Dr Rob Clucas, University of Hull

Synod members have recently received a copy of “a note on the Equality Act” on choosing bishops (GS Misc 992 from William Fittall, Secretary General, 16 June 2011, available here.  The substance of the guidance concerns the selection and appointment of bishops who are divorced and remarried, and those who are gay, especially the civil partnered.

The guidance situates these current live issues for the Church within the context of the Equality Act 2010, consolidating equalities legislation concerned among other things with avoiding direct or indirect discrimination, harassment or victimization against a person who has one of a specified range of “protected characteristics”, including marriage and civil partnership, and sexual orientation.    Clearly, this legislation has relevance in particular for the Church’s discomfort with bishops who are gay, and recent events in episcopal policy and practice such as the second failure, in 2010, to accept Jeffrey John as the Bishop of Southwark – which seems at first glance a rather clear example of direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The guidance is concerned with providing direction that complies with equalities legislation in the case of two specific potential departures (divorce and remarriage, and homosexuality and civil partnership) from the Church requirements regarding what is considered to be fitting for a person “of virtuous conversation and good repute… such as to be a wholesome example and pattern to the flock of Christ” (para 11, citing Canon C4.1).  In addition, the guidance notes that a bishop must be “an example of righteous and godly living” (the Virginia Report 1998, cited in para 12), and is required to be “a focus of unity” (para 12).  The guidance also uses male pronouns throughout to refer to candidates: a usage which is temporally accurate but amplifies the sense of narrowness and restriction.

Divorce and remarriage

A candidate may be divorced; what is relevant is whether “on the basis of enquiries carried out by the relevant diocesan bishop…the marital history did not, in the light of all the circumstances, constitute an obstacle to episcopal appointment” (para 16).

Although I will compare the provisions in the two sets of circumstances, below, the majority of my comment will be on the provisions relating to homosexuality and civil partnership.

Homosexuality and civil partnership

A candidate may be gay; what is relevant is that “someone in a sexually active relationship outside marriage is not eligible for the episcopate or other ordained ministry” (para 22).

Appointing persons or bodies such as the diocesan bishop or Crown Nominations Commissions may not propose someone in a sexually active same-sex relationship, but neither can they disregard a candidate just because he is gay (para 27).  When considering the candidature of someone who is in a civil partnership “and/or is known to be in a same-sex relationship, even though now celibate”, the CNC or diocesan bishop (in consultation with the Archbishop) must “come to a view whether the person concerned can act as a focus for unity because of these matters” (ibid).

Concrete questions are provided in paragraph  29:

“Relevant factors which can properly be taken into account [by a person/body making an appointment] include:

  • Whether the candidate had always complied with the Church’s teachings on same-sex sexual activity;
  • Whether he was in a civil partnership;
  • Whether he was in a continuing civil partnership with a person with whom he had had an earlier same-sex sexual relationship;
  • Whether he had expressed repentance for any previous same-sex sexual activity; and
  • Whether (and to what extent) the appointment of the candidate would cause division and disunity within the diocese in question, the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion.” (This factor is conveniently broad enough to preclude the appointment of any gay bishop, however celibate.)

Paragraph 30 leaves the weighting of these matters to the discretion of those considering the appointment, ensuring the possibility of extremely divergent practice across the Church of England, from most liberal to completely restrictive.

The guidance and the law

The guidance properly notes that the Equality Act 2010 applies to the Church except in the case of specific exemptions (para 4) – that is, the Church must not discriminate etc on the grounds of sexual orientation unless there is specific provision allowing this.  Schedule 9 of the Act provides the necessary exemptions for the Church of England (and others) in paragraph 2, in a schedule concerned with work exceptions.  Paragraph 2 is, in my opinion, a shameful lacuna in what is otherwise an excellent instrument of equalities provision.

The Schedule permits discrimination “for the purposes of an organised religion” where the application of the requirement engages the compliance principle (a requirement may be made so as to comply with the doctrines of a religion (Sch 9 para 2(5)) or non-conflict principle (to avoid conflict with the “strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers” (Sch 9 para 2(6)) (my italics), and the person to whom A applies the requirement does not meet it (or A has reasonable grounds for not being satisfied that the person meets it) (Sch 9 para 2(1)). This discrimination can be in relation to employment, promotion, and training.  The permitted requirements are as follows: to be of a particular sex; not to be a transsexual person; not to be married or a civil partner; not to be married to, or the civil partner of, a person who has a living former spouse or civil partner; a requirement relating to circumstances in which a marriage or civil partnership came to an end; and a requirement related to sexual orientation (Sch 9 para  2(4)(a)-(f)).

