Mike Claridge - 21st February 2012
Roundabout - March 2012
St Andrew's, West Bromwich
When I was going through the selection process to be ordained one of the discussions we were set was “God is no where near as interested in sex as we think he is?” The person leading the discussion interpreted that to be about gender - it was the time the decision was being made as to whether women could be priests (presbyters) - I’m not sure I would have done. I was reminded of this because there’s a battle or two going on in the Church of England at the moment about both gender and sexuality.
It’s nineteen years since the first women priests were ordained. It was widely agreed at the time that, once women were priests, there was no theological reason why they could not be bishops. Two decades on the legislation to allow that is proceeding. The Dioceses have been overwhelmingly in favour and, if passed by the C of E’s General Synod in July, the first bishops who are women will likely be consecrated in 2014.
Discussion surrounding the legislation has focussed, not on whether there should be bishops who are women, which was decided in favour years ago, but what provisions should be there for those opposed! The proposal is that a Diocesan Bishop (a woman) should be able to delegate the bishops role, in those parishes against, to a Suffragen (Assistant) Bishop. Some of those against say they wouldn’t recognise a woman bishop’s authority to delegate anyway so want the provision provided from elsewhere! It’s a confusing matter but unfortunately still has the ability to wreck the legislation. Personally I hope the legislation proceeds unaltered and that we see the first women bishops soon.
The other battle is over sexuality. Should homosexual individuals be allowed to be clergy? Should same sex partnership ceremonies be permitted in church? I have to to lay my cards on the table and say I am in favour on both accounts. In the latter case I would of course have to follow the will of the church council and congregation of whichever church I found myself to be Vicar of when the law was changed.
There have been gay clergy since the earliest years of the church. The current situation in the Church of England is that gay clergy are expected to live celibate lives, even if they have a partner living with them. This seems an unnecessarily requirement in my opinion and involves a far more intrusive question than is asked of unmarried clergy in heterosexual relationships. Gay clergy, who have declared their sexuality, whether celibate or maybe not, continue to experience appalling discrimination from the C of E’s heirarchy. The church has lost out on many valuable ministries as a result.
Both of these arguments leave many outside the church, where such discrimination is often thankfully a thing of the past, amazed at how irrelevant the church seems to be. Maybe we should remember that Jesus said very little about either gender or sexuality. He did however speak a lot about the injustice of poverty and the right and wrong use of money. In the current political climate, the church needs to stop navel gazing so as to be able to speak out more on the issues that really need to be addressed.