Monday, 8 October 2012
Church of England bishops asked to be honest and truthful
Changing Attitude has written to all members of the College of Bishops (i.e. including all Suffragans) in the Church of England. See this press release: CA writes to every bishop asking for honesty and courage.
Changing Attitude England has written to every Church of England bishop asking them to speak honestly about the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGB&T) Anglicans in the Church and acknowledge truthfully how they treat LGB&T people in their dioceses.
Changing Attitude knows from the evidence of conversations with bishops and from our supporters that over 50% of bishops dissent from the current teaching and practice of the Church of England on homosexuality. They support, ordain and licence their LGB&T clergy, ordinands and lay ministers, including those in civil partnerships. They know that God does not discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation and their expression of love in permanent, faithful, stable sexual relationships.
The House of Bishops meets in December and are expected to conclude a review of their 2005 civil partnership statement. This meeting marks the start of a critical period in the development of Church of England attitudes and policy towards LGB&T people. It will be followed in 2013 by the more wide-ranging report from the group chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling.
We hope those who are members of the House of Bishops will find the courage and confidence to talk honestly and with integrity when they meet in December. We hope and pray that they publish recommendations which will begin to transform the place of LGB&T people in the Church of England…
The full text of the letter can be found in the notes to the press release (scroll down).
Some background to this action can be found in this Guardian report by Lizzy Davies Church of England bishops urged to have honest discussion about gay clergy.
Posted by Simon Sarmiento on
Monday, 8 October 2012 at 9:58am BST
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Church of England
A brilliant letter. Thanks to all of you who wrote it.I hope the Bishops take note and act with courage
Is it normal practice to write someone a letter about a sensitive issue and issue a press release about it at the same time? "We know we're right, we know you agree with us, so come out with your hands up." I can understand what CA are trying to do but these tactics feel a bit manipulative.
May I add my sincere congratulations to the writers of the Changing Attitude letter. One fully appreciates the concern of our fellow gay bishops of putting their heads above the parapit. But the time has come for both gay priests and gay bishops to stand together and be honest before God and His church; to enable the church we belong to and love, to move forward with its honest commission to all Gods people
David, I understand that the letter was sent to the bishops a full calendar week before the press release was issued. That seems about the right timing to me.
Yes--it's long past being an issue of gay people coming out in the church: it's time for the bishops to come out and tell the facts about the lives of their dioceses so the Body of Christ can stop mollifying the Church Bureaucratic here in Hell.
From the first paragraph of the letter ... "we are writing to each of you personally and will also be publishing the text in a week’s time."
Question: what if one of the bishops does stand above the parapet, but says, "yes I do experience same-sex attraction but I believe that sex is to be saved for heterosexual marriage I live a life of celibacy, and I believe God helps me in that"
Wouldn't that be a bit of an own goal for CA?
I would say it's quite likely that the first bishop to admit that he is not 100% straight would have to be someone who believes in celibacy. It is currently far too risky for any others to come out of the closet in the CoE.
But CA aren't asking bishops to out themselves, they are asking them to be truthful about how they feel about lgbt people and how they treat gay priests in their dioceses.
As there are clearly openly partnered priests in the CoE it would be helpful if their bishops could be open about the fact that they ordained these people and that they know about their partners.
All CA are aiming for is honest in the debate from everyone who participates in it and to bust this bubble of hypocricy and pretense that the CoE is all in one mind about gay people.
That should go without saying and it's a sad indictement of the tight corner the CoE has got itself into that asking for honesty appears to be controversial.
Simon - fair enough, I suppose that's church politics. I'd still be a bit weirded out if anyone did that to me.
Erika, thanks for your response, but the letter says:
"Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Anglican clergy and lay people need bishops to offer positive, healthy role models. We long for openness and honesty in the Church."
That seems to me a coded but pretty strong call for bishops with same-sex attraction to out themselves.
