Monday, 20 June 2011

Illiberal doubethink from Church of England

I'm not an expert on the Church of England's internal politics.

But I am passionate about LGBT rights. And, too often, the CofE has paid scant regards for the rights of LGBT people - not to mention its confused stance on women.

I was intrigued to read the headline on the BBC website "Church clears way for gay bishops". At first glance it appeared that the Church was making an overdue but welcome intervention to eradicate the instituional discrimination it has for so long been synonymous with.

Unfortunately not. Like the Church of Scotland's attempts to get to grips with a situation created by the ordination of a particular gay minister, the Church of England has found itself having to make a decision following the elevation to (and subsequent removal from) the Bishopric of Reading of the Rev Jeffrey John.

What the Church has decided to do - largely for legal reasons - is to remove the ban on Bishops who are in civil partnerships. This is to conform with the requirements of the Eqaulity Act which, as an employer, the church is duty bound to respect. However, under the Church's new rulings, people in same-sex civil partnerships can become bishops - but only if they remain celibate.

What? "Only if they remain celibate"? Why would anyone wish to enter a civil partnership to remain celibate?

This is not the great step forward for progressive attitudes that the BBC website would have us believe. It is, instead, an example of illiberal doubethink on the part of a church that can't reconcile its traditionally discriminatory theology with a more inclusive approach. The church clearly fails to appreciate either the illiberalism of its attitude towards LGBT people or the motivations of people calling for change. No-one's asking for the confused logic of ordaining those of LGBT persuasions to a life of celibacy. The church demonstrates its social irrelevance with its insistence on focusing on the purely legal and ceremonial rather than what is actually at the heart of the matter - a question of discrimination against those in loving same-sex relationships.

The Church of England can not grasp the fundamental human, personal dimension to the matter. It thinks by accepting those it has historically marginalised - on the condition that such people give up their offending "lifestyles" - it is promoting equality. It is doing nothing of the sort. It is still judging one form of sexual expression as morally and spiritually superior to others, and refuses to extend the logic by which it judges heterosexual relationships as whole to same-sex couples.

Presumably by the same confused egalitarian logic the Church will eventually recognise women bishops - so long as they denounce their femininity and change their title to "Mr".


Matthew Harris said...

I'm not a Christian and I'm a passionate supporter of gay rights, but I do think that a faith group should be allowed to refuse to ordain gay people as bishops, etc. After all, we allow the Roman Catholic Church to refuse to ordain women. If there are some Christian denominations that believe that the Bible prohibits homosexuality, then I don't see why those denominations should be obliged to ordain gay people as bishops. I agree with you that it is faintly daft to say that gay people can be ordained, but only if they remain celibate - including in a civil partnership!

Andrew said...

I agree that faith groups should not be enforced to offer equal marriage and extend rights to LGBT people. I believe the law needed to be changed to allow those churches who want it the opportunity to bless and conduct same-sex ceremonies. As for whether churches should refuse ordination on the basis of sexuality - well, I'm opposed to discrimination but ultimately it is a matter for the church. I don't think it can be forced or even coerced into championing a more inclusive agenda, but I am positive that people within the church can and will influence change - as we're seeing in the Church of Scotland.

I don't think that "denominations should be obliged to ordain gay people as bishops" - again, who the church ordains is its business - but it is intellectually unsustainable to argue that gay clergy should remain celibate while heterosexual priests can and should have a healthy sexual relationship. At least the Roman Catholics are consistent in insisting celibacy is for all who are called to the priesthood, and have never made an incredulous statement along the lines of "married pirests are welcome, so long as they abstain from sexual relations."

What seems strange to me is that there are clearly within the CofE a number of gay priests who (presumably) are accepted but as soon as they are promoted to the rank of Bishop their sexuality becomes a problem.

And as for the CofE's view on civil partnerships - I can just imagine the ceremony. "With my body I honour you...unless I become the Bishop of Reading."

Richard T said...

I must say that as a non believer, I look for any explanation from either the C of E or our own dear Kirk as to how, if God has created everything and endowed all creation with a purpose, it can deny gay people the ability to have a sexual relationship. But, presumably if you can selectively accept the ethics of a bronze age people as provided in the Old Testament, the epistles of 'St Paul' on women and the rest of the mumbo jumbo then a little double think on gay bishops is hardly straining at a gnat for the Church of England.