England all fall into one of the first three categories with the majority in the first category.

It’s the first category which the culture of the House of Bishops and the systems at Church House maintain – a studied denial that any bishop is actually gay. This illusion is maintained by the gay bishops themselves, of course.

Why is this such a sad state of affairs?

  • Because there are no gay bishops available as role models to the wider Church
  • Because everyone colludes in the secrecy
  • Because it maintains a culture of dishonesty in the Church

 It’s depressing that yet another has been added to their number.


  1. Richard Ashby says

    Now I wonder who you could be thinking about? I have heard it said that +Lindsay of Walsingham is now destined for Whitby.

  2. Jeremy Pemberton says

    Colin – thank you for spelling it out like this. The hypocrisy of acceptable (3) contrasted with unacceptable (1) is surely the most striking thing about this. The problem lies in the secrecy, surely. If some of acceptable (1) would only tell us that they are gay then the whole tottering edifice would crumble. I wonder if some of them should be asked the question publicly – they surely wouldn’t lie, would they?

  3. says

    Yes. But, of course, in reality it is not quite so black and white. A bishop may be celibate now but have a history of same sex , physical relationships when he was a priest. A bishop may be celibate in England but enjoy sex with a same sex partner when abroad on holiday (and we have all known such annual relationships). Both of these examples show the bishops involved to be first class hypocrites.

    The other problem we have, especially within Anglo-Catholicism, is the secret society of gay, closeted priests and bishops and their straight, clerical supporters. The recent appointment and the previous game of musical chairs centred on that diocese, is proof of how manipulative and effective this grouping within the church can be. Martin Warner, when bishop of Whitby, refused to even send me an application form for posts in his jurisdiction, that I would have been ideally suited for. Walsingham is pretty much a no go area for Anglo-Catholics, like myself, who are not Romanist and/or reactionary, when it used to be a place of spiritual beauty for all of us.

    I lost my vocation, career, salary, home, pension, church home, tradition, good health and future hopes because of these women hating, self loathing men and those who are complicit in their hypocrisy. And I’m just a boringly ordinary bloke with a wife, who has never been part of any campaigning organisation but who has the unfortunate affliction of answering a straight question with a straight and honest answer. That my life has been ruined because an influential group of gay men, who are open about their gayness with each other, have decided to lie about their sexuality in public, is indicative of the rampant hypocrisy that underlies most of the decisions made by the Church of England nowadays.

    • Michael Fox says

      So what are you saying exactly – that they should come out and then lose their jobs because of the nastiness, bigotry and pure evil that abounds in religion. So you lost your job because of a cabal of gay priests. Well, I have news for you, start thinking of all the poor gay people through the ages who have lost their lives, positions, family, jobs, money because of the nasty doctrines of yours and others churches. Deal with it and move on; you have nothing to whine about.

      • Erika Baker says

        Why should we accept bad treatment just because other people have been treated badly in the past? Wouldn’t you say that this was, precisely, a reason for campaigning for change? As, actually, our beloved MadPriest has been doing for years. I know very few people who have so consistently supported gay rights and exposed gay bullying in the church has happily straight, married MadPriest.

        He has paid dearly for his commitment to our cause. We might not agree that outing people is the best way forward, but that aside, he deserves support, not withering contempt.

    • Harold Stassen says

      So long as you think that being in the closet is an amusing secret among the sophisticated and tolerant or allow people to not be asked questions while remaining in power and hurting others, this situation will remain. You’ve allowed the closet to become a sniper’s nest.
      Contact the men involved and say that you will out them unless changes are made. Any good you might have thought was being done (protection for them or the churches where they work from physical attack) is clearly now outweighed by the gap between the law against discrimination and the moral opinions of a growing majority in your own church.

