Gay Christians are celebrating as the Church of England has announced that it has dropped its ban on gay bishops. As many rejoice, others fear the move will lead to huge divisions within the Church of England membership.
The caveat is that while allowing gay clergy in civil partnerships to become bishops, they can only become so if they pledge that their gay relationships are celibate.
Evangelical Anglicans around the world have already stated that they will fight the move even if it means that they will split from the formal Church of England. Anglicans in the UK have said that they would rather import a heterosexual bishop from overseas than serve under a gay bishop.
Invigilator believes, along with many others, that the "celibate" pledge is something that it is impossible for the church to police and should be consigned to the dustbin. It's also a disappointment that lesbians will not be allowed to become bishops. In fact, no women, straight or gay, will be allowed to become bishops.
The decision was made by the Church of England before Christmas but has only now been announced. It was probably thought too explosive an issue to announce in the lead up to Christmas. Instead the church announced its decision to allow gay bishops on Friday in the Church Times newspaper.
In November, the General Synod of the Church of England rejected formal proposals to allow women to become bishops, and church acceptance of gay bishops has taken many by surprise.
The allowing of gay bishops in the Church of England comes at a time when the British government has made it illegal for gay couples to be married in a Church of England or Church of Wales church.
Gay clergy can now become bishops as long as they repent any former active homosexual acts and pledge to remain celibate in the future even if they are in a legal partnership with another man.
The acceptance of gay clergy into the role of bishops reminds us of the case of the gay cleric, Jeffrey John, who was nominated for the post of Bishop of Reading in 2003. Traditionalist Christians waged a vicious war of words against him and forced him to withdraw from the post after initially accepting it.
One might imagine that a few years on attitudes in the church would have changed. They have in that the Church of England authorities will now allow gay bishops, but out in the real world of Christian evangelicals, attitudes might even have hardened against the idea of gay and women bishops.
An example of such bigotry is the Rev. Rod Thomas, chairman of the evangelical group Reform, who said: “It would be far better for the Church just to be clear that if you are in a civil partnership then being a leader in a church is not appropriate for you because the Church has to uphold its moral teaching on marriage. If the Church doesn’t uphold that then it’s difficult to know what the Church is in business to do.”
The Scotsman quotes a more enlightened clergyman, the Rt Rev. Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, speaking on behalf of the House of Bishops, saying that it would be “unjust” to exclude anyone for consideration for the role of bishop who was “seeking to live fully in conformity with the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline. All candidates for the episcopate undergo a searching examination of personal and family circumstances, given the level of public scrutiny associated with being a bishop in the Church of England.”
Whise welcoming the Church of England's move to now allow gay bishops, human rights campaignersaid: “The restriction that they can be only appointed if they remain celibate is continued discrimination.The Church should welcome love, fidelity and commitment, regardless of whether its bishops are heterosexual or homosexual.”
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