Why do so many religious bodies seem to spend so much time debating issues related to sex? I’m no psychologist, but there seems to be something rather odd at work in the collective psyche in the Church of England right now.
Not content with splitting itself over whether women should be allowed to become bishops, the established church in England has, it seems, been debating whether or not gay men should be allowed to don whatever fancy robes their bishops wear.
Now normally such a discussion in a church would be of interest only to the ever decreasing numbers who actually take part in its activities. But as an established church, the C of E is allied to the state. Some of its senior figures sit in the House of Lords, taking part in the governance of the country, and the appointments the church makes are therefore of interest to all of us.
So back to the division in the church. On the one hand there are the fundamentalists who say no to gay bishops, arguing that the bible defines gay sex as a sin. Then there are the modernisers who say yes, contending that a church must change to reflect the society it finds itself in. So it was perhaps inevitable that the House of Bishops would look to fudge the issue.
Their rather bizarre solution is that gay men will now be allowed to become bishops as long as they are in a civil partnership – but don’t ever have sex. And they must also repent for any past sins, meaning sexual acts of course. No, this is not a long lost Monty Python movie script, although it sounds very much like one.
Now this raises so many questions. Why not single gay celibate men? Just what will the interview process be? What exactly constitutes gay sex in the Church’s view? What sort of guarantees will any potential candidate be expected to give? How will their continued celibacy be monitored once in post?
And can you imagine the conversation that a gay candidate would have with his partner, telling him that there was good news and bad news: a possible promotion to look forward to – but also a lifetime without sex. (There’s a joke about bashing the bishop in here somewhere …)
There are those who see the fact that the church has moved this far as a good thing. The Rev Sharon Ferguson of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement said the change was welcome. “This is good news that makes common sense,” she said.
But the Rev Rod Thomas from Reform, which is an evangelical network that wants the church to be more traditional, said, “It’s a very worrying development. If someone were to be appointed who was in a civil partnership, that would be a very divisive step”
So should a Christian church not simply stick to the biblical position? After all they do believe that it is the word of their god, don’t they? “You shall not lie with a man, as with a woman: it is abomination” according to Leviticus. Seems pretty clear, doesn’t it?
But then a lot of things are wrong according to Leviticus. Eating three day old cooked meat for example. Harvesting the corners of fields. Cursing the deaf. Wearing a garment of mixed linen and wool. Shaving the side of your head. Tattoos. All of these are forbidden in that one book of the bible.
And there are some pretty strict rules for priests there in Leviticus too. They cannot become bald, must only marry virgins and cannot offer the bread of god to any disabled person. Honestly, it’s all in there.
I’m sure anyone who considers homosexuality to be wrong because of the biblical prohibition also follows all of these other rules, and also the many other oddities that their holy book contains. Because to pick and choose which of their god’s pronouncements to obey and which to ignore would be rather hypocritical, wouldn’t it?
But back to the Church of England. It will be interesting to see what happens the first time that a gay man applies for a post as a bishop. Just how will they apply these rather strange new rules – and how will congregations react to them?
The Church has got itself into a rather strange position after its considerations of who can become a bishop, first over women and now over gay men
Its conclusion seems to be that a bishop must have a penis, but can only use it in some circumstances.