It will come as a surprise to many to hear that there is a Bishop of Grantham; moreso that he is no relation of the Dowager Countess. But to read all over today’s media (really, all over and over and over and over) that Bishop Nicholas Chamberlain is gay is a little strange. Why is this news, exactly? How does this amount to a gauntlet thrown down? The Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury were fully aware of his same-sex attraction when he was appointed a year ago. He is celibate, and lives alone. He therefore obeys church (and, indeed, Church) teaching in this matter, and that really ought to be the end of it.
After all, some very fine and upstanding Christian leaders have been in “committed, long-term relationships” with other men, even to the point of cohabiting (which Bishop Nicholas is not doing). One thinks of the Blessed John Henry (Cardinal) Newman and his fellow Oratorian, Ambrose St John, with whom he longed to be buried. And then there’s Pope Emeritus Benedict and Archbishop Georg Gänswein, not to mention Sir Cliff Richard and former Roman Catholic priest John McElynn. Surely a relationship between two men which is not sexual is friendship? If eros is absent, there remains only philia, storge and agape, all of which are noble and virtuous amongst and between friends and family. What is the problem with a strong, deep emotional bond between two men?
“People know I’m gay,” said Bishop Nicholas, “but it’s not the first thing I’d say to anyone. Sexuality is part of who I am, but it’s my ministry that I want to focus on.” Well, quite. Why should a profession of sexuality be the first thing a bishop says to anyone? How does this affect his ability to preach, teach pastor or lead? Where is the inquisition into other bishops’ Friday-night drinking, their love of money or propensity to lie? What is this obsession with sexual identity? Why is this relevant to Christian ministry?
If Nicholas Chamberlain fulfils all the biblical criteria for being a bishop (1Tim 3:1ff), and lives in accordance with church’s teaching on sexual ethics and other areas of personal life and discipline, what’s the problem? There is no question of formalising this relationship in a same-sex marriage, so we are left with an overseer who is in a committed, long-term relationship with another man, and there is no sexual activity involved.
So, a bit like David and Jonathan, Orestes and Pylades or Amis and Amiles? Platonic, not intimate; or intimate, but not genital; more homosocial than homosexual, but that’s a relational nuance lost on homomanics. For wherever two are three are gathered, there’s bound to be sex. As CS Lewis observed in The Four Loves: “..to the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.”
Perhaps we don’t so much ignore it as fear it, for what love may one man now express for another (or a woman express to another) which is not greeted by immediate speculation of sexuality or smeary innuendo? What repudiation of sexual activity is not met with cries of ‘bigot’ or ‘homophobe’? The obsession with the former makes the rebuttal inevitable: God forbid that anyone might think you love someone of the same sex who’s not your actual family. Good grief, no. But surely, as we become more Christ-like, we must become closer to one another, for the trajectory of communion forges the bond of fellowship, and demands truth, trust, honesty and face-to-face vulnerability.
‘Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved..‘ (Jn 13:23). If this were the unmarried Bishop Sharon in a committed, long-term relationship with Gavin, no one would bat an eyelid, and no Sunday tabloid would taunt and threaten. And if this were Father Alexander cohabiting with Sister Mary Clarence, no one would mind much about that, either. Motes and beams, motes and beams.