Sunday 3 October 2010

The Sin of Honesty

Over the last week there have been a number of Blogs pointing out the culture of secrecy that exists in the Church of England and the Anglican world over sexual orientation.

Colin Coward in the Changing Attitude Blog has been most outspoken, claiming that there are 3 gay Primates in the Anglican Communion and 10-13 gay Bishops in the Church of England!

So the Archbishop's now famous phrase from last week's interview in the Times that "He has no problem with gay bishops' clearly needs another caveat placed alongside celibacy - the caveat that "He has no problem - as long as no-one knows!"

This is clearly a major issue for the CofE and the Anglican Communion. At a meeting of candidates for the current General Synod elections last week, 2 of the candidates openly noted that the Church of England has been ordaining gay priests and consecrating gay bishops for years, and that we need to stop living a lie!

Indeed, when I served on General Synod several years ago, I remember being part of a conversation in which a serving Bishop's name was mentioned as being gay. The reaction was remarkable - there was shocked silence for a moment before one senior churchman (they were both men) for whom this was news, said "He's not gay, is he?" while at the same moment another (who already knew of the Bishop's sexuality) said, "He's not gone public, has he?" Which was the greater crime, I wondered - being gay or being honest?

Nor is this issue limited to men. I also remember meeting a life-long missionary, for an evangelical mission agency, who, throughout her many years ministry in Africa knew she was a lesbian, and indeed had a relationship with a fellow missionary for many years. Everyone thought she was simply a spinster who had never met the 'right man', and it was not until she was in her late 60's and safely retired, that she could be finally honest and open about her sexuality. The sense of liberation on her face, at finally being able to tell people was tangible and powerful.

Is honesty the main issue then? Is it the honesty and openness of Jeffrey John that is the real cause of his awful treatment at the hands of the Church? And when is there going to be a sustained challenge to this way of doing things?

Is it the honesty of Gene Robinson and Mary Glasspool that makes them and the Episcopal Church such a focus for disapproval in the Anglican Communion? If they had just kept quiet? If they had just lived a lie? If they had hidden behind a veneer of acceptability? Would everything have been ok?

The answer, of course, is a resounding "No!" If we, as Christ body here on earth are to convince people that God is real, we need to be real. If we want people to find abundant life in Christ, we need to live real lives, not carefully crafted veneers of acceptability.

It was Oliver Cromwell ironically, (the English puritan political leader during the English Civil War) who said "Paint my picture - warts and all". Like it or not, good or bad, he wanted people to see him as he really was.

Until we learn to be a church which is prepared to be an environment where people can be honest and open, we will continue to encourage Christians and Christian leaders to lead fake lives.

And fake lives can only build a fake Church.

And a fake Church does not portray a real God, or a real Gospel, or real salvation - just an hollow veneer which people see though all too easily.


  1. Thanks for this Benny, that rings so true - that's what my vicar said last year as well. If I hadn't told him then...

  2. Thanks for this. Many, many years ago I was turned away from ordination because I answered the "big question" honestly. While I hugely regret that the Church took/takes that stand, I will never regret my reply.