5 Jan 2013

Church of England under fire from both sides on gay bishops

11:23 pm on 5 January 2013

The decision by the Church of England to end its ban on homosexual clergymen becoming bishops has been criticised by both liberals and traditionalists.

In ending the ban, the church has stipulated that gay priests in civil partnerships who become bishops must remain celibate.

A decision by the Church of England to allow gay men in civil partnerships to become bishops has prompted criticism from both liberals and traditionalists.

The announcement would allow gay clergy to become bishops if they promise to be celibate.

Groups representing gay Anglicans have welcomed the move but conservative evangelicals have called it "divisive".

Some critics say it is undermining church teaching about homosexuality in the hope of winning public approval.

Long-running split

The issue has split the church since 2003 amid a row over gay cleric Jeffrey John becoming Bishop of Reading.

Mr John, now Dean of St Albans, was forced to withdraw from the role of Bishop of Reading shortly after having initially accepted it, following protests from traditionalists.

The Church of England has already agreed to allow people in civil partnerships to become clergy, provided they promised they would remain celibate.

The BBC reports that the latest decision to make the same provision for bishops has reignited Anglicans' most deep-seated and destructive dispute.

Each of the opposing sides sees it as a fundamental issue, and one whose outcome will help to define the Church of England in the future.

Conservative evangelicals see active homosexuality as sinful; many progressive Anglicans believe full equality for gay people is a Christian imperative, even if that means changing existing church teaching.

The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement said although it was a step forward, gay bishops should not have to be celibate.

Ruth Hunt, director of public affairs for gay rights campaigners Stonewall, said: "I'm sure celibate gay men will be thrilled by this exciting new job opportunity, if perhaps somewhat perplexed as to how it will be policed by the Church."

The Rev Colin Coward, director of the Changing Attitude group, which campaigns for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the Church, said the statement "will be laughed at by the majority in this country," and added that insisting on celibacy was wrong.

Christina Rees, a member of the Synod and the Archbishops' Council, said it was "good news" for gay male clergy, but highlighted the continuing lack of female bishops.

Conservative evangelicals denounced the concession outright and insisted that few people believed clergy in civil partnerships were genuinely celibate.

In a statement, Michael Lawson, chairman of the Evangelical Council of the Church of England, said: "At the very least [it] will spread confusion and at worst will be taken as an effort to conform to the spirit of the age."