Letter in Today’s Church of England Newspaper

It got the star treatment.

Sir,

Vaughan Robert’s courageous move to share his same-sex attraction is encouraging for evangelicals in the Church of England. He has become the most senior currently serving churchman at present to not only be honest about his sexual attractions but also to publicly take a conservative position on sexual practice. Sadly, since I was ordained in 2005 there has been a paucity of such clergy standing up to be counted – besides myself and Vaughan I can count the numbers being prepared to be just as open about their sexuality on the fingers of one hand.

Vaughan’s challenge to the evangelical and traditional Anglo-Catholic arms of the Church is actually very simple. We need to become a Christian community that is far more accessible for those who struggle in this particular area. The pastoral significance of what Vaughan has done is to indicate to those in the pews that their leadership shares the same issues they do.

At the same time though, such an approach has to contend with the view of many making appointments up and down the country that they would rather not have clergy who rocked the boat in this manner. The conflict is clear – one can try to share one’s story as far as possible in order to have as wide a pastoral impact as can be achieved by such honesty, but such an approach will always be seen by some as a compromise with any wider pastoral ministry in a parish or elsewhere, “distracting” from other aspects of the Church’s mission.

We are therefore left with the conservative position being largely expounded by people who do not experience homosexuality and cannot have the intimate witness that is so desperately needed in this field. As log as this happens the evangelical response in the wider Church will continue to be portrayed as that of straight men and women dictating to gay people what they should or shouldn’t do with their sexual and relational lives.

I do hope that Vaughan’s brave and humble interview will encourage other conservative clergy all the way through the orders of the Church to be honest and open about their struggles, which in turn will encourage those up and down the country who often view their Congregational leaders as having things pretty well sorted and therefore feel discouraged and isolated as a result. At the same time, I worry for those who do join Vaughan in sharing their stories – whilst the liberal wing of the church is often happy to support lesbian and gay clergy who are willing to attack Biblical teaching, conservatives have on the whole yet to become comfortable with living out such a similar accommodation in practice, despite the often generous words that abound in the theoretical world of goodwill.

The Rev Peter Ould,
Canterbury

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