It would take the hardest of hearts not to feel sympathy for the Church of England. As a coalition of the unlikeliest of ecclesiastical bedfellows it requires someone with the talents of a Chinese plate spinner to keep everything from crashing to the ground. We can only pray for Justin Welby next archbishop of Canterbury.
At present the CofE is in the position of having just said “No” to women bishops and “Yes” to homosexual bishops. Whilst the political circumstances and the logic behind these decisions are understandable so is the symbolism.
The decision to permit the ordination of homosexuals as bishops as long as they are celibate is understandable. Homosexual activity is no different from any other sin. A heterosexual bishop may be sexually attracted to a woman who is not his wife, that is temptation which is not a sin; fornication or adultery with the other woman would be.
But what about a homosexual bishop who is in a civil partnership with another man? Are we to assume that the partnership is celibate? If it were it would seem to obviate a significant part of the rationale for civil partnerships. How would it be determined that the partnership is celibate? Without CCTV in the bedroom the only way would be to ask putative bishops prior to ordination.
As an alternative the CofE could adopt a policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as did the armed forces of the USA until recently. This, however, would swiftly be overturned and the CofE’s main priority at the moment is devising a compromise which will keep the edifice spinning in place for a few more years.
Given that the CofE has an interest in keeping this policy alive what should the putative bishop who, in defiance of his ordination vows as a priest, is in a sexual relationship with another man and is being considered for a bishopric do when asked? Never fear, there is a way out and it’s supplied by the Guardian’s favourite cleric. The advice from the Revd Dr Giles Fraser is that if he wants a bishopric a candidate who is an active homosexual should simply lie.
Writing in the the Guardian Fraser goes so far as to tell such candidates that “In this situation they have a moral obligation to lie.” Such an action is “wholly justified” because there are times when, “We don’t trust another with the truth.”
There is a perverted logic behind his advocation of duplicity in the bishopric. Instead of battling for the position he believes in, that there is no bar to the ordination of active homosexuals, Fraser argues for the creation of a secret underground of church leaders engaged in active deception of the church. This would lead to the creation of a core of bishops whom everyone knew to be actively homosexual. The argument would then be that openness is preferable to deceit and they are all good chaps anyway and doing a fine job so lets clear away the subterfuge and ordain openly homosexual bishops.
Thus Giles Fraser is ready to justify a lie in order to later have the lie swept away in the interests of honesty and thus have his preferred position accepted. You really have to be deeply mired in progressivism to believe that this is an acceptable way forward. This type of argument may sit well with Guardian readers, but anyone with even a fleeting understanding of the Bible or church tradition will shudder.
It almost passes belief that an ordained priest of a historic denomination could openly advocate the creation of church leaders who deliberately deceive the church for personal advantage.
In the past, and even today, Christians have died rather than deny what they believe. Giles Fraser prefers deliberate deception. Is the CofE going to hold auto da fe of homosexual bishops on the cathedral green? Knowledge of the CofE would indicate that the most serious sanction would be that the offender would be invited to have sherry with the Dean who would tell him of how “disappointed” he was with him, and that would be that
It is almost inevitable that the CofE will be ordaining openly homosexual bishops in the foreseeable future. They can arrive at that position through open debate and free discussion, or as advocated by the Revd Dr Giles Fraser in the Guardian, by lies and deceit.