Monday, June 06, 2011

Anglican Arm-Twisting

Apparently, there are rumored to be some straight priests left in the Church of England. As we have said before, this surprises us. Oh, we believe it -- statistically, it stands to reason. But we're shallow, and the fact flies in the face of the caricature.

All of which makes us shake our head wearily when the CofE (like so many other Cs) waxes anxious about the presence of gay people on its clergy roster, and even -- dites-nous que non! -- among its bishops. For whatever reason, the muckety-mucks do feel compelled to put on a brave face, and treat the matter as though it were subject to some doubt or question.

From all of which comes the latest bit of sad farce. It seems that the Rev. Colin Slee, late Dean of Southwark, released an "anguished and devastating memorandum" to the press, shortly before his death from pancreatic cancer. We can't find the memorandum itself, but the Guardian describes its contents. Slee's anguish was caused by his church's playacting over sexuality in general, and in particular by the bad behavior of Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, and John Sentamu, Archbishop of York.

It seems that in the summer of 2010, a new bishop was required for Southwark, in south London. Among the candidates put forth by the Crown Nominating Committee was Jeffrey John, who is gay, and in a long-term relationship with another cleric, but who is also celibate. (Scoffers beware: It's not as unlikely as it sounds. These things happen.) Another candidate was the Rev. Nicholas Holtham, since made Bishop of Salisbury, who is straight, but whose wife is divorced from another man.

There were two other candidates, whom Slee found to have far less impressive credentials than John and Holtham. (Christopher Chessun is the fellow who wound up in the chair; we know nothing about his credentials, or whether he was one of the two candidates Slee mentioned.)

If Slee is a reliable witness, both Canterbury and York came loaded for bear, determined to sink the candidacies of the better-qualified men, on the grounds of the gay thing and the divorced-wife thing. And they played hardball:

The document reveals shouting matches and arm-twisting by the archbishops to keep out the diocese's preferred choices as bishop ....

Slee described Williams shouting and losing his temper in last year's Southwark meeting, which left several members of the crown nomination committee, responsible for the selection of bishops, in tears.
To be honest, we'd like to have seen that. After his public whipping by Rome when the Ordinariate was announced, we'd like to see Williams fight for something. Even something we disagree with.

And then, just to make thing perfect, there's this:
Slee also in effect charges the church with hypocrisy, stating that there are several gay bishops "who have been less than candid about their domestic arrangements and who, in a conspiracy of silence, have been appointed to senior positions". The memo warns: "This situation cannot endure. Exposure of the reality would be nuclear."
Nuclear indeed. Gay people! In church! Seriously, though, what he means is that publicly outing the gay bishops would have a devastating and destabilizing effect on an already shaken church, and he's surely right.

At which point, enter Colin Coward, a CoE priest and very public supporter of just openly gaying the church. Commenting on the Slee memo, he says
I could name a number of bishops who are gay, including several appointed in the last 12 months. I’m sitting here this morning wondering whether I should, knowing that to do so is not in accord with my Christian ethos.
And now, of course, there's a little section of the blogosphere urging him to reconsider his ethos. The sharks smell blood in the water. We are troubled by the McCarthyesque tone of Coward's claim -- "I have in my hand a list..," etc. But we suspect he may not be bluffing.

Still, we hope he won't reconsider. Outing is a bad policy, and often one that is especially cruel to people you didn't out (ask Mrs. McGreevey). Yes, cowardice and hypocrisy are also bad policies, but as our old Gammer used to say, two wrongs don't make the bloody nose go away.

1 comment:

Mark Christianson said...

The idea of a shouting match involving the Archbishop of Canterbury that drove members of the crown nomination committee to tears is one that unaccountably fascinates. What could have been the purpose and motivation? What could have been said? What kind of rhetoric was used? It's an idea that causes one to have trouble with the 8th Commandment.