The House of Bishops is creating its own crisis

Several conversations over the past few days plus the BBC R4 Sunday programme interview with Bishop Alan Wilson and Andrew Foreshew-Cain have shed a little light on the mess we LGBTI people in the Church of England are having to endure.

It is clear that the House of Bishops painted themselves into a rather extraordinary corner in February this year when they discussed and agreed to issue the Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage. The bishops have got themselves into a serious mess.

As one bishop (not a member of the House of Bishops) said to me, they are undermining and effectively destroying their own authority by doing their job very badly. They are not telling the truth to each other, to the lesbian and gay clergy for whom they are pastorally responsible, or to the wider church.

The same bishop told me that his brother bishops jettison their real, true human selves and become instead the role they perform as bishop. I’ve witnessed this myself in the contrast I’ve noted between the corporate actions and decisions taken by bishops, including pro-gay bishops, which are hostile to the flourishing of LGBTI clergy and laity, compared with the personal pastoral, spiritual and relational qualities the bishops reveal in private conversation.

I’ve been told that one role for CA England to play is to help bishops reconnect with their own authentic personal ministry and their true selves. I’ve also been told to name, confidently, the things that are wrong with the stance and practice of bishops towards their LGBTI clergy if we are really going to achieve holy, healthy, Christian witness and relationships in the Church of England.

The failure of the House of Bishops and Church House was revealed on Sunday morning’s R4 programme. The researchers had asked four bishops, including the three members of the monitoring group, if they would take part. None of them was prepared to appear saying they were too busy with ordinations on this particular Sunday. The BBC then contacted the Church of England press office (I assume that means Arun Arora) but they weren’t prepared to put anyone up either.

Their unwillingness to take part is to say the least disappointing. If the entire House of Bishops is committed to taking punitive action against lesbian and gay clergy who marry then they need to have the courage to be interviewed and justify their actions. But as we know, the whole House of Bishops is not that committed.

LGBTI people in the Church of England, their friends, families and congregations and the supporters of Changing Attitude England need to hear what the bishops really think and what action they intend to take. They should have the guts to defend their position, explain why they are opposed to equal marriage (if they are) and why some of their number have already acted against the two priests who are known to have married.

It was left to Bishop Alan Wilson to talk about the Clergy Discipline Measure and the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction measure and the confusion the House of Bishops have created and I’ll write about the legal mess later.

As Bishop Alan said towards the end of the programme (and I’ve edited his spoken words to clarify the meaning), “. . . like a might tortoise moves the Church of God. It’s a very hierarchical group of people, where group think does often win the day, so that people who are actually perfectly intelligent sometimes as members of the corporate body of bishops do very stupid things. I think painting themselves into this corner is one of those sadly very stupid things that sometimes go on. But it’s an opportunity to get it right as well.”

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