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Gay bishops and women bishops are not the same issue

6 January 2013

This being the Ephiphany, churchgoing Anglicans will be on the receiving end of any variety of sermons on the visit by the three kings to the infant Christ. There won’t, by and large, then, be much attention given to the whole issue of gay bishops. No attention at all, probably.

You’d never think it, though, judging from the broadcast and press reaction to the news. On the Radio 4 Today programme yesterday, the presenter said sternly to one conservative Anglican, Norman Russell, the Archdeacon of Oxford, that the fuss over the issue of gay bishops just goes to show why people are turned off by the church: it can only ever think about sex. The archdeacon replied mildly that this wasn’t quite the case: the church did talk about other things.

Russell could have made a stronger case. He could have said, nope, it’s not the church that’s obsessed by sex; it’s journalists. The only reason why it feels like the church spends its time arguing about sex and gender is that these are the sole issues that are taken up in broadcast discussions about religion. Week after week, clergy treat congregations to reflections on justice, mercy, charity; much of the time in synod is taken up with the question of how best Anglicanism can serve the wider community; most of the time, Anglican clergy try to put these principles into effect on the ground. And what are the chances that any of this will be reflected in BBC coverage of religion? Quite. But give most papers, most pundits, a sniff of a row about gay clergy or women bishops and they’re off.

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There was, of course, a real policy change here for critics of the CofE to get stuck into. The decision to allow gay clergy in civil partnerships to be ordained as bishops has stirred up all manner of divisions. The change has the merit of consistency. It’s difficult to see clerical orders as separable; in other words, if you are going to allow people in civil partnerships to be ordained as priests, then it makes sense for them to be eligible to be bishops. Same principle goes for women, in fact. But the same problem of credibility applies in both cases: is it likely that individuals who have entered into a civil partnership will abstain from sexual relations? It’s possible obviously, that the partnership may be emotional rather than sexual; it’s just unlikely to look that way. Clergy are meant to be individuals of exemplary lives, and in the Christian moral tradition, active homosexuality is understood to be at odds with the natural order (if you belong to the catholic tradition) or with scripture (if you’re evangelical).

What the row isn’t about is whether gay men can be bishops. If your homosexuality amounts to an attraction to your own sex which isn’t expressed in sexual relations, there isn’t a problem. Indeed there are any number of individuals in the CofE who would fall into the category, clergy and bishops. And there are notoriously lots of gay clergy who break the rules and have boyfriends – the tendency is all too obvious in the Anglo-Catholic tradition – without actually going so far as to enter a civil partnership to put the relationship on a public footing. It suits them that way. To repeat: homosexuality per se isn’t the problem, just homosexual acts. And yes, they’re separable.

But to return to the coverage of this question by broadcasters and journalists, perhaps the most irritating aspect is the tendency to lump the issue of women bishops and gay bishops together, presumably on the basis that both are issues on which you can generate controversy and pit so-called traditionalists against so-called liberals. And of course you can always get women activists such as Christina Rees, to oblige, by saying that action on the gay front brought the situation of women into greater prominence.

They are, however, different issues. Gay sex is a problem for Christianity and especially its ordained clergy; active homosexuality is condemned in scripture, and, in the Catholic tradition, it’s seen as a sexuality that doesn’t have any procreative possibilities and therefore at odds with natural law. So active homosexuality is a problem. For women, there’s no question of gender being sinful. It’s just an issue of whether women can fully represent Christ, who was male, in the ordained ministry, whether the scriptural prohibitions on women’s leadership in church are still valid, and whether, if women are ordained, there are sufficient protections for those who cannot accept their ministry. It’s not homosexuals and women, bacon and eggs; these are two different questions.

But politically, one of the most interesting aspects of this debate is whether the CofE was, as the BBC Religious Affairs editor, Robert Piggott suggests, influenced by the possibility that it could be breaking employment law by discriminating against those in civil partnerships in the running for bishoprics. In other words, equalities legislation may be having an effect on the running of churches, notwithstanding the protestations of legislators that they are broadly immune from its provisions. And if you think that’s an idle threat, reflect on the Catholic adoption agencies which, notwithstanding a very good record of placing problem children, were obliged to close as a result of discriminating in favour of married heterosexuals as parents. The reach of equalities law is long, and its effect on religious liberty malign.

