SHOULD GAY BISHOPS COME OUT OF THE CLOSET?

My guess is that the majority of OCICBW...'s readers would take the attitude that this is a personal matter for each individual gay bishop to decide and they would have great sympathy for the position these bishops find themselves in. I suggest that although the sympathy is completely warranted the allowance of secrecy is completely wrong.

The bishops in this position were gay before they accepted their promotion and would have been fully aware of the current attitude of the rest of the church hierarchy towards their sexuality. If the church was still in "don't ask, don't tell" mode then not mentioning their sexual identity would be up to the individual bishop to decide and, as we are talking here about "don't ask, don't tell," I would understand if they decided not to tell. But the church is no longer in this mode. The church is discussing and voting on whether or not gay people can be bishops.

The General Synod is the Church of England's government. In English secular government, members of parliament have to declare any substantial personal interests they have in any debate and vote (this does not disqualify them from voting on or debating the legislation). I believe that this same rule should apply to the closeted bishops who are voting, at various levels of church governance, on this matter. The reason they should do this is because their openness, or alternatively their continued secrecy, has an effect on the voting of others. Not only would their disclosure of their sexuality show the reality of the situation, which in itself could very well influence the way any votes go, it would also render it unnecessary for straight colleagues to vote contrary to their own beliefs.

So, what about the outing of gay bishops? Again I am going to be controversial in my answer. If a journalist discovered that a member of parliament was hiding a personal interest in a matter under parliamentary debate and published what they had discovered, the journalist would be applauded for her action, not condemned. I can see no reason why this should not apply in church politics. If somebody has conclusive proof that a bishop is gay and not declaring the fact when debating matters of human sexuality within the "parliaments" of the church, then it is that person's duty to the church community to bring this fact to public attention.

Comments

SHOULD GAY BISHOPS COME OUT OF THE CLOSET? — 36 Comments

  1. Agreed – on both points.

    If a Christian is lying – and, in this case, a closeted gay bishop saying a gay man can not be a bishop is objectively lying, either in his position or his episcopacy – then other Christians have to duty to call him on it if he refuses to do so.

  2. Thanks, Mark.

    In my post I am trying to show that not only are we talking about moral duty but also what should be legal duty. Hopefully this adds a new dimension to the debate. I’m a bit worried about the fact that such a strategy may well appeal as much to the haters as radical Christians.

  3. Absolutely! I’m sorry I wasn’t clear – I was trying to indicate to the inevitable objection of “it’s legal, but is it right?!” that Yes! Yes it is!

  4. +Barbara Harris – you can stay in the closet as long as you are not using it as a sniper’s nest.

  5. What would happen to a bishop in the Church of England who did so? Would that be grounds for removal?

    In general, coming out is a personal thing and runs on a personal timetable. Actively going after others who are gay while you’re closeted is reprehensible, and I see some justification for outing especially when said person is passing laws that actively hurt others, although I question if outing is a Christian thing to do.

    While it may be easier for outsiders to say, “You’re gay. Why don’t you just come out?” The person him/herself may be struggling with that identification. They may not have even come to terms with the fact that they are gay. There were people who recognized that truth about me years before I had come to terms with it. Although I wasn’t a bishop or in any particular position of authority, a moral argument could be made that I was hurting other gays by not being open. I was, however, on my own journey and it just took time and a lot of pain. My own experience has caused me to conclude others can’t dictate when another should come out even when they feel they have the absolute moral high ground to do so. Too many people try to do that in the lives of others already.

    Here’s what I would suggest. If you know a bishop who is gay and closeted, perhaps you could approach him in private as a brother and talk with him. I know, I know… it’s not as dramatic or as fun, but it is a pretty good model we have been given from an excellent source. I think that kind of love and respect might have a far greater impact than demanding every gay bishop kick open their closet doors immediately.

  6. I’m not going to totally disagree with you, but consider: what constitutes conclusive proof? Pictures of His Grace in flagrante delicto? Testimony from a former jilted lover? A story from a rent boy? A friend of mine used to say, in reference to someone thought to be gay, “Well, he never sucked MY cock.”

    What I would be afraid of is outing someone and then later on finding that the testimony that outed the bishop was untrue, or true only in part.

    Do recall what happened when Peter Tatchell published his list of gay bishops at that time. Mervyn Stockwood (RIP) issued a statement that said, “I’ve had lots of women too.” Do we want something like that to be said now? Do we want bishops who are single (and thus suspect) to troll around for a woman to marry so as to disprove the outing?

    I am afraid that bishops will be treated unjustly and suffer because of this. And I know, dear Fr. MP, that you hold no brief for bishops, and neither do I. But I would rather that 10 gay bishops (otherwise innocuous) stay in the closet than that one straight bishop be inaccurately and unjustly “outed”.

  7. My post is to propose that there might be a legal aspect to this debate as well as a moral one. As such it does not address the moral issues.

  8. I am conflicted over this issue. I know / have known closeted gay folks who entrusted that knowledge to me. I would never, ever out them even in the couple cases where they have died.

    I am after all straight and while I can applaud the courage and try to understand and help comfort the pain of those who come out to a hostile and vicious world I cannot really know it. I have no authority to demand that sort of sacrifice of anyone.

    As many of us observed in the response to the disgusting “crucified place” comment, accepting the cross is sacrifice, demanding it is murder.

    But(!!) I also damn well know people lay and clerical who have taken on that pain and fear, made that sacrifice and lived with it and triumphed! They unlike the moral coward in Lambeth palace deserve all the support and respect we can offer. And if one of them decides to out a sniper I will accept their judgment and support their action.

