Thursday, 23 October 2003

Richard Harries speaks

The Bishop of Oxford has published an article, Why Jeffrey was the right man for Reading in the Oxford diocesan magazine, The Door, which also carries a news story about the article.
This article has generated considerable publicity elsewhere, on the BBC, in The Times, in the Guardian, and in the Telegraph.

Here is the BBC Radio interview with Richard Harries on the Today programme (Real Audio required).

The bishop says this about Jeffrey John:

Jeffrey has publicly said that he has been celibate for “A considerable time”. Critics called on him to publicly repent of the sexual dimension to his relationship in earlier years. But it is not the practice of the Church of England to call for public repentance. Jeffrey has always bought that relationship to his confessor and what other bishop has been asked to publicly repent of anything before being nominated? There are other Bishops, some Diocesan, who hold the same views as Jeffrey. The arguments against his appointment do not stand up to Christian or rational scrutiny.

…It seemed to me quite wrong to discriminate against him just because he is gay if he was willing to subscribe to the present practice and teaching of the Church of England, which he was. So, despite the division his appointment caused, this was and remains a profound issue of principle for me. In any secular job anyone who discriminated against someone on the grounds that Jeffrey was opposed, would have been in found in breach of the Human Rights Act.

Jeffrey’s nomination aroused distress and anger in some quarters. His withdrawal has certainly aroused a very great deal of distress and questioning about the kind of church the Church of England now is. Speaking with the Area Deans of the Episcopal Area of Reading and going round to clergy chapters in that Episcopal Area, however, has brought home to me how constructively people are working at maintaining relationships and moving on. One of the good features about this whole passionate difference of view has been that it has not degenerated into personal animosity. Good relationships have been maintained throughout, both between myself and my critics and in the fierce disagreements that have occurred in deaneries.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 23 October 2003 at 9:37am BST | TrackBack
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I am pleased that Bishop Harries has spoken out so robustly in defence of Jeffrey John. It is also my opinion that there never was any argument against his appointment that held up. Opposition may well have been 'principled', in some quarters, but that never meant they were right. In the end it does come down to the simple fact that Jeffrey John couldn't be a bishop because he is a gay man who believes that the traditional position of the Church can and should be changed. None of this prevents him from being a Bishop even without the CofE changing its line - in the end its tantamount to unjustified discrimination and everything else is smokescreen.
I am also pleased with the integrity shown by the Bishop of Oxford in defence of his actions and I think this puts to shame some of the nastier comments about him made by some of his less principled opponents!

Posted by: Revd Andy McMullon on Thursday, 23 October 2003 at 1:07pm BST

I read these articles and have been mulling them over. And while I understand clearly the politics behind what was presented in Canon John's defense, I have a hard time with the theology. I understand that our leaders are worried about losing the Anglican Communion and want to placate conservatives. But I think we are in danger of forgetting why our churches face this so-called problem. Does anyone think that the pressures we are facing caused by homosexuality will go away anytime soon.

I know that emphasizing Canon John's celibacy is supposed to make people feel better about his qualifications to become a bishop. It's a nice legal out: "... but he's not having sex, so he must be an ok person. There are good gays and there are bad gays, and we put forth a good one. Too bad, he got lumped with the heretics in North America who aren't good gays."

The celibacy argument rests on the belief that if we strip gay folk of this most central human attribute, their sexuality, we can then perhaps tolerate them as acceptable for Christ's church. But Canon John's opponents didn't call off the attack dogs, did they?

If gay folk in the church celebrate their sexuality within a faithful relationship, the church discounts that faithfulness, and does not appreciate their efforts to live out Christ's call as everyone else does, with fear and trembling and a lot of muddling through life, to be faithful Christians. Ours is a Communion that can giddily accept or tolerate the blessing of hamsters and dogs, but continues to mock and discount loving gay relationships. Trying to make gay people exotic ("practicing homosexual, living with a male lover"), these attackers reject the very ordinariness of human life by attacking as evil what our faith teaches us as sacred: faithfulness to God, church and family. They are not attacking decadence. They are belittling its opposite.

These upset folk cannot abide or tolerate the idea of homosexuality/homosexual orientation/homosexual acts/homosexual persons. (Sometimes they abide it if the person hides it -- there are rumors that among the delegates and bishops who voted in Minneapolis against Gene Robinson, a few are closeted). Perhaps this is an American hypocrisy and there are no closeted clergy in England.

I think this line of argument promoting John being ok because he is celibate stems from the problem the church has in determining what a homosexual person is. We see the homosexual word, and forget the person word.

Some of the bishops in Africa have said many vile things about gay people. They have no cultural appreciation of gay folk living openly in their society. But people in England and in the United States have been struggling with this issue for a long time -- at least since the week that Oscar Wilde went to jail and the boats to France got overbooked by a number of bachelors suddenly interested in a French holiday. And certainly within the past 30 years.

If Canon John is an honorable priest, a faithful partner, and someone who has demonstrated the kind of life desirable for a bishop, then whether he slept with his partner or not is really not that important, except in the tightest legal sense, which is the political sense.

It does not make not one whit whether the good Canon is celibate or not with his life partner, or if Gene Robinson has sex with his partner three times a week or three times a year.

It is none of our business. And as a church, it only becomes our business if either man were sexually active outside their partnerships.

Does God create sub-cultures among his church, putting healthy gay folk in the ok, it's all right to play the organ, sing in the choir, take communion, but don't be a leader in the church?

When other candidates are put forth for Episcopal service, do we imagine or speculate on what they do with their wives? Do we look at these other candidates and talk about their sex lives within their marriage? Do we dwell on their practicing heterosexuality?

No. Of course, not.

It would be a lot easier on all of us if women didn't seek ordination, or gay people. But this desired unrocked boat is in fact the worst goal for our church and Communion. Because it is an image of a church that promotes its impotent fear in faithfully dotting all the "i"s and "t"s, like the religious folk in Christ's day, tsk-tsking over people getting healed on the wrong day or his hanging out with the wrong kind of people.

Does our God make a distinction between male and female, between Jew and Gentile? Between gay and straight? Virtue does not come from out of any of these labels. Neither, I believe, does evil.

That said, I am especially not taking the good Canon John to task, or the Bishop of Oxford who supported him. In good conscience, and with a great deal of difficulty they presented what they thought was an honorable response, based on canon law and church politics. I admire both men for their courage and faithfulness. I hope we find our voice to honor good people like this instead of putting them through such a tortured effort to appease people who will never be appeased on this issue.

Posted by: Don Temples on Friday, 24 October 2003 at 12:02am BST