One can only speculate about the intentions of those who did this deed, but they do not appear to have expected a vigorous media response. It may be that they were quite unaware that they were doing anything of great significance.
Whoever the framer of this tweak was, he almost certainly thought it a minor administrative tidy-up, bringing policy for bishops and clergy into line.
It could, perhaps, be intended to protect the institution from legal challenge. It could even, who knows, impart a shred of alignment into official opposition to equal marriage. This has seen bishops trumpeting a strange, new-found, enthusiasm for civil partnerships that they never certainly never showed when they were voting like cattle (only +Richard Harries didn’t) for an amendment to wreck the original legislation.
No individual is willing put their signature on the new policy, so there can no personal animus in those who say they look like confused and anxious landlubbers trying not to rock the boat so hard they almost capsize it. They'd be better off to conquer their fear of the unknown gay forces of nature enough to hoist the sails like every other boat on the river has done in the past thirty years.
This change leaves intact all fictions and fantasies of a new and unique approch — “Do ask, Do tell — but only if you're gay.” This has been honoured more in the breach, mostly because it is impracticable, tacky and discriminatory.
All that has changed is a grudging recognition of civil partnerships for celibates. The headlines have, however, stimulated vigorous kicking and screaming by people. Lynette Burrows on yesterdays PM programme (18 minutes in) shared with the nation her “instinct that people like me have which is revulsion” about gay people. The role of the Church, she implies, is to validate her instinctive disgust, which she imagines is shared by everybody.
I almost crashed the car as I heard her speak. Usually people with such views are careful to preface homophobic or racist comments by saying they are not being homophobic or racist. Years ago, somebody told me they were not, of course, being racist then explained that black people were "deteriating" her community by being black, and who would not feel sorry for the children of racially mixed marriages? By this diseased scale, there was a magnificent honesty about Lynette Burrows’ views, however revolting.
At least she was expressing what this argument is actually all about. Dread of a notional gay tsunami is driven at a level way beneath that at which rational discussion is possible. Fear, disgust and revulsion have indeed characterised societal responses to gay people, right up to the late twentieth century. The Church can, and must do better than that, or it simply debases itself into a bunker for bigots, where they can feel comfortable about their abnormal revulsions.
Corrupting the Church into a vehicle for disgust against any group of people on the grounds of how they are created is unspeakably wrong-headed. The witness of the Bible and history is that the Church’s purpose is the precise opposite — to embrace all people in a redeemed humanity that embraces every particularity God has created.
As to the chances of a bishop in a civil partnership, Kafka fans may see this announcement as an anonymous note to the surveyor at the inn, K. (or shall we call him J.?) removing another notional barrier to his invitation to dine in the Count’s Castle. Experience of what happens next, as well as the mystifactious manner of its delivery, will not cause anyone's heart to flutter too wildly.
But here, below the fold as it were, is a plot summary of The Castle that resonates with people journeying towards a church that practices what it preaches about equality. It is richly reflected in this, and other recent anonymous announcements bearing the "Church of England” moniker: I dream of the day it won’t be. For now, Enjoy!
The Council Chairman informs J. that, through a mix up in communication between the castle and the village, he was erroneously requested but, trying to accommodate J., the Council Chairman offers him a position in the service of the school teacher as a caretaker. Meanwhile, J., unfamiliar with the customs, bureaucracy and processes of the village, continues to attempt to reach the official Klamm, which is considered a strong taboo to the villagers.
The villagers hold the officials and the castle in the highest regard... Even though they do attempt to appear to know what the officials do, the actions of the officials are never explained; they simply defend it as being absurd any other way.
A number of assumptions and justifications about the functions of the officials and their dealings are enumerated through lengthy monologues by villagers. Everyone appears to have an explanation for the officials' actions that appear to be founded on assumptions and gossip. The descriptions given by the townspeople often contradict themselves by having very different features and routines within a single person's description, but they do not try to hide the ambiguity; instead, they praise it as any other action or feature of an official should be praised.
One of the more obvious contradictions between the "official word" and the village conception is the dissertation by the secretary Erlanger on Frieda's required return to service as a barmaid. J. is the only villager that knows that the request is being forced by the castle (even though Frieda may be the genesis with no consideration of the inhabitants of the village.
The castle is the ultimate bureaucracy with copious paperwork that the bureaucracy maintains is "flawless". This flawlessness is, of course, a lie; it is a flaw in the paperwork that has brought J. to the village in the first place.
Other system failures are occasionally referred to. J. witnesses a flagrant misprocessing after his nighttime interrogation by Erlanger as a servant destroys paperwork when he cannot determine who the recipient should be.
The castle's occupants appear to be all adult men and there is little reference to the castle other than to its bureaucratic functions. Particular functions of the officials are never specified. The officials that are discussed have one or more secretaries that do their work in their village. Although the officials come to the village, they do not interact with the villagers unless they need female companionship...“Etcetera, Etcetera,” as the King of Siam used to say. How long, O Lord?