Anyone who knows the C of E will be well aware about the divisions on this issue, so it all seems a bit rum to me.
I think the request for bishops to be role models has to be read in the context of the first 1 ½ paragraphs: "Changing Attitude England has written to every Church of England bishop asking them to speak honestly about the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGB&T) Anglicans in the Church and acknowledge truthfully how they treat LGB&T people in their dioceses.
Changing Attitude knows from the evidence of conversations with bishops and from our supporters that over 50% of bishops dissent from the current teaching and practice of the Church of England on homosexuality. They support, ordain and licence their LGB&T clergy, ordinands and lay ministers, including those in civil partnerships."
Of course it would be wonderful if people could be role models by being completely honest about themselves, but we just need to look at poor Jeffrey John to see that this would be career suicide for now. And I would be surprised if CA expected it of anyone.
But back to your original question - I don't think that a bishop saying he was gay but celibate would be an own goal for CA. It would all be another step towards openness and acceptance of gay people in all walks of life. After all, imagine how much courage it would cost someone like that to come out in the current climate.
Gay people, out and closeted, know that there is real hatred out there and that there would be no guarantee that even a gay person who lives in line with the current requirements of his church would be acceptable, certainly not as bishop.
This is why this first step CA is asking for is so important. Once bishops can admit to how they genuinely feel about gay people without being vilified, who knows, a closeted celibate bishop might eventually be able to come out, and later partnered bishops too.
Any step towards honesty, however small, is a step towards healing for the whole church.
One of the developments that brought about the ordination of women nearly 20 years ago in the CofE and nearly 40 years ago in other Anglican provinces was that bishops were bold enough to say that it was a scandal against the gospel that they were not allowed to ordain women. In other words, it ceased to be an issue promoted by women themselves.
One of the aspects of the current debates on sexuality that distresses me is that, with very few exceptions (Salisbury, and maybe Liverpool in England, and Waiapu in A,NZandP) liberal-minded bishops continue to keep very quiet. Yes, of course there are divisions on these issues, but those divisions are unlikely to be addressed adequately until bishops (and other clergy of course)are willing to take a stand.
If Changing Attitude's very balanced letter succeeds in encouraging a few of the purple shirts to be a bit more open, then they have done us all a great service.
Do we ever discuss the economy saying "Wall Street jewed us out of our money"? No, we do not. It's both false and bigoted, and we exclude such language from CIVIL discussion.
The same w/ the neologism of a supposedly pathological condition called "same-sex attraction". It's also false and bigoted, and has no place here.
The willingness to discuss ***sexual orientation***---homosexual orientation as equivalent (equally God-given!) to heterosexual orientation---is THE measure of whether the discussion is respectful, or merely more hate-speech.
"But CA aren't asking bishops to out themselves, they are asking them to be truthful about how they feel about lgbt people and how they treat gay priests in their dioceses." - Erika -
I agree with Erika. This is not specifically aimed at Gay Bishops, but that LGBT people need "bishops to offer positive, healthy role models. We long for openness and honesty in the Church.".
Presumably, this means ALL Bishops who can do this - whether Gay or straight! I can think of several Bishops who are heterosexual, but who need to be more open about their own empathy with LGBTs. (For instance, the ABC, per his excellent thesis on the subject).
I think that possibly the greatest problem for the Church of England in this matter of Gay Clergy in the Church is that many people are actually aware of the truth of the situation, and have come to terms with the reality. Hypocrisy is a sin!
The current Archbishop of Canterbury is aware of the situation - as are most bishops in those dioceses where ordination candidates have felt able to and have admitted their sexual-orientation before being ordained.
The matter of whether Gays should be celibate or not has little to do with the fact that being Gay is a natural functionality for a percentage of human beings - whether clergy or lay-people - and it is the simple acknowledgement of the fact that Gays are 'children of God' the same as anyone else is what they are looking for, above all.
