PRESS RELEASE from the Chairman of the Church of England Evangelical Council
At the very least, the House of Bishops’ “Statement Regarding Clergy in a Civil Partnership as Candidates for the Episcopate”, will spread confusion and at worst will be taken as an effort to conform to the spirit of the age. By its timing, the Bishops appear stung by the national reaction of outrage to the rejection by General Synod of legislation to legalise the consecration of women as Bishops. If by this statement they are trying to mend fences with the general populace, showing they are truly in touch with the mind of the nation, they are profoundly out of touch with the reality of civil partnerships, most of which are seen as a focus for sexual activity, not simply an arrangement for tax purposes.
Some bishops are known to be lax about questioning civil-partnership clergy about their sex lives. Yet the Bishop of Norwich has reported that the House of Bishops believes it would be unjust to exclude from consideration for the episcopate anyone seeking to live fully in conformity with the Church's teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline. As an argument, it has some merit. But the fact is this is not a justice issue, it is an issue of example setting to the nation. It is no surprise the BBC reported the statement as “Church removes bar to gay bishops”. That’s all most people will hear, even though under the media breath there is reference to the requirement of celibacy and traditional teaching.
The church has a poor record already on that kind of discipline. And while some Bishops are known to duck the question, the watching world may well conclude that same sex relationships are simply OK for followers of Jesus Christ. What will happen if same sex marriage is finally approved? Will the House of Bishops have another meeting to approve the next step: bishops married into same sex partnerships? Will anybody then believe there can be gay marriage without gay sex. Christians are supposed to be different and follow the teaching of Christ. The House of Bishops knows that, but on the face of the present statement they appear more concerned to avoid criticism from the watching world than to be faithful to scripture, and wise in the timing and content of its public pronouncements.
Venerable Michael Lawson Chairman, the Church of England Evangelical Council
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