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Show comments
  • Mary E Tyler

    Sorry, but I heartily disagree. Women and gays, gays and women, the issue is the same: will the bigots forsake their irrational distain for people generally considered as second class citizens, or will they join the rest of us in the 21st century.

  • Guest

    How can the church have anything serious to say about justice, charity or mercy when it continues to discriminate against human beings on the basis of sexuality or gender? The attitude of all the major religions to issues of sexuality and gender rather undermine any claims they might have to be taken seriously on wider questions.

  • Alessandra

    80% of the sexually abusive priests in the Catholic Church scandal were homosexual – and they were supposed to be “celibate.”

    the CofE has been taken over by perverse liberals – this is a complete joke

  • Geoff McLarney

    “For women, there’s no question of gender being sinful” This may (just may) be true today, but it’s awfully historically shortsighted: women have long born the brunt of the blame for the Fall of Man [sic]. Of course, despite the author’s attempts to insulate heterosexism from misogyny, both questions rest on whether we really believe than “in Christ, there is neither male nor female.” If so, it makes no more sense to set gender requirements for one sacrament (like marriage) than for another (like holy orders).

  • Adam Nixon

    “why people are turned off by the church: it can only ever think about sex”
    Witty but not true. We are turned off by the church because it wants us to believe in a Bronze-Age myth based on a self-contradictory book. Not that it wants us to believe most of the book anyway, of course (a ban on prawns, women must cover their hair, happy shall be he that taketh an Arab child and dasheth its head against a stone…). It picks bits out at random and calls them toe word of God, while pretending the rest of it doesn’t exist.
    It’s transparent nonsense, and not even very nice nonsense at that.

    • Dan

      If it’s “transparent” nonsense you need to explain why so many great intellectuals have expressed such confidence in it. Indeed archaeology continues to confirm its historical accuracy – see the quotes in brown at

      • Adam Nixon

        Firstly because many great intellectuals did not have access to the facts that we have.Secondly because, as you know, religious faith is not an intellectual matter. It is driven by emotion. If belief were a coolly rational decision, it would be phyics. Great intellectuals have also believed in Hinduism, Taoism, Islam etc., but they can’t all be true.

        Historical accuracy of what, pray? Of the story that Methusaleh lived through Noah’s flood (whoops!)? Uness you, like most Christians, have decided not to believe that bit of the Word of God. Of the mutually contradictory stories of the Resurrection? Of what?

  • jasonjapanwhite

    Just sitting on my hands and whistling Dixie.

  • Michele

    I would be more impressed with purity of their motives [those pictured above] if they made a equally emotional appeal outside their local mosque – until they do so, I will suspect their motives.

  • StevenDobbs

    but what about gay women bishops????

  • Austin Barry

    I’m not sure I get this: bishops can be gay but must bash the bishop rather than take it on outings.

    It all seems like some mad joke which brings the church into disrepute.

  • Daniel Maris

    It’s always difficult to know who likes dressing up more: the ones inside the church officiating or the ones outside the church protesting.

  • Kevin

    “people are turned off by the church: it can only ever think about sex”

    Well, this is obviously why people are turned off by stand-up comedians, pop music, women’s magazines, men’s magazines, James Bond, “Fifty Shades of Grey”, prime-ministerial hopeful Boris Johnson writing about “Fifty Shades of Grey”.

    You think “sex sells”? Think again, pilgrim.

    • HooksLaw

      The church is obsessed with the evils of sex.

      • AY

        well, sex is the real source of everything existing. humans should somehow deal with it, – or by using their own brains, and whatever they have there – reason or empathy or prejudice or brutality or clownery. or just by listening to cleric.

      • Daniel Maris

        It is said if you took the requirements of the Church seriously in the Middle Ages you would only be allowed to have sex once a month on average. As for the modern C of E I think they basically say you can have it off whenever you like as long as it’s not during a service. I don’t think they are particularly obssessed with sex, unlike our modern news, magazine, internet and TV culture.

