Church of England may face split over issue of gay bishops
A split looms in The Church of England amid recent developments that may lead to adopting a more liberal stance with regard to same-sex relationships in the clergy.
The House of Bishops in a statement said that it will review existing teachings on homosexuality to see whether or not gay clergy who are engaged in civil partnerships will be eligible to become bishops. The review will be completed and a decision rendered by next year, according to The Telegraph.
The statement has led to warnings from conservative leaders in the church that a policy shift could cause a split. On the other hand, church liberals said they are disappointed that any policy changes will only be announced in 2013, The Telegraph said.With the announcement of the review, openly gay priests with civil partnerships will be barred from promotion within its duration. Presently, gay male priests are only eligible to become bishops if they are celibate. To date, no openly gay priest has been made a bishop. One former candidate, Rev. Jeffrey John, dean of St. Albans, was twice rejected; first, in 2003 as a candidate for Bishop of Reading (he was forced to withdraw when his long-term gay relationship was revealed); and secondly, last year as a candidate for Bishop of Southwark.
Rod Thomas, who is chairman of the conservative evangelical group, Reform, told The Telegraph that while he supports the ban, “The bishops know that if they veer in a liberal direction on sexuality they risk splitting the church.”
Thomas pointed out that conservatives may opt to join the Anglican Mission in England, a newly-formed group that poses a threat to the Archbishop of Canterbury, as it supports conservative evangelicals, The Telegraph said.
“We’re not actively preparing to join it, but we need to work out what is in place if the church ends up going down a more liberal line that sits light on the constraints of scripture,” Thomas told The Telegraph.
The Rt. Rev. Graham James, bishop of Norwich, said (on behalf of the House of Bishops) that the last time the church issued a statement about gay clergy was in 2005, and according to the Associated Press, the bishops failed to sufficiently address the matter.
The 2005 statement said, “sexual intercourse, as an expression of faithful intimacy, properly belongs within marriage exclusively.” It also said marriage is by definition, “a faithful, committed, permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between a man and a woman, central to the stability and health of human society.”
Under the statement, clerical candidates should expect to be asked if they have a civil same-sex partnerships, and if they do, must clarify if the relationship is celibate and in agreement with the teachings of the church.
The 2005 statement was made in the same year that a law was passed allowing same-sex civil partnerships, entitling them to the same rights and obligations that are legally required of married couples.
Last month the church issued a legal opinion that clergy could not be rejected as potential bishops on the grounds of homosexual orientation. It also opened the doors to the possibility that clergy who are openly gay and have civil relationships may become bishops—provided they are celibate, The Telegraph said.
James told the AP that under the pending review, “The bishops will produce a consultation document in 2013. The House’s decision is motivated by a desire to help shape the continuing debate constructively and not by any view about what the outcome should be.”
James said to the Telegraph, “The (House of Bishops) has committed itself to a wider look at the Church of England’s approach to same-sex relationships,” The Telegraph reported.
The Anglican Church is also still debating on whether or not women clergy, whether they are gay or not, can become candidates for bishops.