Thursday, 26 May 2011

House of Bishops tied in knots over gay bishops

Updated again Friday 3 June

Andrew Brown, writing in the Guardian, has a report headlined Church of England tied in knots over allowing gay men to become bishops.

A meeting of Church of England bishops in York this week has broken up without agreement on whether gay clergy should ever be allowed to be chosen for promotion to bishoprics.

The leadership of the established church remains tied in knots over how far it can comply with the Equality Act in its treatment of gay people. Church lawyers have told the bishops that while they cannot take into account that someone is homosexual in considering them for preferment, they also cannot put forward clergy in active same-sex relationships and, even if they are celibate, must consider whether they can “act as a focus for unity” to their flocks if appointed to a diocese.

Conservative evangelicals remain bitterly opposed to the ordination of gay people, even though many clergy are more or less openly gay, and some are in same-sex partnerships…

The report continues with details of

…an anguished and devastating memorandum written by the Very Rev Colin Slee, the former dean of Southwark Cathedral, shortly before his death from pancreatic cancer last November. Dr Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, and John Sentamu, the archbishop of York, vetoed candidates from becoming bishops of the south London diocese…

And it concludes by mentioning that

The House of Bishops sought legal advice to discover whether it would be illegal to deny John a job. A briefing in December from the Church House legal department appears to state that though it would be illegal to discriminate against him because he is a celibate gay person, it was perfectly in order to discriminate against him because there are Christians who cannot accept gay people.

The briefing states: “It is not open to a crown nominations committee or a bishop making a suffragan appointment to propose someone who is in a sexually active same-sex relationship; it is not open to them to take into account the mere fact that someone is gay by sexual orientation.”

Original documents:

Colin Slee’s memorandum

Legal memorandum

Friday update

The Church Times has its own report on these documents: House of Bishops divided on keeping out homosexuals (and scroll down for a second article, Slee: tears shed after angry talks).

And a further update, a week later:

There is another copy of Colin Slee’s memorandum that is slightly longer, available via this page.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 7:34am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

If you find yourself lying, bulling and manipulating, it is time for a reality check. It is not and never can be the will of God. When you start down a path which is the wrong path, and you get into this kind of situation, then you stop. You repent. However foolish you end up looking.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 8:05am BST

"Though it would be illegal to discriminate against him because he is a celibate gay person, it was perfectly in order to discriminate against him because there are Christians who cannot accept gay people." OK that's Andrew Brown's summary of the essence of what was said, but it makes the point. Substitute "black" for "gay" and see how far it gets you.

Posted by: Matthew Duckett on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 9:01am BST

What a sad parody of Christian fellowship.

"They shall be ashamed, and also confounded, all of them: they shall go to confusion together that are makers of idols."

Posted by: rjb on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 9:53am BST

When persuasion fails, there's always intimidation.

I don't think even the most aggressive satirist could have come up with the image of the two Archbishops choosing the next Bishop of Southwark in a men's room.

Posted by: Counterlight on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 11:29am BST

To quote from the Guardian article: ‎'A briefing in December from the Church House legal department appears to state that though it would be illegal to discriminate against him because he is a celibate gay person, it was perfectly in order to discriminate against him because there are Christians who cannot accept gay people.' The mind boggles. Apply that to any and all other categories of people and it sounds like a licence to discriminate - all you have to do is say 'we're not discriminating against you, but we think that there are others who can't accept you.'

Posted by: Fr Levi on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 12:09pm BST

I'll have another go at this one. apparently my last effort got 'lost in the posting'?

Andrew Brown's article - about Dean Colin Slee's memo (a poignant 'message from beyond the grave' - will surely put the cat among the pigeons in the hierarchy of the Church of England. Such goings-on at a meeting discussing the Church's policy on the election of Bishops must cause some consternation in the House of Bishops at least.

The overt complicity between two Archbishops of the Mother Church of England, all to ensure that Dean Jeffrey John didn't get the chance to become bishop of a second C.of E. Diocese - simply because he is a partnered homosexual, although he is considered by his peers to be eminently qualified for the role of a bishop in the Church - does not seem either just or creditable.

One would have thought the ABC might have been more aware of the public dismay that would be engendered at his second denial of the calling of a self-acknowledged homosexual priest to the role of episcopacy. After the first fiasco, where Jeffrey John was selected and then de-selected at the ABC's request for the Reading post; people like Colin Slee would have been hopeful of a more generous treatment of J.J. this time around.

