If you are an Anglican you get used to the fact that your Church deals publicly with what other churches sweep under carpets or pretend does not exist at all.
No one with any knowledge of the Anglican or Catholic Churches can be in any doubt that there are a number of clergy who are gay. I have a cousin who left the Anglican seminary where he was training because of the pervasive ‘gay culture’. Those in charge of the college knew what was going on but they turned a blind eye to it. Such things are not confined to Anglican seminaries.
So, when, as now, the Church of England makes an announcementt that gay men in a celibate relationship can become bishops, it raises hackles. I really can’t see why. There is no sin in being inclined to love someone of the same sex; the sin comes in acting on that. If one is that way inclined and one does not act on it, or if one has acted on it and repented, then it is hard to see what the objection is?
I can understand that the gay lobby dislike having to admit that what they prefer to do in bed is sinful – but that is what the Church teaches. I can understand orthodox Christian not liking people having been in gay sexual relations. But what is the problem if one has repented and amended one’s life. We don’t tell other sinners they can’t ever be priests or bishops; so why discriminate against this one set of sinners?
I see that there are some on the Evangelical wing who are saying that the requirement to be celibate is ‘unenforceable’ – well so is the requirement to have truly repented of one’s sins before one takes Communion. We have to learn to trust people, and if we require some special test for one group of sinners, we need to think about the message that sends out.
Why is it so hard for many Christians to do what is at the heart of our faith – to repent and forgive? To object to the latest move by the Anglican Church is simply to ignore the fact that some of those who wish to become priests self-identify as gay. We’re effectively saying that as long as Father X does not create a scandal, we will look the other way. Is it not more Christian to say that as long as Father X has repented of his sins and refrains from repeating them, then he can be a bishop if those who make these decisions think he is up to it?
Pretending the problem does not exist simply means that it is never dealt with. The Catholic Church knows it has gay priests, and it likes to act as though the fact that they are supposed to be celibate means they don’t act on their instincts – but since when did ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ actually deal with the issue?
My church is getting a lot of flak for this decision, but I am proud of its courage in being able to have a grown-up conversation in public about this issue. For years we have all pretended that if we did not notice that there were gay priests, we could all ignore it and its implications for our churches. That is not good. What the C of E has just done is good.