I’ve been spurred into further thought by comments on the previous post and a conversation I’m told took place on Facebook where a friend of mine was urged to stop me doing what I’m doing “before it goes too far.” The person doing the urging thinks the House of Bishops will wreak a terrible revenge on anyone who outs any bishops.
Harold Stassen wrote that so long as we 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. We’ve allowed the closet to become a sniper’s nest.
I should contact the men involved and say that we will out them unless changes are made. Any good we 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 the Church.
This provoked me to think further. To some it looks as if Changing Attitude is repeatedly coming close to outing those bishops known to be gay.
The primary problem isn’t with the gay bishops, who are perfectly entitled to remain in the closet and either pass as straight (though I think that’s a pretty unhealthy state in which to live) or simply avoid ever revealing personal details of their lives. As I’m repeatedly told, why do gay people need to tell others they are gay – heterosexuals don’t go around confronting others with their sexuality? No – exactly – people just don’t get it.
The problem is with the corporate culture of the Church of England in 2012. Human sexuality is, with the ordination of women to the episcopate, one of the two biggest issues in the Church. Internationally, in the Communion, it is the biggest issue. And the pressure that brings, I understand perfectly well, is one of the reasons the 14 bishops are all in the closet.
Except of course the closet has various layers of invisibility. It is no secret to many people in the Church of England, and certainly in the circles in which I mix, who the gay bishops are. They are out to various friends and colleagues. They have histories, both at and after theological college, when friendships, relationships and passing intimacies were enjoyed.
Changing Attitude puts the Church of England in the dock.
A mostly white, mostly male, often public school-educated set, in the House of Bishops and at Church House, maintain a corporate culture of shame about being gay in the Church. What’s wrong with being gay in British society in 2012? Anything? No – nothing wrong in being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
In this context, the Church looks pathetic and ridiculous and it is – yes, all those supposedly mature adults who tiptoe around whether X or Y is gay – and that includes me. I have never had the guts to ask any of the 14 directly if they are gay, even though I know perfectly well they are.
This impacts at every level of the Church and on all of us in the Church.
- It allows Anglican Mainstream, the Church of England Evangelical Council, The Christian Institute, the Anglican Mission in England, to continue their campaign and their rhetoric as if there were no gay bishops in the House and no gay people in their own ranks.
- It leaves LGB&T lay people and clergy second-guessing their status in the Church all the time – and I’m sick of it. I have daily conversations with people who are plagued by the failure of the Church to be honest with them.
- It maintains a culture which is unchristian, lacking in integrity and unfaithful to Jesus and the Gospel of liberation and truth and above all, love.
The problem isn’t with the bishops who are gay. The problem lies with the institutional inability of the Church to create an environment where being gay isn’t a big issue, it’s just normal, and it’s been a normal part of my life for 50 years, ever since I began to work out that the diocese of Southwark was staffed by a significant number of gay priests and bishops who were people of great pastoral warmth and exciting vision – Eric James being but one of the many.
The Church has a crisis now, not because I keep reporting that there are 14 gay bishops but because the Church of England can’t break the strangle-hold of the conservative evangelicals and the closeted Anglo Catholics whose campaign maintains so many in what is a very unhealthy closet.
This is having a terrible effect in particular on the lives of people in various forms of ministry, lay and ordained. People have repeatedly to second guess whether it’s safe to be open about their sexuality, when becoming a Reader, thinking about ordination, training for ministry, applying for a job, meeting the Rural Dean, Archdeacon or Bishop, moving diocese. There are so many moments in the life of the Church when this is a live issue.
We are now waiting for two House of Bishop’s working parties to meet and report. We do with little confidence in their ability to deal with the crisis. They are formed of people who collude in the dysfunctional culture.
How to break the log jam? Keep raising the issue. Keep the pressure on. Keep blogging about it. Until somebody has the courage to be more open and honest, and ideally, that many people do, gay and straight. Because the challenge absolutely is not going away and the urgency of breaking the closet isn’t going to diminish.