Monday 7 January 2013

Is your bishop gay?

The results of the 2011 census for England and Wales, reported recently, made depressing news for the church. There was a sharp drop in the number of people describing themselves as ‘Christian’. The Church of England’s latest pronouncement on gay bishops is unlikely to reverse that trend.

The basic cause of the collapse in religious belief, religious observance and religious affiliation is not church policy on gay bishops. But the church’s ability to tie itself in knots over such issues shows how far removed from society it has become, and provides a clue to why it is seen as out of touch and irrelevant.

Most people (apart from elderly UKIP voters) have simply moved on from the issue of whether anybody is gay, bishop or not. A church that opposed homosexuality under any circumstances would win little favour but would at least be morally consistent. A church that believes that what matters is whether people love one another, and did not prescribe how they expressed that love, would both win favour and be morally consistent.

But it is hard to understand a moral position that says a bishop may be gay so long as he remains celibate. What is the moral difference between a homosexual priest having sex and a homosexual bishop having sex? What is the moral difference between a heterosexual bishop having sex and a homosexual bishop having sex? Is it OK for a homosexual bishop to have heterosexual sex? And if the church relents and allows female bishops, where does that leave lesbian bishops? In any case, how does the church propose to enforce its arcane rulings? Your guess is as good as mine.

While we are waiting for the C of E to clarify its new policy, Victoria Wright in the Independent has produced this helpful list of dos and don’ts for gay bishops.

What this controversy reveals is a church obsessed with the mechanics of sex (i.e. which dangly bit may be inserted in which orifice) rather than whether people love one another. It is a completely abstract doctrinal view of life, which makes little or no sense to the rest of society.

The Church of England’s self-imposed moral torture reminds me of this old limerick:
There was an old dyke from Khartoum,
Who took a young girl to her room,
But they argued all night,
About who had the right,
To do what, and with which, and to whom.

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