Religious Relations   Leave a comment

This week, Dr Jeffrey John, the Dean of St Albans, has been blocked in his desire to become a bishop for the second time in his clerical career.  He was in the running to be the next (Anglican) Bishop of Southwark, but was removed from the short-list after an outcry from conservatives amongst the Anglican laity.  Why the outcry?  Simply because he is sexually attracted to men rather than women.  It seems that the news that he was being seriously considered for the episcopal role in the Church of England was too much for some Anglican followers to contend with: it has even been suggested that if a gay bishop was appointed, it would lead to a schism.

Whilst Jeffrey John is openly gay and in a civil partnership, he has actually remained celibate due to the pious commitment he has made to his faith.  Therefore, if he is celibate, why does his sexuality matter?  After all, he isn’t actually practicing it!  However, it could easily be argued that it would be seen as less of a ‘victory’ if he had been appointed as a gay-but-celibate bishop would be less meaningful.  If the gay bishop isn’t sexually active, then traditionalist Christians might be only supporting that bishop because he only thinks, but doesn’t act on his homosexual feelings.  So, it would be more beneficial for homosexuals to be able to see a ‘practising’ gay bishop as that would mean the whole lifestyle was being accepted by the Church of England.

One key issue to discuss is that discrimination on the grounds of sexuality (whether that is because the person is heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual) is against the law in this country and any other organisation would face legal action for this behaviour; why then are religious organisations allowed to be exempt from this?  Is it acceptable in a modern, democratic society that there are still some moral issues that religious organisation are exempt from?

Maybe I should tackle this from a Christian viewpoint – i.e. by calling on the help of the Bible: the Old Testament would be a good place to start.  How can some Christians insist that homosexuality is a sin because it is mentioned in the Old Testament, yet ignore many other parts of the Old Testament (e.g. being forbidden to eat the meat of pigs, the punishment of stoning adulterers to death, being forbidden to sleep in the same bed as their wife on nights when she is menstruating, etc.) claiming them to be out-dated?  In the New Testament, Jesus makes a big deal about how important forgiveness should be to his followers:

“Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.'” (Matthew 18:21-22)

If forgiveness and acceptance (famously “Love thy neighbour as thyself”) is so vital to Jesus, then surely Christians should be able to look past a person’s sexuality – even if they don’t understand it themselves – and see the real person underneath, who has been created in God’s image as all of mankind.

Unfortunately, we cannot know what the most important Anglican in England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, thinks about this divisive subject as the nominations short-list and discussions about it take place in secret.  (The confidentiality of the nominations was broken by an unknown source when the news broke that Jeffrey John was being removed from the list.)  What we can know is what the Rowan Williams has said recently: “The Church of England still has closeted gay bishops, and an increasing number of open and partnered LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] priests.”  I am inclined to believe from this remark that Williams has decided that his stance on the topic should be to ‘accept the inevitable’.  This would mean he can say “well obviously there should be gay bishops” to liberals in the future, whilst also being able to say “it’s a natural progression which is unstoppable” to any conservatives who oppose the move: very statesman like behaviour there.

Is the Church of England being too cautious here?  In the past, Christianity has always been an “accept us as we are or go away and start your own version of the religion” type of faith and maybe it is losing its integrity due to its indecisiveness over this issue.  It will be impossible to keep everybody happy and this state of ‘limbo’ that the Church is currently in is just prolonging the agony.  It is akin to staying in a job you hate just because it is close to your house: the location isn’t really the key issue and it’s simply being used as an excuse.


Posted 10/07/2010 by thinkmindy in Morality, Religion

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