Comments: About the "outing" of Church of England bishops

I certainly believe Peter Tatchell to be an admirably moral person. This judgement is based on two things in particular: (1) his heroic attempts to arrest Robert Mugabe; (2) his concern with genital warts as a vector of cancer. As to (1), even 'The Sun' has come to regard him as heroic. 'Outing' is in general repugnant. But where such to be 'outed' bishops are imposing disciplinary action on people in identical situations to themselves, it seems to me entirely justifiable. It is of course absolutely crucial that such 'outings' can be substantiated.

Posted by John at Sunday, 27 July 2014 at 7:28pm BST

As I said over on Kelvin's blog, I doubt outing would achieve anything (it didn't in the 90s) and it could backfire. Most importantly, there may be no gay bishops to out.

Even if they somehow got past the Crown Nominations Commission, to prove hypocrisy, you'd have to prove they're sexually active. Are liberals truly going to reduce themselves to the level of Labouchere blackmailers? Talk about the abyss gazing also into you.

Posted by James Byron at Sunday, 27 July 2014 at 10:37pm BST

As a Yank, my gut instinct and U.S. Constitutional right to free speech say "of course, no one has the right NOT to be outed, if someone else uses their freedom-of-speech to out them."

...but you Europeans (especially in light of what I think is the ridiculous Google decision) are different about these things.

So Peter can come over here to the U.S. and out anyone he wants to.* And you Europeans can ignore U.S. media if you want to. So there you are.

* Provided he can prove it in a U.S. court, of course, should he be sued (for alleged "libel").

Posted by JCF at Sunday, 27 July 2014 at 10:50pm BST

The real credibility gap here, of course, is whether a gay bishop in a partnership would be prepared to move unjustly against one of his clergy in the same situation but openly declaring their situation. The question of Same-Sex Marriage is an important one, which the State deems feasible, and which the Church needs seriously to consider - in terms of common human rights for bishops, clergy and laity alike.

'Outing' must surely be a very last resort! One should be able to rely on the personal conscience of any bishop to deal fairly with the clergy and laity under their episcopal care.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 1:09am BST

I have some respect for Tatchell, but this threat of 'outing' clergy is utterly repellent. Men's consciences are their own; any real or perceived conflict between what a priest proclaims publicly and what he does in private is solely a matter for the priest, his confessor, and his God. Those of us who think that bishops should not pry into the bedrooms of their clergy should be especially emphatic on this point. We cannot defend the privacy of priests by threatening to demolish the private lives of bishops.

And there is an even bigger problem here. Even if bishops are - like the rest of us - sometimes hypocritical, it doesn't necessarily mean they're wrong in their public pronouncements. If hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue, then it provides in itself no good reason not to be virtuous. Priests (and others) who are caught with their hands in the cookie jar often bewail their inability to live up to their own high standards: the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak! Very seldom are they forced to admit that their standards were in error. If some conservative bishops are indeed sexually-active homosexuals (and how would we ever know this?) this is unlikely to persuade any conservative Anglicans that homosexuality is actually A-Okay. It's merely likely to entrench them in the view that this is a wicked depravity into which the reprobate spirit falls.

We need to engage our opponents thoughtfully, carefully, compassionately and on solid theological ground; not to resort - God help us - to the techniques of the Murdoch press. The fact that some people we care about may have been hurt is no good reason to try to wreck the lives of the people we hold responsible, however shaky the moral ground on which those lives may have been built. Not many of us are as morally consistent as we'd like to think. And, aware as I am that I too often have succumbed to the temptation to gossip and slander people I disagree with, I admit my own hypocrisy on this count and no doubt many others. Kyrie eleison!

Posted by rjb at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 6:16am BST

Being gay in the UK in 2014 isn't something that you need to hide anymore anyway. Tatchell's previous campaign was in a time that was quite different to now. Saying someone is gay now isn't really outing as it no longer has any legal restrictions or public shame. You are simply stating a fact which isn't shocking any more. So I think PT in 2014 in the UK can say someone is gay without being accused of "outing" a person.

Posted by vince at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 7:39am BST

On an earlier thread We were discussing the need for some radical way forward that might help rid the English church of the "guidance" on marriage. There was a suggestion that women were as like as their male counterparts to bend the knee to this obnoxious document when finally they are ordained bishops next year.

While there was a complaint that women should not be "picked on" for something men have been so willing to accede to (with one honourable exception), my feeling is that the strategy should not yet (if ever?) move to outing but should focus on that small group of women, around twenty five, who are the most likely candidates for episcopal nomination.

In the warm glow of their emergence from centuries of unjust discrimination they might take the opportunity to exercise the considerable power now in their hands, to help those who continue to be hurt by the Church.
They are a small enough group to come together and say that their consciences would not allow them to accept or implement the teaching contained in the present guidance and urge their brothers to swiftly reconsider their statement.

There is nothing stopping men coming on board and adding their voice to this, but the desperate need to place a woman on the bench at the earliest moment gives this group a once in a lifetime opportunity to help the whole Church, as well as their persecuted sisters and brothers.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 8:22am BST

Specifically on outing.
While at LGCM we were honoured to work with Peter Tatchell on a whole raft of topics. Peter is, without doubt, one of the greats in the UK in the battle for LGBT rights as well as other issues of freedom. He is a man apart.