      • TomTom

        Control of urges more like. Why don’t you ?

        • dalai guevara

          What happened to the joy of…being productive?
          A Calvinist virtue, apparently undervalued on these isles nowadays.

    • Daniel Maris

      LOL Except I think you mean to insert a “doesn’t” in the final quote.

  • AY

    my safe bet is that the majority of population aren’t interested whatsoever in problems with female and homosexual clergy. there are probably only couple of dozens of these weirdos in the country.
    nevertheless, MSM are definitely blowing it out of scale.

    the suspicion is, real goals are the following:

    1. to redirect public attention to the discussion of such controversial non-issues, by giving them status of national importance. the more we talk about A, the less time we have to talk about B.
    2. to establish culture of relativism – if one solves it this or that way.. well, it is obvious that it doesn’t really matter. therefore, other less advertised issues (like anti-white crime, non-EU immigration, and islamization) – one also can solve this or that way and it will be OK.
    3. to deform, weaken and de-facto nullify Christian traditions in the UK. the more disorder is planted in CoE, the easier it will be then to cut CoE from any internal or external sympathy or support, and eventually declare it dead and void.
    4. to confirm a stereotype of legitimacy of whoever-is-in-charge’s decisions. women and gay clerics are handful, they will accept any solution imposed on them. those who disagree will get MSM blackout and disappear. the power of the state will not.

    IMHO, to consider all that nonsense seriously and continue this discussion (as well as similar frauds, like AGW scam) – means to swallow the bait and play by the rules set up by traitors.

    • HooksLaw

      You are an absurd conspiracy theorist to equate the brouhaha over gay this that and the other to all in your list, a list which of course inevitably includes the EU and immigration.

  • George_Arseborne

    The difference between a Gay Bishop and a Woman Bishop is that the former should not have sex. So what is the point? Cut this crap in the Anglican Church and be real.

    • TomTom

      “be real” as opposed to “be virtual” ? Do you talk in such banal terms or are you unable to state anything coherently. You sound as if it is a Council Youth Club the way you spout

      • HooksLaw

        its your reply which is incoherent.

        • MirthaTidville

          No it isnt

  • Noa

    Surely any homosexual priest or bishop has an enshrined Article 8 right to a family life?

    ABofC to Gay Bishop: “But you said you weren’t a practicising homosexual when we interviewed you!”
    GB: Absolutely right. Roger and I stopped practicing when we moved into the Palace together! It’s worked out so well that we want to invite you to perform the wedding service in the cathedral, just before the christening”
    ABofC: “I can’t do that!”
    GB: “Oh yes you can! We’ve invited Trevor Phillips to be the best man and darling Linnie Featherstone to be the god mother, or was it the other way round…Justin dear, you’re so pale! Are you all right?”

  • gladiolys

    “The reach of equalities law is long, and its effect on religious liberty malign.”

    What goes around, comes around. The church went from persecuted, to persecutor, exercising power and control politically in the name of the supernatural. It’s hard to feel sorry for it.

    • Noa

      Perhaps you will feel sorry for yourself when you are personally affected by discriminatory laws. Possibly thats may be when a less able person than you gets the job you applied for because of stipulated minority ethnic, sexuality or gender quotas.

    • TomTom

      Wheels turn and don’t stop. Keep a Scrapbook because you will look back on these days with disbelief when you see what is coming. This Age is passing

  • TomTom

    Church of England is an Erastian Church and simply another agency of Big Government. Bishops are an irrelevance and should not have been restored in 1660…..there is no need for Bishops, certainly not to have 149 of them which is more than in 1900. Christian Congregations should be independent of The State and hostile towards State Power

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Yes, ultimately, the CoE will become fully GLBT compliant, it’s only a matter of time. Best to cut it loose from government, as it’s now just another institution for the Left to march through. In fact, they’ve already marched through it, and are now openly raising their standard.

      Now, drain the swamp, and disestablish, and you’ll screw the bastards huge. Just let them have it, and pay for it, as it becomes just another bathhouse.

