Winning the War

Seems like we’ve just lost a battle, but we’re winning the war.

So sad to see the Archbishop of York standing up in the House of Lords to fight for the church’s right to discriminate against those who work for it. Extraordinary to see the Bishop of Winchester say that he “should be very surprised indeed if the noble Lord [Ali] had any evidence of any clergy being put at any kind of risk at all simply on the grounds of their orientation, in the sense that the churches use the word, as opposed to their conduct in matters sexual…” (Hansard 25 Jan 2010 : Column 1198).

Its hard to understand that, isn’t it? The obvious public example is Jeffrey John, and that was pointed out to him, but you don’t have to go far in the church to find gay people who believe that they are discriminated against on the ground of their sexual orientation.

What was the Bishop of Winchester up to in making that claim? Did he believe what he was saying at the time? Because we are people of goodwill and generosity, we have to believe that he did. So what was in his head?


  1. fr dougal says:

    I am afraid I have zero liking for the Lord Bishop in question. he attended a meeting of the Clergy Consultation in London which I was at and displayed little more than pompous arrogance and an ability to lecture rather than listen. A High Church Tory of the old school. And that’s not a compliment!

  2. Although you’re absolutely right that some opposed Jeffrey John’s nomination simply on the grounds that he was gay, the more considered conservative objection was on the grounds that he was an unrepentant sinner – i.e. that he had engaged in sex outside of marriage and that he refused to repent of that. It would have been exactly the same issue with anybody in a similar situation, regardless of the sex of the person they had slept with.

    So perhaps the ball is back in your court to give us a clear example of someone who has been denied employment purely on the grounds of sexual orientation?

    • Sorry Peter, I’m not going to discuss Jeffrey’s private life any more than I have done above.

      I’m far from convinced that the “considered conservative opinion” was really the view that held sway at the time. Indeed, the subsequent statement from at least one of the bishops who held forth on the topic to the effect that he regretted the manner of his involvement seems to show that at least some of the loudest voices were far from considered.

  3. Aaron says:

    My concern in this issue is that rather than the church coming to appreciate the essential dignity of every human being through theological reflection, it is being forced to make an outward show of that appreciation. My problem with this is twofold. For one thing, it’s not actually progress if the new paradigm is arrived at by threat of legal action. Secondly, it re-opens an issue thought long settled by the blood of Thomas Beckett – namely, can a church controlled by the state actually function freely as an agent of the kingdom of God? So long as the state is promoting issues with which we agree, it’s all well and good. But what happens if the state, as it has in the past, aligns itself with oppression or violence? What will we then do with the precedent set by allowing that same government to dictate our morality?

    I say all of this as an unabashed liberal who wants our church to be open and welcoming. I just worry about the means, and what cans of worms we might be opening up.

  4. hi Aaron – thanks for your comment.

    Its even more complicated when you live in a composite country like the UK. Where I live, Anglicanism is not the state church, yet English Anglican bishops get their place within parliament.

    Thomas Beckett came no-where near to resolving what happens when your parliament has an inbuilt set of seats belonging a church with which you are in communion and yet whose leaders seem to be siding with forces of conservatism and oppression. And all this in the face of social opinion reports which suggest that the country has moved on.

    I think that the connection between Church and State in England is corrupting of both sides.

  5. Rosemary Hannah says:

    Bluntly, I think it is largely demographics. It is older men who have the biggest problem with same sex relationships, and C of E bishops tend to be older men.

  6. Rosemary Hannah says:

    MTA – they will inevitable be left stranded by the receding tide….

  7. David | Dah•veed says:

    Amazing how trolls appear as if On Que. Could someone teach me how to configure a search engine to find all the relevant posts on any given day for the entire internets based on my chosen key words? I want to be able to just pop in like that.

  8. fr dougal says:

    Winchester – all I know of Yorki s that he plays the bongos!

  9. Kelvin,

    I know its unpleasant for some to talk about sex lives, but unfortunately Jeffrey John’s sex life WAS the issue with his nomination so unless you’re willing to address it you can’t use him as a case to support your argument. That’s a bit like wanting to prosecute a case but not allowing the defence to examine any of your evidence.

    And I note that you haven’t responded to provide any other examples of clergy dealt with negatively purely on the grounds of their sexual orientation.

  10. Ah Peter, that’s you thinking that I’m going to post the details of the private lives of colleagues in public for you to look at again. Once again, thanks for the invitation, but no.