While LGCM never itself outed anyone, I am sure that members were part of the intelligence gathering operation Peter is good at mounting.

My own view is that this is a deeply personal thing and I do not take the high moral ground we see in some of the comments here. For example, if a partnered bishop were outed by a cleric he was disciplining, or by a cleric who had been disciplined, then I think they have cause.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 8:44am BST

RJB, your post is one of the best things I've read on TA in many years. Well said.

Posted by Tristan at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 8:54am BST

"Are liberals truly going to reduce themselves to the level of Labouchere blackmailers?"

No-one said anything about liberals (liberal Christians presumably) outing anyone? It is Peter Tatchell who has said he is thinking of outing people, and as far as I am aware he has no alliance with liberals/liberal Christians.

Posted by Alastair Newman at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 10:08am BST

Peter Tatchell is not a public authority and that should be an end to the matter.
The bishop exercising 'disciplinary action' is acting with proper authority and to use the HRA to 'punish' him as an individual is probably unlawful, certainly cruel & inhuman and an act of discriminatory harassment.
Tatchell should take his grievance up with the CofE, not the easy target of a vulnerable individual.

Posted by Jill Armstead at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 11:10am BST

As I wrote on Kelvin's blog, outing a Bishop who is in an active same-sex relationship is less to do with homosexuality and more to do with hypocrisy. I happen not to believe such Bishops exist, but if they do then they are truly hypocrites. It is simply unjust to discipline someone for something you yourself are doing.

Posted by Peter Ould at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 12:30pm BST

Am with James Byron and rjb, though I understand the frustration about the C of E's policies. It should also be noted that, four years after the last set of bishops being outed, the 1998 Lambeth Conference took place - a major step backwards - so outing is no guarantee of greater equality and could be counter-productive. However it would be great if some of the gay and bisexual bishops were to come out of the closet voluntarily. And if anyone feels that a bishop he knows (gay, bisexual or heterosexual) is being unjust and inconsistent, it might be helpful to challenge him privately but vigorously.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 12:45pm BST

Leaving aside the moral aspects of outing someone, outing a gay bishop is completely irrelevant unless this bishop is in a sexual relationship and there is proof of that and you are willing to publish the proof.
Without that proof any bishop can simply say that his relationship is celibate and that would be that.

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 1:59pm BST

A hypocrite would have to be someone who is punishing someone for something they themselves are doing. No one is 'punishing' anyone because they are 'Gay' simpliciter. So what would the point be of establishing that a Bishop is 'gay'?

This thing smacks of crude power maneuvering. I agree with the arguments/concerns of RJB and Byron.

Posted by cseitz at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 2:33pm BST

'I happen not to believe such Bishops exist, but if they do then they are truly hypocrites. It is simply unjust to discipline someone for something you yourself are doing.'

Indeed, Peter Ould. I don't know where or not they exist. I am sure there are 'naturally gay' bishops, but do they do anything? If they do, and if they then discipline a priest for doing the same, I think 'outing' justifiable. I also think the 'threat' of it might have some deterrent value. It would certainly be nice to know if the constant assertions of Martin and Colin C are correct. They certainly shouldn't be tested by 'unilateral' outing, but post eventum, why ever not?

Posted by John at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 3:10pm BST

Exactly so, Erika.

I don't think Peter Tatchell gets the church's distinction between accepting a person's sexuality, but condemning its expression. I don't blame him in the slightest, as it's nonsense, but that figleaf would defeat any new outing campaign, as it defeated the last one.

Even if you came up with proof that a gay bishop had consummated his relationship (which I'll leave to the imagination), all he'd have to do is repent, and he'd be accepted by traditionalists with open arms. If anything, he'd become the poster boy for their tolerance.

This isn't the way.

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 3:12pm BST

But why does everyone assume that same sex partners whether married or not are in sexually active relationships. CPs are premised in the CofE on the basis that the partners are celibate. But how does anyone know? The Church of England's problem with same sex marriage is that it preaches that marriage is the only proper place for sexual activity and so assumes that all marriages are sexually active. How does it know? So why does it matter if a bishop in a CP or other same sex relationships is sexually active or not? The fact is no one knows either and that a Bishop, disciplining others for something he (currently) is or is not doing himself, is really a nonsense anyway.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 4:22pm BST

I think we'll find that the number of bishops prepared to make a move against their married clergy are few and far between. Those that do so are obviously prepared to put their head above the parapet, or have nothing to lose, as they were just holding the fort until a successor is appointed (as in Southwell).

The point is that the bishops, en masse, supported the pastoral statement. And it really isn't any excuse for the suffragans to say they had nothing to do with it, as they were all, to a man, appointees of their respective diocesans.

So we have a situation now where there may be bishops ripe for outing, not because they have done anything which deserves reproach, but because it exposes systematic and systemic hypocrisy. After all, the outing of a certain RC cardinal had a devastating effect on that church's (and, quite possibly, other churches') opposition to gay marriage. And, if I recall, he along with the other parties, attracted some personal sympathy in the media.

