Church of England OKs Gay Bishops (If Celibate!)
Officials of the Church of England announced on Jan. 4 that they will allow gay clergy in civil partnerships (similar to civil unions in the U.S.) to become bishops but only if they remain celibate, the British newspaper the Guardian reports.
The House of Bishops "confirmed that the requirements in the 2005 statement concerning the eligibility for ordination of those in civil partnerships whose relationships are consistent with the teaching of the Church of England apply equally in relation to the episcopate," a statement summery read. The House of Bishops, which made the decision, added that they would not offer more guidance on civil partnership before the final report.
Religion News Service quoted Graham James, the bishop of Norwich, as saying that the bishops agreed it would be "unjust" if gay men were not allowed to become bishops if they were "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," he added. "But these, along with the candidate’s suitability for any particular role for which he is being considered, are for those responsible for the selection process to consider in each case."
Church leaders approved of the change on Dec. 20. But it wasn’t made public until last week, when a BBC correspondent noticed it in a report published in the Church Times.
Many disagreed with the change, including several Evangelical Anglicans, who made up a significant and growing part of the church. As RNS reported, the move is "a major shift for the mother church of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which had already weathered a major schism when Anglicanism’s American branch, the Episcopal Church, consecrated openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson in New Hampshire in 2003."
Robinson, 65, became the first out-bishop of the Episcopal Church, which is the Anglican Church in the United States. His ordination and subsequent moves by the U.S. church toward informally sanctioning same-sex union led conservative Episcopalian congregations to break way from the main church in the U.S. Robinson himself retired on Jan. 5, the Associated Press reported.
Some Evangelical Christians said they would block the move that allows gay clergy to become bishops. Rod Thomas, the chairman of the conservative group Reform, said the move has not been debated or agreed to by the entire church body. "It is something that has got to be considered by the General Synod," he said.
Jeffrey John, the openly gay dean of St. Albans Cathedral in Hertfordshire, England, welcomed the change. He is in a same-sex civil partnership and would be able to become bishop under the new rules as long as he abstains from sex.
In 2003, when he was appointed as bishop of Reading, the Church of England split over the decision whether to allow gay clergy to become bishops. John stepped down as bishop. But the issue was even more of a controversial topic when the U.S. Episcopal Church ordained Robinson as bishop.
"If it is genuinely true that all levels of ordained ministry are now more open to gay people than they were before, then this is a very good thing," John said.
Rev. Colin Coward, director of Changing Attitude, a LGBT group that champions for the rights of gay clergy, criticized the new rules.
"I don’t trust what they have said," Coward said. "I don’t believe they are serious about opening the door to someone in a civil partnership becoming a bishop. I would only believe they are serious when it happens." He added that he doesn’t expect many gay clergy to be appointed as bishops, however.
"In effect this imposes something more strict on those who become bishops than those who become clergy," he said. "In practice, at least half of the House of Bishops ignore the guidelines and do not ask clergy questions about celibacy, and many of them consciously put in place people in civil partnerships with the partner present and acknowledged as a partner. I can’t see that happening to someone who’s becoming a bishop."