Ask! Tell!

Today shall not pass on this blog without noting the change in the law that now allows gay people to service openly in the military in the USA. The so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule that has now been consigned to history was an emblematic piece of hypocrisy. The idea was that it was OK to happen to be gay in the US military, but it wasn’t OK to be honest and open about that. It was an uncomfortable half-way house on the road to acceptance. On the one hand the policy prevented the military authorities from harassing closeted gay military personnel but on the other it meant that people faced direct discrimination if they did disclose their sexuality.

Over 13000 people were discharged from the US military because they were either caught out or chose to be open. That is a lot of people’s lives messed up, a lot of money spent on training people who were then deemed unsuitable and a lot of grief all round.

All over now. Cause indeed for rejoicing.

So why is it significant for me to mark on this blog?

Well, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy is similar (though not identical) to the situation for many gay clergy. To be blunt, you get rewarded for staying in the closet. Come out and you don’t know what will happen to you. Come out and you could be removed from your post by your bishop. Or the next bishop who comes along. Or the Vestry might make life impossible because there are no established guidelines to stop them. Come out about your relationship and you don’t know where you are in the morass of ethics and values regarding who you can live with and what are the rules.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell comes very close to the attitude that the Anglican Churches have in the UK towards gay people becoming bishops. It doesn’t affect that many people directly, but it sends out a ghastly message indirectly to the many. Moderate Christians supportive of gay clergy think that policy stinks. Those in the church most opposed to gay clergy think it stinks. Friends in the USA and Canada, punished collectively in their churches because they affirmed one ministry or another connected to people who happen to be gay, think it stinks. The angry leaders of African provinces looking back at Britain think it stinks.

We can’t just blame Rowan William’s depressing tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury. That is too easy. Notwithstanding that though, I’d say that the closeted straight supporters of gay clergy have a particular role to play in finding a way out of the mire.

Ask! Tell! Whoever you are.


  1. Count me in as a straight supporter of gay people, clergy or lay. But count me in, too, as one who respects people’s right to privacy. As a hetersexual male, I would not expect to be asked about my sexuality, or to be pressurised into being explicit about it, had I chosen to remain unmarried.

  2. I think that issues of privacy are a long way away from issues of whether one’s life should suffer for chosing to be open.

    Both important issues but they are very different issues one from another.

  3. Steven says

    I am about to “out” myself as a straight supporter of gay clergy in the Church of Ireland by getting a letter published in my local paper!

    It is one thing to have a personal (private) opinion and whole different thing to go public with that view. Feels quite liberating actually!

    I sort of wonder how I got to this point given that I used to be a fairly moderately against full inclusion in the life of the Church…

    I suppose it is the natural result of the way my thinking has been developing over some time, especially by engagement with liberal/progressive anglican thought and seeing that there IS another way to be Christian (as opposed to the dominant conservative evangelical ethos that prevails in my part of Ireland).

    • Good for you, Steven.

      My guess is that the repercussions of the Very Rev Tom Gordon and his partner coming out about their partnership are shining little rays of light all over the Church of Ireland at the moment, occassionally illuminating things which some would prefer to be kept in darkness.

      > I sort of wonder how I got to this point given that I used to be a fairly moderately against full inclusion in the life of the Church…

      Don’t be surprised – so was I. So were most of the people I know who now advocate on behalf of progressive causes in the church. One of the things that is happening at the moment is that the really hard line anti-gay voices are being undermined by the people they thought they could rely on. It makes loud, cross voices crosser and louder. The sound of those shrill voices is the sound of people who are being squeezed from every direction.

  4. william says

    What’s in Kelvin’s Head?
    Confusion? Compassion?
    Wisdom? Folly?
    Light?Darkness?[in the Johannine sense]
    Humility? Arrogance?
    Hopefully there’s a “next bishop” somewhere near!!

  5. Steven says

    I agree with you. One of the points I make in the letter to the Portadown Times (the original clergy statement was published in that paper on 16th Sept – see Thinking Anglicans) is that it seems that evangelical clergy in Ireland were happy with a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and it is the publicity that is causing the problem now – after all it must have been well known that Tom Gordon was living with his partner over the last 20 years!

    It is also ironic that three of the signatories of the clergy statement were women – i.e., those previously ordained following the development of a generous and inclusive theology of Christian leadership (in spite of Saint Paul’s issues). They now seek to use their authority to prevent others from benefiting from the very development that they benefited from…

    The only issue, I suppose, is that this development did take the Church of Ireland by surprise and the silence from the Bishops has been unhelpful.

    I would be interested to know your views on the tension between acting innovatively (perhaps, unilaterally) and the need to respect the whole body of Christ etc…

    The situation in TEC in respect of the ordination of Gene Robinson as Bishop, by contrast, involved an open and transparent development that went through the standard procedures of the Church. I know that in this case the issue is in respect of a civil partnership – which it was Dean Gordon’s “right” to enter under the law of the RoI but the significance of this move for the wider Church of Ireland would not have been lost in either himself or his Bishop.

    I still think he did the right thing but I am sympathetic to the criticism that these issues should not, in general, be dealt with an ad hoc manner… Although in fairness to Dean Gordon I am not sure if the debate would have ever got on the table if he had not acted as he has done.

  6. I think that there is a difference between electing a bishop and who a person choses to make a committment to.

    One is very clearly a public office that needs the consent of the people. The other falls within someone’s personal life.

    I wouldn’t say that is irrelevant and nor would I be so stupid as the recent Church of Scotland statement that said of a Church of Scotland minister entering a Civil Partnership that it was entirely a personal matter. It very clearly isn’t.

    However, I would say that it requires a very different level of consent to being a bishop.

    Clergy living arrangements get complicated very much more quickly than those of other people because very often they are living in housing provided by the congregation. That, if anywhere is where issues of public consent come in.

    Generally speaking, I think that the provision of housing infantilises the clergy and is undesirable.

    Once civil partnerships were introduced, people had the choice of either liking them or lumping them really. Clergy entering into them were an inevitable consequence of their existence.

    Most people I know think that the demands of the Church of England that clergy in civil partnerships promise to be celibate demonstrate a quite disgusting pruriance on the part of bishops making such demands.

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