However, following the pattern of complicity between the 2 Archbishops in the 'Women Bishops' debate, they decided to push their rank to obtain an exclusion of Jeffrey John because he is gay and in a civil-partnership.

Maybe Dean Slee's influence - post-mortem - will be able to achieve more for accountability of the Church in matters of gender and sexuality, than was obvious during his lifetime striving for justice. Let's hope the Church takes notice!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 12:35pm BST

Now can we drop the notion that Rowan Williams is a gentle academic whose warm, Christ-like heart recoils from all types of ugliness?

It seems that his true character has been revealed here.

Posted by: JPM on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 1:08pm BST

"...because there are Christians who cannot accept gay people."! No, there are Christians who refuse to accept LGBT people. They CAN and SHOULD accept gay people.

The time has long since passed for the leaders of our great church to do some real Good, rather than sit idly by and continue to do Evil (by omission) in their stubborn refusal to act positively.

Posted by: Dan Barnes-Davies on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 1:44pm BST

It was bound to happen. Tantrums, punishment, discrimination, threatened ego(s) and plain olde prancing and grandstanding TRYING to keep Lambeths fading image/credibility from falling down, down, down...alas, all the Queens horses and men can´t put ++Rowans cracked, finagalled and pasted Anglican Covenant back together again...what a tangled web he weaves as he attempts to deceive...may be best to abandon a sinking ship and surrender in defeat and let the sun shine in!

Posted by: Leonardo Ricardo on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 2:04pm BST

Maybe if Yanks in The Episcopal Church can be persuaded to adopt the Anglican Covenant, TEC can become as open, honest, transparent & gracious as the CofE.

Seriously -- this is appalling (IMHO) -- no way to run any organization with integrity -- much less one that is supposed to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who came to redeem us ALL! (But that's just me ...)

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 2:39pm BST

Anyone interested in starting a "Jeffrey John for Dunelm" petition - I'd certainly sign it!

Posted by: Father David on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 2:55pm BST

I should point out, re: my comment above, that discrimination on the grounds of sexuality and race are both present in the Church of England but are not equivalent. It has quite correctly been pointed out to me that there are quite a number of gay people in leadership in the C of E (albeit not openly) but not many black people.

Posted by: Matthew Duckett on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 3:56pm BST

How sad is an understatement of a fiasco that does so much harm to our beloved church, and above all the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have always the highest respect for Colin Slee, and Jeffrey John, and when chaplain of Kings College Hospital London, was honoured to be part of the Southwark family.

From beyond the grave Colin speaks as he always did with Christian love, and I look forward to the fact that the Church Times is reporting the matter tomorrow.

Now retired living with beloved civil partner, I pray this revelation will show the hurt that is engendered both in the mind of those who diagree with God given gay folk, and those like RW who have to live a lie

A closet gay is a dangerous animal, as is those who deny their own God given understanding of human live and its God given inclusivity.

Time to come clean.

Posted by: Fr John on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 4:30pm BST

Father David -- ditto!

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 4:45pm BST

My comments on behalf of Changing Attitude England can be found on our blog: Collusion, dishonesty, ignorance and stupidity are the marks of the House of Bishops

Posted by: Colin Coward on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 4:51pm BST

Reading the postings on this website, I have to ask myself, how many of us, apart from the regular bloggers, actually believe all that is written in the press, apart from those who wish to use such as fodder against our two Archbishops who already have a difficult enough job to do without ill considered snipes from those who disagree with them.

Posted by: Benedict on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 5:06pm BST

Wonder if this might affect the Archbishop's moral authority on the issues of women bishops and the Covenant.

Posted by: Lapinbizarre on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 5:15pm BST

I should imagine many people will be dismayed by this. Where is the "truth in the inward parts" demanded by the psalmist??? In a secular organization it would be appalling but this is supposedly an organisation that claims to be the Body of Christ, the sign and instrument of the Kingdom etc...Sadly more and more people of intelligence and sensitivity will just want nothing to do with it.

Posted by: Perry Butler on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 5:55pm BST

Not the best of news for the Feast of St Augustine of Canterbury.

Posted by: Lister Tonge on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 6:05pm BST

So, let me get this straight. Discrimination in and of itself is wrong, but the church must honor someone else's wish to discriminate. This is pretty tortured logic, even for lawyers and theologians.

Posted by: Rick+ on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 6:23pm BST

Father David--I think I'd rather start a petition calling on +Cantuar and +York to resign...