Both the requirements in the guidance are permitted within Schedule 9 EA, within the permissible context of the appointment of a bishop.

“Justifying” discrimination in compliance with the Equality Act

Interestingly, the guidance chooses to use the broader (the non-conflict principle) of the two principles that can be said to “justify” discrimination.

The compliance principle would need a clear doctrinal statement about the impermissibility of any same-sex sexual practice.   However, of the items often said to comprise “the Church of England’s teaching” – the General Synod motion of 1987, Resolution 1.10 of Lambeth 1998, Issues in Human Sexuality and the Pastoral Statement of 2005 on Civil Partnerships are cited in para 21 of the guidance – only one of these, the 1987 General Synod motion, might be said to have doctrinal status (i.e. be a piece of instruction which is laid down as true), although it lacks any specific solemn or legislative status.  This is because the explicit statement in the motion has the assent of all three Houses of this representative body (House of Bishops, of Clergy, and of Laity), and thus may fairly said to be representing the official position of the Church of England (though not the Anglican Communion).

However, what the motion affirms is less broad than the guidance on the appointment of bishops.  The motion is concerned in particular with Christian leaders, and affirms that “homosexual genital acts [like fornication and adultery] fall short of the ideal, and are likewise to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion”.  The ideal is “that sexual intercourse is an act of total commitment which belongs properly within a permanent married relationship” (General Synod motion, 11 November 1987, initiated by the Revd Tony Higton).

If the sole ground for an organized religion’s exemptions in the Equality Act 2010 were the compliance principle, then the guidance on the appointment of bishops would only be able to specify same-sex genital acts as being impermissible, as opposed to same-sex sexual activity, which is the remit of the guidance.  The two are not identical (more on the specifics of same-sex sexual practice below).

But the non-conflict principle is broader, and does encompass the wider prohibition in “The Church of England’s teaching”. The legislation covers the guidance.  But at what cost?

The non-conflict principle is concerned with the ‘strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers’ as grounds for legally permitted discrimination.  These “religious convictions” need only be strongly held; they need not be subjected to or susceptible to rational analysis.  Nor, apparently, need these strongly-held views comply with official church doctrine.

Examples of “strongly held religious convictions” in the past might include that it is right to burn heretics at the stake, or that it is right to uphold the institution of slavery.  A contemporary example could be “God hates people and God sends people (not just their sins) to hell for eternity” – a fundamental belief ofWestboroBaptistChurchin theUS, quoted from their website.  If a significant number of the Church of England’s congregation believed strongly that God hates people, would those persons appointing bishops strike from their lists anyone who believes Christ taught and exemplified love?

The problem with strongly held convictions, is that they are not necessarily understood in a discriminatory sense, that is contrasted with “prejudices, rationalizations [ex post facto ‘justifications’], matters of personal aversion or taste, arbitrary stands and the like” as the legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin pointed out in his 1977 book Taking Rights Seriously, p248.  Indeed, the juxtaposition of “strongly held” with “conviction” prioritizes the intensity of the belief rather than its well-foundedness.  But believing something to be the case, even very strongly indeed, doesn’t make it so.

Para26 of the guidance notes that “[i]t is clearly the case that a significant number of Anglicans, on the grounds of strongly held religious conviction believe that a Christian leader should not enter into a civil partnership, even if celibate…” (This particular “conviction” goes even further than the debatable biblical prohibitions on same-sex practice.)  What kind of conviction is this – one that is merely intensely held, or one that is a genuine religious conviction in the discriminatory sense, avoiding prejudice, rationalization, personal aversion or an arbitrary stand?  Which type of conviction ought the Church of England to prefer?

Interestingly, as there is a complete failure in the legislation to appreciate that there may be genuine theological disagreement among a religion’s followers (the official teaching notwithstanding), the non-conflict principle also allows an organized religion to avoid conflict with the strongly held religious convictions of those who take a permissive view to same-sex activity, within a civil partnership or not.  There is no requirement that those holding the permissive view need outnumber those opposing it: all that is needed is a significant number with a strong religious conviction.  I say we should write to our bishops and lobby them to give preference to non-celibate gay candidates…

A note on causing division and disunity

Schedule 9 permits discrimination in order to comply with the doctrine of an organized religion, or to avoid conflict with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers.