Hypocrisy is a terrible blight on the Church, and upon Gays who are afraid to acknowledge their situation because of the unwillingness of the Church to openly affirm their integrity.
The choice of abstinence, or monogamous sexual relationships, can then be seen for it truly is - a matter for all human beings, not just for Gays.
I live in hope no civilised person would ever write or say that anybody 'jewed' them out of anything.
"If the Church does not want to reach a tipping point where it is too morally discredited to be respected on any issue" Colin Coward
I realise that correlation and causation are different things but I do wonder if that point hasn't already been reached for some. Southwell and Nottingham diocese - known for its anti-gay bishops, past and present - is experiencing a drop in attendance of around 7% per year.
I appreciate the comments on this thread, which interpret well the intention of the CA letter to the College of Bishops. I wrote the first draft two months ago. The idea came as I was meditating one morning. Over a period of 6 weeks it was carefully revised and improved by the CA trustees.
We wanted to write to every bishop, College, not House, though it is the House meeting in December and next year that will consider the two working party reports.
We wanted to highlight the disparity between those who claim there is a clear C of E policy about LGB&T people in authorised ministry, lay and ordained, with the practice of bishops in their dioceses. We know that over half the bishops are careful to ask questions about relationships and civil partnerships of clergy and laity in ways which allow them to grant licences and PTOs. David Page’s testimony in Winchelsea has made people more aware of this widespread practice.
We hope the majority of bishops who already quietly pastor their LGB&T clergy and laity with great care, love and affirmation, will do several things.
When the House of Bishops considers each Working Party report, we hope they will do so with real honesty, breaking the collusive silence which has inhibited truthful conversation until now. We hope they will admit to what they do in practice in their dioceses.
It is the majority core of pro-gay heterosexual bishops who we encourage to speak honestly about LGB&T people in Church and society. They have far less to risk than their gay colleagues.
In reminding the bishops that 14 of the College of bishops are gay or bisexual, some partnered, some married, the majority single and celibate, we intended to remind them that whether or not they know which of their colleagues are gay, when they speak in the House of Bishops, gay bishops will be present and affected by their words.
All of us in the Church of England need positive, spiritual, healthy role models. Thank goodness we have Jeffrey John, who is an exemplar of honesty and integrity in the context of deep faith and spirituality rooted in theology. We and the whole Church need more such exemplars. Changing Attitude respects those who are called to celibacy and know this is an honourable estate in the Church. We respect those who attempt to conform to a conservative evangelical or anglo-catholic model of conformity to teaching and scripture. We observe people using phrases such as tortured struggle to describe their attempts to control their same-sex attraction.
Changing Attitude believes our friends who seek to suppress or heal their love and desire for someone of the same sex could become healthier, happier, holier people if the Church ceased to condemn their God-given desires by finding the courage to tell the truth. It’s the same process by which the Christianity has revised its attitude to slavery, women, contraception, divorce and remarriage. Yes, we are revisionists, and thanks be to God Christianity managed to revise its Biblical teaching about slaves.
Erika, Father Ron, I'm afraid we're going to have to disagree: having reread the letter I'm even more convinced they're calling bishops with same-sex attraction to out themselves.
To look at the 2 key paragraphs, which are juxtaposed: "Some of you reading this letter are gay. Some of you are bisexual. Some of you are in a gay relationship. ...
We believe those of you who are gay or bisexual and others who affirm LGB&T people have a particular responsibility to the Church, to UK society and to God. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Anglican clergy and lay people need bishops to offer positive, healthy role models..."
If it's simply a call for more honesty in the way bishops implement policy, or their general attitude to LGBT issues, then why refer to bishops' personal sexual orientation at all? And why does it say that gay people have a 'particular responsibility', and then talk about the need for 'role models'?
Admittedly there are few if any L or T role models in the House of Bishops at the moment (!), but I think the letter's general sentiment is very clear indeed.
Colin Coward has by now answered himself, so I think we can put the question of the intention of the letter to bed.