    FWIW
    jimB

  9. I wrote about this at FoJ a few weeks ago.

    I do not believe in outing, with rare exceptions. Here I do not think I support outing. But I believe that the only act of integrity is for the gay bishops to come out.

    If they do it on their own terms, it can be an act of leadership.

    If they wait till they are outed (which is inevitable for many reasons) they will lose all moral authority and the legacy they leave will be sad, pathetic, and disgusting.

    That’s why I think the call should be, GAY BISHOPS COME OUT.

  10. If you all want to talk about morality that’s up to you. But some reference to my groundbreaking introduction of constitutional law into this debate would be appreciated by your humble MadPriest.

  11. I think it has nothing to do with the constitution of the USA – I don’t know anything about the UK or CoE – neither of which has a constitution afaik

  12. I’m not sure why you are introducing constitutional law at all. As a Christian pastor, surely it ought to be the teaching and example of Jesus that you are applying. And it seems to me that Jesus has been very clear about the approach we are to take in Matthew 18:15-20.

  13. IMHO we are confusing “homosexual” with “gay.” I think you will find closeted gay bishops who are aggressively tearing down others. I do believe you will find closeted homosexual bishops doing just that. However, what exactly is the purpose of “outing” a homosexual? This is an individual has has so squelched his or her sexuality into such a tight little box…they are to be pitied, because eventually the little box will explode all over them quite publicly or they will simply wither up inside and die. Going on witchhunts for these individuals seems to be a waste of energy.

  14. I don’t see what your Biblical reference has to do with my post, Tim. Are you getting confused between this post and my post on the the lying Bishop of Newcastle? I have already admitted that you are scripturally correct on that one. But this post is not about taking anybody to court. It is about required practice within an existing constitution. Of course, if my suggestion was taken up then there would be the possibility of legal actions being taken and your gospel quote would become relevant.

  15. Someone who is “gay” has accepted and embraced his/her orientation despite remaining private. They would not be likely to be hypocritical and act out. I think these numbers would be small.

    Someone who is merely “homosexual” may or may not have a spouse of the opposite gender, has not embraced his/her sexuality in truth and is much more likely to attack and tear down openly GLBT and/or GLBT positive folk.

    However, I don’t see the point in dragging these sad creatures into the light. That’s all.

  16. I don’t actually get the legal problem.

    There is a debate about whether bishops can be gay, but there as yet no negative decision about it.

    There has been some dubious legal advice that lists under which circumstances a gay priest might not be an acceptable bishop. This advice has not been tested in a court of law, nor has it been officially adopted by the CoE.

    And even if it had, you would still have to show that the particular closeted gay bishops are the kind of gay that is against the rules.

  17. I think you may have gone so far off thread, even by your standards, Erika, that I do not have the foggiest idea what you are on about.

  18. don’t see what your Biblical reference has to do with my post, Tim. Are you getting confused between this post and my post on the the lying Bishop of Newcastle?

    No. I just think that if you are offended by someone’s behaviour (closeted gay bishops or otherwise) the Christian thing to do is to talk to them personally about it, not humiliate them in public.

  19. You may be right, Tim. But that your suggestion is not proof texted by you Biblical reference. And I could find as many texts within just the gospels about outing hypocrisy as you could find texts about being nice to each other.

  20. MP,
    You say that “My post is to propose that there might be a legal aspect to this debate as well as a moral one. As such it does not address the moral issues.”

    In your main post you seem to say that the legal aspect is that these bishops have to “declare an interest”. But that is not a legal concept in connection with homosexuality.

    You say that yourself: “In English secular government, members of parliament have to declare any substantial personal interests they have in any debate and vote (this does not disqualify them from voting on or debating the legislation). I believe that this same rule *should* apply to the closeted bishops who are voting, at various levels of church governance, on this matter.”

    The only other possible legal aspect could come into it if the church made gay bishops actually illegal.
    It hasn’t.
    The concept of “declaring an interest” does not exist in the church.

    So you’re really saying that you would like there to be a legal aspect.
    That’s different.

  21. So what are you saying? You meant to say that this isn’t just a moral debate but goes well beyond it.

    If there is no legal aspect, how is it anything other than a moral debate?

  22. Cutting through all the debate I see a Priest (you, MP) whose dedication to the faith and the Church is so enormous that it comes through even when your comments are negative and firey. They ought never to have let you go.

  23. No, Erika. The post is a different way to look at the matter of gay bishops using legal language rather than moral language. The post is self explanatory. But as I said up in the thread somewhere, if you want to talk about the moral issues then do so. Just don’t project me into the argument.

  24. I suspect that the recent ruling on Prop 8 by a gay judge who was then asked to recuse himself might be apposite here. The appeals court ruled that he did not have to recuse himsefl, simply because the result of the decision might affect him personally.

    Dear Fr. MP: your proposal would only encourage closeted bishops to lie about it. Anything that encourages any bishop to lie any more than he does already is bad, in my opinion. It will not encourage anyone to emerge from the closet.

    Until the Church does some really deep theological internal work on sexuality nothing will get better. If Rowan weren’t ABC, he’d have been the perfect person to do it. Now, of course, he’s been tainted by high office and I wouldn’t trust him with anything sharper than a rubber ball. Especially not a pen.

  25. Are you trying to suggest that someone might have a legal responsibility to out a known-gay (via eyewitness to self-ID, or Chris’s more colorful first-person method) bishop? (OCICBW)

  26. I am suggesting that the decision could be made based on the legal concept of the declaration of interest rather than more personal concepts of morality. Of course, good legal principle should always be the result of moral debate. So I am also suggesting that the moral decision may have already been made if you subscribe to the legal concept that substantive interest must be declared by any contributor to a debate about or vote on a matter that may lead to a corporate action.