This is a guest post by the Rev’d Peter Ould – a Church of England priest, consultant statistician and former blogger with an interest in the topic of human sexuality (you can read the archive of his writing at www.peter-ould.net).
What is the point of telling us that there are gay bishops?
Seriously, what’s the point? In the Sunday Telegraph, John Bingham reports that in his new book (More Perfect Union – Understanding Same-Sex Christian Marriage), Bishop Alan Wilson of Buckingham claims that almost 10% of Church of England bishops might be gay. The Bishop writes:
Particular attention sometimes falls on one vulnerable group with especially complex needs – gay Church of England bishops… By 2014 there were said to be a dozen or so gay bishops. By definition, these men are outstanding priests who have managed to navigate the complexities of a structurally homophobic institution well enough to become its iconic representatives. They may well have a bigger investment than others in keeping the closet door tightly shut.
It’s not as if we’ve not seen this kind of stuff before. Back in 2011 His Grace highlighted how Colin Coward, the Director of Changing Attitude, outed 13 Church of England bishops. This claim of the number of gay bishops comes up every month or so, and what is annoying about it is not so much its repetitiveness, but rather its politicisation. Again, Bishop Alan:
Many who have publicly resisted same-sex marriage also have a dog in the fight arising from personal experience. This can arise from ambivalence or guilt about ways they have handled family members who have come out as gay, as well as their own sexualities… They have more on the line than some others. They also have greater status and security, but some of them may end up among the last people able to understand the need for change and bring it about. This can be expected to be the case especially for gay evangelical bishops, with their historically less well developed networks and support systems.
Right, so the reason gay bishops are in the closet is because they are deeply twisted, repressed souls who are trapped in a cycle of shame and suppression. And oh, we must be especially sorry for the evangelicals – they’re the really screwed up ones.
Back in 2011 I wrote on the subject of outing Bishops, and this is what I had to say:
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.
Finally, it would not change the position of the Church of England. What it would do though is undermine the position of those who engaged in the outing, namely because the only direct effect of the outing would have been to shame certain individuals for not supporting the position of those who did the outing. Such a goal (the shaming of individuals because they do not agree with you) is base indeed and not worthy of anybody who takes clearly Christ’s call to love your neighbour as yourself. Those who engaged in the outing would be seen clearly by all to be self-serving and operating out of a position of anger, bitterness and envy, a position of sin. Moreover, they would not have demonstrated that there are gay bishops in the Church of England, for most informed people already understand this to be so. Rather they would have demonstrated that they themselves were willing to sacrifice on the altar of public intrigue the lives of men living faithfully to the full breadth of the Church’s teaching of holiness in present life and past reflection, a sacrifice that was entirely self-serving (so not a sacrifice at all).
Three years on, the point is still the same. The “gay” bishops that Alan Wilson, Colin Coward and others keep trying to out (and let’s be clear, Alan is doing exactly this by deliberately publicising this issue on the eve of his book being published [to which His Grace has obligingly linked, before +Alan hurls spurious allegations of “trolling” (Ed.)]), represent a mixed range of experiences and theology. Yes, there might be one or two with sinful sexual histories, but how many of them have repented? Others are married to women or happily celibate – does Alan think this is wrong?
Indeed, this is the heart of the issue, because the public numbering of the “closeted” has very little to do with actual pastoral concern and everything to do with political posturing (and, let’s be honest, boosting book sales as well). When you read what Alan Wilson (and Colin Coward) write on the subject, it’s not a demand for honesty from these Bishops; it’s actually a demand for conformity with their revisionist mindset. Alan and Colin and others don’t want celibate gay bishops who teach and live an orthodox position (we have them). They don’t want historically sexually-active but now repentant gay bishops who teach and live an orthodox position (we have them). What they want is gay bishops who believe that homosexual activity isn’t sinful and who will let their clergy disregard the teaching of the Church of England in this matter. That’s why they keep spouting off about hypocrisy – because they want us all to buy into the narrative that the gay bishops are all secretly pro the revisionist movement and having it off on the side to boot.
If Alan and others genuinely cared about the bishops in the closet, they wouldn’t shamelessly use them as political pawns (and tools to promote book sales). They talk about truth and honesty, but then don’t have the courage to do the real prophetic thing by identifying by name the so-called hypocrites. Of course, the reason for that is very simple: of the 10% that Alan outs but doesn’t, most, if not all, aren’t hypocrites at all, and most wouldn’t agree with Alan on this subject. So by not identifying them by name he can fabricate their theologies and corral them to his cause, especially because they’re not likely to stand up and say: “I’m one of the gay bishops and I don’t agree with Alan in the slightest on this.” (O, for a bishop who would do that!). Alan (and Colin and others) can safely continue spouting this 10% nonsense because the silence of the faithful who hold to church teaching is a discipline of holiness that the revisionists have to twist and exploit for everything they can.
And that, my friends, is the real point of outing bishops. Nothing to do with honesty and everything to do with politics, and I for one am sick of it. It’s time once and for all for the likes of Alan and Colin to put up or shut up.