2014 isn't the 1990s. A limited exposure could deliver the coup de grace to the pastoral statement needed to instigate major institutional reform.

Posted by Andrew at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 8:13pm BST

Perhaps because I am of a certain age, I view outing with great horror. But, on the other hand, it is not now the horror that it was in the '80s or '70s. And to the extent that Bishops live in relative ease and little discomfort, to the extent that that state of being depends on the unjust treatment of others, surely that is a greater evil. A bishop living in a same sex relationship (and I don't think its any thing to do with anything if they are celibate or not) is at least by sins of omission, having his comfort at the cost of others. Jesus does not call us to punish sinners, but Jesus does call us to live in love which must include justice. So I would have to come sorrowfully in favor of outing.


Posted by scott at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 10:04pm BST

Nobody should 'out' another person's sexuality, it's repellent.

Two wrongs don't make a right.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 10:16pm BST

"[H]e'd be accepted by traditionalists with open arms. If anything, he'd become the poster boy for their tolerance."

I do not think the point of the proposed outing would be to persuade the traditionalists that they are wrong.

The point would be to expose the CofE's institutional hypocrisy, and to increase the pressure from moderates within the Church, and from politicians, the press, and the public outside it.

Posted by Jeremy at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 10:20pm BST

While senior (and other) clergy should not be put on a pedestal, going to the other extreme and putting them in the stocks simply because of their role is not helpful either! It would be more constructive to focus on the weakness of the official theological case against equal marriage, based on the idea that a fundamental difference between men and women (which is left vague) is essential to being married, and an organisational culture that makes it very difficult even for celibate gay bishops to come out.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 10:52pm BST

Of course Peter Tatchell's threat is his nuclear option, that is to say it is best threatened but not used.

I've been thinking about this and my guess is that in practice there will be very little direct action taken against clergy who marry in same sex partnerships. In one sense it will just become yet another practice in the C of E that is 'illegal' but largely ignored.

However, there could be quite a lot of behind the scenes intimidation and lack of preferment to new jobs, not least as a result of the very odd and creepy 'Advisory Panel' which has been set up under the Bishop of Norwich.

Ironically the more clergy there are who are brave enough to undertake same sex marriage or have their civil partnerships converted into marriage in December the quicker this will be resolved properly.

Posted by Concerned Anglican at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 11:23pm BST

As the person who was interviewing Peter Tatchell at the time he made his comments, I've been struck that where this story has appeared since, there seems to be a general but not universal feeling that outing is inappropriate amongst church people responding online but a general but not universal feeling that outing can be appropriate from non-churchy people making comments.

I find myself wondering if the conversation would have proceeded in the same way if I had used different language and rather than referring to outing people, asked Peter T whether he had plans to expose hypocrisy in the church.

Lots of people responding to this story still seem unable to see a distinction between outing people who happen to be gay and outing people who might be shown to be acting hypocritically.

Posted by Kelvin Holdsworth at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 11:29pm BST

Savi, the crucial thing is to persuade some open evangelical heavy-hitters: as they bankroll the church, change won't come until people like Pete Broadbent, Tom Wright, and Nicky Gumbel are on board. Particularly Wright: if he can be persuaded, it'll be a game changer.

Evangelicals who take a traditional position have no time for pro-gay hermeneutics from liberals, as they suspect they're driven by eisegesis at best, dishonesty at worst. We need the help of affirming evangelicals whose credentials, and abilities, are beyond reproach.

Working on that will be a whole lot more productive that outing people.

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 28 July 2014 at 11:53pm BST

Bishops have a choice about how they respond to people such as Jeremy P, do they not? In his case, one bishop behaved well (or OK), one did not. The prospect of Tatchellism might help them to make a more informed choice. That's the goal, isn't it? The prospect might also give pause to institutional bullies such as Sentamu, might it not? If the proverbial hits the fan, the official church will lose big-time. That concentrates minds.

Posted by John at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 5:31am BST

'... outing people who might be shown to be acting hypocritically'.
Please help me here - where in the gospels do we find our guiding principles for this kind of action within the Christian community?

I hope that we moving towards a point of change in all this but the way forward feels fraught and vulnerable. I think the focus here on the hypocrisy of senior leaders in the church who are gay for staying silent about it is actually colluding with a much greater hypocrisy. What is right and expected for one group in the church is surely right and should be expected for all. On what basis are we to demand that one group be open about its most intimate longings and expression of them while never requiring it of the rest of us? Have any others, like me, ever tried to help heterosexual Christians have an open, trusting discussion together about their sexuality? Frankly it makes me very hesitant about demanding it of anyone else. And who seriously chooses to hide from others such a central, nurturing part of who they are unless they feel the risk is simply too great? Is there any burden like that?
If we are to insist on transparency and openness of our bishops about their sexuality it should be starting with those who are heterosexual.

Posted by David Runcorn at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 8:02am BST

"The Church of England's problem with same sex marriage is that it preaches that marriage is the only proper place for sexual activity and so assumes that all marriages are sexually active." Richard Ashby

That's not what the Pilling Report says:

This is a question on which our group is not of one mind – not
least since a willingness to offer public recognition and prayer for a
committed same sex relationship in an act of public worship would, in
practice, be hard to implement now for civil partnerships without also
doing so for same sex marriage (which, like civil partnerships, makes
no assumption, in law, about sexual activity).

