In Transcendent Vocation: Why gay clergy tolerate hypocrisy, Sarah Maxwell moves from naming hypocrisy in the Church and especially in the House of Bishops, exemplified in ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell’ policy, to look at the Church of England’s attitude to civil partnerships.
Sarah’s research, based on interviews with ten straight clergy, twelve gay clergy and two gay ordinands, identified that the Church actively discourages the establishment of committed relationships, and certainly deters honesty about those that are established. The Church’s official line on civil partnerships, she says, encourages furtiveness.
The House of Bishops’ requirement that clergy entering civil partnerships should be celibate ensures that the double standards of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ remain necessary if embarrassment and scandal are to be avoided.
The pressure to remain “clandestine” subjects homosexual partnerships to unnatural pressure, making them less likely to be enduring.
The reality is that the bishops’ guidelines are not infrequently ignored. Bishops seem happy to turn a blind eye unless media attention is attracted: another example of double standards.
The advent of civil partnerships has caused the Church to engage in further forms of hypocrisy in order to maintain its traditional position as society’s attitudes increasingly emphasise what some Christians might think are biblical principles of justice.
As life for secular gay people has become more simple and open, life for gay priests (and LGB&T people in the Church generally) has become more problematic. As society’s attitudes have become more liberal, so official Church of England pronouncements have become more determinedly conservative.
Whereas in 1967 attitudes in the Church to homosexuality were in line with those of society, in 2007 they were diametrically opposite. In the Church the need for discretion has increased. The Church is now completely at odds with society.
By refusing to accommodate the changes in secular society attitudes, the Church is arguably closing its eyes to the way God is working through these and is certainly denying social justice, thereby contradicting its own mission.
Because of the prohibition in Church, it is essential that homosexual relationships are kept clandestine. It is remarkable that so many clergymen (Sarah only interviewed male clergy) are prepared to live in such a covert way.
If the members of the hierarchy begin to stand up for what they really believe in relation to the theological acceptability of committed, faithful relationships, refusing to be intimidated by vociferous conservatives, there will be more potential for the Church to accommodate the changed understanding and acceptance of homosexuality that has occurred in the secular world.
The above comments are taken from the book. Tomorrow, I will comment on her findings, and in particular the effect on both progress for LGB&T people and women in the Church is being hampered by vociferous conservative objections from both home and abroad. As well as taking an unprincipled, hypocritical stance, I believe the House of Bishops is failing to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the teaching of Jesus about fidelity to love in relationships human and divine.
I can’t conclude today’s blog without reporting Sarah’s comment about gay bishops. She says:
“It seems unlikely that the Church of England will appoint any further gay bishops in the foreseeable future, particularly since the Lambeth Conference of 2008 endorsed the Windsor moratorium on doing so.”
Sarah should have talked with Changing Attitude before making such an assumption! Of course the Church of England has gone on appointing gay bishops. Nothing has changed there, and of course, neither has there been any change in the requirement for gay clergy who are appointed as bishops are very carefully hidden away in the closet.
Discrimination and hypocrisy
One final comment from Sarah:
“In any secular job there is no longer any need for discretion, discrimination against homosexuals is illegal. That the Church, which follows the fully inclusive teaching of Jesus should be the one organization legally allowed to operate discrimination is another example of hypocrisy.”