GAY TIMES September 2004

The Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, he of the “grey sexuality” has decided to downshift. He’s vacating his splendid palace (surely fit for a queen?) and going to live in a modest little vicarage in Ilkley, where he will surely feel at home as his new abode looks like something straight out of a fairy tale. (Announcing this momentous event, the papers couldn’t resist the headline: “On Ilkley Moor baht mitre.”)

Could it be that the wise Archbishop has decided to jump ship before the catastrophe that is heading the way of the Anglican Church actually hits? Does he sense that his own sexuality might become an issue if he hangs around and lets the homophobes attack? After all, poor old Jeffrey John in St Albans has been persecuted to hell for being a “celibate gay man”, while Dr Hope has become the second most influential figure in the Anglican communion with hardly a murmur – so far.

This is despite the best efforts of Peter Tatchell, of course, who has made several attempts to “out” Dr Hope (known affectionately by fellow students at his seminary as “Ena the Cruel”).

Remarking on Dr Hope’s resignation, The Guardian’s religious affairs correspondent, Stephen Bates said that the worst time of Dr Hope’s term was when Mr Tatchell was “bullying” him to tell the truth.

Some of us, of course, are surprised that a man who purports to be a moral leader needs to be “bullied” in order to be truthful about something as fundamental as his sexuality. And even under pressure he refused to go any further than saying his sexuality was a “grey area”, although Peter Tatchell purported to have spoken to friends of Dr Hope who confirmed that there was nothing uncertain about it.

Anyway, the Lambeth Commission, the latest committee created by the Church to look at the “homosexual issue”, will report back with its findings in the autumn. The evangelical monsters are waiting breathlessly for the verdict, because if it is not suitably condemnatory of gays, they will carry out their threat to smash the Church to pieces.

The Lambeth Commission was established – like so many others before it – to buy time. But it will fail in its effort to take the heat out of this debate. As Bishop Gregory Venables told The Independent, that when the Lambeth Commission publishes its much-anticipated report, it will be a fudge, everyone will groan because it will say nothing of substance and might even recommend the formation of yet another commission to look again at the “homosexual question”. After all, this tactic has staved off disaster for years.

But not this time. The bigots – sorry, I should say the Evangelicals – who are trying to use homosexuality as a means of taking over the Church will make their move. They will call on all parishes that have fellow bigots… er, I mean, evangelical clergy… to withhold payment of their contributions to the central body of the Church. This will cost the Church of England – always pleading poverty, even though it has £4 billion in the bank – millions of pounds a year.

They’ve already been successful in persuading a number of parishes, some of which are already sending the money they would have otherwise have sent to the Church of England’s central funds to “gay cure” outfits like The Courage Trust.

Reform, the evangelical group at the forefront of this agitation has, according to the Daily Telegraph, sent out instructions to its 1,700 members to test whether their bishop is orthodox (i.e. anti-gay), and, if he is not, to reject his authority. These parishes will declare themselves “out of communion” with their liberal bishops and refuse to recognise them. The worldwide Anglican communion will begin to disintegrate as the African bishops, with their insulting talk of gays being lower than dogs, reign triumphant. (“Why has no-one told Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria that he is a bigot?” asks Stephen Bates. “Is it because he is black?”)

David Hope, I suspect, sees all this coming and wants to take shelter in Ilkley in his bomb proof vicarage. Rowan Williams has no such option and must stand before the Reform blitzkrieg with only his courage to defend him (so, not much protection there, then).

Paul Vallely in The Independent, like so many of us, is mystified as to why the Church continues to pull itself apart over an issue that affects so few of its members. “Why has the Church embraced change on a raft of issues once held to be biblically unquestionable – slavery, borrowing at interest, hellfire, the ordination of women, divorce – and yet unable to agree on homosexuality?” He proposes one reason being “visceral prejudice” and another that the evangelicals want the Church to be “a certain voice in an uncertain world” (which I take to mean a return to authoritarianism).

The result of this, Mr Vallely says, is that “a church once characterised by its broad-mindedness… is becoming characterised by narrowness. It is gripped by a culture of fear which ‘seems to take us back to the burnings of the Reformation’ in which those holding different opinions must recant.”

Damian Thompson in the Sunday Telegraph says the death of the Anglican communion is “not the big deal that it sounds”. He says the Church of England is held together because it is the established church, but the worldwide communion is simply a legacy of colonialism. It is “programmed to fall apart” he says, but “the sad thing for the 77 million members is that the causus bellishould have been a subject so tangential to most of their lives as gay sex.”

He reserves special criticism for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and his craven handling of the Jeffrey John affair. He says that John was on the “banned list” of the previous Archbishop, Carey, but was taken off it when Williams took up the office.

Twice Williams approved the nomination of Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading, but then the evangelicals started their hate campaign against him. Instead of resisting this real bullying, Rowan Williams asked Jeffrey John to withdraw, which he did. Then he changed his mind, but it was too late. As Damian Thompson puts it: “Rowan Williams laid down his friend for his life, and his moral authority has suffered accordingly.”

To the unconcerned outsider this might all seem like a lot of silly queens trying to scratch each other’s eyes out, but let us not forget that the Church of England has 26 bishops in the House of Lords, and some of them were complicit in Lady O’Cathain’s ambush of the Civil Partnership Bill there. If the Church lurches further and further to the right, the bishops will become more and more politicised and they will exploit their privileged position in Parliament to our disadvantage.

The Church of England’s debate may seem arcane to many of us, but the outcome could have a big effect on our lives in the future.

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