Posted by Laurence Cunnington at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 8:14am BST

Is Peter Tatchell a member of the Church of England or indeed any other sort of religion. His seems to be an attack on religion. We all suffer with hypocrisy - let he who is without sin cast the first stone. But perhaps he is without sin?

Posted by Joseph Golightly at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 8:26am BST

I think human rights is the wrong end of the wrong stick here.

I'd say that Tatchell's offence is more to do with criminal conspiracy to blackmail. One point is whether there is an offence about exerting pressure to force an action rather than make a financial gain/cause a loss.

Equally, if the reports are accurate, Tatchell may well already have committed a criminal offence by under the laws about causing 'alarm, harassment or distress'.

Posted by Matt Wardman at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 8:34am BST

the CoE submission to the Civil Partnership review process states:
"Whilst civil partnership and marriage confer effectively the same legal standing upon a
relationship, there remain important differences. The differences are especially important for
many Christians who accept the churches’ traditional teaching both on marriage and on sexual behaviour. As civil partnership is not marriage and also involves no presumption that the
relationship is sexually active, it offers an important structure for the public validation of the relationship of a same sex couple who wish to live in accordance with the church’s traditional
teaching. If civil partnership was to be abolished, such couples would be faced with the unjust choice of either marrying (which might conflict with their religious beliefs about the nature of marriage) or losing all public and legal recognition of their relationship."

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 8:53am BST

David Runcorn asks the question: "...where in the gospels do we find our guiding principles for this kind of action within the Christian community?"

Maybe he is reading one of those gospels which just presents Jesus as a nice kind teacher who goes about healing people.

It seems to me that there's quite a lot in the gospels about challenging corrupt and/or hypocritical religious authority.

One might begin by looking at what John the Baptist had to say to those who came out to see him (you brood of vipers etc) or think about what he had to say very publicly about Herod Antipas. and Herodias.

Turning to John's cousin, we might remember the turning over of the tables in the temple before reflecting on Jesus's comments about whited sepulchres.

Presumably this strand runs through John and Jesus's lives because they were formed in the tradition of a set of prophets for whom, "Thou art the man" was almost their stock in trade.

Those arguing against outing might, I suppose, want to appeal to the parable of the wheat and the tares though this seems to me to be more about the existence of evil than religious leadership.

It seems to me that if any of us were to take seriously the question What Would Jesus Do? we would end up thoroughly crucified, which makes me a little hesitant to make any appeal to the gospels in determining ethics for today.

There is naught for our comfort here. As a gay man in a fairly prominent role in the church, being in uncomfortable territory seems to be the norm in life rather than the exception.

Posted by Kelvin Holdsworth at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 9:13am BST

Thank you Laurence. Perhaps what I should have said is 'heterosexual marriage'.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 9:16am BST

The outing of Cardinal Keith O'Brien blows the anti-outing case out of the water. Does anyone seriously wish that his behaviour hadn't been revealed? Where should genuine Christian compassion be directed? To the powerful who make the rules, or those who are at the receiving end of them? However much one may pity O'Brien as an individual, his exposure was a thoroughly good thing, not only for the passage of the Equal Marriage bill, but also for the Church itself. The systematic habit of lying about homosexuality is deep and age old, but it has to be challenged for everyone's good, including the ultimate good of frightened gay bishops who are personally caught up in the lies. Remember who pays the real price of the hypocrisy: people die because of the Church's stance on homosexuality, whether it is the suicidal teenager in the West, or the more directly persecuted people of the global South. In the face of these realities, Jesus' angry exposure of the Pharisees' hypocrisy in Matthew 23 is the appropriate Christian reaction, not the pious squeamishness about outing that has been paraded here.

Posted by Commentator at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 9:27am BST

"Please help me here - where in the gospels do we find our guiding principles for this kind of action within the Christian community?"

Which "kind of action"? Preventing Christian people from lawfully marrying?

Posted by Jeremy at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 9:56am BST

The most sad aspect of the O'Brien affair was the way in which he was treated as a pariah once outed.

We all make wrong decisions in our lives, but he at least knew what was right and wrong. He genuinely believed gay marriage was wrong, even though he had struggled with homosexual tendencies. For every out gay, there are probably thousands of people who struggle with their sexual identity and temptations, but wish to live to their faith community ideal.

I pray that those anonymous persons who "outed" him, can live with themselves.

Posted by robert ian williams at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 10:07am BST

It really depends on what Peter means by outing.
IF there is a sexually active gay bishop who also happens to punish gay married clergy, and IF there is proper evidence of him being sexually active, then there is a case for exposing him.
But if all we get is rumours and assertions that can simply be denied, or if this bishop has never actively done anything to harm lgbt people, then absolutely no.

But even that exposure can backfire. Or does anyone really believe that exposing a corrupt gay man will suddenly make all the conservative straight bishops realise the errors of their ways? Or will it even confirm them in their judgement?

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 11:30am BST

Commentator, my objections to outing bishops are pragmatic above all else. It didn't work in the 90s, and there's no reason to think it'd work now. Squeamishness has nothing to do with it.

