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A splash and some cheap shots

11 January 2013

Noticed: the lead sotry about gay bishops on the front page of The Guardian on Saturday

Noticed: the lead sotry about gay bishops on the front page of The Guardian on Saturday

BEFORE the world went crazy about gay bishops, there was a good piece by Jerome Taylor in The Independent on gay clergy who don't abnormally want to be bishops.

Taylor has done a lot of good reporting that I have largely ignored because, like most of the world, I don't read The Independent much. This is not fair. What he writes is informed both by general understanding and intelligence, and particular, painstaking reporting.

In this one, he went to talk to the Revd Benny Hazlehurst, an "affirming" Evangelical, and got the story of how he changed his mind (Comment, 9 July, 2010). In 2001, his wife, Mel, was knocked down by a lorry and nearly died. "'Two months after the accident it looked like Mel was dying and I was in pieces,' Rev Hazlehurst explained. 'Jeffrey [John] was there for me at that time, even though that was exactly the same time he couldn't go home at night because of all the press camped out on his lawn and he was being torn apart by one half of the Church.'

"He added: 'It felt like to me that the fruit of his life was so profound, and he was being Christ to me in such a profound way, that I needed to go back to the Bible and re-examine what it said. . . And when I went back the blinkers were gone. I suddenly saw things in a new way.'

"Reinterpreting the Bible to allow for same-sex relationships is crucial for Evangelicals because they place such a profound importance on scriptural purity."

Never mind the hideous Americanisms of the style: this takes seriously the real motivations of the people he writes about, and does not just flatten them out into the stereotypes that ignorant readers expect and want.

"'It's still the vast majority view among Evangelicals that you can't be gay and Christian,' says [Jeremy] Marks, who has only recently retired from Courage, the group he founded back in the 1980s which moved from 'healing' homosexuals to supporting them unconditionally at a pastoral level. 'There are only a handful of Evangelical churches I now know of who are supportive of same-sex partnerships; most would only say so quietly.

"'But there are a great many Christians at a grassroots level - not the leadership - who are fully accepting of homosexual relationships.'" 

AND then along came the House of Bishops announcement on civil partnerships, which, according to the Huffington Post report, "wasn't noticed until Friday, when the BBC's religious-affairs correspondent, Robert Pigott, read it in a report published in the Church Times".

Both The Independent and The Guardian seized on it as front-page splash news, which I don't really think it was. It may mean that the Dean of St Albans, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John, gets a more glamorous job. It really ought to mean that conservatives such as Lynette Burrows are properly marginalised.

She was the woman with Canon Giles Fraser on the PM show who claimed that her revulsion at the sight of men kissing should be counted equally with their desire for each other. That gave a cheap shot to everyone who feels less viscerally than she does, but it was not as significant as her other remark, that if people were celibate, "Why do they want to call themselves homosexuals?"

It is exactly that reduction of a disposition of the heart and the imagination to a question of where you put your willy which is the wrongness in Evangelical attitudes. The Christian case in favour of homosexuality is that it's not a behaviour but an identity, and that the expression can be one of love, not lust.

And it really won't do to say that gay clergy should lie when challenged by their bishops, because they are serving a higher truth. To lie here is to collude in injustice, not to expose or challenge it.

No doubt Dr John should be a bishop, but whether he is or not cannot be a matter of the first importance, even to him. Jesus did not tell the first disciples that he would make them bishops of men.

TO CHEER us all up, the Daily Mail sent Harry Mount to Wales to follow up the autobiography of a congregationalist who claims that West Wales is infested with witches. It contains a couple of sentences to savour.

"The 2012 census suggested that Wales is 'the witch capital' of the United Kingdom, revealing it is home to 83 self-described witches and 93 Satanists." (Don't mention the 176,000 Jedi knights.)

And there was one of the all-time classic Mail sentences: "Rev [Felix] Aubel has detailed how he came across the use of effigies, the 'evil eye' and witches during his time as a church minister. Impossible to credit? Not according to Dr Aubel."

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