Paragraph 29 of the guidance says that it is proper to take into account “whether (and to what extent) the appointment of the candidate would cause division and disunity within the diocese in question, the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion”.  This factor is conveniently broad enough to preclude the appointment of any gay bishop, however celibate.  But believing that the appointment of a gay bishop will cause division and disunity within the Church of England and the wider Communion is not, in its own right, sufficient to allow discrimination.  The disunity and division are (for the purposes of the legislation) irrelevant side-effects of the conflict between the gayness of the bishop and the strongly held religious “convictions”.

The guidance in sum

The guidance is compliant with the permitted exemptions in the Equality Act 2010 for an organized religion.  Apart from the competence of the draftsmanship, this is not something of which the Church ought to be proud – the exemptions permitted by the non-conflict principle amount to giving a legislative blessing to any “religious conviction” held with sufficient fervour, however mad or immoral or factually incorrect it might happen to be.

Comparing the guidance on divorce and remarriage with homosexuality and civil partnership

The juxtaposition of divorce and remarriage (three-quarters of a page of substantive guidance) with same-sex preference and civil partnership (over a page and a half of substantive guidance) is logical, in that these areas both come within the group of protected characteristics concerning which discrimination is unlawful under the Act, except in the case of a specified exemption.  Including the two matters also invites the impression of congruent treatment – a candidate may be divorced; what is relevant is whether “on the basis of enquiries carried out by the relevant diocesan bishop…the marital history did not, in the light of all the circumstances, constitute an obstacle to episcopal appointment”(para 16).  A candidate may be gay; what is relevant is that “someone in a sexually active relationship outside marriage is not eligible for the episcopate or other ordained ministry”.  The Church is treating sexual incontinence in both cases in the same way, surely?

However, these apparent parallels fail to acknowledge that heterosexual persons have the sanctioned institution of marriage in which physically to express their love; homosexual persons have no such church-sanctioned relationship in which sexual love is permissible.  The two cases are not, therefore, direct parallels, and it would have been helpful if they had been discussed in different documents, as the relevant considerations in the two cases are quite different.   But let us consider what would happen if the approach specified for non-celibate gay persons were applied to marital conduct in the case of divorcees…

Imagine a world…rewriting the guidance

Let us re-write the guidance to treat divorced persons in the same way as gay persons, on the assumption that only a first marriage is valid in the eyes of God.

A divorced person would, just by being divorced, not be ineligible for Episcopal office or ordained ministry; the law allows the Church to impose a requirement that someone should not be remarried “because of the nature or context of the [office], the requirement is applied so as to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers”; the Church of England’s teaching makes it clear that someone in a sexually active relationship outside their original marriage is not eligible for the episcopate or other ordained ministry.

It would be inconsistent with the teaching of the Church for the public character of the commitment entered into in a remarriage to be regarded as of no consequence in relation to someone in – or seeking to enter – the ordained ministry; the question would remain whether the present or past personal relationships of a candidate would constitute an obstacle to episcopal appointment on the ground that someone in their position could not fulfil the responsibility and requirement of a bishop to act as a focus of unity.

Clearly, a significant number of Anglicans, on grounds of strongly held religious conviction believe that a Christian leader should not remarry, even if celibate, because it involves forming an exclusive, lifelong bond with someone other than the original spouse, creates family ties and is generally viewed in wider society as as valid as the original marriage. It is equally clear that many other Anglicans believe that it is appropriate that clergy who are divorced enter into remarriages, even though the discipline of the church requires them to remain sexually abstinent.

The position in summary, therefore, is as follows:

  • it is not open to a CNC or a bishop making a suffragan appointment to propose someone who is remarried and in a sexually active relationship;
  • it is not open to them to take into account the mere fact that someone is divorced;
  • where someone is remarried and/or is known to have been in a sexually active relationship, even though now celibate, it is for appointing persons to come to a view whether the person concerned can act as a focus for unity because of these matters.

As a matter of law, what this involves is applying a requirement related to divorce and remarriage so as to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of members of the Church of England, either in the particular diocese or more widely. The requirement is that the person can act as a focus for unity, which is related to the sexual orientation of the candidate.

Relevant factors which can properly be taken into account include:

  • whether the candidate had always complied with the Church’s teachings on sexual activity outside an original marriage;
  • whether he was remarried;
  • whether he was in a continuing remarriage with a person with whom he had had an earlier sexual relationship;
  • whether he had expressed repentance for any previous sexual activity; and
  • whether (and to what extent) the appointment of the candidate would cause division and disunity within the diocese in question, the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion.