The O'Brien case is different in kind, as there were multiple allegations that power had been abused. If anyone has well-founded allegations of that sort against a bishop, they're free to make them, and I'd agree with them being made.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 11:38am BST

The offence for which Keith O'Brien was exposed was misusing his power, which is quite different from a truly consensual same-sex relationship. With regard to Jesus, he denounced groups of people who acted unjustly but does not seem to have singled out individuals to reveal their secrets in ways that could humiliate them and their families or result in them losing their jobs.

Far from being comfortable, bishops are in one of very few occupations left in which no-one is unapologetically gay or bisexual, even if currently celibate or heterosexually married. While some bishops have pushed to hold the door open to openly partnered laypersons and fellow-clergy in the church's public pronouncements and are personally supportive, they themselves live in a precarious situation if they are gay or bisexual. They know they will be subjected to a barrage of homophobia from within their diocese and beyond if they come out, as well as media intrusion into their private lives, and they cannot be confident that the church will back them.

To complicate matters further, some probably want the church to affirm sexually intimate civil partnerships but sincerely believe (like a number of other LGBT people) that marriage is appropriate only for heterosexual couples, though they may do their best to ensure that priests who marry get no more than a telling off. So treating them as wicked hypocrites who deserve everything they get, rather than challenging them and other bishops on the grounds of theological weakness, is missing the mark.

I want the church to stop systemic injustice and affirm loving committed partnerships in which partners can better understand, and reflect, HGod's love. In this context I think we should press bishops - LGBT and heterosexual - to create a supportive atmosphere where coming out feels safer, rather than watch a tabloid sensation as a few bishops are targeted and in some cases forced to resign and replaced with heterosexuals. Such tactics would also alienate many people who are broadly supportive of greater inclusion but would be repelled by ruthlessness. And I definitely would prefer to avoid reading about some outed bishop's 'heroic' struggle with 'same-sex attraction', followed by cloying expressions of sympathy from opponents of inclusion!

Posted by Savi Hensman at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 12:50pm BST

'Is Peter Tatchell a member of the Church of England or indeed any other sort of religion. '

If Peter Tatchell lives in England, then in one sense he is a member of the Church of England. The church exists for the pastoral and sacramental care of all people in its geographical territory.

Peter Tatchell may choose to reject the ministrations of the C of E, but the C of E cannot reject Peter Tacthell!

Posted by Susan Cooper at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 1:09pm BST

To follow your logic then all the Muslims and Hindus who 'live in England' are members of the Church of England?
To exist to reach out to the whole community is one thing - to speak of them all as members - committed disciples in the faith - is simply not true.

Posted by David Runcorn at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 3:30pm BST

"[I]f this bishop has never actively done anything to harm lgbt people...."

Consider the "pastoral statement." (Cough!)

Posted by Jeremy at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 4:07pm BST

Speaking of 'what would Jesus do?', wasn't he quite willing to 'out' people about their personal lives? E.g. the Samaritan woman at the well (people must have been listening - we have the story).

Also Mt 23 springs to mind:
Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,Saying the scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

However this perhaps assumes that the bishops' teaching on this matter is Godly.

Posted by Linda Woodhead at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 6:39pm BST

David, what is the test of 'a committed disciple of the faith?'

Presumably not being baptised and confirmed into the CofE? Living within a parish boundary? Being on the electoral roll?

That is all that law and tradition require.

As for the things necessary to salvation - that is for the eye of God, not man.

Why do you wish to disenfranchise a majority of Anglicans past and present with your dangerous innovation!?

Posted by Linda Woodhead at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 7:19pm BST

"rather than referring to outing people, asked Peter T whether he had plans to expose hypocrisy in the church."

Self-aware of you to make that distinction, Kelvin (yes, I wish it had come to you earlier, but Lord knows I make my share of mistakes too).


"The most sad aspect of the O'Brien affair was the way in which he was treated as a pariah once outed": I won't say that's a singular view, RIW. But it is undoubtedly the view of a truly miniscule minority. Far more of us are praying Pope Francis has a big enough broom, to sweep out the hypocrisy-in-high-places! (Ditto w/ Anglicans)

Posted by JCF at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 8:10pm BST

Perhaps a better example of a public figure who was a victim of outing but turned it to his advantage and that of lgbt people in industry is Lord Browne, former oil industry chief. He's written a book about the experience and been the subject of numerous profiles in the media.

Could the captains of industry set an example to captains of the saintly band?

It's this kind of leadership the Church so desperately needs. It will not be provided by the Archbishops, who ducked the issue during the inevitable line of questioning following the women bishops vote at Synod. But Pilling will not provide cover for much longer. Public positions will need to be made when (or if) a partnered gay bishop is outed or chooses to come out. If he decides to stay put, he will be in a virtually unassailable position. Neither archbishop would dare remove him for fear of appearing to 'diminish'. Pressure from GAFCON would be set against their support for draconian anti-gay laws in Africa. The Archbishops would then be forced to create clear blue water between GAFCON and UK legislation with the strong backing of the public.

Posted by Andrew at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 11:12pm BST

"The Archbishops would then be forced to create clear blue water between GAFCON and UK legislation."

