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Monday, 20 June 2011

What is wrong with the Church of England?

Today’s proclamation by the  Church of England  that it will tolerate the proposition of an openly gay bishop appals and revolts me.  The reason it revolts me is because a gay bishop’s elevation is conditional on his repentance of previous homosexual activity, and a promise to never do it again.  It is a mealy-mouthed, resentful nod to current legislation rather than a decision made on the principles of modernisation, humanity and common sense.  What they are saying is this: it’s okay for a man to have sexual feelings towards another man (we are talking about men here, the church has parked the question of women bishops to at least 2012); but it’s not okay for him to act on them.

Frankly, I would rather have a redneck evangelical or a fundamentalist Muslim declaring that homosexuality is the stain of the devil, and that such sinners must be either cured or condemned, than this squeamish faint-hearted hypocrisy.  

Apart from the irrationality in this approach (either the Bible says homosexuality is okay, in which case, bring on gay bishops, or it doesn’t, in which case, if you really believe the Bible is actually the word of God, then tell them no), it’s what the Church of England’s decision says about its attitude to sex in general that merits picking over.

A few years ago, the Church could have hidden behind the argument that sex should only take place within the context of a monogamous and committed relationship, banning openly gay  bishops on the grounds that they are statistically likely to be promiscuous (I haven’t researched this, but I’m sure it would've been possible to come up with something).  For consistency’s sake, they’d have to have considered extending the ban to unmarried straight men, too.  But since Civil Partnerships became the law in 2004 this argument is no longer available.

So, is it because the church says that sex is for the procreation of children?  Some religions do - Catholics for instance, the ones who don’t agree with contraception even in the face of critical over population, poverty and AIDS, but as far as I’m aware this hasn’t been a big part of the C of E platform.  As far as I recall, I’ve also  not known the Synod to declare a ban on the ordination of married bishops who’ve decided they don’t want, or already have enough, children.  Sex for fun then, it must be supposed, is tolerated amongst the straight male clergy.

So it gets back to the basic bad wrongness of homosexual sex, and this irrationality at the centre of the decision – that a gay man isn’t an abomination in the eyes of God (I'm deducing this from the fact that he can be made a bishop) but if he acts on his desires, he is, which to me is just the same as saying that being gay is wrong.  And for my money, I’d much rather the Church owned up to their prejudice, rather than to pretend they are making a step forward.

When I was still trying to make religion work for me, I attended a service at St Albans Abbey, where Jeffrey John, the man most suited to the job of Bishop of Southwark, but for his being openly gay, is Dean.  He was apologising since had to rush off because he was due to welcome a number of eminent judges who were coming up for some ceremony later that afternoon.  He’d offered his house as a place they could get changed.  He was popping back now, he explained, to his place, where a group of old men were getting dressed into tights and wigs, which was, he added, exactly what a lot of the congregation feared would happen when he was appointed.

Ho ho ho, how the congregation chuckled.  And this is probably the best way to go with the Church of England - little jokes, here and there, bringing it up close to its homophobia, amongst other, prejudices. But if I were him I’d be sorely tempted to say he’d had enough, that they can keep their miserable little illiberal concessions and stuff them up their cassocks.  For me, the church is just too slow to grow up, which is why I’ve moved over to the Humanists.  

1 comment:

  1. And why, for comparable reasons, this erstwhile Catholic is now a Buddhist.