The most shocking thing to me was that it appears that +Cantaur himself (or his high-ranking staff) leaked the news about the John+ and Holtham+ recommendations, and then seemed to imply that Dean Slee had done the leaking. "Shameful" is the only word that applies.

Posted by: Doxy on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 7:16pm BST

"The leadership of the established church also remains tied in knots over how far it can comply with the Equality Act in its treatment of"...women.

Heaven help the Church of England to modernise itself just a little bit!

Posted by: Paul Edelin on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 7:20pm BST

Thank you for letting us read Colin Slee's memorandum. However we seem to have one page twice, and the last page missing.

Posted by: Sue Slater on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 7:36pm BST

1) The Guardian noted that eventually Christopher Chessun was appointed. So, Bishop Chessun, through no apparent action of his own, comes to the diocese under a cloud. Through no defect or inappropriate behavior on his part, perhaps some members of the diocese will view him with disquiet, unease, or distrust. Somehow, despite all the backbiting and recrimination that preceded his appointment, he is supposed to "act as a focus of unity". If Dr. Johns had been chosen after publicly spirited debate, and without all the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, I suspect he would have had a much easier time acting as a focus of unity, even though there would be diocese members who would be opposed to him solely because of his status as a partnered gay man. My prayers go out to Bishop Chessun, and I mean that most sincerely. He is carrying a cross beyond the pectoral one.
2) With all due respect to CofE theology and belief, I fail to see the Holy Spirit in any of this.
3) Openly gay and partnered men, whose life, mission, and calling can be openly judged are effectively barred from receiving a post they may very well be qualified for, while closeted individuals, who keep their full light obscured, operate freely. Hmmmm ...
4) God bless Dr. Jeffrey Johns! To put up with all this (and other indignities, I have no doubt) and still remain faithful to the Church, deserves my admiration and respect.

Posted by: peterpi - Peter Gross on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 8:21pm BST

If Williams and Sentamu have any honor at all, they will resign.

Posted by: JPM on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 10:40pm BST

Dear Colin, quick brained and quick witted, fearless and forthright, seeking openness and integrity in the Church and confronting people only with their own hypocrisy. That's why he could never be a Bishop of the Church. This tale makes me so sad and does nothing to ease my love/hate relationship with the Church of which I am a part and which is so much a part of me. I still maintain that the real Rowan Williams has been abducted by aliens and a look alike left in his place. I'm now wondering if the AB of Y has suffered the same fate; I no longer recognize the gifted advocate for what is right and true that I knew when he was a parish priest in an unromantic part of S London.

Posted by: Jonathan Kirkpatrick on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 11:26pm BST

Just to play the Devil's -- um, Archbishop's -- Advocate here, the memo itself isn't absolute proof of the actions it describes. Have other (living) participants come forward to confirm it?

Posted by: Bill Dilworth on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 11:30pm BST

It is bullying. And the heart of bullying is the failure to see others as fully human, and to treat them as fully human. The picture is of a church becoming increasingly hierarchical, with the men at the top unable to recognise the humanity of others. It is a shameful picture and it is so believable because it reflects too clearly the image of church as top-down authority proposed by the Covenant.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Thursday, 26 May 2011 at 11:44pm BST

As for Dr. Williams:

I lost trust in him and admiration for him years ago-- no need to count the many ways he has deceived and abused heterosexual women and LGBTI people worldwide...let it be said (again) that many of our Anglican brothers and sisters are unable to defend themselves and are publically humiliated, physically tormented, despised, raped and even murdered thanks, in part, to sloppy/irresponsible shepherding jobs at The Anglican Communion (Jamaica, Uganda, Nigeria and Iraq come to mind).

As for Dr. Sentamu:

I lost trust in him and admiration for him years ago-- there is something particularly disturbing about a cowardly despot who was abused by a despot and won´t speak out for basic human rights vs. wrongs happening at various provinces of The Anglican Communion today-- perhaps his emotional injury is deep but he harms others with his spitefilled errors and omissions.

We must let these men go and make room for other leaders who will unreservedly welcome the vicitimized, the demonized, the marginalized and set a standard for justice, honesty and transparency at The Anglican Communion...radical inclusivity too!

Posted by: Leonardo Ricardo on Friday, 27 May 2011 at 2:24am BST

The legal advice, which is unsigned, is a curious amalgam of special pleading and incorrect statements of law in what is, admittedly, a complex and specialist field. This advice would not last five minutes in a Court of law. However, it is unlikely that it will ever be challenged because no one with standing to sue will sue. It would be my hope that the bishops would approach this as a moral question and not a legal one. But, if they do approach it as a legal question, I do hope that they do not proceed on the basis of this sub-standard advice.