I hope this happens soon. But I'm also highly conscious that it's the very last thing the Archbishops will do. They will try to escape this necessity by any means necessary.

What is the good of the Anglican Communion if it prevents the Church of England from ministering to England?

Posted by Jeremy at Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 11:36pm BST

Linda Woodhead, the community in which the Samaritan woman at the well lived clearly knew her story - presumably that was why she was drawing water when other women were not around (and at any rate in a first century village it would hardly have been a secret as to who was married to whom). Indeed Jesus changed her status for the better rather than trying to use her vulnerability to hurt her. As for the Pharisees, he denounced them collectively rather than exposing the secrets of individuals.

Andrew, it would be great if a bishop were to come out voluntarily but outing could have the opposite effect, especially if the target felt so disempowered or betrayed (especially if an ex-lover's evidence was used against him) that he resigned.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Wednesday, 30 July 2014 at 12:26am BST

Thank you for responding to my question - which was a serious one. No I have not found a gospel in which Jesus is just nice and cuddly to all (is it available on Amazon?). But nor do not think you have found a gospel which only demands judgement, confrontation and outing for all sinners and hypocrites.
You offer some helpful texts for this discussion - but not the one in which Jesus pronounces a severe health warning on those who presume to spot the failings of others while unable to recognise their own - and thus live and act out of their own distorted vision of things.
But by the end of your post you seem to be painfully questioning whether the gospels can be used to formulate a moral response at all. If I have read you right, I share the struggle to know how to think and act Christianly in all this. (If I have not, please forgive me and just bin this)

Posted by David Runcorn at Wednesday, 30 July 2014 at 7:57am BST

It's one thing for Jesus to judge - the one to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hidden.
The rest of us should probably be a little more careful and not identify so confidently with Jesus but with those about whom he prayed "Father forgive them for they know not what they do".

That is my biggest problem with outing. We have absolutely no idea about the damage we may inflict on outed people and their families.
Confident predictions based on personal experience or the examples of other people are neither here nor there. There are examples for all kinds of outcomes.

The other thing I really struggle with is that we're outing the convenient victim - a gay person. Are they really more culpable than any potential straight conservative bishop who happens to be hypocritical about sexual morality? Why are we giving straights a clear ride and clamour to out gays?

Especially when it will then be easy for conservative straights to pull themselves up in full self-righteousness, discipline the gay black sheep and have all their prejudices about gay people confirmed - and then change nothing?

The whole thing doesn't hang together, not morally and not practically.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 30 July 2014 at 8:53am BST

Linda Woodhead
'Why do you wish to disenfranchise a majority of Anglicans past and present with your dangerous innovation!?'
Thick of me I'm sure but I confess to be completely stumped by what you mean by this assertion. If anything I think I was disenfranchising muslims from the CofE at this point - much to their relief I'm sure.

Posted by David Runcorn at Wednesday, 30 July 2014 at 9:09am BST

David - I'm not painfully questioning whether the gospels the gospels can be used to formulate a moral response to this or anything else. I very clearly don't believe they can be used for that purpose. (And don't believe they were written or inspired for such purpose either).

I don't think ethics can be derived from scripture generally. I don't think many Christians behave as though they can either. However, most appear to profess either that they think that ethics can be derived from scriptural imperatives or that they think that ethics ought to be able to be so derived.

I'm unaware of anywhere in my response above in which I suggested knowledge of a gospel that demanded only judgement, confrontation and outing for all sinners an hypocrites.

All I suggested was that if one was making an appeal to scripture it was far from being one sided. (In this matter as in most things).

Posted by Kelvin Holdsworth at Wednesday, 30 July 2014 at 9:42am BST

Supporters of outing bishops should read Peter Tatchell's account of the '90s campaign:

It was a disaster, that alienated everyone, including his natural allies. The revulsion was so strong that even an organization as pro-gay and committed to right-of-reply as the BBC refused to have him, or anyone else from Outrage, live on air. There's no reason to think a repeat wouldn't draw the same ire.

Striking is that Tatchell just doesn't get the anger at violating people's privacy. In contrasting the universal condemnation of the Outrage campaign to silence about a handful of tabloid gossip stories, he fails to see that people expect less of yellow journalism than they do a human rights campaigner. He justifies outing as an attack on hypocrisy, without stopping to ask if any of the bishops he targeted actually were hypocrites by the church's (admittedly ridiculous) criteria.

At the end, he claims success. The article came out in June, 1998, just in time for the Lambeth Conference.

Posted by James Byron at Wednesday, 30 July 2014 at 10:21am BST

Linda, David, Susan...
Sadly, the C of E is indeed trying to innovate in defining its membership. Since 2012, the Statistics for Mission form has asked parishes to identify its "Worshipping Community" as a means of "trying to get a better indication of the size of the Church of England". See here:
Statistically this is nonsense because it is left to each parish to decide what constitutes regular attendance.
But more importantly, as a parish priest I have refused to answer these questions because I believe it is pastorally and ecclesiologically unhelpful to create this new boundary.

