New Year, Old Posturing

Is it just me or is Colin Coward over at Changing Attitude getting a bit boring?

Gay bishops  There are 13 gay bishops among the 114 English bishops, nearly 15% of the total. They are all closeted to a greater or lesser degree, those in the House unable openly to contribute their personal experience to the conversation. In the House of Bishops, 2 gay bishops are privately supportive, one is opposed.

Should CA expect more from the 20 publicly supportive bishops in 2012? Should we rather collude with their fears and anxieties and maintain a respectful silence about our campaign goals, accepting that to disturb the House of Bishops might be counter-productive?

Or should we adopt a tactic of disarming honesty, speak the truth as we know it in the church and prepare ourselves for the fall-out?

Didn’t we do this last year? Didn’t we talk about outing bishops and the way it might backfire?

Most readers of this blog would agree that it would be hypocritical for the Church of England to refuse to appoint Jeffrey John to a Bishopric whilst it continued to have bishops installed who were in identical situations as Dr John and his partner. But, I am led to believe, that is not the case and the bullet points above have been drawn up because they cover safely in their five points any of the men that some might wish to out in their angry response to the leaks of this week. If it were not so then the Church of England, quite rightly, would open itself wide up to the charge of blatant hypocrisy and despite the fact that people at Church House and in the highest echelons of the CofE do make mistakes, they do not deliberately make those kind of mistakes. Those kind of mistakes lead to resignations at the highest level. If that is all true, then what would the outing of gay bishops in the Church of England actually achieve?

Well firstly, it would expose to public view as homosexual a number of men who have been faithfully celibate and abiding to the church’s teaching steadfastly for all of their lives. They would be outed for the only reason that they were single and gay rather than single and straight, outed by folks who argue vociferously on their blogs and websites that people should not be singled out just because they were gay and for no other reason. Who at this point would be the hypocrites?

Secondly, it would expose to public view men who had in the past engaged in sexual activity outside of marriage, who had repented of that sin and had then ordered their lives to be very clearly in line with the church’s teaching. Attempting to out these men would simply show for public view the glory of the good news of forgiveness for sin repented of. It would demonstrate to all that the church does grace and restoration and does it for any and all who will accept their sinful error. Whilst initially it might be embarrassing and uncomfortable for the individuals involved and their families and friend, it would then provide ample opportunity for the clear distinction in the church’s teaching between orientation and behaviour to be explained and to be shown to be perfectly manageable for individuals to live, even individuals who had erred in the past. The men outed would become instantly heroes of orthodoxy, icons of repentance and grace.

Thirdly, and controversially for some in the conservative camp, it might even expose to public view men who had managed for well over a decade to live in a “covenanted friendship” without any sexual activity whatsoever. It would demonstrate to all that deep friendships do not need to be sexualised and that Christians can find ways of ordering their lives clearly, of committing to others whilst staying faithful to the purity of the marriage bed.

Am I the only one who is getting a bit tired, nay even annoyed, at Changing Attitude’s constant “will we, won’t we out the bishops” spiel that gets regurgitated every month or so? I so wish someone with some real clout would go to Changing Attitude and tell them to either put up or shut up. This constant threat to reveal who the “gay bishops” are is unbecoming and only lowers the opinion that those in the debate have of it’s proponents.

And this is all the more pertinent as the Church of England moves forward in its review around issues of human sexuality announced last year. Yesterday there was an indication of the make-up of the committee that will advise in this process, which includes Keith Sinclair (Bishop of Birkenhead in Chester Diocese and one of the patrons of the True Freedom Trust), John Stroyan (Bishop of Warwick in Coventry Diocese) and Michael Perham (Bishop of Gloucester who spent 15 years up to 2001 as a major player in the formation of the new liturgy, Common Worship). Add to this news the membership of the Committee looking at the pastoral statement on Civil Partnerships and the impression is not so much of a conservative dominance but of definitive no liberal bias in the process the House of Bishops is going to go through over the next 24 months.

So this brings me back to Colin Coward’s blog post. He concludes by writing

Throughout the drama of the Arab Spring last year, I wondered whether is wasn’t time for the Church of England to be visited by her own tsunami of grass roots expectations for changed relationships and attitudes – we the people rising up against the institutional inertia, power play and prejudices in the House of Bishops and General Synod.

At the moment, the jury is out. But regime change is needed, not just for LGB&T Anglicans in England or for the tens of thousands yearning for spiritual transformation. Change is desperately urgent for LGB&T people, Christian, Moslem and secular, in Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe – in every Province and every country where we are routinely abused and treated as less than fully human, inferior members of God’s creation.

Mmmmmm …. I feel the urgency for change stirring in my heart and guts!

