Sermon preached on 25 April – all about bishops

What with the reading being all about sheep and shepherds and with +Gregor being consecrated, it seemed like a good weekend to preach about the episcopate. Here's what I said:

On Friday evening, this place was packed full with guests for the consecration of a new bishop. People had come from all over the diocese and indeed from right across the world to celebrate the ordination of Gregor Duncan as a new bishop. Not any old bishop either. Our bishop for us, here in this place. And its here in this building that he was enthroned in his cathedra, the ornate and I suspect deeply uncomfortable seat which is up by the High Altar – the seat of the bishop and the throne which allows us to be known as a Cathedral church. [Read more…]

Are bishops above the law?

There was an excellent adjournment debate in the House of Commons this week. Not attended by many and not reported that widely either. It was secured by Robert Key MP, the member for Salisbury, whom I remember meeting earlier in the year, when I was preaching in Salisbury Cathedral.

The question that he was raising was whether the Church of England would be breaking the law if, having agreed that women could be consecrated as bishops, they were then discriminated against by being ineligable for the same Episocpal functions as men. In the case of the Church of England, of course, Parliament is part of the process of changing church law. However, the argument applies to all churches, whether or not they are established. (This was something that Evan Harris MP seemed to find difficult to grasp in the debate – he only wanted to talk about disestablishment, which was not the point).

It is worth keeping an eye on these debates. There are strong parallels between the legislation on sex discrimination and the legislation on discrimination on the grounds of sexuality.

It is my view that the current election process for the new Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway breaks canon law because the bishops have acted in ways to limit who can be nominated as a candidate by requiring a promise from them about whether or not they are in a gay relationship. It is also my view that it might be illegal because the ban on gay people being nominated involves direct discrimination and no case has been made for using the rather narrow exemptions that are included in employment law allowing religious organisations to discriminate in very limited circumstances.

I believe that Episcopal authority is being undermined by the moratoria. It is untenable in an Episcopal system for bishops to be seen to break canon law or to behave in ways which might break the law of the land.

Every time employment legislation is raised in General Synod, we are told that the church wishes to regulate its own affairs and to do so to ensure that everyone is treated with at least the same levels of protection as secular law would afford. Those promises seem rather hollow to me right now. The time has come for the bishops either to return to what is legally, morally and canonically correct or we may perhaps have to face the uncomfortable fact that it is the Episcopate itself which needs reform.

Oh, and don’t forget to watch that parliamentary debate. The video is available here.

The relevant legislation Revision Committee met yesterday and took a step backwards from making bishops who happen to be women also bishops who are second class bishops. More details here