  4. says

    Anybody who thinks that the churches, in the first instance, made people prejudice against gay people rather than people making religions bigoted, has the the reasoning of a bigot. In other words, everything has to be black or white for them or they can’t cope with the complexity. At the very most 10% of the English population is Christian. Let’s say 30% of them are not homophobic. That still leaves only 7% of the population being both Christian and homophobic. However, both experience and polling show that there is a damn site more people in England who are prejudice against gay people than that. In fact, more than 14% of the population are homophobic to some extent. That means there are more bigoted atheists than there are bigoted Christians.

  5. Ian Paul says

    Colin, it is not the case that ‘everyone’ colludes. I am not privy to the information you appear to be, so I don’t know to whom you are referring. But evangelicals would rather there was no such hypocrisy but appointments fitting the stated criteria.

    • Erika Baker says

      as far as I understand, Jeffrey John does fit the official criteria. Are you saying that evanceligals would therefore not reject his appointment as bishop? This is a genuine question.

      • says

        Seriously? You think he fits the official criteria. Here’s the list as published. Tell us again you believe he doesn’t have a problem with any of these.

        whether the candidate had always complied with the Church’s teachings on same-sex sexual activity
        whether he was in a civil partnership
        whether he was in a continuing civil partnership with a person with whom he had had an earlier same-sex sexual relationship
        whether he had expressed repentance for any previous same-sex sexual activity
        whether (and to what extent) the appointment of the candidate would cause division and disunity within the diocese in question, the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion

        • Erika Baker says

          these criteria were put together long after Reading and they are widely said to have been put together in order to keep JJ out.
          Civil Partnerships, for example, did not exist when Reading happened, so cannot have been a criterion then.

          But of course, if you will adjust the criteria in retrospect to make sure someone disqualifies…
          Only, to me, that comes under precisely the kind of hypocrisy I thought Ian had been objecting to with his comment.

          • says

            So you believe that until Reading the House of Bishops had no problem consecrating unrepentant sinners, but suddenly it introduced that criteria when JJ appeared on the scene? This is effectively what you’re saying.

            The appointment of Jeffrey John forced the issue, there is no doubt, but to suggest that the Church until Reading had no issue with consecrating as Bishop a man who was unrepentant of previous sinful sexual activity is stretching credulity to the extreme. You may not like that position, but it’s hard to argue against.

            By all means point out where the Church has been hypocritical. If you know of men who have been consecrated Bishop despite having been in sexual active relationships outside of marriage and being unrepentant of such sexual activity, go ahead and name names. I have stated publicly before that if there is hypocrisy like this it should be identified and dealt with. But don’t claim as “hypocrisy” what is simply your disagreement with the processes and criteria the Church of England uses to discern who should be Bishops.

    • says

      I couldn’t agree more with Ian. By all means, if there is hypocrisy in appointments, that some people in the same situations as those deliberately passed over are appointed, then go ahead and name and shame. But what is beneath all of us is this constant “will I, won’t I out them” that goes on here every few weeks. Just get on and name some names or stop this innuendo once and for all.

      However, if all you want to do is name people who are celibate and always have been OR who have been sexually active in the past but have repented of that sin and are now celibate, then you are playing a very dangerous game.

      • Erika Baker says

        which is it to be?
        “whether the candidate had always complied with the Church’s teachings on same-sex sexual activity” from your previous comment or
        “OR who have been sexually active in the past but have repented of that sin and are now celibate” from this one?

        • says

          I have no problem with either of these two categories. There is much celebration in heaven for one who has been lost and is now found. There are men in both criteria who are now Bishops.

          • Erika Baker says

            I agree, Peter!
            But the new official guidlines you referred to do not allow for repentance.
            And if we apply those guidelines to Jeffrey John, at whom they were directly aimed, then ought they not also apply to those in the second category?

            You see, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the guideline that are wrong because they put people in a terrible position and they are deeply un-Christian in the way that they keep dragging a person back to his past.

            But – either guidelines are guidelines or they can be ignored. What they cannot do is apply selectively to individual people.

