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Lies, and more anti-gay lies

11 January 2013

I HAVE got myself into quite a debate this week by suggesting in The Guardian that when we have a gay bishop in a civil partnership, he ought to lie about his sex life, if he is having a physical relationship with his partner and he is asked about it. Criticisms of this position came in from two sides: from those who think that lying is immoral under any circumstances - the Kantian position, as it were - and from those who read me as advocating a return to the ecclesiastical closet.

It is the second criticism that I take more seriously; so I would like to deal with that first. I believe that the Church's current position on homosexuality is not just unsustainable, but is downright immoral. It is cruel to deny people the joys of physical intimacy on the basis of their sexuality. For me, this is a denial of love itself.

I believe this to be such a terrible thing that I think that the whole theological edifice on which it is built needs to be collapsed. The way to do this is not for bishops to deceive the bedroom police: it is for bishops to ridicule them with a stage lie - as it were, by making a satire of the whole disgraceful situation. "No, I'm not," the bishop might say, and then wink, or something like that. This is not a return to the closet. It is active resistance to a system of oppression - a bit like disobeying an unjust order.

So, is this response immoral? I'd say not. Of course, ordinarily, a lie is indeed wrong, but not always. I would have no problem about telling a drunken husband, who was obviously intent on beating up his wife, that she had gone away for the night (when she was upstairs in bed).

Sometimes, lies are acceptable to avoid harm, and, although the would-be bedroom police seek to do the bishop (or priest) no physical harm, they are actually doing a great deal of psychological and spiritual damage. For many, the loneliness that such enforcers are intent on requiring is a lifetime of emotional torture. People have a right to be protected from that.

Furthermore, what I think I am doing here is actually telling the truth; for this is what may well happen, and everyone knows it. But we refuse to be honest about it, because we know that - given that there is no way of checking, other than by asking - the requirement of celibacy is unverifiable. In this situation, we can expect conservatives to amplify their rhetoric of enforced honesty. But, in a culture that lies to itself as much as the Church does, this heightened talk of honesty will be seen for what it is: another lie shaped by the Church's homophobia.

Canon Giles Fraser is Priest-in-Charge of St Mary's, Newington.

Media, page 28

 

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