An article in last Friday’s Church Times by Angela Tilby was headlined The Synod must get real on gay sex. The House of Bishops meets on Thursday after the General Synod meeting has finished to discuss and agree the statement they are going to issue on equal marriage. Some of those I’ve spoken with at Synod want to know why they need to issue yet another statement – haven’t they already issued statements which make their position about committed lesbian and gay relationships clear? Clergy are not encouraged to commit themselves in a civil partnership and are forbidden from having sex. Lay people in relationship are grudgingly tolerated, but not welcomed and celebrated – relationships cannot be blessed in church (though in truth, they can – there is no legal provision that prevents blessings in church).
The bishops are in an impossible position. Whatever they say in their statement, it is going to be criticized by conservatives and revisionists alike and ridiculed by society, not least by the 12 year old girl I met last Sunday in church. She has gay friends at school. The attitude of the Church of England towards her friends and the relationships they form is laughable and abusive. Any statement that fails to welcome gay couples and offers to bless relationships will look incomprehensible to her. She can’t understand why gay couples can contract civil partnerships in church and why they will not be able to marry in church – especially her committed Christian lesbian and gay friends.
The House of Bishops will meet yet again to discuss matters of profound significance to the lives and loves of lesbian and gay Christians with no openly lesbian and gay people present and contributing to their thinking. It’s a repeat of the College of Bishops meeting when the Pilling Report was discussed a meeting that was presented with a paper from Changing Attitude asking for openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to be included – no more conversations about us without us.
The bishops and archbishops have no idea how intolerable their practice of discussing matters pertaining specifically to us and our lives has become.
Angela Tilby says she doesn’t understand why, if sex is so important for the fulfillment of heterosexual relationships, gay relationships should be thought capable of flourishing without it. Gay clergy in particular bear the weight of the Church’s moral and pastoral ambivalence.
There are people she says, who could help advance the conversation. “They are those serving bishops who know in their hearts that they are predominantly gay, and yet who participate in the debate as if they were about other people.” Changing Attitude knows who they are. They know who they are. “Please feel free to speak at next week’s Synod debate on the Pilling Report”, she says tentatively to them.
I’m not anticipating a calm if surprising self-outing by a number of gay bishops as a result of Angela’s invitation.
But to those of us who know who they are and to the gay and straight members of Synod who know who they are, their closeted silence is becoming more and more problematic. As I know from my own experience, life out of the closet is a huge relief, a liberation bringing release of energy and the life force of the Holy Spirit.
The article by Leslie Francis in this week’s Church Times Health Check, about leadership and structure, help explain why the gay bishops are so reluctant to be open about their sexuality (apart from the pressure put on them by the prejudice of conservative groups). Leslie Francis uses personality-type theory and psychological profiling to show that ESTJs, those not so good at handling people, envisioning innovative development or embracing change, best meet the profile of a bishop as defined by the ordinal. Those with an STJ profile have a stronger emphasis on preserving the traditions of an organization. No wonder the House of Bishops has great difficulty in discussing change and coming to any kind of radical agreement on the place of LGB&T people and no wonder gay bishops have such difficulty coming out in such an environment.
So once again on Thursday no LGB&T voices will contribute to the debate. LGB&T Anglicans are becoming increasingly angry at being excluded from discussions of matters of life-changing, transformative significance as equal marriage. This is the second time this year when our open voices have been absent from the conversation. Will it be the last?