  6. Mark Hangartner says

    It is obviously a very sad situation for all the individuals concerned. We heard the epistle reading ” love casts out fear” on sunday night, but the church is struggling to live that message . I’m not that keen on outing any bishops.

  7. says

    Erika wrote,

    I agree, Peter!
    But the new official guidlines you referred to do not allow for repentance.

    Yes they do! Look at this bullet point:

    whether he had expressed repentance for any previous same-sex sexual activity

    How is that NOT allowing for repentance?

  8. Simon says

    Peter Ould’s comments remind me why I am so much happier outside the church away from all that judgmental “unrepentant sinner” stuff.

  9. Erika Baker says


    So the only person you will accept is one who once had sex but now lives on his own and no longer does.

    But anyone in a celibate Civil Partnership is still not allowed, although Civil Partnerships are not necessarily sexual arrangements and although the church specifically accepts them for its priests.

    And bishops can disagree on all kinds of “teachings” and do so, but unless they agree on the teaching of sexuality, they cannot be bishops.
    Which probably means that you will now be lobbying for the bishops of Salisbury and Buckingham to be removed from office because they don’t comply with the guidelines.
    Or does this particular guideline only apply to gay people who might otherwise be nominated as bishop?

    And anyone who cannot be a focus of unity is also not allowed. Which probably rules out virtually every single bishop I know, because there’s always one church group or other who doesn’t like him.
    Unless “focus of unity” is nothing other than code for “agrees with me on sex”.
    And even then, we must assume it applies to gay people only.

    These are not honest guidlines. They were written to keep one individual person out.
    And they clearly are not being applied to anyone else in office.
    And they were only written after the previous unwritten guidelines had shown not to be sufficient to keep that one person out.

    And you wonder why people find all of this inconsistent and hypocritical?

    • says

      So the only person you will accept is one who once had sex but now lives on his own and no longer does.

      No, that’s not true. Why don’t you try asking me what I actually believe instead of assuming you know and then raising up all kinds of straw men on the basis of your judgementalism.

      • Erika Baker says

        It doesn’t so much matter what you believe but what the Church of England does. And you have just quoted me the guidelines and it’s pretty clear what they amount to.

        And it’s born out by the fact that of all the gay bishops and potential bishops and of people supporting all kinds of teaching, the only one who isn’t a bishop is Jeffrey John.
        How strange!

        If you personally believe in something kinder, I should be very happy.

  10. Colin Coward says

    Peter, what you have a problem with is people being gay and sexually active and living in relationships and enjoying and being called by God as Christians, some to serve as lay ministers, some priests and some bishops, unrepentantly gay and unrepentantly active. I don’t care what the official guidelines say – they are offered to a Church which is corrupt in its attitude to gay people. I reject the guidelines and I reject the corruption of the Church on this issue.

    The Church into which I was baptised, confirmed and ordained (by a gay man) was a closeted place but it had life, creativity, love and generosity. The Church you want to create is rule-bound, mean spirited, heartless, loveless and a foul place for gay people.

    You can troll on posting the same old same old, and I’ll approve your posts because there’s a place for you in the discussion and in the Church. There’s also a place in the Church for me, unrepentantly gay and unrepentantly civilly-partnered. The Church is being changed and will continue to change from an institution obsessed by hostility to gay people to a place where LGB&T people are welcomed, loved, sanctified and blessed.

    • says

      Peter, what you have a problem with is people being gay and sexually active and living in relationships and enjoying and being called by God as Christians, some to serve as lay ministers, some priests and some bishops, unrepentantly gay and unrepentantly active.

      Strike out the “unrepentantly gay” and you’re getting close. At least, unlike Erika, you do me the courtesy of trying to accurately reflect my position rather than assuming a stance and then attacking straw men.

      Don’t like the “troll” stuff though. I think that’s beneath you.

      • Erika Baker says

        I have no idea about your personal position, I apologise if I gave that impression or if I wrote so that it could be inferred.

