Church of England Will Allow Gay Men to be Bishops… On One Crazy Condition

In a desperate attempt to prolong its moment in the spotlight, the tired old Church of England has once again found a way to get what should be a positive step oh so very wrong.

It’s been a busy couple of months for the church. First, we had the unsuccessful vote to allow women bishops, followed by worse-than-expected census figures, and, finally, its bizarre exemption from upcoming gay marriage legislation. This time, there’s confusion all around as the church has moved to allow openly gay priests in civil partnerships to become bishops.

This should be a good thing. Under the leadership of Dr. Rowan Williams, the church has become a force for progressive and positive change in its approach to social justice and equality. It’s at least far ahead of the Catholics and Protestants — but, then again, that’s not really saying much. There’s just one caveat to this move. (Maybe the church thought no one would notice, or maybe they’re just too repressed to condone it.)

Gay priests must not have sex.

Dr. Jeffery John, an openly gay bishop since 2003 (via The Times)

Andrew Brown, writing in the Guardian, thinks this may mark the moment when the church has all but given up on fighting civil partnerships and shifted its attention to ensure that any gay clergy under its influence remain celibate:

In the medium term it is already clear that opposition to gay marriage is a lost cause for the Church of England. It’s not really one that the laity care about: although people used to sneer at the Church of England for being the Tory party at prayer, not even its worst enemies have called it UKIP at prayer, and UKIP is where the Tories who hate gay marriage will end up. Opposition to civil partnerships is simply unthinkable. Instead, the battle has shifted to whether gay clergy are celibate, and even whether the bishop can demand to know what their sleeping arrangements are if they announce they are civilly partnered.

It’s unclear exactly what motives lie behind this decision; there are probably lots of factors at play. Church leaders are all too aware of the PR-battering the church has taken over the past few months, and that will only hasten the decline in practicing Anglicans. This could be an attempt to appeal to wider society while still casting itself as a relevant institution in the 21st century. None of this was cleared up by Right Reverend Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, who announced the decision.

The House has 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 [office of Bishop]. 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.

Some church members have welcomed the move; others have been distinctly unimpressed. Reform, an evangelical network which also pushes for the Church of England to be more traditional, issued a statement through its chairman Michael Lawson:

It’s a very worrying development. If someone were to be appointed who was in a civil partnership, that would be a very divisive step, both within England and across the Anglican Communion. Although the Church says they would be required to declare that they are celibate as part of their appointment, the fact is that this is unenforceable.

That last word sums this entire mess up in a single word. I welcome the church’s move to become more accepting of the gay community, and society in general, as it attempts to move with the times. But why, oh why, did it have to insist on this celibacy rule? It makes a mockery of the notion of a loving relationship and has annoyed people on both sides of the argument. All of this for a rule which is quite simply unenforceable.

About Mark Turner

Mark Turner was born and raised as a Catholic in the North East of England, UK. He attended two Catholic schools between the ages of five and sixteen. A product of a moderate Catholic upbringing and an early passion for science first resulted in religious apathy and by mid-teens outright disbelief.


  • ruth

    So, to rank order people:
    Straight male bishops.
    Gay male bishops who don’t have sex.
    Gay male partnered bishops who don’t have sex.
    And women. Who don’t get to be bishops so who cares if they have sex.

  • chicago dyke

    it’s just all so stupid. gay people exist. always have, always will. we’re people, like everybody else. we have loving relationships. we pay taxes (which in your country pay for your church, right?). we raise children. some of us even worship an invisible being.

    and… we have sex. we like it! just like straight people. why “straight” people just can’t stop thinking about the fact that we have sex confounds a lot of us. we wonder, “do you have issues you need to address, if all you can talk about is buttsex?” and i see the CoE has a few members who should ask themselves that question. also: if/when they finally allow wimmin to wear pointy hats and funny clothes that cost as much as could feed a poor family in africa for a year, will lesbians be allowed to have sex? or is that “hot” and therefore allowable?

  • Sven2547

    So many Christians are obsessively preoccupied with where people put their penises. It’s ridiculous.

  • Rod Fleming

    Good but, umm Anglicans are Protestants.’ In British parliamentary legislation referring to the English Established Church, it is described as the “Protestant Episcopal Church”,’ Source: Whether or not you like Wikipedia’s level of academic accuracy, the historical fact is that the main reason for the Union of Scotland and England was to ensure a Protestant succession for both nations. While there are clear liturgical similarities between Anglicans and Catholics, the original sense of Protestantism was ‘rejection or protest at the Pope’s dominion’

  • MD

    Let’s see if I got this right… In the Anglican Church everyone gets to have sex, except for teh gays. That’s just icky. /sarcasm.

