Yesterday the House of Bishops announced that the bishops have “decided that until such time as there are six female members of the House, following the admission of women to the episcopate, a number of senior women clergy should be given the right to attend and speak at meetings of the House as participant observers. The intention is that eight members would be elected regionally from within bishops’ senior staff teams (that include deans, archdeacons and others).”
This is great news and a real breakthrough in the long drawn-out process of appointing women to the episcopate. Changing Attitude hopes that the presence of eight women among the fifty men will significantly change the dynamic of House of Bishops’ conversations, the process of making decisions and the decisions they make.
I have no doubt the presence of women will be salutary and transformative, facilitating greater openness, emotional honesty, and personal truth in the House.
Perhaps one or more of the women will be lesbian, bisexual or transgender, on their way to becoming the first lesbian, bisexual or transgender bishop. Perhaps not …. perhaps the House of Bishops culture which inhibits openness about sexual identity will impose itself on women as well, through the process by which the eight are selected.
I have another idea.
The House of Bishops now has to deal with the two most contentious but potentially transformative issues in parallel – women in the episcopate and the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Church. In particular, the bishops have to deal with equal marriage, the status of civil partnerships, the possibility of bishops in civil partnerships and the blessing of same-sex relationships in church. The whole cultural attitude of Christianity towards LGB&T people is under scrutiny by church members and by British society.
So why not appoint eight senior lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clergy to join the House of Bishops as participant observers until such time as there are six openly gay members of the House? LGB&T clergy will then be able to contribute directly to the House of Bishops’ conversations about the recommendations made by the Pilling Review Group.
I know that I keep repeating the mantra that there are 14 gay bishops and I know that some are members of the House of Bishops, but they are not open to the House, not able to speak personally about the experience of gay men directly.
Until such time as some are able to be open, the House of Bishops should replicate the eminently wise decision to welcome 8 senior women to their meetings by welcoming 8 senior LGB&T clergy.