John Tenniel, Punch 1869
It is understandable that the anonymous author of the latest letter from House of Bishops (of which I am not a member), must, like Agag, “walk delicately.” Perhaps the best they could produce is what one early tweeter, retweeted by John Bingham of the Daily Telegraph, called “a masterclass in doublespeak, obfuscation and internal contradiction.”
The real issue was articulated by a member of the General Synod, Simon Butler, who asked the following question at its recent session:
My question requires a little context and a large amount of honesty. I’m gay; I don't have a vocation to celibacy and at the same time I've always taken my baptismal and ordination vows with serious intent and with a sincere desire to model my life on the example of Christ simul justus et peccator. Those who have selected me, ordained me and licensed me know all this. My parish know this too.
My question is this: at the end of the process of facilitated conversations will the College of Bishops tell me whether there is a place for people like me as licensed priests, deacons and bishops in the Church rather than persisting in the existing policy that encourages a massive dishonesty so corrosive to the gospel? For my personal spiritual health, for the flourishing of people like me as ministers of the gospel and for the health of the wider church I think we will all need to have a clear answer to that question..
Clarity will need to emerge, then. We haven't got it yet. Is the answer to Simon’s question, “yes”? Well, apparently so. Recommendation One of the Pilling report states “We warmly welcome and affirm the presence and ministry within the Church of gay and lesbian people, both lay and ordained.” Surely the existing policy, with all of the moral drawbacks Simon enumerates won't continue, then? Well, apparently it will. Abiding by traditional teaching is the watchword. The massive dishonesty of which Simon speaks was not intentional. It was the only way kind hearted people could maintain what they understood to be traditional teaching in the real world.
As it was in the disputes of the 1860’s the way things pan out will largely be settled by what people do, not policy statements or sabre rattling. Whilst a great fan of facilitated discussions I am still fuzzy about exactly who will talk to whom about what and why. Also, if it is axiomatic that nothing will change, what exactly will the point be? We may be far gone in the hypocrisies of past years, but why add to them? Jesus had far more to say about hand wringing Pharisees than he did about gays.
If facilitated conversations are to mean anything, it's important not to derail them by what bishops do to the people with whom they are supposed to be talking in a safe space. Whoever wrote the new document is plainly out of their depth. Even after twenty years of listening, nothing much has been heard and the watchword remains “Life, Jim, but not as we know it.” Captain Kirk’s next line was “We come in peace, Shoot to Kill.” Adopting that now will not facilitate honest or productive conversation.
But where do I want it to end, I am asked, and where are the Bishops really coming from if the chips are down? two quotations came across my desk, by sheer chance, this morning:
One is from Sister Simone Campbell, a Roman Catholic Nun.
The Catholic hierarchy has done very poorly at engaging the issues of sexuality, period—their own, or anybody else’s... what we need is a real spiritual renewal among our leadership because for me, following the gospel means be not afraid—welcome everyone, hug them, welcome them close, and live and love.
The other is the gospel for the Third Sunday before Lent, year A, on which I am preparing a homily for tomorrow morning. St Matthew 5, and verse 37:
Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.