It is a matter for each member of the CNC (or in the case of suffragan appointments, the diocesan bishop) to determine what weight to give to these matters.


If we imagine a world in which the religious convictions of a significant number of the Church of England prohibited remarriage and sexual activity within a remarriage, this is what the guidelines would look like.  But wait!  There certainly are members of the Church of England who do believe this, and whose vicars preach exactly this position – there seems to be at least one conservative evangelical C of E church in each large town, so the “significant number” requirement is unlikely to be an issue.  Christ even expresses a prohibition on divorce, which he does not do about same-sex sexual practice.

Yet in the case of divorce and remarriage, it is understood to be open to the Church of England to move away from rigid applications of a literal interpretation to a contextual and purposive understanding of Christ’s words, treat those whose marriages have broken down with compassion and understanding, and consider whether “the marital history…in the light of all the circumstances…constitute[s] an obstacle to Episcopal appointment” (para 16).  In other words, it is the substance of the behaviour that counts (infidelity, and presumably other matters such as spousal abuse or behaviour that it is unreasonable to for the applicant to live with, one of the facts that establishes the legal breakdown of a marriage).  Moreover, this history is to be looked at “in all the circumstances”, which would seem to allow the condonement of prima facie unacceptable behaviour where this can be seen as less culpable in the particular circumstances.  The Church does this notwithstanding the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of its members.

If this is the case for the divorced and remarried, why should it not be so for gay persons?  Why not ask whether a prospective candidate’s relationship history, in the light of all the circumstances, constitutes an obstacle to Episcopal appointment?  “All the circumstances” would surely include considering that gay people are unable to contract a marriage, and so the physical expression of their love will be technically forbidden.  Also, gay people have only been able to enter into a relationship signifying public commitment since the enactment of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, so any sexual activity outside a civil partnership ought only to be regarded as blameworthy after this point.  Why not focus on the substance of a civil partnership or pre- CA 2004 relationship, on the love expressed and commitment evidenced, rather than on the literal fact of same-sex sexual activity?

Being known

Shifting focus, we might deduce that the guidance is more interested in what used to be called “known homosexuals”: those in civil partnerships and “those known to have been in a same-sex relationship” (para 27).  Is this more about getting caught or generating a public presumption about getting caught than actual practice?  Is it in fact the case that the Church hierarchy thinks being gay and having gay sex is acceptable, but it worries about the flexibility of the mind of the ordinary church-goer, and has concerns about the political effect elsewhere in the Communion?  If so, this would suggest a lack of straight-forwardness and level of hypocrisy that surely has no place in thechurch ofChrist.

Pastoral considerations and the expression of repentance:

Whether or not one believes same-sex practice is ever permissible (I note here simply that there is a respectable body of theological opinion that supports the permissibility of same-sex sexual practice), the Church surely ought to have an equal pastoral regard for its priests and their partners?  Even if we accept the Church’s position on same-sex sexual activity, what should we think about one specific “proper factor” to take into account: “whether he had expressed repentance for any previous same-sex sexual activity” (para 29)?

Like most Christians, I hope I reflect on those things I have done and left undone, and expressly repent, either entirely privately, or in the confidential situation of the confessional.  If I were a gay priest hoping to be appointed bishop, who had had a previously sexually active relationship, I might have repented of this.  How would the appointing person(s) know?

They might ask me at interview, but this presupposes that I get onto the short-list in the first place, with my repentance status unknown.

I might, if writing a formal letter to the relevant person(s), express my repentance.  To my mind, this could look like not necessarily genuine repentance, but rather strategic manoeuvring: “I did something wrong but I’m sorry, so please forget it and appoint me anyway…”

But perhaps the guidance has something else in mind, especially as it is concerned with gay people in civil partnerships and/or those known to have been in a same-sex relationship (para 27).  The best way to make sure someone is sincere and really sorry might be thought to be a public expression of repentance, in an essay or newspaper column, or from the pulpit on some conveniently prominent occasion.  Public repentance has the additional benefit of proper humiliation for wrong-doing.

