CofE drops opposition to gay bishops in civil partnerships


Prebendary Rod Thomas says the first bishop in a civil partnership will cause a "furore"

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The Church of England has dropped its prohibition on gay clergy in civil partnerships becoming bishops.

The announcement, from the Church's House of Bishops, would allow gay clergy to become bishops if they promise to be celibate.

Conservative evangelical Anglicans say they will fight the move in the Church's ruling general synod.

The issue has split the church since 2003 amid a row over gay cleric Jeffrey John becoming Bishop of Reading.

Mr John, now Dean of St Albans, was forced to withdraw from the role shortly after having initially accepted it, following protests from traditionalists.

He was also a candidate for Bishop of Southwark in 2010 but was rejected. Evidence emerged that this was because of his sexual orientation.

The Church of England has already agreed to allow people in civil partnerships to become clergy, provided they promised they would remain celibate.

In July last year, the House of Bishops (HoB) said it would review this decision, made in 2005, to decide whether it could also relate to bishops.

In the list of decisions at its latest meeting in December, it has now confirmed that those conditions could now extend to bishops.

This amounts to a lifting of the moratorium on the appointment of clergy in civil partnerships as bishops, the Church Times said.

Fiercely resisted

The Rt Rev Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, said on behalf of the House of Bishops that it would be "unjust" to exclude anyone for consideration for the role of bishop who was "seeking to live fully in conformity with the Church's teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline".

He said: "All candidates for the episcopate undergo a searching examination of personal and family circumstances, given the level of public scrutiny associated with being a bishop in the Church of England.

Jeffrey John with  Bishop The Right Rev Christopher Herbert Mr John is now the Dean of St Albans

"But these, along with the candidate's suitability for any particular role for which he is being considered, are for those responsible for the selection process to consider in each case."

BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said that, given the tension surrounding the issue of sexuality, the Church's decision to allow men in civil partnerships to become bishops represented a major concession and one with considerable symbolic significance.

Conservative evangelicals have warned they would be willing to bring in bishops from overseas to avoid serving under a gay bishop.

The Reverend Rod Thomas, chairman of the evangelical group Reform, said the idea of appointing people in civil partnerships as bishops had not been agreed or debated by the wider Church.

"That would be a major change in church doctrine and therefore not something that can be slipped out in the news, it is something that has got to be considered by the general synod."

He said there would be great divisions in the Church if clergy in a civil partnership were appointed as a bishop.

'Loving relationships'

Canon Chris Sugden from Anglican Mainstream said: "Since a decision to move from the current position would be a grave departure from the Church's doctrine and discipline; it should be made by Bishops in Synod not by Bishops alone. Otherwise it looks too much like salami-slicing away at the Church's teaching. "

The Rev Colin Coward is director of the Changing Attitude group, which campaigns for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the Church. He said the church "has issued a statement which will be laughed at by the majority in this country."

Insisting on celibacy was wrong, he went on: "Jesus, the Holy Spirit, advocates deeply loving faithful committed relationships in which people express their love sexually, and that is Biblical teaching."

Worldwide, anger over the appointment of actively gay men and women as bishops, especially in the US, has stimulated the Gafcon movement, through which conservative Anglican provinces in Africa and elsewhere have begun to function independently of the official Anglican Communion.

Gafcon has condemned those who preach a "false gospel" which "claims God's blessing for same-sex unions over against the biblical teaching on holy matrimony".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    This is astonishing. "The Church has already agreed to allow people in civil partnerships to become clergy, provided they promised they would remain celibate, and repent for active homosexuality in the past". So you can join if you are gay, but don't 'do it', and are very sorry that you were gay in the past. The Church is totally out of touch.

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    @ Peter Mash

    You are confusing God and a cult that claims to act on Gods behalf.

    I still believe in God, what I don't believe in is the organised religions spreading bigotry all over this planet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    Another own goal from the hierarchy of the CofE so let's make a few things very clear:
    For the vast majority of Anglicans it's ok to be gay, and a bishop, and a female bishop too.
    What you do in your bedroom is between you, your partner, and God if you are a Christian.
    Sadly there are ignorant bigots to be fund in all walks of life.

  • Comment number 247.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    This WOULD be a big step forward, except that to be accepted as a gay bishop the CofE insists candidates promise to be celibate (why?) and repent for past homosexual activity. In other words, to have the role they aspire to they must promise not to be the person that they are AND condemn the person they have been. Crazy. Either they believe in equality or not. (And clearly they don't.)

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    Typical - absolutely, typical. Either the Church is OK with gays as bishops or it is not. Who is going to monitor whether the bishop is having sex or not?

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    It seems to me that any pro homosexual view is published, however offensive or extreme, but any criticism of "gay" advancement is labelled homophobic and censored. I don't know of anyone "afraid" of homosexuals, against its promotion in our Nation, yes, afraid, no.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    The church is an archaic institution and one into which I most definitely cannot subscribe. Of course nobody has the right to tell anyone else how to live their lives (despite the attempts of successive governments!).

    HOWEVER - the church is just a club - if you don't like the club rules, rather than protest about them, just don't join it. Nobody is forcing you to do anything!

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    DEAR BBC: This isn't news as quite simply, the Church of England is a thing of the past.

    Yours sincerely,

    The flying Spaghetti monster

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    This issue is public interest because church is 'established'. First reaction to this statement was to roar with laughter at another own goal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    Behaviour like this from the church (& supposed moral compass) is exactly why religion should have nothing to do with schools (other than taught as part of RE with other faiths etc) and politics. This is simply absurd, dehumanising and so out of touch with the world!! Fine - do you what you want in your own "club" but CoE should not have ANY influence on our society as a whole!

  • Comment number 239.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 238.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    We've got to put aside our prejudices and look at wider society. This is more than simply a religious issue. Do we want the relationship between a man and woman to be the continuing norm for the basis of family life?
    All humans deserve respect, regardless of sexual orientation. But what are the long term consequences for society of continuously eroding the traditional family?

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    This is ridiculous. Has anybody thought who is to police it? Or how?

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    I wonder if they'll use the Bill Clinton definition of 'I did not have sex' in determining whether the bishop in question is celibate or not. What a ridiculous condition to impose. No wonder so many people now view religion not only as irrelevant but ridiculous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    the church is really in the dark ages.
    its so unbelievable, almost ludicrous!

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    Surely as an employer the CoE is subject to the same anti-discrimination laws as everyone else? This seems to be yet another example of religious bodies making up their own laws.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    God does love everyone - He simply does not approve of all life-styles. And gay is one of them.

    I don't think people who (think they) are gay and are living a celebate life-style will be spiritually or emotionally stable enough to be of much use as a Bishop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    The whole thing is ridiculous. Why should a Bishop in a civil partnership remain celibate and yet a straight Bishop does not have to remain celibate?

    Also, how on earth are they going to prove that they have remained celibate, get a CSI team in to test the sheets?

    And the CofE wonders why it still get the label of bigot?


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