      • telemachus

        Just another opportunity for homophobes and misogynists combine their hatred of religion and the left to besmirch a perfectly reasonable post

        • Ian Walker

          I only hate people who try and rule other peoples lives according to outdated beliefs. The fact that both ‘religion’ and ‘the left’ both fall under this banner is their fault, not mine.

          • Alessandra

            Touché, Ian!!! Brilliant comment. And have you noticed, as liberals increasingly take over Protestant churches, the distinctions between “religion” and “the left” become less and less visible? LOL I’m sure Marx never saw this junk coming! LOL

    • Seasurfer1

      Summary of above – Women Bishops can have Sex, Gay Bishops can’t.

      • dalai guevara

        What a hilarious excuse. You could not make it up.

      • TomTom

        HOw is it a summary if I say we don’t need Bishops ? Is your cognitive ability so impaired ?

    • dalai guevara

      Yes, and now is possibly the right time to remind ourselves that the only two parliaments on the entire planet that have default clerical representation in the House are Britain and…Iran.

      • TomTom

        Remembrancer of The City of London sits behind The Speaker. Prince Charles is a Member of The House of Lords. The Cabinet is an Executive Committee of The Privy Council whose members are not elected.

    • StevenDobbs

      The religions of Christ and Moses have been replaced by the Church of Climate Change Doom. The new bishops are people like Dr. Jones, Mann, and Hansen etc and they have their own deal with the state to keep power out of the hands of the peasants.

  • Sarah

    No, the reasons *given* by the scripture writers and the church today about why they disceiminate against gay men and women from theological influence may be are bacon and eggs, but the real reason is the same: Because neither gay men nor women are patriarchs.

    • TomTom

      Whatever the reasons you either think an Institution is the building or you adhere to the principles behind the formation of the Institution. The simple fact Sarah is that Jesus Christ came to earth to bring Jews back to The Torah and to worship the God of The Hebrew Bible – most of the words he uttered in the three Gospels came from Leviticus. Jesus was an Orthodox Jew and Orthodox Judaism does not have Priestesses High or Low. Whatever meets your approval in the Church of England takes it on a path to Neo-Paganism

      • Fergus Pickering

        The simple fact is nothing of the sort. Where pray do you find the parables in Leviticus? I never heard such tosh.

        • TomTom

          The Parables are Midrash typical of an Orthodox rabbinical Jew….


            The parables are not typical at all. Do some research. They are not an unknown form, but Jesus Christ takes then to an entirely new level.

      • Sarah

        There were not only priestesses in Hebrew tradition, there were prophetesses. Admittedly they were in the minority, Judaism was a man’s game and admittedly the Sexually ambivalent Greeks misdirected that into Virgin whore dichotomies and the macho Romans took it and ran with it and simply superimposed the new faith on to their old pagan one and neutered or old Diana/Mary. But there are female rabbis these days. The Catholic Church distorted early Christian history. The early faith attracted women and slaves before it attracted the family patriarch. That is the reason for Paul’s reassurances to their husbands. They made heretics of early women’s Christian sects, they made apocryphal the positive tales of female agency and they simply wrote out and forced out early female leaders of which there were some despite the almost insurmountable obstacles put in their way. But when it all comes down to it, Christianity is a male cult with its male god and his male sidekicks and his heavenly host of male government officials and it’s penchant for judgement. And it’s homophobic because gay men, at least until surrogacy came along, presented a threat to the continuation of male supremacy through a male line of inheritance. Simples.

        • Roland Butter

          “Christianity is a male cult with its male god and his male sidekicks and his heavenly host of male government officials and it’s [sic] penchant for judgement.” Making the necessary gender adjustments, you could say exactly the same about ‘Women’s Hour’. Live with it.
          Oh, and you forgot to mention the Religion of Peace. I wonder why.

          • TomTom

            but Srah is so dim that she cannot see that an INFINITE God cannot be categorised as Male or Female which is a binary coupling for biological purposes for ephemeral beings

        • TomTom

          Hebrew Tradition is what ? Judaism pertains to the Tribe of Judah – you seem to thing Pagan Deities are somehow equally valid with The God of Abraham – that is your fundamental flawed premiss

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