The church has arrived at another round of shared conversations. In my optimistic moments I'd like to think that after thirty years of going round and round in circles about sexuality we could be getting somewhere. I wanted to produce something grounded in Scripture, tradition and reason, to capture the possibilities as they appear right now.
Meanwhile, in publication week I experience a phenomenon all preachers do — In the course of your killer sermon on the Trinity you tell a joke about something that happened to you in Croydon high street and all anyone wants to talk to you about afterwards is Croydon. In the book I articulated the drearily obvious and well known fact that a fair number of bishops in the past and present have been, in fact, gay. These people have particular vulnerabilities. This has inaugurated a furious spat on twitter with Peter Ould I have no integrity if I don't report all names to him forthwith. Curiously he's also written a piece pointing out the wrongness and futility of outing bishops, so I've no idea why he's so angry with me for not doing it. So here, for the record, is why I don't and won't out people.
What matters to me is the fact that bishops have a range of sexual orientations including gay, not which bishops have what. Which particular bishops are Saggitarian, left-handed or red-haired? I know not in detail, neither do I care. I can, however, understand that curiosity about this is greater than it would be for a group of people who did not set themselves up as professionally straight whilst behaving in discriminatory ways towards gay people. Why not, someone asked me, just put everyone out of their misery and name names?
(1) Me no expert. I have not undertaken detailed postgraduate research about bishops' sexuality. I have had all kinds of conversations with all kinds of people, including bishops, often on terms that exclude leaking personal information about this or anything else. There are journalists out there with far better and more accurate information than mine which is anecdotal and incidental. But I long for the day we are grown up enough for this to be a non-subject. Let's make it now.
(2) On a Meta level, Outing legitimates assumptions I believe are profoundly wrong. It assumes there's something wrong with being gay. It belongs to the world in which I grew up, of shame and guilt. If being gay is not an objective disorder and there's nothing to be ashamed of, its rationale collapses, inviting the response "your point being..."
(3) Peoples' Sexual identity and orientation is a significant part of who they are — that's the basis for my argument that the Church needs to stop being ambiguous about the full human dignity of gay people. If this is true it is always abusive to disrespect anyone's right to hold their own identity. In a world where people take responsibility for their own feelings and identities, outing is out.
(4) Time was a story about a high court judge, military officer or MP who was gay would have been big potatoes, but those days are gone except for bishops. We set ourselves up for this kind of prurience. The remedy lies in our own hands. As long as the House of Bishops continues to victimise gay clergy and ordinands, we have a problem.
People have asked about the process of shared conversations last week. We were encouraged the share the experience, but of course, to respect the confidences of others by not attributing anything.
If shared conversations are to bear fruit we bishops require a higher degree of corporate truthfulness than we have achieved yet. But if we did achieve it, and the individual truthfulness I experienced at times in Market Bosworth was a great sign of hope, what other good results might come for the Church and, perhaps, the peace and salvation of the world?