Posted by Mark Hart at Wednesday, 30 July 2014 at 10:54am BST

Thank you. Your responses really intrigue me - but a quiet corner in a coffee shop would be a better place to explore this.
My comment on 'a gospel of judgement/outing' was a slightly miffed response to your suggestion that I was reading a gospel of niceness. So I think you started that one!
As to how or whether scripture can be used for doing ethics you do leave me puzzled. Whether we do it at all well is another matter. I don't understand how you can say we cannot do it at all, but that does mean I am one who lines it all up from the imperatives.
Thanks again - and for your ministry.

Posted by David Runcorn at Wednesday, 30 July 2014 at 10:57am BST

Erika has a point about the business of 'outing' a person. What has to be taken into consideration is whether that person has dependent relatives, whose lives might be turned upside-down by the notoriety that would accompany such an action.

For a single person, this might be easier, than for one with a wife and children.

One can only hope that a single bishop might be prepared to lead the way out of institutionalised and enforced hypocrisy by 'coming clean' - and thus opening the gates for others to follow.

There will inevitably be a price to pay. But the benefits for the Church would be enormous.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 30 July 2014 at 10:58am BST

Thanks David Runcorn - you're right - let's hope for the coffee shop sometime.

I might take up the ethics thing in a blog post too. I may have done so before but it is worth another go.

Worth remembering, I think, that a very significant proportion of Christians are at least supposed to believe that their ethics have rather a lot to do with what they call natural law rather than solely from gospel imperatives.

Posted by Kelvin Holdsworth at Wednesday, 30 July 2014 at 11:37am BST

Thanks Kelvin
Please do pick up the ethics stuff and take it further ....
I look forward to reading more - sorry if I missed anything earlier from you, I always value your thinking.

Posted by David Runcorn at Wednesday, 30 July 2014 at 12:49pm BST

Yes Mr Holdsworth. I keep banging this drum hopelessly. Most Catholic Christians would not consider ethics to be part of Revelation. If Evangelicals would care to explain to me why Revelation is needed, especially in the current debate, I'd be a much happier man, but it looks like we're going to have endless deliberations about "what the Bible truly says,' and the identification of the Bible as a whole with Revelation is truly worrying.

Posted by Lorenzo Fernandez-Vicente at Wednesday, 30 July 2014 at 1:00pm BST

Mark, that is a very good example of what I am talking about. Thank you.

A 'member of the CofE' is someone who is baptised and says 'I am a member of the CofE'.

I think that's still theologically and ecclesiologically vital, and needs to be defended against more sectarian (sociologically speaking) and congregationally-focused views.

This is still the 'Church OF England', not 'a church IN England'.

David, the baptismal bit deals with your point about other faiths.

Sorry, that's a bit off topic from outing.

On that: I think Stonewall was FAR more influential than Peter Tatchell in bringing about change.

I agree that there are no Biblical 'proof texts' to decide such an issue, but that the Bible should nevertheless be an integral part of a discussion such as this - as it has been.

I can't agree with the view that Jesus was always respectful of individuals, their privacy, their feelings, kind and sensitive ('woman, what have I to do with thee?', 'you serpents, you brood of vipers', 'you blind fools' etc ).

Posted by Linda Woodhead at Wednesday, 30 July 2014 at 5:30pm BST

This begins to sound like Hamlet. If one is going to act, one should act and face the consequences. I would not feel sorry if a public official who works against LGBTs were exposed. But the strategy was tried in the 90s and failed because of lack of evidence and one archbishop came out by saying his sexuality was ambiguous. It didn't advance LGBT trights. I don't think it is wrong but rather simply ineffective.

Announcing one is going to shake the institution up is already doomed from the start, unless one wants to a postmodern politics of failure, of working with failure. I don't think the intention is to work with performative trip-ups and other linguistic infelicities.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Posted by Gary Paul Gilbert at Wednesday, 30 July 2014 at 6:09pm BST

Robert Ian Williams: anonymous though the allegations were, O'Brien basically admitted they were true. You are blaming the victim. Given the highly offensive language that O'Brien was using to describe gay people at the time, his exposure was totally right.

Posted by AndrewT at Thursday, 31 July 2014 at 4:12am BST

The chairman of George W Bush's second presidential campaign presided over a campaign distinguished for its rabidly homophobic scare-tactics in its portrayal of gay people in order to win political points. In terms of homophobia, it was by far the ugliest political campaign in our nation's history. After Bush left office ,the person responsible for the campaign, chairman, Mr Ken Mehlman, came out as a gay man. Many of us knew all along, of course. After it was all over, this traitor to his own kind was full of repentance, saying he never meant any harm.

How do people posting here feel about this sort of thing?

Posted by Daniel Berry, NYC at Thursday, 31 July 2014 at 3:51pm BST

"How do people posting here feel about this sort of thing?"

Not good, obviously, but outing Mehlman wouldn't have achieved anything. He'd just have been replaced by someone else. The issue isn't a few individuals, it's the popularity of harmful policies.

That's why I've said that liberals should focus on persuading open evangelicals to change their minds, which means producing a convincing pro-gay hermeneutic. As that means getting past the "salvation issue" roadblock, it's no easy task.

Until that's achieved, nothing will change.