There could be a question of how it will be interpreted, and you are clearly interpreting it in a way most of us don't.
To me, it makes perfect sense to say to someone "if you're gay yourself and if you have ordained gay partnered people, for goodness sake, be honest about the need these people have for proper pastoral support. Acknowledge that you have supported them and that you stand by this".
Obviously, every bishop who supports his gay priests should be open and honest enough to admit this and to stand by it. But a gay bishop has an even greater moral responsibility to do so, because he knows how damaging it is to be misrepresented and to be vilified in the church. He's living it himself in secret!
That does not mean that he has to come out. Although, why would be such an issue if he did?
I'm no longer understanding the point you're trying to make. Your first post suggested that you thought that if a bishop who supported the current CoE stance on gay priests came out he would damage the cause of Changing Attitude. And I have tried to explain that it would not do that one little bit.
Now you seem to say it is an outrage that CA should ask anyone to be honest about their sexuality. I really fail to see why it should be such a disaster to call for honesty about one’s personal life. Naïve, I grant you! Which is why it makes no sense to read the letter that way.
But anything more sinister?
Colin, thank you for your comments.
Given that it wasn't your intention to encourage bishops experiencing same-sex attraction to out themselves, do you think an explicit sentence to that effect would have been helpful, especially since you yourself raised the issue of their sexuality?
You say that you simply intended to remind straight bishops of some of their colleagues sexualities, but your choice of words: "Some of you reading this letter are gay. Some of you are bisexual. Some of you are in a gay relationship" doesn't read like that at all. It comes across as a direct address to the gay bishops themselves. The same goes for the next paragraph.
If your intentions in raising the issue of the bishops' sexual orientation are as you say they are, your form of words comes across (to me at least) as both clumsy and rather patronising to the bishops, who I'm sure are already well aware that there is a range of sexual orientations among them and their colleagues.
"Yes, we are revisionists, and thanks be to God Christianity managed to revise its Biblical teaching about slaves."
And in this country, clinging to the letter of the Bible and to Received Wisdom takes some people down paths that can only be described as grotesque:
I am but a mere American, but I thought the intention in Colin Coward's letter was quite clear. I never understood him to be calling for gay bishops to out themselves, but for all bishops to come clean on how they treat their LGBT flocks.
Erika, I'm not claiming anything's an outrage - my emotions are firmly in check!
I am trying to unpick what the letter is actually saying, however. Per my earlier comments I thought that at least part of it was calling on bishops experiencing same sex-attraction to out themselves. However Colin now tells us that that the section about bishops with SSA which at first sight is addressed to all bishops (it starts 'Some of you') is in only addressed to bishops who specifically don't experience SSA, as a reminder that some of them do!!
Equally, in this thread Colin has told us that "It is the majority core of pro-gay heterosexual bishops who we encourage to speak honestly about LGB&T people in Church and society" - but his paragraph calling for good 'role models' is addressed specifically to both gay and straight bishops - and in this thread as a 'role model' example he's given us the example of Jeffrey John, who obviously isn't a bishop but is (of course) gay.
Clear as mud.
"and others who affirm LGB&T people have a particular responsibility to the Church, to UK society and to God." - A.C. Letter -
The existence of this part-sentence in the original Letter to the Bishops of the Church of England, which you, yourself, Peter+. have reiterated, seems to me to include ALL Bishops 'who affirm LGBT people' - not just those who happen to be gay.
I don't think any of us need to encourage the thought that only Gay bishops are involved in the plea for openness in the Church. There are other, heterosexual, Bishops who need, perhaps to be more openly affirming of the LGBT community, so that the whole - what is the collective term for Bishops is it 'gaggle' - can debate the situation with honesty, rather than subversion.
Of course not, Rosemary. You're *supposed* to be shocked&appalled by the phrase "jewed out".