Posted by: badman on Friday, 27 May 2011 at 2:49am BST

Principled as it may seem to demand the resignation of the ABC, my understanding is that this would only make matters worse.

I believe the CofE alternates between "catholics" and "evangelicals" in appointments as ABC and ++Rowan is the catholic appointment.

Heaven help us if an evangelical gets to be ABC before the waters calm down over the matter of gay people in the church.

Posted by: jnwall on Friday, 27 May 2011 at 2:55am BST


I agree with every word you have written. Bishop Chessun, Jeffrey John, and Bishop elect Nick are certainly in my prayers.

Being a senior citizen I remember when John Sentamu arrived as a curate at Herne Hill South London

Posted by: Fr John on Friday, 27 May 2011 at 8:31am BST

"Under these conditions, a gay candidate must have been celibate all his life or have repented of his former lifestyle. It is not enough to live blamelessly with or without a partner. No attempt is made in the advice to equate these conditions with those required of a heterosexual candidate, particularly with reference to his sexual past."

- Church Times article on legal questions -

I've just noticed this lttle gem in the C.T. article - on the legalities concerning the degree of acceptability for a gay person to be appointed a bishop in the Church of England.

If one transposes the word 'Straight' for 'Gay' in this context, one can see why the qualifying bit appears at the end of this statement - that:

"No attempt is made in the advice to equate these conditions with those required of a heterosexual candidate, particularly with reference to his sexual past." -

One wonders Why on earth not? Sexual activity is sexual activity - whether on the part of gays or straight persons. This is one of the aggravating factors involved in the Church's view of sexual orientation. There is the obvious inference that gays are not entitled to engage in loving sexual activity, even monogamously - whereas heterosexuals may do so - even on the basis of 'serial monogamy' - with divorce being O.K.

Whatever one's gender or sexual orientation - God-given - has to do with one's ability to respond to God's call into the ministry of God's Church is anybody's guess. I do not understand!

When will the Church come down off it's shaky pedestal and enter into the real world for which Christ gave his life? Lord have mercy!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 27 May 2011 at 10:26am BST

"Heaven help us if an evangelical gets to be ABC before the waters calm down over the matter of gay people in the church."

In what respect could it possibly get worse?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 27 May 2011 at 10:57am BST

Interesting definition of a Bishop as a focus of unity applied here. Does this mean we cannot have anyone as a Bishop unless absolutely everyone in the CofE (possibly) the Anglican Communion is satisfied they agree with the candidate appointed in every aspect of their life, spiritual, theological, financial, personal, sexual etc.? Does this mean that even if the Women Bishop Legislation passes, even with its heavy handed provisions, the appointment of any such woman could be blocked purely because someone somewhere in the Cof E church finds that unacceptable? My understanding of Bishop as focus of unity is that I am loyal to my Bishop, responsible for carrying out the vision of mission and ministry they have discerned for this place, and support them prayerfully and practically, regardless of whether I agree or disagree with some aspects of their life or ministry...

Posted by: Lindsay on Friday, 27 May 2011 at 11:18am BST

Ooh - I disagree fundamentally with the provision of PEV's who I perceive as a clear focus for disunity... does that mean they can't be appointed???

Posted by: Lindsay on Friday, 27 May 2011 at 11:20am BST

The focus of unity would be someone who could integrate those whose views are diametrically opposed.
Systematically excluding one group of people for the sake of unity is the opposite of that and a contradiction in terms.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 27 May 2011 at 12:26pm BST

jnwall, is there really any difference between having an evangelical archbishop and having a catholic archbishop who does whatever the evangelicals tell him to do?

Posted by: JPM on Friday, 27 May 2011 at 1:00pm BST

I say: "Jeffrey John for next ABC!"

Posted by: John-Julian, OJN on Friday, 27 May 2011 at 1:06pm BST

I would confidently name 13 bishops as being gay, meaning over 10% of bishops in England are gay. How any of the 13 live with themselves, their inner world and truth, in the aftermath of yesterday’s revelations, I can’t imagine.

Supporters and trustees of Changing Attitude are understandably angry and depressed. One commented:

"Yesterday’s brouhaha is objectively good news for our struggle and is a cause for celebration. It has made our opponents look contemptible. It has made the hierarchy look simultaneously weak and cruel. The main gay victim, Jeffrey John, has been made to look almost Christlike in his dignified silence in the face of such barbarous prejudice and persecution. The bishops and the archbishops will be despised by the passengers on the Clapham omnibus."