        I thought you and I were discussing the guidelines.
        Admittedly, I assumed that you support the guidelines, but it makes no difference if you don’t.

        What counts is that they exist and that they are being used against Jeffrey John and against him only.

        • says

          If you want to claim that they are being used only against JJ, then give us an example of someone in exactly the same situation as JJ who has been treated differently.

          In other words, evidence your claim.

          • Erika Baker says

            You know as well as I do that there is no-one else in the same situation.
            Which is precisely why it is so obvious that the criteria – every single one of which just happens to fit JJ’s personal situation – were hastily put together just in time to stop him from having a second possibility of becoming a bishop.
            In fact, the Colin Slee memo says precisely that – and no-one has yet come up with any evidence that Slee was making it up.

            And the fact that no-one has used any of the criteria to campaign against any current bishop – gay or straight, is ample evidence that this has nothing to do with “teaching” or “focus of unity”. Otherwise why would the criteria be so selectively applied to one person?

            Neither you nor I are on the Crown Nominations Committee, so hard evidence is impossible for either of us to come by.

            But can you say, hand on heart, that all of these criteria are being applied to every bishop in the land? That those to whom “teaching” matters will now seek to remove the bishops of Buckingham and Salisbury from their posts? That these bishops are still a true focus of unity for the evangelical parishes in their dioceses?

        • says

          I understand that Peter has tried various different positions during his life. So have I. The difference between us is that I don’t condemn those who like the positions that I didn’t enjoy that much and I don’t feel guilty about positions I have been in that I no longer go looking for, whilst Peter thinks that his god will take away his guilty feelings if he tries to make other people feel guilty about themselves. He keeps going on about grace but his fixations prove that he has not enjoyed his god’s grace in his life. This is because he is constantly making his god’s grace conditional and creating his god out of his own image.

          • says

            whilst Peter thinks that his god will take away his guilty feelings if he tries to make other people feel guilty about themselves

            The moment you start attributing to me beliefs that I don’t hold, you lose the argument Jonathan. Why does this always have to come down to accusing people of self-loathing? Can’t you play the argument, not the man?

          • Erika Baker says

            Yes, MadPriest. And the really terrible thing about this is the damaged people left in the wake of people who take on a hardline evangelical stance.
            As contact point for Changing Attitude I am regularly contacted by those who have been broken by this insistence that their lives are sinful and that God cannot accept them as they, and this insistence that they ought to change or at least be lonely for the rest of their lives.

            I deal on a regular basis with those who have been spat out of this process for failing to live up to those standards. Many of them are truly broken people and far too many become so bitter that they turn away from their faith. I hear stories that make me weep – literally. I lie awake at night crying because of some of the things people tell me. The harm caused last for decades. Some never recover properly.

            If those who believe like those hard evangelicals truly understood what they’re doing, they’d be spending their lives on their knees begging for forgiveness. If they genuinely realised how much damage they cause, they could not live with themselves.

            I just wish these people would live their own rigid morals but stop trying to impose them on everyone else! But they genuinely do not know what they’re doing.

          • says

            Oh, they know what they are doing. And we know what they are doing no matter how much they protest. It ain’t rocket science. I’ve never met a person truly happy with themselves who spends their time trolling round the blogosphere attacking their former selves.

  11. Chris. B says

    We are all made in the image of God & called to love one another. God saw in the garden – it was not good to have people living alone & so he expected they would take a partner.. And in loving one hopes to express that love of an intimate relationship… need I go on?

    We are all capable of relationships & indeed it is widely accepted that people function better with a partner supporting them – how so much more so of a priest, or bishop, male or female, gay, straight or bisexual. It is the quality of love that we should be concerned about.

    Once you have an individual – who has been cornered into giving a response on any matter – they have to respond & it that response is a lie – then they have compromised their integrity. If we cannot have clergy / bishops openly being able to speak of a loved one – there is something heinously wrong!

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