  11. Peter,

    (and speaking more generally) would you not concede it’s true that, in various contexts, gay clergy *assumed* (justifiably) that they couldn’t be honest about their orientation without it affecting their careers? A fearful culture of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ (which I don’t see how you could deny existed, although of course I concede you’ll be better informed than I about the current C of E situtation) is hardly an argument *for* the exemptions in the equality bill. And I’m assuming, perhaps naively, that there are overtly ‘spiritual’ (so not always quantifiable) reasons for one candidate to be appointed over another. If a committee/whatever said that, after prayerful consideration, one candidate was preferred over another, gay one then how exactly could hypothetical discriminiation be ‘proven’ to have occured?

  12. Ryan,

    I’m peferctly happy to concede the point that in the past one’s sexual orientation may have been better kept from the selectors then shared, but today’s church is a different beast and all that selectors are interested in is whether you will abide with the church’s praxis. As to your second point, I’m aware of a number of celibate gay clergy and they never really need to raise the issue (and wouldn’t expect it to be raised either).

    I wouldn’t describe the current “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture as “fearful”, unless of course someone can give us examples of clergy in the Church of England whose manner of life accords with church praxis but “fear” coming out.


    • Yawn.

      Except to note in passing that the selection criteria are different for Scottish candidates to those from England. Same conferences, same selectors, different criteria. People entering the Scottish Episcipal Church’s ministry are not required to make promises about being celibate if they are gay. Nor are they expected to adhere to the “discipline” of Issues in Human Sexuality, the document which seems to have become a text of orthodoxy in England. They are not even expected to have read it. Church of England praxis is not our praxis and is not the same as Anglican praxis.

  13. Kelvin,

    I just want to note your line of arguing. You posit that clergy are still being discriminated against on the grounds purely of sexual orientation. You cite Jeffrey John as an example, and when I claim that the opposition to Dr John was to do with his previous sexual praxis you refuse to comment. When I then ask you top provide an example of any other priest else in the Church of England who has been denied employment purely on the grounds of sexual orientation you refuse to answer.

    It’s not really a terribly robust form of debate is it?

  14. Kelvin says:

    Well Peter, you and I and everyone reading this know already that I don’t think that the suggestion that someone has been in a same-sex relationship (sexual or otherwise) is a reason to ban someone from the priesthood. You and I both know that I think that gay people in faithful stable relationships can live lives of integrity and holiness. You and I know that I know people who live this way and are priests in the C of E and other Anglican churches. Indeed, both you and I know that I think that such relationships are a cause for celebration, not condemnation and certainly not repentance. Lots of people in the C of E share similar views to mine and lots take a different view. Lots of people in the wider Anglican Communion share similar views to mine and lots don’t. That is pretty much in the public domain. That is the fact that leads to current disputes.

    Sometimes choosing not to answer is an indication of a boredom level, rather than an indication that one doesn’t want robust debate.

    And once again, I’m not in the business of naming people on my blog and talking about their private lives. That’s a choice I’ve made and one I’m sticking to. Having seen the way that Jeffrey was hounded, I’m hardly likely to put someone else in the same position now, am I?

  15. Kelvin,

    You know as well as I do that your personal opinion on the sinfulness or otherwise of sex outside of marriage is not the key determining factor in the Church’s official action in this matter. The truth that many people agree with you once again does not in and of itself alter the fact that we are discussing the *official* position of the Church of England and that when you were challenged on the position you presented in your original blog post you have as yet provided no evidence to support it. If you can’t support your argument then you might have to start getting used to conservatives ignoring you and others when it comes to making pastoral judgements on these issues.

    It’s the same conversation with Changing Attitude isn’t it:

    CA – There are loads of clergy living in sexual relationships outside of marriage. Therefore we need to change the rules
    Me – Really? Perhaps you’d like to tell us who?
    CA – No, we’re not going to do that
    Me – Then why should I believe you?

    It’s not a terribly robust form of argument is it?

  16. Sorry Peter. It ain’t going to happen on a public blog. (Nor in private either, as you are asking me to do something that would cause harm to people and I’ve no interest in doing so).

    Repeating yourself is not terribly interesting, is it?

    Believe me when I say that if conservative types start to ignore my pastoral judgements, it might not be a major change in policy for them.