More comments can be found on today's blog:
Timidity in Devizes follows dynamite in the House of Bishops

Posted by: Colin Coward on Friday, 27 May 2011 at 1:32pm BST

For some reason I have been unable to access the legal advice on Scribd, but from the Church Times summary, I think - following badman's and others' points - that it is most unlikely to be correct.

Posted by: Savi Hensman on Friday, 27 May 2011 at 1:42pm BST

Lindsay, I agree; this "focus of unity" stuff is such rubbish.

Graham Dow, Michael Nazir-Ali, George Carey, Tom Wright, Michael Scott-Joynt - you couldn't find a more divisive group of loud-mouthed opinionated men, and yet they all apparently met the "focus of unity" criterion. Far better to have as a criterion "person of integrity," but, then oh dear, would anyone currently wearing a mitre merit keeping it?

Posted by: Fr Mark on Friday, 27 May 2011 at 2:24pm BST

I say: "Jeffrey John for next ABC!" John-Julian, OJN

Exactly. I thought of this yesterday too. It´s time that blatant honesty replaces blatant deceit at The Anglican Communion. Let the bigots fall where they may.

Posted by: Leonardo Ricardo on Friday, 27 May 2011 at 2:28pm BST

JPM, if George Carey (after all, the architect of Lambeth 1.10) had been ABC the past 8 years, he would have allied himself personally and publicly with the GAFCON bishops, ostracized and excluded TEC and the Church of Canada from the Anglican Communion, and done everything in his power to preclude the possibility of gay people ever achieving any degree of public affirmation within the Anglican Communion.

He actually has done all those things, to the limit of his abilities, diminished now only by the fact that he does not live in Lambeth Palace any longer.

Posted by: jnwall on Friday, 27 May 2011 at 3:01pm BST

We see what comes of trying to placate the bullies. Chamberlain proved this half a century ago...

Posted by: Nat on Friday, 27 May 2011 at 3:44pm BST

I can't say that I find the legal jiggery-pokery all that surprising. After all, isn't that pretty much the principle behind the Anglican Covenant? (I don't say that I find it palatable, just unsurprising.)

Posted by: Bill Ghrist on Friday, 27 May 2011 at 8:37pm BST

' was perfectly in order to discriminate against him because there are Christians who cannot accept gay people.' Such opinion completely overturns the outcome of the recent bed and breakfast case and nullifies the intentions of the Equalities Act. Weasel words from Lambeth.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Saturday, 28 May 2011 at 9:15am BST

jnwall, it seems to me that Rowan's covenant is designed precisely to do all of those things George Carey would do, but with a a bit of conciliar window-dressing.

I agree with you about Carey, by the way. He's pretty awful. My heart bleeds for the Church of England--could any institution, even a great one, survive being "led" first by Carey and then by Williams?

Posted by: JPM on Sunday, 29 May 2011 at 8:24pm BST

The Canadian diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edwards Island, the oldest Canadian Diocese and third largest, passed the motion below this weekend past at its diocesan synod. The diocese now joins seven other Canadian diocese that have made provision for the blessing of same sex couples in some fashion or other. The motion means that same sex couples who are civilly married (by law allowed everywhere in the Country) may now have their marriages blessed in the diocese in accordance with episcopal guideline. The Marriage Canon of the Anglican Church of Canada still prohibits clergy form actually marrying same sex couples in church. By the time Canada signs on to the "Covenant" in 2013, the majority of large dioceses will have already made the decision to allow blessings in some form or other.

Carried "that this Synod request the Bishop or bishops to adapt the Pastoral Letter of October 1, 2010 as a Bishop’s or Bishops’ Guideline. If a parish, after prayerful discernment, decides to move beyond the current level of pastoral response, to the blessing of same-sex couples, such a decision reflects the diversity of "local discernment, decision, and action, " and will be accommodated within the diverse pastoral practices of the Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island as we respond in our missional context."

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Monday, 30 May 2011 at 1:39am BST

Perhaps, as Rod Gills here intimates, the Churches of the Communion that have made decisions that conflict with the provisions of the Covenant ought just quietly to continue with their implementation of their understanding of the Gospel in situ. At least, their acceptance of 'outsiders' will be completely consonant with the command of Jesus, to "love one another as I have loved you. This is how "(the world) will know that you're my disciples - that you love one another."

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 1 June 2011 at 11:22am BST
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