As I, and every thinking (faithful) Anglican should be EQUALLY shocked&appalled to hear the HOLY creation which is homosexual orientation *pathologized* into "same-sex attraction".
Hate speech is SIN. It's an intrinsic part of our Imago Dei that we recoil from and reject it.
leaving aside the fact that you appear to be the only one here who struggles to understand the letter, I still don't see the problem.
It IS actually relevant that some members of the HoB are gay and that some are partnered and that this is common knowledge. It is a clear sign of the hypocrisy and pretence that is currently defining the lgbt policy in this church.
You might read it as patronising to remind them of it, I consider it to be absolutely vital that the people at the top finally look at their own church with honesty and clarity and that this dreadful charade vis a vis gay people stops.
So Colin could have said "there are some gay bishops in the church" to highlight this fact, but as he was adressing the bishops directly, it makes much more sense to continue to do so and to say "some of you are gay".
I suggest we talk about the substance of the letter as we now all know it because Colin himself has explained his intentions.
Would you not agree that it is important for the church to be honest about itself?
I’m curious about Peter+, who is somewhat dominating this thread with a determination to extract from me Changing Attitude’s ‘real intentions ‘ in writing the letter and his assessment that we have not expressed ourselves clearly.
My reaction is that you come across to me as somewhat obsessive about our text in the way some Christians become rather obsessive about textual analysis of the Bible and ‘the plain meaning of scripture’.
I can help you with an answer to at least one of the questions you raise.
On Tuesday, you said that if our intention in raising the issue of the bishops' sexual orientation is as I described, our form of words comes across to you as both clumsy and rather patronising to the bishops. You are sure that the bishops are already well aware that there is a range of sexual orientations among them and their colleagues.
At the York General Synod meeting in July 2011 I spent much of my time asking bishops two questions, one of which was ‘are you aware of who might be gay amongst your brother bishops?' Only one bishop answered instantly with a confident yes. Others answered with a cautious ‘yes, I think I know some’ and others were more cautious still (perhaps because of who was asking the question).
In answer to your question, some bishops said they had never thought about the fact that some of their colleagues might be gay and some said they had no idea who might be gay.
The intention of the Changing Attitude letter is in part a response to these conversations. We want members of the House of Bishops, especially, to be aware when they discuss the two HoB reports, that they are talking not about people ‘out there’ but about their colleagues, possibly the person sitting next to them (if they are one of the bishops who is unaware that he has any gay colleagues). We seek a higher level of awareness from which we hope a more reflective and pastoral response to the reports might evolve.
Of course it would make a huge difference to the conversation if one or more of the gay bishops were able to talk personally about their experience. The CA trustees and I have talked at length about this and the culture of the Church, and in the House of Bishops especially, which makes coming out so difficult.
What a shame --- though no surprise --- that Bishops are politicians,subject to all that implies, rather than prophets with all the freedom to speak out that goes with that job description.
I'd be very interested in knowing what Colin's response would be if there was a gay bishop who was open and honest about their sexuality *but* took a conservative line on sexual practice. Perhaps it might even be a bishop who had had sexual activity with someone of the same sex once, but was now quite open about saying that it had been wrong and that he was firmly committed to celibacy.
What would your response be Colin?
Celibacy is fine for those who are called to it. If it's to be a precondition for gays and lesbians to be admitted to the altar, then it's a precondition for everyone. Otherwise, it's just another cross we can't bear ourselves, and yet we expect others to carry.
St. Peter left behind his wife and children to follow Christ. How about you?
Peter, I would respect the personal integrity of a gay bishop who was once sexually active but is now committed to celibacy. Such a bishop would have more integrity within the context of the Church of England's notional rules on homosexuality and sexual activity.
The truth is, though, that many heterosexual bishops ignore the rules (that's why I refer to them as notional), and so may some gay and bisexual bishops. Respecting the decision of a gay bishop to be celibate doesn't mean I think such a choice should be imposed on all gay bishops. I think such an imposition is wrong.
