The Church of England has double standards when it comes to gay bishops

The checklist used to stop Jeffrey John becoming Bishop of Southwark seemed deliberately designed to exclude him.

jeffrey john gay bishops

Jeffrey John, the Dean of St Albans, is in a committed relationship. Photograph: PA

The question: How should gay bishops be chosen?

The latest evidence of prejudice against homosexual people in the Church of England has come from the leaked Colin Slee memo and advice that Archbishop Rowan Williams sought in order to get around the Equality Act (2010). This counsel was to ensure that a gay man, ie Jeffrey John, was not appointed as bishop of Southwark. A cunning checklist was devised, consisting of five questions:

• whether the candidate had always complied with the Church’s teachings on same-sex sexual activity;
• whether he was in a civil partnership;
• whether he was in a continuing civil partnership with a person with whom he had had an earlier same-sex relationship;
• whether he had expressed repentance for any previous same-sex sexual activity; and
• whether (and to what extent) the appointment of the candidate would cause division and disunity within the diocese in question, the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion.

By my reckoning, Jeffrey John fails on five out of five. One could be forgiven for thinking that this is a list deliberately designed to exclude him.

Recently, Chris Sugden and Colin Coward debated the issue of gay bishops on Radio 4’s Sunday programme. Sugden seemed determined to conflate homosexuality with promiscuity and adultery. However, Jeffrey John is a man in a faithful relationship with his life partner. Normally the church would commend this sort of long-term and committed relationship – but the rules change when the two people in question are the same gender.

I wonder whether the checklist above is remotely just? If these questions are put to homosexual candidates, then I would hope that heterosexual candidates were asked equivalent questions:

• whether the candidate had always complied with the Church’s teachings on sexual activity being solely within matrimony;

• whether he had expressed repentance for any previous premarital sexual activity.

Of course, these questions seem inappropriate, invasive and irrelevant. The sex life of my bishop is of zero interest to me, as long as it attests to the values of love and faithfulness that we expound in the church. Moreover, I agree with the comments from the Archbishop of York backing William and Kate’s premarital sexual activity when he said that many modern couples want to “test the milk before they buy the cow”.

Please, let us make some attempt to be even-handed and avoid such blatant hypocrisy.


Journalist Lesley Fellows, in this article from the Guardian newspaper, points out the level of endemic hypocrisy presently practised within the Church of England on the subject of Gays in the Church. Colin Slee’s memorandum on what happened in the CNC meeting to discuss the election last year of the new Bishop of Southwark, released by his family – post mortem – has opened up the can of worms which has been festering within the Anglican Communion Churches ever since the election, in T.E.C. (The American Episcopal Church) of its first Gay Bishop to the American Diocese of New Hampshire some years ago.

Since that time, the Church of England has been seen to side with conservative provinces of the Communion, whose Primates have rallied to protest against TEC (and the Anglican Church of Canada, on it’s proposal to Bless Same-Sex Unions) on issues of the acceptance (or not) of the LGBT membership in the Church.

The issue of the ordination of Gay Clergy – including Bishops – has been only a secondary consideration, following on the evidence of homophobic statements from certain of the so-called ‘Global South’ Prelates of the Communion, who have formed their own particular body to separate themselves from the rest of us on this particular issue – based on their insistence that homosexuality is forbidden in the Scriptures, and therefore inimical to the culture and life of the Christian Church.  

This closed-mindedness, which contrasts with the clear message of inclusivity in the Gospels, has led the leadership of our mother Church of England to announce certain inititatives – of which the latest is the imposition of the ‘Anglican Covenant’ process – in order to discipline those Provinces that have opened up their borders to LGBT people in their local Churches by accommodating their call into ministry in certain circumstances, and into same-sex committed relationship in others.

What has been revealed in the U.K. is the fact that Gay Clergy – both priests and bishops – already exist within the local Church. But because of their fear of disciplinary action from the hierarchy of the Church, these individuals are remaining firmly ‘in the closet’ about their sexual-orientation, maintaining the appearance of either celibacy or a heterosexual  view-point consonant with the requirements of Church policy.

Many Anglicans – both clergy and lay, would prefer an honest openness about the reality of LGBT membership of the Church, which would put an end to the institutional hypocrisy which at present inhibits the sort of open discussion the Church needs to initiate, in order to clear the air on this important issue of human justice and integrity. The longer bishops like the two C.of E. Archbishops fudge this issue, the more damage is being inflicted on the Church of England and its relationship to the world-wide Anglican Communion.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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