The reactions to the Slee memorandum continues to roll in.
The Church Times sets out the criteria for excluding a gay man from the episcopate based on the advice of the legal council hired by the Church of England:
There follows a checklist of “factors that can properly be taken into account:
•whether the candidate had always complied with the Church’s teachings on same-sex sexual activity;
•whether he was in a civil partnership;
•whether he was in a continuing civil partnership with a person with whom he had had an earlier same-sex relationship;
•whether he had expressed repent ance for any previous same-sex sexual activity; and
•whether (and to what extent) the appointment of the candidate would cause division and disunity within the diocese in question, the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion.”
Under these conditions, a gay candidate must have been celibate all his life or have repented of his former lifestyle. It is not enough to live blamelessly with or without a partner. No attempt is made in the advice to equate these conditions with those required of a heterosexual candidate, particularly with reference to his sexual past.
No mention is made of expressing the view that homosexuality is compatible with Christianity — a charge that was levelled during the Reading affair. This could, none the less, be met with the objection of disunity if enough critics could be assembled.
Lesley Fellows imagines if what it would be like if the same criteria were to be applied to heterosexuals:
I wonder, though, whether this is remotely just. If this is the requirement for homosexual people, then I would hope that heterosexual bishops were asked these questions:
whether the candidate had always complied with the Church’s teachings on sexual activity being solely within matrimony;
whether he was in a continuing marriage with a person with whom he had had an earlier sexual relationship;
whether he had expressed repentance for any previous premarital sexual activity; and
whether (and to what extent) the appointment of the candidate would cause division and disunity within the diocese in question, the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion.
Is it just me – or do these questions seem utterly inappropriate and irrelevant? Any bishop who will change anything or have any sort of prophetic ministry will upset people. And frankly I have no interest in what my bishop has done with his willy in the past. I just want to know he is a man of integrity and compassion and a man who loves and follows Jesus. I don’t need him to be a saint, but some humility would be nice. I must say that most of the bishops I have known do have these things in spades, so there must be something good about the appointments process.. let’s aim to make it better, not worse.
The Church Times notes that the lawyers did look at this issue:
The legal advice also considers the possibility of a candidate who has married again after divorce from a partner who is still living, or a candidate whose spouse is divorced from a former partner who is still living — a question thought to have been triggered by the listing of the Revd Nick Holtam, Rector of St Martin-in-the-Fields, in London, alongside Dr John on the Southwark list of candidates. Mr Holtam’s wife, Helen, had been married before.
The document quotes the Bishops’ statement of 18 June (two weeks before the Southwark CNC met): “Marital history is one of many considerations which may properly be taken into account in discerning who God is calling to such office in his Church.”
Benny Hazelhurst asks how long the Church of England can endure a culture of institutional homophobia:
As a church, we have allowed homophobic bullying to become part of our institution – and allowed that institutional homophobia to corrode our leaders, our policies, our public statements, and our private decisions.
In the same way that the Steven Laurence enquiry came to the land-mark conclusion that the police were ‘institutionally racist’, so any independent enquiry into the Church of England would conclude that we are ‘institutionally homophobic’, and Colin Slee’s account of those 2 days last year proves it.
We have allowed the voice of institutional homophobia in the church to turn good people and gifted leaders into bad tempered bullies, desperate to defend the status quo, whatever that takes.
It reminds me of a quote which I came across last year when I was doing some research before a speaking engagement. It said,
“Considering all the evil that exists in the world, the fact that all of religion’s condemnation is focused on expressing disapproval of two people loving each other proves just how evil religion is.”
Until we make a determined decision to be less ‘religious’ and more Christian – to be less concerned with upholding our corrupted institutions, and more concerned with following Jesus Christ, we will continue to allow our church to act like a bad tempered bully instead of embodying the loving God who sent his Son so to bring us life in all its fullness.
It is time for change.
Colin Coward at Changing Attitudes also talks about the institutional climate that made it impossible for the bishops in the room to speak up for GLBT people in the church, if not for themselves than for the sake those they know:
Well, this is just the most stupid, dishonest, corrupt outcome imaginable. Did not one of the gay bishops have the courage to say to his brothers, hang on, I’m gay? Did not one of their friends in the House have the courage to say to the gathering, hang on, some of you may not know who among us is gay, but I have several good friends in this room who are gay?
I feel so angry that it’s hard to know where to begin. There are some bishops who are naive, ignorant, and plain stupid, because they are still unaware that the Church of England ordains gay men as bishops, and some of the ‘conservative, Bible-based’ bishops will have laid hands on these men and assisted in their ordination.
There are other bishops whom I have come to know well, supporters and friends of Changing Attitude, who by their silence at the meeting are colluding with the prejudiced, ignorant mind-set of conservatives, betraying their friends who are gay in the House of Bishops and abandoning the truth and their own integrity.
As for +Rowan and +Sentamu …. well, if +Rowan really did shout and lose his temper at last year’s Southwark meeting, leaving several members of the crown nomination committee in tears, then I hope it shows that +Rowan himself is finding the utter dishonesty and false secrecy impossible to handle.
Since the real issue is not sexuality but honesty, the Friends of Jake asks if it isn’t time for the gay bishops of the CofE to come out? If not for the sake of their own souls, then for the sake of the church:
Like Gene Robinson, Jeffrey John was not the first gay candidate for Bishop. He’s simply honest. Those gay bishops should be ashamed of themselves. They are no different than Larry Craig, the toe-tapping Minnesota Senator who never missed a vote against gay people while hiding the fact that he’s himself gay, or George Rekers, the anti-gay zealot who travels with a rentboy to “lift his luggage.”
So now, there’s an opportunity for leadership from those bishops. Do they continue to protect their tidy little closet, for the sake of power and influence, as the walls start to crumble? Or do they, finally, step out, bearing witness to their service, and help their church through this crisis into an honest future?
Are they leaders, or not?
Meanwhile, Counterlight’s Peculiars points out that Colin Slee did not advocate the election of bishops in the Church of England, but that the process be transparent and free of excessive secrecy.
Colin Slee did not advocate election of bishops, and says so at the beginning of the memo. He does have a point. When that very peculiar system works, it can work very well and produce some exemplary bishops, as it has in the past. What Dean Slee objected to was the
secrecy around the whole process. He says flat out that secrecy had a very corrupting effect on the selection of the new Bishop of Southwark.
He said that the secrecy is especially egregious now since the Church of England threatens to shipwreck on the whole gay issue. The C of E has always been famous (notorious in some eyes) for the large number of gay men in the clergy, especially in the ranks of the very woman-hostile conservative Anglo-Catholic faction. The C of E’s pursuit of exemptions from Britain’s human rights laws protecting gays and lesbians from employment and housing discrimination, its continuing official hostility to same sex relations, puts it at odds with public opinion which is largely tolerant, if not quite entirely accepting, of same sexuality. That glaring disconnect surely plays a role in the Church’s declining active membership. On the other hand, the C of E faces huge pressures to continue its official gay hostility from a large and vocal right wing evangelical faction, and from very influential foreign sources such as African bishops with huge populations behind them, and American right wing activists supported by very wealthy funders with bottomless pockets.