The Rev Chris Newlands, the Vicar of Lancaster, who was previously chaplain to the Rt Revd John Gladwin, patron of Changing Attitude, when he was Bishop of Chelmsford, has attracted the attention of the BBC as a result of blogging about the Church of England’s dishonesty and homophobia.
In an interview with the BBC, Chris claimed the Church of England is “institutionally homophobic” and said there was a “glass ceiling” in the church for clergy who backed same-sex marriage. Chris is in a civil partnership, contracted with the full support of John Gladwin when he was his chaplain. Chris said others in Blackburn Diocese and the church shared his views but were too scared to speak out. He said:
“I think the church will remain homophobic, until there is no more discrimination against people. There is this glass ceiling. Jeffrey John is the case in point. He was seen as a first class candidate to be Bishop of Reading but people were very disappointed by the fact he was in favour of same-sex marriage and is in a civil partnership. There are bishops who say you will not get this job because you are in a civil partnership. People don’t want to put their head over the parapet because when they do, they are put down.”
Chris said his own partner had been “accepted and affirmed” by his parishioners at St Mary’s Priory, Lancaster.
The Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Rev Nicholas Reade rejected the claims. He said:
“I do not believe that the Blackburn Diocese or the Church of England as a whole is institutionally homophobic. As a bishop and as a diocese we are very open when it comes to appointments and always seek to appoint on merit. We have incumbent clergy who are in civil partnerships. We have made appointments from across the board and many have been of people with more liberal views. And within the Church of England as a whole many senior appointments have been made of those with liberal views on this and other topics – one recent example being that of the new Dean of St Paul’s.”
Chris has spoken to me very positively about Bishop Nicholas and the strong welcome both he and his partner were given when Chris was appointed and they arrived together in Blackburn. I have no doubt that on the gay issue Bishop Nicholas genuinely sees himself as open and free from prejudice. He is a principled opponent of women in ministry, a position Changing Attitude believes is incompatible with the full inclusion of all in the Church, irrespective of gender or sexuality).
The bishop’s stand against women in the episcopacy may explain why he fails to understand that many LGB&T people in ministry, lay and ordained, have direct experience of the Church of England as a deeply if unconsciously homophobic institution. Bishops do absolutely not always appoint LGB&T people on merit. They most certainly do not always appoint women on merit either.
Bishops with what they imagine to be ‘liberal’ views often fit into the category of being ‘nice, as in ‘nice tea vicar’ and nice sermon vicar’. Some priests, deans and bishops are genuinely radical, but appointments to St Paul’s Cathedral or the Diocese of Salisbury do not, absolutely do not, create a Church of England free from institutional homophobia. It’s a fantasy held by bishops who are lack the free to examine their corporate prejudices.
Changing Attitude would like to offer the House of Bishops a workshop on institutional homophobia.