I read that as a call to gay clergy and others to stand up and be more vocal. Whether such a campaign would include the outing of gay bishops and Synod members is yet to be seen, but as long as there are cries of hypocrisy, cowardice, betrayal and the like aimed at the un-named bishops, one can hardly expect it not to.

What do you think? Do we expect CA and others to become more vocal? Will there be an attempt to out at least one bishop this year (Kelvin Holdsworth certainly thinks so)?

17 Comments on “New Year, Old Posturing

  1. Just to be unambiguously clear Peter, I don’t think that Changing Attitude (or any group like Changing Attitude) will out anyone and haven’t suggested that I think they will.

    • And to be unambigious likewise, I never thought that you were referring to (or inferring) Changing Attitude, more a general prediction that *someone* will out a gay bishop!

      Do wish though that CA would stop this “We know, but we’re not telling” nonsense. It’s demeaning and not worthy of them.

  2. I suppose one can understand why CC is doubtful of the success of the ‘outing’ tactic, which has a high risk of backfiring.  One can only assume that he doesn’t really believe his own propaganda about the inevitability of ‘better and speedier progress towards the full inclusion of LGB&T people in the Church of England’.  I do admit I have a certain amount of sympathy, as he cannot be sure about the mind of the Church.  While he might be surrounded with sympathisers, my own experience is that there is no groundswell of support for Changing Attitude in the pews.  Quite the opposite, in fact. 

    What I find far more alarming is that (if what CC says is true) there are 20 diocesan bishops who are flouting the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England.

    •  Yes, and no offence Jill, but you also think that “Taxpayer’s Money” is heterosexist (!) and that the majority of people in the UK are opposed to equal rights (and rites) for gay people. That’s a thesis without much evidence to support it. There are far more normal people in the UK than there are (e.g.) Daily Mail-reading fundamentalists Christians, and you’ll know that the ‘Christian’ Institute is always bemoaning the amount of gay people in genuinely popular programmes such as Eastenders and Coronation Street. Of the millions of people who watch these programmes (or, another good example, Torchwood) what percentage write odd, angry, green ink Stephen Green-esque letters of complaint? I think you’ll find it’s a tiny, ridiculous minority. Women’s magazines (and the like) are far more likely to talk of the ‘Gay Best Friend’ or “Just Gay Enough” or “Straight Guy Seems Gay” than they are to demonise gay people. And your average straight man on the street, though they might be personally repelled by gay sex, is still far more likely to be a ‘live and let live’ libertarian, in part because they realise that religious fundamentalists are as much a threat to their (not just) sexual liberty as they are the gay kind. And don’t congregations per se (i.e. not just the evangelical/conservative ones that I presume you are a member of) tend to reflect, albeit not perfectly, the demographics of the country at large? 

      • I haven’t the faintest idea what you mean by Taxpayers’ money being heterosexist.  I do wish you’d stop telling me what I think, Ryan!  :(

        As for Eastenders and Coronation Street – I stopped watching the latter when Ena Sharples died, and only watched Episode 1 of the former, which was quite enough – I am told they are stuffed with gay people nowadays, which is totally unrepresentative of the population at large.  And I don’t think that the average church congregation represents the mind of the country at large, as we tend to read our bibles, and we know that homosexual behaviour is called ‘sin’ – and generally sin is something we are against.

           I’ll certainly apologise if I’ve misrepresented your views, Jill, but heterosexism is about viewing heterosexuality as morally superior to homosexuality and your comments on Taxpayer’s money (c.f. any thread that mentions the THT!) certainly appear to fit the bill. You’ll recall that not only do you say that 99% of Taxpayer’s are heterosexual which is debatable (at best!) but that they therefore must also share your views on homosexuality. Even if you were right about this – and you’re not – we do not, in a free society, vote on the civil rights of others. Did the Race Relations Act have universal popular support? Of course not.

            Heterosexual fornication is a sin, so is excessive drinking; worshipping false Gods, rejecting the Messiah, or having no God perhaps warrant language stronger than ‘sin’. Do conservatives try and criminalise heterosexual fornication, heavy drinking, Islam, Judaism and atheism? No. So why should homosexual ‘sin’ be different?  And the world only spins forward. How many 20something evangelicals (say) would pine for a world they’ve never known, when gay people were literally criminalised?

          • “How many 20something evangelicals (say) would pine for a
            world they’ve never known, when gay people were literally criminalised?”


            Very few indeed, I hope. The 1961 black and white film “Victim”,
            starring Dirk Bogarde and Sylvia Sims, has been shown again more than once on television
            within the last few decades and is still available on DVD. Although fictional, it
            represents very accurately, I am told, the kind of life that gay men were constrained
            to lead back in the days when gay sex in the UK was still a criminal offence.
            Anyone who, having watched it, says that he/she would like to go back to that
            is a swine.