What does the inclusion of such an expression as a relevant factor which can properly be taken into account say, to the priest and his partner?  To me, it says that the priest must assent to the following:

The love that I have for you is not the perfect love I’m supposed to have as a Christian, even though it feels that way to both of us, and we feel that Christ calls us to live our lives together.  The Church says the physical acts that feel like the natural expression of our love must be suppressed.  The times when we have made love and it has seemed as if our mutual breathing and touching are part of God’s love for us and between us, must be disavowed because the Church teaches that we are mistaken.  I must figuratively cut off the part of me that finds you a beautiful and desirable person, and constrict my personhood so as to exclude a natural and loving part of who I am.  I must make sure that when you and I are in most need of physical reassurance and the demonstration of our being loved, that this does not happen.  I must do this because if, from deepest love, I fulfil the human needs of myself and my life partner (that are mirrored in my heterosexual brothers and sisters and considered God-given in them, but not us), I threaten the unity of the Church.  The Church cannot reconcile its differences of opinion and so we must pay the price personally.

Therefore, I will not touch you when this can be misconstrued; I will reject any sexual advance that you may make to me; I will renounce those moments when our love has been given its fullest expression.

I will do this despite the appalling hurt it causes to you, and the way in which it denies the legitimacy of the same-sex relationships of all other gay Christians, and I do this because I would rather be a bishop in the Church of England than love you and love myself to the fullest extent of my being.

What kind of church thinks that this is an example of fashioning one’s life in the way of Christ?  More importantly, what kind of church tells people that this is the proper way for a gay person to behave, and sees this betrayal as a focus of unity?  What kind of church that supposedly tolerates same-sex sexual activity in the laity if not the clergy, thinks that asking for the repentance of gay prospective bishops exemplifies tolerance?

In what kind of Church of England can these guidelines be construed as “the expression of compassion” affirmed by General Synod in 1987?

Is consummating a same-sex relationship the worst thing possible?

By specifying that it is proper to take into account a previous expression of repentance for same-sex sexual activity, but not for any other matter, the guidance tells us that same-sex sexual activity, even in a mutually supportive, faithful and committed relationship, is the worst thing that a candidate can have done and (perhaps) be ordained bishop.

It must be worse than:

  • Being divorced and remarried, obviously;
  • Having done something (eg committed adultery/abused drugs or alcohol/been emotionally or physically unavailable) in a manner that contributed to the breakdown of one’s previous marriage but “in the light of all the circumstances” (para 16) the appointing persons did not feel this constituted an obstacle to episcopal appointment;
  • Being gay but so convincingly closeted that no-one suspects that every time you have sex with your wife, you fantasise about making love to a man.

Or even:

  • Beating or having beaten one’s wife: you have apologised and repented, she has forgiven you, and nobody else knows;
  • Exploiting one’s female cleaner by paying the minimum wage when one’s male gardener receives £4 more per hour, even though they work equally hard in very similar ways;
  • Deliberately buying non-fairtrade items because they are cheaper, even though you know this contributes to the exploitation of those in the developing world (and you could afford to do otherwise);
  • Making unethical investments because the return is greater.

Is expressing sexual love for one’s partner really worse than all of these things?

What exactly is wrong with same-sex sexual activity?

Some members of the Church of England “think” that simply being gay is wrong.  Church of England doctrine is more restrictive and concerns itself with “homosexual genital acts,” leaving non-genital sexual acts within the realm of permissibility.  Let us consider these prohibited acts and persons in more detail and try to discern what, exactly is the issue here.

Which acts count?

The phrase “homosexual genital acts” must mean “homosexual acts involving the genitals” rather than “homosexual acts of [sexual] generation”, as the latter are impossible.  The definition of “genital” according to the Oxford English Dictionary is “the external organ or organs of generation,” i.e. of reproduction.  We can therefore include on this list the penis and testicles, and the vagina and ovaries, which, although not external, are organs of generation.  Men are prohibited from stimulating each others’ penises and testicles, and women may not stimulate each others’ vaginas (although on a literal reading one might argue that as the clitoris is not strictly speaking an organ of generation, same-sex clitoral activity is entirely permissible.)

Why is same-sex stimulation, of e.g. the penis, said to be illegitimate?  This cannot be a straightforward prohibition on non-procreative sex, as heterosexuals are not (any longer) forbidden to have penis-in-vagina sex whilst using contraception, or to perform oral sex.  The prohibition is not on any same-sex physical contact: manly hugs and handshakes are perfectly acceptable.  Nor is all genital contact between same-sex persons outlawed: a male GP who is Christian will not refuse to examine a male patient’s testicles; a Christian female gynaecologist will not refuse to perform a pelvic examination of her female patient.