Posted by James Byron at Thursday, 31 July 2014 at 7:04pm BST

James Byron, I agree that persuading evangelicals open to considering the case for accepting committed same-sex partnerships, though not yet convinced, is very important. Some will be resistant to change but books like Bible, Gender, Sexuality by James Brownson are making a difference, as is the work of groups such as Accepting Evangelicals.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Friday, 1 August 2014 at 12:18am BST

"[O]uting Mehlman wouldn't have achieved anything."

I cannot agree with this.

Outing Mehlman would have, at the very least, (1) contradicted his party's homophobia, (2) exposed his candidate's very public hypocrisy, and (3) confounded those who think that gays are "them" not "us."

Useful achievements, in my view.

One of the obstacles to ordaining an openly gay bishop is the persistent notion that he or she would be the first gay bishop. That notion badly needs contradicting.

Posted by Jeremy at Friday, 1 August 2014 at 1:01am BST

"I happen not to believe such Bishops exist, but if they do then they are truly hypocrites."
- Peter Ould -

There are, of course, other types of hypocrite, who advertise that they have been 'delivered' of their intrinsic gayness!. The point is, if they really were gay in the first place, their 'deliverance' was probably phony - especially if they still have 'gay' feeling, even if they manage to control them!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 1 August 2014 at 1:16am BST

"liberals should focus on persuading open evangelicals to change their minds, which means producing a convincing pro-gay hermeneutic"

Liberals can do a lot more harm than good here because we do not accept considerable parts of evangelical thinking and approaches.

But evangelicals are doing a terrific job discussing this issue in their own terms.
The conversations are very similar to many of the ones we had on liberal forums for years, but on an entirely evangelical platform.

And we have to accept that, once change comes in the evangelical world, nothing major will have changed in evangelical theology other than that gay relationships will be accepted.
People will not throw their ideas about salvation etc. over board - nor should they.
Evangelicalism is quite capable of adapting without first morphing into something else.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 1 August 2014 at 8:57am BST

@Jeremy: Thanks for your response to my posting and that of Mr Byron.

I actually agree with him that nothing would have been changed by the outing of Mehlman because we've seen it over, exposing the egregious hypocrisy of the right produces little yield in persuading conservatives to think differently about their notions of morality or, how they may read biblical documents. The reason I say this is because conservative figures - political and religious - continue to be exposed again and again when they're caught with rent boys or otherwise messing around with folks of the same sex - yet nothing changes in their discourse--it vanishes as if it had never and the right continues to harass gay people with, if anything, renewed vehemence. I think that the one biblical principle that offers hope in this area is the one to be derived from the wandering of Israel in the wilderness for forty years before going into Canaan: a whole generation has to pass away to make space in the discourse for something new. And it will happen: young evangelicals of today are clearly at variance with their elders about gay people, protection of the environment and other issues.

Posted by Daniel Berry, NYC at Friday, 1 August 2014 at 1:51pm BST

Thank you for your affirmation of the significant journey going on within the evangelical tradition.

Posted by David Runcorn at Friday, 1 August 2014 at 4:14pm BST

"Liberals can do a lot more harm than good here because we do not accept considerable parts of evangelical thinking and approaches."

Couldn't agree more, Erika. As I should've made clear above, any pro-gay hermeneutic must be worked on in partnership with affirming evangelicals, both out of respect, and for practical reasons.

Posted by James Byron at Friday, 1 August 2014 at 5:05pm BST

"[Y]et nothing changes in their discourse."

The point of outing is not to change the discourse of the confirmed anti-gay brigade.

The point is to demonstrate their hypocrisy to everyone else.

Arguments are rarely won by converting the other extreme. You have to persuade the middle.

Posted by Jeremy at Friday, 1 August 2014 at 6:23pm BST

Very often in these discussions about outing bishops, we gloss over the partner involved, who may seek no attention at all, may not even be Christian, and who at the very least deserves consultation before any such action.

Even when a cause is just, there is a danger of moral self-righteousness and high-handedness.

I remain totally opposed to 'outing' people about the privacies of their sexual orientation.

As I said before, two wrongs don't make a right.

I get the impression that a good number of people writing here are possibly lesbian, gay, or bisexual. To this extent, I would hope they are clear-minded about the harm they might do, not only to a bishop, but to his partner.

Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.

But remember that you may be harming a partner's privacy as well as a bishop's. And I'm pretty unimpressed by what I regard as the repellent practice of 'outing' people, if that is what is done.

It seems to me that this proposal is 'political' but in true Christian dialogue there also needs to be a place for grace and protection - even grace and protection for people who may be politically 'enemies'.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 2 August 2014 at 11:06am BST

Susannah -
In the days when newspapers were preparing to 'go public' on personal issues which they considered to be of public interest, they used to send the individual(s) concerned some flowers and a note informing him/her of their intentions. This was usually 48 hours in advance. Many chose to 'go public' themselves. The majority of these people were, and all the bishops are, public figures.
But those bishops who are gay have chosen to behave like 'the hireling' and abandon their fellow gay Christians, who are their flock, to the ravening wolves of prejudice both within and without the Church. Do we even know whether they speak the truth within the meetings of their fellow bishops? Would that be too much to ask? If we knew them to be courageous in that context, then I might be willing to continue the complicit silence that affords them protection.

Posted by Commentator at Sunday, 3 August 2014 at 7:21pm BST
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