Having just read the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ‘Reflections on the Episcopal Church's 2009 General Convention’ (Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future) I find myself profoundly disquieted at what he has written.
I am the Rector of a traditional, inclusive and growing Anglo-Catholic working-class parish. Three years ago I ‘married’ my partner in a civil ceremony but with the prayerful and loving support of my parishioners. As Governor of two local Schools (including the Diocesan Comprehensive), Chaplain to the Air Training Corps and member of the Borough Police Advisory Group I have sought to be open and honest concerning my sexuality and relationship and the secular community has respected and supported me in this.
I therefore find much of what he wrote concerning clergy like myself both offensive and at odds with the society in which we live. As others have observed, being gay and in a relationship is not a “chosen life-style” any more than marriage is a ‘chosen’ life-style. I married my partner because we love each other and wished to express, publicly, our life-long commitment for better and worse, richer and poorer, in sickness and health until death parts us. Which I take it to be the essence of marriage.
His assertion that my state of life is analogous to “a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond” is deeply repugnant. I can only infer that the consequence must be that, for fear of sin, I should abandon my partner. I fear that the statements he made (Para. 9) forgets the Catch 22 principle (cf. Matt. 23:15) and would value his thoughts on how two people of the same sex can make a commitment to each other which is not sinful. I wonder when he last talked with celibates who, from my long experience as a Franciscan, recognise it as a vocation that cannot be imposed.
In a similar way his comment that it is “hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry … requires” leads me to conclude that my role as Parish Priest, School Governor and representative of the church in the community is negated by the community knowing that I am in a Civil Partnership. I wonder where he found evidence for this? The consequence is that anyone who does not accept the Church of England’s stand on a particular issue (e.g. the ordination of women) cannot exercise a representative function. From my experience it is those whose tradition is exclusive who do most damage to society’s view of the church. I am sure the Archbishop knows many people who have been deeply damaged by the teaching of ‘biblical traditionalists/fundamentalists’.
One of my deepest fears is that the increasing disrespect our society has for the church is fuelled by the perception of the church being hypocritical and the bible having nothing to offer. Whilst he repeats that he is opposed to “prejudice and bigotry” there will be many who can only infer such an attitude from what he writes. If he is seeking to uphold the teaching of the “Church Catholic” I fear his words can only give support to those who are prejudiced to the full inclusion of lgbt people and whose bigotry will be reinforced by the ‘Reflections’ of someone in his position.
In light of all this I wonder if he can help lgbt people know how they can take part in “becoming the Church God wants us to be, for the better proclamation of the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ” and just what that gospel is for us? I had found that ‘liberating gospel’ as prejudice in this country was replaced by acceptance and now legal recognition. But he has reminded me that God’s liberation is not for me unless I return to that state of repression which once existed.