As an alternative to the official studies being looked at by Synod members this afternoon OneBodyOneFaith offer their own case studies, this time involving bishops.
1. Chris is a bishop in a mainly rural Northern diocese. He realised he was gay in his teens, when others were becoming keen on girls and he wasn’t. He never said anything to anybody, and has never had more than close friendships with those men whom he has taken a fancy to. It seems to him that it would be impossible for him to come out now, after so many years, for two main reasons: although he has never lied about his sexuality (in fact he has never said anything at all to colleagues or in job interviews), he feels his reputation as an honest and caring bishop, in a part of the country where straight-talking people seem to him likely to become more wary if they knew he was gay, would be felled at a stroke if he spoke up now. And he is the only child of his elderly and frail mother, whom he believes would be utterly shattered by such a revelation.
Chris supported the House of Bishops Report because he believes strongly in the collective responsibility of the bishops, and, to be completely honest, because ‘no change’ means that he does not have to make any decision about whether to come out at this point.
2. Daniel is a young, single bishop. He thinks he may be bisexual, as he has found himself in close relationships with women and men, though he has only had sex with one woman: he thought he might marry her but it didn’t work out. He has great sympathy with those campaigning for LGBTI inclusion, but dare not come out for fear that his colleagues will think less of him – especially his Archbishop, who does not know anything of his past relationships. He is troubled that the Report makes no mention at all of BTI people – but did not raise this in the brief discussion that was allowed.
Daniel supported the House of Bishops Report as a way of bolstering his own membership of the College of Bishops, which he hopes will enhance his credibility in future discussions. He feels uncomfortable that he is not ready to be the one to speak up against what he considers a weak and rather cowardly report, focusing on the difficulties for the bishops themselves.
3. Jerome is an evangelical bishop. His roots were in the conservative wing, but since his daughter-in-law’s brother came out as gay he has been less convinced that their approach is the right one in the sight of God. He can now see that scripture can be interpreted in more than one way, but still cannot work out how to get ‘past’ the prohibitions in Leviticus and Romans. He carries a great deal of weight in evangelical circles, and is keenly aware of the consequences if he were to declare a change of mind. Others would feel betrayed by him, and he would damage some people’s faith in Christ: a risk he is not prepared to take.
Jerome supported the House of Bishops Report because, although flawed, it represents the best way forward for evangelicals at the moment, and he sincerely hopes it will not distract from the wider mission of the church.
4. Dawn, with her female episcopal colleagues, is new to the College of Bishops. She is still learning the ropes of how things work – or don’t – in practice, and is puzzled and frustrated by how little time there is for real discussion and listening. She is married to a man, and has always seen marriage as a gift from God to be treasured. She would love to whole-heartedly support extending that to couples of the same sex, but is not convinced of the scriptural support for that and therefore could not commend it to the people she serves in her diocese. A large part of her hopes that in time she will be so convinced. She is also very conscious of the tension between feeling a responsibility, as a woman, to support other oppressed groups, and needing to ‘join in’ with the current culture in order to be taken seriously.
Dawn was not happy with the Report but supported it as the best compromise that could be rushed through.
5. Findlay (married, 3 teenage children) is aware of a number of gay and lesbian clergy in his diocese, some of whom are in partnerships, and he does his best to support them discretely. He is deeply troubled by the seeming inability of the House of Bishops as a body to act graciously and purposefully towards such people in such relationships. His diocese is perceived as more ‘liberal’ than some, but he has received considerable correspondence urging him to hold the line on marriage ‘as God has defined it’. Some of the letters have been fierce, unpleasant and have threatened his soul with damnation, but he knows that each writer is trying to be faithful and so tries to hold them in his prayers as compassionately as he can. But he wonders what to do with his considerable anger. He is also concerned not to impose his suggestions for progress towards full inclusion of LGBTI people as a white, straight man.
Findlay supported the Report with a heavy heart and after speaking up against its paucity and flawed logic – how can the mean-spirited tone of such a report invite and expect a change of tone across the church?