Chris Bryant: The Church of England needs to forget its silliness about homosexuality

 

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Anyone who has ever heard Jeffrey John preach, read his poetry or met him knows that he is a man of immense spirituality who should have been made a bishop years ago.

Sadly, the Church of England has got its cassocks so firmly in a twist that it seems completely incapable of coming to the same conclusion, purely and simply because he's gay.

In the old days it was all very simple. Homosexuality was a deliberate choice, a perversion, a sin.

Gay men were skipping along the rose-pink path to the everlasting bonfire and gay clergy who were caught in the act were dismissed, disgraced and defrocked.

But nobody seriously believes that anymore. Most church leaders know your sexuality is not something you choose, but something you discover. So you could even argue that God has made some people gay, which is why the Church of England no longer condemns anyone for just being gay. Indeed, it even teaches that homophobia is immoral.

But in a classic twist of English logic, the Church still maintains that it's fine and dandy to be gay just so long as you don't do anything about it.

Celibacy is the rule – especially for the clergy – as same-sex sex is definitely off-limits.

There are two problems with this. For a start it is a great big lie. It ludicrously pretends that Jeffrey would be the first-ever gay bishop.

But I remember terribly anguished and frighteningly closeted gay bishops in my theological college back in the Eighties. One became quite a close friend, and his relief the moment he retired and took up residence with his lover of 20 years was a sad joy to behold.

And 10 years ago a bishop asked me, in all seriousness, whether it was wrong that he had just decided that he had to appoint a straight man to a particular inner-city parish because literally every other vicar in the area was gay.

What is even worse, though, is that the Church's double-speak is so cruel. It condemns people to a life without the joy of sexual intimacy – and all to placate a theology that is as misplaced and out of date as Christianity's onetime advocacy of slavery.

Is it too much to hope that one day the Church of England will get this silliness out of its system?

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