The Anglican Church at cross-roads
2012 was quite a difficult year for the Anglican Church.
- Gay Bishops were accepted
- Women Bishops were rejected
- Succession to the British throne by a female, and hence potentially non-Anglican as Head of Church of England (and Anglican Church?) is in the balance.
All the above factors have and continue to tear the Anglican Church apart. Some people argue that as an employer, the Church of England is subject to the same anti-discrimination laws as everyone else. It can therefore not discriminate against sexual orientation, gender, age etc.
Some question the rational for rejecting women Bishops but accepting gay Bishops. The question being asked is that, if one wants the Anglican Church to move forward and were given a choice between women Bishops and gay Bishops – which one would they prefer? Would the choice depend on personal interests or would the Church’s interests be put at the forefront?
How naive I have been. Throughout my life, I had neither heard of nor seen an Anglican Reverend priest who was not hetrosexually married (or widowed), until I recently took interest in the Anglican Church’s gay Bishop debate and managed to come across Jeffrey John.
On 20 May 2003 John’s appointment as Bishop of Reading was announced. The nomination led to controversy both in the Church of England and the wider Anglican community owing to John’s long-term relationship (beginning in 1976) with the Revd Grant Holmes, also a Church of England priest, despite publicly stating that their relationship was celibate.
On 20 December 2012 the House of Bishops accepted gay Bishops. In a statement on behalf of the House of Bishops, the Rt Rev Graham James, Bishop of Norwich confirmed that clergy in civil partnerships, and living in accordance with the teaching of the Church on human sexuality, can be considered as candidates for the episcopate .
The House of Bishops did not see being in a civil partnership as “intrinsically incompatible with holy orders” provided those concerned could give assurances the relationship was not sexually active. In other words:
- People can be in a partnership but not express their loving relationships sexually.
- Gay clergy in civil partnerships will be allowed to become bishops if they are sexually abstinent.
Problem is, how do you police the above? CCTV in bedrooms to satisfy the sceptics?
Despite the hostilities they have faced, certain gay clergy have stuck together and/or come out openly. This is sufficient evidence to suggest how truly and deeply they love each other.
That is why I find it difficult to imagine how they can remain celibate and at the same time have so much affection for each other.
Like anyone else, they are expected to wind up in their bedrooms at the end of a long day. They will close the bedroom door, change into (out of?) their nightwear, enter a shared bed and switch off the light – and remain celibate! No carnal knowledge!
Does the word temptation ring a bell? ‘I can resist everything except temptation‘.
Do you blame me for being a sceptic?
The possibility of women being admitted to the orders of deacon, priest and bishop has been on the Church of England’s agenda since at least 1966 when Women and Holy Orders was produced for the Church Assembly. Read the chronology of women bishops legislation here.
The legislation for women to become bishops requires a two-third majority in all three houses of the 470-strong General Synod to pass: bishops, clergy and laity (lay people).
In November 2012 the General Synod vote failed to reach the required two-thirds majority in the House of Laity the legislation for women bishops was rejected.
- Bishops: 44 ayes 3 noes 2 abstentions
- Clergy: 148 ayes 45 noes 0 abstentions
- Laity: 132 ayes 74 noes 0 abstentions
Many Anglo-Catholics and conservatives think it goes too far by allowing female bishops in the first place, while for many pro-women campaigners it revolves around an insulting concession to their opponents.
Anglicans who oppose women bishops comprise some (but not all) of those described as Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics.
Anglo-Catholics revere the traditions and ceremonies of the Church. Some believe a woman cannot be a valid bishop and ordaining women prevents unity with the Roman Catholics.
Evangelicals place great stress on the teachings of the Bible. Those who oppose women bishops say scripture requires male headship in the Church and the family.
Succession to the British throne by a female
The succession to the British throne is regulated not only through descent, but also by Parliamentary statute. The basis for the succession was determined in the constitutional developments of the seventeenth century, which culminated in the Bill of Rights (1689) and the Act of Settlement (1701).
Under the old succession laws, dating back more than 300 years, the heir to the throne is the first-born son of the monarch. Only when there are no sons, as in the case of the Queen’s father George VI, does the crown pass to the eldest daughter.
The 1701 Act of Settlement means that only the Protestant heirs of Sophia, granddaughter of James I, can become King or Queen. It also gives precedence to male heirs.
The leaders of the 16 Commonwealth countries where the Queen is head of state unanimously approved the changes to the succession laws at a summit in Perth, Australia in November 2011.
It means a first-born daughter of Prince William and Kate (i.e. Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) would take precedence over younger brothers.
The ban on the monarch being married to a Roman Catholic was also lifted.
The succession changes require a raft of historic legislation to be amended, including the 1701 Act of Settlement, the 1689 Bill of Rights and the Royal Marriages Act 1772.
There has been some sense of urgency following Price William and Kate’s announcement that they are expecting a baby.
A government bill was introduced on 13 December 2012. There was no debate on the Bill at this stage. Its second reading and debate are expected on 22 January 2013.
The point in contention is related to the fact that any prevailing British monarch is by default the Head of Church of England. But a female monarch can marry a Catholic. If that is the case, their children are be brought up under their father’s religion.
The dilemma then, is to have a Catholic as the Head of England – when the children grow up and take the throne.
Surprisingly enough, the debate currently focuses only on the possibility of the female marrying a Catholic. No one has considered the fact that a royal female can also fall in love with a Muslim man and marry him – not yet at least! A bit short sighted!
Reaction from the Anglican Church outside UK – to be posted later