  • Me

    Sorry, dumb question — but aren’t all catholic priests supposed to not have sex?

  • MD

    These are Anglican priests, allowed to do the horizontal mambo since Henry VII or so.

  • Stev84

    So, will they check their buttholes regularly to see if they had sex? (as is done in some Muslim countries but the police)

  • Brian Westley

    But the Mambo wasn’t invented until the 1930s! It must’ve been the Galliard or something…

  • allein

    So they are encouraging divorce, then? They expect people who are (the equivalent of) married to just end their sex lives with their partners? That tends not to bode well for a relationship.
    (Or is that part of their nefarious plan to stop gay marriage?)

  • Richard Wade

    This is as confusing as an Abbot and Costello routine. (Who’s on First, Go Ahead Back Up, Turn Left? Right.)

    I’m utterly confused about who in the Anglican clergy can be opposite-sex married and can have sex with their spouse, who can be same-sex married and can have sex with their spouse, whether or not Anglican Bishops can be opposite-sex married at all, and if they can, whether or not they can have sex with their spouse, and whether or not Anglican Bishops can be same-sex married, …but… as of now… if a Bishop is same-sex married, he should not have sex with his spouse… . . . . huh?

    But no Anglican clergy is permitted to perform a same-sex marriage, and oh yeah, according to a recent decision by the Vatican, married former Anglican clergy can become Catholic Priests. I’m assuming that offer doesn’t include same-sex married former Anglican clergy, and I can’t find anything about whether or not those married former Anglican priests who become Catholic priests can still have sex with their spouses, if they have them.

    Is there an Anglican App that can sort out all the combinations and permutations?

  • Erp

    The Anglican church considers itself broad which means both Protestant and Catholic (or catholic with a lower case ‘c’). The Catholic (with an upper case ‘C’) applies in that the Anglicans (though not the Roman Catholic church) considers that Anglican bishops can trace succession back to the original apostles. Anglican priests have been able to marry since the time of Henry VIII’s son (Henry VIII split the church away but didn’t really approve of married clergy [even though some did marry while he was king]).

    Anglicans including priests and bishops sometimes swim the Tiber and become Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholic church will for some of the priests and bishops re-ordain them as priests even if they are married (note the RCC prohibition on married priests is not considered dogma only a good practice and the Eastern Rite has always had married priests). Married priests are allowed to have sex with their wives; however, unmarried or widowed priests are not allowed to marry. Married priests can also not become bishops (unless, theoretically, their wives take vows and enter a convent). RCC priests that swim the Thames and become Anglican are considered priests by the Anglican church.

    Now the Church of England which is the mother church of the Anglican Communion does not allow women to become bishops (they can be priests) and does not allow sexually active partnered gays to be bishops (this despite just about everyone knowing that there are a fair number of gay bishops in the CoE). Other churches in the Anglican Communion are much more open. For example the US Episcopal Church had Gene Robinson (a partnered, now married gay man) as bishop of New Hampshire (he just retired). It also has quite a few female bishops including the head of the church. At the other extreme the Anglican Church in Uganda has been somewhat supportive of the virulently anti-gay bill under consideration in that country.

    BTW the proof of whether the CoE is doing anything substantive is whether Jeffrey John is appointed bishop in the near future (he is generally considered very qualified and is a gay man in a non-sexual civil partnership).

  • xeon2000

    So how will they know?

  • Barbara

    With all the crazy stipulations from these Christian sects, I wouldn’t be surprised if their thinktank people were formerly IRS policymakers.

  • Miss_Beara

    And their crazy obsession with penises continues…

  •!/OffensivAtheist bismarket

    Just goes to show it’s not just you yanks that have all the crazies,lol. Sometimes i just love the CofE they can always be relied on to provide the comedy.

  • Mary Ciulla

    I knew where this would go before I read the article. They may as well be Catholic! When will religions stop ignoring basic human needs and stop treating them as sins?

  • JL

    “It’s at least far ahead of the Catholics and Protestants ” well, depends on which Protestant denomination. ELCA is ok (mostly) with gay clergy and they don’t have be celibate as long as they’re in a committed relationship. similar for UCC i think.