Colin already answered your question earlier in this thread:
"Changing Attitude respects those who are called to celibacy and know this is an honourable estate in the Church. We respect those who attempt to conform to a conservative evangelical or anglo-catholic model of conformity to teaching and scripture."
Peter Ould's question reminded me of an incumbent at one of London Anglo Catholic Shrines when I was a student.
He was eternally grateful that although married as a young man, within a matter of eighteen months he was a widower. Amongst his set he was openly disgusted by the mechanics of intimacy and sexual relations and was a fervent and influential advocate for clerical celibacy, though one felt he was deeply sorry for all married couples!
There is a world of difference between those who are single, those who are living without sex, those who are celibate and those who have embraced the consecrated life. It is sad that even within the church these distinctions are lost.
On the matter in question what always struck me was the difference between the official line and what bishops said to you privately.
'Changing Attitude knows from the evidence of conversations with bishops and from our supporters that over 50% of bishops dissent from the current teaching and practice of the Church of England on homosexuality.'
It will take more than the evidence of conversations and CA supporters to prove that a majority of bishops currently license clergy in patent disregard for the 2005 HoB Pastoral Statement regarding assurances in keeping with the standards set out in Issues in Human Sexuality.
The fact that some bishops dissent does not mean that most bishops favour a wholesale rejection of those standards. They may simply find that the requirement for assurances to be impractical and intrusive.
Even if the dissent has led some to apply a different pastoral approach, it certainly does not *prove* that a majority of bishops favour the liberal, or DADT stance on civil partnerships. A significantly larger unbiased sample size would make a better case for these 'majority' assertions.
"It will take more than the evidence of conversations and CA supporters to prove that a majority of bishops currently license clergy in patent disregard for the 2005 HoB Pastoral Statement regarding assurances in keeping with the standards set out in Issues in Human Sexuality."
Which is precisely why CA has written to the bishops and asked them to be open and honest about what they truly do and believe.
Would I be delving into semantics to distinguish that, when evidence is inconclusive, claiming to *know* is not the same as claiming to be *very confident*?
Probably. So I won't. ;-)
that depends on what you mean by evidence.
Changing Attitude is in the difficult position that closeted people talk to us but make us promise to not break their confidences. It goes without saying that no-one who is involved with CA would ever do that.
So it is easily possible that Colin actually "knows" things that he cannot possibly reveal. Which from your point of view means, naturally, that there is no evidence.
We will all have to live with this tension until the people involved start being honest about all of this.
You are right to challenge Changing Attitude to produce hard evidence that the majority of bishops currently licence partnered clergy in patent disregard of the HoB Pastoral Statement, and not simply the evidence of conversations and anecdotal reports. Changing Attitude will now compile a list of the bishops we know from direct evidence have acted in disregard of the Pastoral Statement.
Erika is right when she says I know things that I am not free to reveal, because it might impact on a bishop, a diocese, a clergy person and a parish. But as you, David, and others, challenge us to produce the evidence, we need to respond by collating the evidence and be prepared to publish it if necessary.
If it also identifies where bishops consider guidance to have become unedifyingly impractical, or invasive, it will be of inestimable value. I think that such information as you are able to collate should be placed before the Working Group and inform any serious review of the 2005 HoB Pastoral Statement.
The 2005 guidance certainly shouldn't have become the basis for a one-sided conservative witch-hunt, while other complaints (e.g in Chichester) have languished by comparison.
It's hard to believe that the HoB group reviewing policy relating to Civil Partnerships has not already polled the HoB itself to ascertain what its own members are or are not doing in regard to this matter.
Simon, do you know whether the House of Bishops has or hasn't checked what its own members are doing? It's an obvious thing to do, but hadn't occurred to me because I assume fear of the truth with each other trumps everything.
No I don't know anything about what they have done already. But as you say it just seems the obvious thing to do, if any revision of policy is being contemplated.