What comes to mind when a disapproving person thinks about gay sex? The person will almost invariably think of two men rather than two women, because lesbianism is still much less visible than male homosexuality in our culture, and in that context, the uninformed heterosexual will usually assume that “gay sex” is anal sex.  Anal sex has a bad reputation due to its equation with inhospitable situations and violent and exploitative sex mentioned in the Old Testament – which makes as much sense as equating all heterosexual vaginal sex with rape.  But there we have it: the thought processes go something like this.  Gay sex = anal sex; anal sex is bad, therefore gay sex is bad.  (In fact, like all people, gay men have differing degrees of preference for anal sex.  Some love it, and others would rather not.)

If all “gay sex” is bad, what about the straight men who experimented with a friend in their youth, at university or theological college, or later life?  I’m told by a friend that a surprising number of apparently heterosexual men become bi-curious when they’ve had a couple of pints – but perhaps this only applies to non-churchgoers, or the laity.  Just to make sure, for the sake of the purity of the Church, all heterosexual candidates surely must be questioned rigorously about their past same-sex encounters – the fact that they are apparently heterosexual is no guarantee that there has never been any homosexual contact, as Kinsey revealed long-ago.

But why focus only on same-sex activity?  Anal sex happens when a penis penetrates the anus (it also happens when a finger or other object penetrates the anus, but this not genital sex within the literal meaning of the phrase).  Men usually have penises, but men and women have anuses.  Heterosexuals can, and do, have anal sex, sometimes as an experiment, sometimes as an occasional treat, and sometimes as part of their regular sexual repertoire.

If all anal sex is bad, why don’t we ask a heterosexual married candidate whether he has buggered his wife?  Or, if we wish to include other acts that are within the spirit, if not the letter of the prohibition, why not inquire if his wife has penetrated him anally?  If the answer is yes, then surely (public) repentance is called for.

Since moving away from only sanctioning potentially reproductive sex, the Church cannot consistently maintain the position that being gay is acceptable but homosexual genital acts are not, unless the same acts are impermissible for heterosexuals too.  If they are, then the Church must make the same enquiry of heterosexual candidates, and treat straight and gay offenders in the same way.  To do anything else is discriminatory.  If the Church will not do so, then it reveals its true objection: to being gay, not simply having “gay sex”.

In conclusion

The guidance on the appointment of bishops who are divorced and remarried or who are gay and civilly partnered is compliant with the non-conflict principle of Sch 9 Equality Act 2010, which allows an enormously broad and intellectually undefended or indefensible exemption from the non-discrimination provisions of the Act.   The discretion given to appointing persons and bodies is so broad that even though it is illegitimate not to consider or appoint a candidate just because he is gay, the existence of prejudice among members of the Church and Communion might cause concerns that mean he is not appointed, as he is gay.

There is incongruent treatment for the divorced and remarried and those who are gay and civil partnered or known to have been in a same-sex relationship, with the latter groups being subjected to more stringent requirements.  This is so despite the fact that a significant number of the Church of England’s congregation can also be said to have strongly held religious convictions against divorce and remarriage: the Church is selective in the activities it penalises, and does not consistently take a literal approach to enforcing scriptural prohibitions.

One possible interpretation of the tenor of the guidance is that the Church of England doesn’t really mind gay clergy having sex, so long as the domestic congregations and the Communion are not upset by this.

The so-called proper relevant factors to take into account in the appointment process include consideration of the expression of repentance which seems to go beyond the private or confidential acts of repentance other Christians may enjoy.  In addition, this implies that same-sex sexual love is worse than any number of other possible acts.  A public or semi-public expression of repentance would be pastorally appalling for the priest, his partner, and other same-sex Christian couples.

There is no logical reason for prohibiting same-sex genital acts: the proscription is arguably concerned with repugnance for anal sex.  Yet, as anal sex can be committed heterosexually, not to enquire into the past and present practices of heterosexual bishops also, is clearly discriminating against gay people just because they are gay.

In sum, the guidance fails to exemplify any compassion on the Church’s part, and in fact makes explicit its distaste for same-sex preference in general.  When I described the guidelines to my 16-year-old daughter, she summed them up rather aptly:

“It sounds like the Church doesn’t like gay people and wants to make things as hard as possible for them.”

Yes it does, doesn’t it?


© Robert J. T. Clucas

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