        • It is certainly a gross overstatement to say that Eastenders
          and Coronation Street are “stuffed with gay people nowadays”. There have been
          complaints from some that there seems to be higher number of gay people in
          these soap operas than would be the case in real life, but it has also been
          observed that the same is true of the number of characters who have been in
          prison. But who seriously expects a soap opera or a novel to reflect real life?
          I live in a street in a northern English city which is just like Coronation Street.
          We even have a little corner shop just like the Kabin in the next street,
          although we have no pub, unfortunately – there used to be one in the next
          street, but it closed down decades ago, and I suspect that in reality this
          would be the case with the Rover’s Return. There are, to my knowledge, two gay
          guys living in this street (of whom I am one), and for all that I know there
          could be more. We do have very occasional dramas in the street, but we
          certainly couldn’t produce even a fraction of the drama necessary to supply the
          material for a soap opera. How many old ladies living in quiet country villages
          like St Mary Mead would really encounter the number of murders that Miss Marple
          did? How many English cathedral closes could generate the kind of stories that
          we find in Anthony Trollope’s Barchester novels? As Trollope himself wrote. “The
          artist who paints for the million must use glaring colours….”

        • Perhaps I should also add that, up until comparatively
          recently, both Coronation Street and the village of Ambridge in BBC Radio 4’s
          The Archers apparently had populations which were 100% heterosexual – which is
          totally unrepresentative of the population at large. Did you have any
          complaints about that back then, Jill?

      • Ryan, Stephen Green has his tail in the air at the moment. Tesco’s bad trading results he puts down to his own efforts to persuade the Almighty to, in his words, to punish Proud Tesco and bring them low. Despite the fact that Templeton spent a lot of money nobly to prove that intercessory prayer does not work, at least when it’s tested in a properly constructed experimental process* bold Stephen thinks the recent announcements from Tesco’s board proves that HIS prayers (plus those of his 100 or so supporters) proves that his outfit can make God do his bidding – as well as the great British Public:

        Christian Voice E-Alert – 3rd January 2011
        TESCO shares dive in ‘Gay Pride’ disaster
        Just two months after Tesco announced a £30,000 gift to the 2012 London ‘Gay Pride’ (aka ‘World Pride’) they have posted the worse Christmas trading figures of all the ‘big four’ supermarkets, leading to a 14% drop in their share price.
        The analysts blame Tesco’s doomed ‘Big Price Drop’ idea.  But we say God has answered our prayers for confusion in the Tesco boardroom.  Their announcement of the ‘Gay Pride’ money came at the worst possible time for them.  It meant we were able to mount a campaign of prayer and action, with emailing to their directors and leafleting at Tesco stores at what should have been their busiest time of the year.  We reckon thousands have boycotted Tesco.
        The full story is here:   

        * see -   

    • Jill, you mention the mind of the church and I am genuinely puzzled what this can mean. Does it mean the intentions of the magisterium (thus limiting it to the RC church and its admirers in the CofE) or something a bit more nebulous and mysterious like the mediaeval notion of vox populi vox dei? Or do you mean something else, like the manoeuvrings in Synod or the much more political and mundane goings on in any the splinter groups that besiege the Anglican Church like Anglican Mainstream? What is this mind? We all know Catholics like to anthropomorphise the Church as our Holy Mother but surely this is a fiction – of the kind that Buddhists might call a saving illusion? I am not sure Anglicans think of their Church in this way though. (I can’t help thinking what Fr Faber called the CofE once he left it – Old Mother Damnable. A bit ungracious really). But honestly, when people talk about some collective mind like the mind of the church and think they are using it as a place-holder to say “we really don’t know. Anything can happen. History will reveal itself in the fulness of time” or some such confidence-building platitude. Have I got it wrong?

      • Well quite, Tom. That is what I am trying to say.   CC might think he knows the mind of the Church, but I expect the niggling doubt is at the back of his mind.  My experience of ‘the mind of the Church’ is totally different to his.  People might appear to be supportive of him, as we Brits generally don’t like to be rude to each other, but they will – when push comes to shove – abide by ‘the rules’ (for want of a better expression).  I suspect that he knows his ‘support’ might melt away.

  3. I supported CA at Synod this July. We stood outside the Synod Chamber as we reconvened and – although it is a subjective impression- the vast majority of Synod members spoke warmly to us. Comments such as “glad to see you here” and “keep working for change” were made by so many. It really took me by surprise as I had been told the new synod was more conservative.

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