  17. Peter,

    Assuming that the percentage of C of E clergy who are gay is closer to the RC’s 40% than, say, the wider population average, then isn’t the conservative disbelief when Changing Attitude threaten to out bishops potentially indicative of systematic prejudice? Doubtless the situation in England would be better if more clergy came out, but one can understand why CA wouldn’t want to give conservatives the satisfaction of making martyrs. Also: do conservatives not regard (generally speaking) the term ‘gay’ as inherently ideological and unbliblical (hence their preference for dehumanisingly medical terms such as “Same-Sex Attraction”). How confident, Peter, are you that merely self-describing as “gay” WOULDN’T be seen (by evangelicals) as indicating a probable sexual trajectory contrary to what you identify as C of E teaching? And, at the risk of being obvious, perhaps you should believe CA’s claim because it’s plausible? (If it wasn’t, then there would hardly be much cause for conservatives to rail against the liberal wing of the C of E)

  18. David | Dah•veed says:

    Me – Then why should I believe you?

    No Mr Troll, the question is more properly, “Why do you not believe them?”

  19. I’m no more disposed than Kelvin is to talk about the private lives of individuals. I do, however, abhor the climate of suspicion which leads people to draw inferences about whether those private lives are in accord with this or that set of moral assumptions. What next? Camcorders in bedrooms?

  20. Rosemary Hannah says:

    It is very distasteful – do we expect fat bishops to make public statements repenting of over eating?

    But the real thing is – we have not yet reached a position of feeling able to accept that others, whose moral judgements may not be our moral judgements, are equally Christian.

    ISTM what Peter is really saying is that no Christian can make a valid judgement on matters which are NOT part of the creed, which is out of step with a very particular reading of the Bible, and a very particular place given to the Bible. And dear knows what he does about straight bishops who disagree with him….. Is it relevant that they have not been in a position to act on convictions which they hold? (eg that faithful same sex partnerships can fall withing the will of God for some people)

  21. David | Dah•veed says:

    Here trolly, trolly.

    Why do they always run away when they feel an asswhuppin coming?

  22. David,

    Peter O is, irrespective of his position on this issue, very far from being a troll. The one time I can recall *others* engaging in homophobic abuse at his blog, Peter did warn those responsible that such messages wouldn’t be tolerated in the future. Frankly, it would be a shame to me if an ethos developed where people only commented on the blogs of those they agree with ( I concur with Kelvin on most non-Advent candle colour issues, but tend to haunt fr.gadgetrector’s evangelical blog more than any other!).

  23. David | Dah•veed says:

    Sorry Ryan, I strongly disagree. I find Peter and his brother David to be nothing but trolls who throw out red herrings and spread lies.

  24. David | Dah•veed

    Enough already! That kind of commenting is not welcome here. If you want to call Peter names then the place to do so is on his own blog, where he has the choice whether to publish such comments or not and can make his own decisions how to deal with it. Either that or start your own blog.

    This particular blog thrives on comment, and other people get nervous and frightened and don’t post anything if they think they are going to get attacked like that.

    Ryan is quite right, churchy blogging would be greatly diminished if people only got to read and comment on the blogs of those whom they agree with.

  25. Sorry Ryan, I strongly disagree. I find Peter and his brother David to be nothing but trolls who throw out red herrings and spread lies.

    At which point David will easily provide us documentation of a “lie” that I have spread…

    Of course, if he can’t it would be highly ironic.

  26. David | Dah•veed says:

    I am sorry Father Kelvin. I know that your blog is one of decorum and civility in Anglican blogland. At one point you were moderating the comments on this post and I thought that should I try to post a comment of which you did not approve you would nix what I wrote. I was surprised that you had taken the moderation off and my comments went right through. Again, I sincerely apologize to you and anyone who has felt intimidated by what I wrote.

    I participate on a number of blogs, on a daily basis. The same blogs all of the time. I do not believe that I have enough original thought to add a blog of my own, but have enjoyed participating in the blogs others maintain.

    I find that when those blogs post a topic such as in this thread that there are three individuals who do not normally show up to participate on the mundane every day threads, but post hit & run snarks, or begin posting the same tired rhetoric that they post on the topics anywhere and everywhere that they participate. To me, that very much fits the definition of a troll. Peter Ould is one.

    He started his participation calling names when he labeled the Revd Jeffrey Johns an unrepentant sinner, and later the rest of us here liars whose faithful witness should not be believed because we will not supply him names.

    Peter, at this point what is ironic is that I would be in violation of the tone Father Holdsworth desires for his blog. I know, how convenient for me. However, I value his friendship and the insight and leadership he quietly disseminates, so I would be grieved to be invited to leave and not participate here.