Terms and Conditions
Gay clergy will now be allowed to become bishops in the Church of England so long as they meet certain conditions including repenting for past homosexual acts and promising to remain celibate. A win for equality? Not quite, argues Bryn Hutchinson.
The decision by the Church of England (COE) to allow gay clergy to become bishops is no reason to celebrate. The COE’s House of Bishops has decided to allow gay clergy who are in civil partnerships to rise to the level of bishop – so long as they are celibate.
This decision is yet another in a gamut of poorly-thought through edicts that highlight the central problem in the Anglican Church’s approach to the issue of diversity in its clergy and laity – treating the challenges solely as a political management issue.
The hierarchy of the Anglican Church has approached the place of women and of gay clergy in much the same way: it acknowledges the large numbers of people who support diversity, it then goes on to highlight the not-too-small number of dissenters to progressive changes within the Anglican Communion, followed by a request for patience while the difficult issue is hand wrung over.
If the Church is to expect its members to be patient and graceful, the Church in turn, when it chooses to act, needs to show that the trust placed in these extended decision-making processes is actually reflected in a proper and in-depth understanding that is ethically astute and emotionally sensitive.
Yet while progressives arguing for equality are making their case in terms of lived human experience, spiritual discernment and theological supplications, the hierarchy in this decision has taken the political road. This is a flagrantly political decision, certainly not a theologically based one. It is designed to forge some ‘middle road’ between progressives and conservatives in an attempt to hold the worldwide Anglican Communion together. But it is at the cost of the flourishing of gay clergy, whom are expected to eviscerate an aspect of their humanity for the utilitarian greater good of Anglicanism.
Not only is the hierarchy focusing on politics rather than theology and human flourishing, it is doing an exceedingly good job at annoying everybody within the Church: conservatives are not happy with the decision to have gay bishops and still threaten to split; progressives say the Church is still falling far from the mark and wonder why celibate gay men are more qualified for the role of bishop than women.
The hierarchy needs to see that the crisis in Anglican identity, which is one of the real key issues here, can only be solved by taking on the mantle it lays claim to yet so far has failed to take up – moral leadership and courage.
The leaders of the Anglican Church know that it is the right thing to treat their clergy equally. Just as it knows it was right in the past to support anti-racist agitation. But taking the necessary action of boldly saying all people, irrespective of colour, sexuality, or gender are fit for high office requires a security in its identity, a progressive theology and a solid ethical vision. Taking this road is not easy and will lead to the loss of some of its members. But Anglicanism needs look no further than Catholic Pope Benedict to see an example of a church leader who has stated that if the result of pursuing a particular vision for the church is a smaller church, so be it.
If Anglicanism lives up to its protestant credentials and declares clearly where it stands, we would not have poorly-thought through policy that looks as though it is drafted by a clergy more interested in playing doctors and nurses with people’s sex lives than bringing out all that is good in humanity.
Instead the outcome of this decision is an extension of homophobia in the structure of the Anglican Church. Holding gay clergy to a standard no other clergy member is expected to uphold may not be the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ of the old US military, but its consequences are the same: the closeting of aspects of gay clergy’s lives.