Diarmaid MacCulloch calls for an end to the imposition of mandatory celibacy on gay and lesbian clergy in the Church of England arguing from historical precedent that such requirements have never worked for the health of the Church.
Professor MacCulloch’s magisterial history of Christianity has become a must read. He’s widely recognized as the leading authority in field. And because that recognition, his latest pronouncement about the sexuality issues dividing the Anglican Communion are a big deal.
MacCulloch writes of the issue that though there’s been a revolution in acceptance of LGBT people in the United Kingdom, “the church has just stuck its fingers in its ears and chanted la-la-la”.
In terms of how the Church of England should respond to this change:
Set up social mechanisms within which two people of the same gender can openly pledge to love and honour each other, let them get on with it and give them the social acceptance which heterosexual marriage has long enjoyed, and you find that their partnerships are no different, no better or worse, than heterosexual marriages. They laugh, argue, sulk and make up and go to the supermarket just like everyone else.
In terms of specifics:
[…]The Anglican communion has itself imposed compulsory celibacy on a large section of its clergy: those who recognise they are predominantly gay in sexual orientation. And surprise, surprise, many of the malign effects detectable in the celibate Catholic priesthood are equally detectable in this clergy group, plus often an equally malign problem: many gay clergy have conformed to peer pressure and entered a heterosexual marriage, thus endangering the happiness of not just one but at least two people and living out all sorts of lies alongside a ministry which is supposed to be characterised by truthfulness and integrity.
Others just organise their emotional life in various degrees of concealment. A very significant part of their personality is an embarrassment to their superiors, who seem to find promiscuous gay clergy who are furtive about their promiscuity easier to cope with than gay clergy living happily and faithfully with their partners. There’s a grave danger that those observing such a partnership may think it works rather well; and then where would Anglican bishops be? Particularly those who are gay themselves. Actually, it’s got worse in recent years. The selection process for ordination training is now obsessed with the sexuality of prospective ordinands, and devotes an inordinate amount of time to quizzing them about it.
All this activity is justified in the officially published “Criteria for selection for ordained ministry in the Church of England” by reference to a deeply flawed 20-year-old document entitled Issues in Human Sexuality which has no real official status in the church, but which bishops today treat with more reverence than they do the Thirty-Nine Articles.
There’s additional coverage of MacCulloch’s call for acceptance elsewhere in the Guardian. In an interview MacCulloch says that the Church of England has behaved “disgracefully” toward Jeffrey Johns and points out that the difference between the Church of England’s concern between gay clergy and lesbian clergy is instructive regarding the root causes of the ban.