A DAY IN THE LIFE
I had not expected to be in a studio at Broadcasting House, taking part in a Radio 5 Live phone-in, even twenty four hours before it happened. But time and tide wait for no man, so my Thursday had to be hurriedly rearranged. The programme was put on in response to a trailer which said that Lord Runcie would admit in a Radio 4 programme that evening that he had knowingly ordained practising homosexuals.
That was clearly worth a headline or two, but when I got hold of the embargoed press release to see what he had actually said, the story began to emerge. “Yes,” said Lord Runcie, “but it wasn’t quite as dramatic as that because I have not knowingly ordained anyone who told me they were a practising homosexual and were living in partnership with somebody as if it was a marriage. I have not ordained anybody – in fact I have halted an ordination – when I discovered that. On the other hand, there have been many times in my ministry when I have acted in a ‘don’t want to know way and why should I enquire way’ and I never liked the prospect of enquiring into what happened in a man’s bedroom unless he’s prepared to tell me.”
Well, we can make of that what we will. One could draw the conclusion that Lord Runcie did not carry out his duties with the due diligence that we might reasonably expect of an Archbishop. On the other hand one could argue that potential ordinands who wish to preach and teach the Christian faith (which places a high value on honesty), should properly be expected to volunteer information on any activities which might be relevant to the testing of their vocation in the eyes of ABM selectors or Bishops, and not to be economical with the truth – or worse still downright dishonest.
I shared the studio with a homosexual vicar from Southwark, who was both charming and courteous – though he could not see that there was any connection between the gospel he felt he was called to proclaim and the lifestyle he chose to follow. We were also joined by the Chairman of the LGCM who admitted that potential ordinands were advised to conceal their sexual practices, for fear of “discrimination”. Frankly it seems pretty outrageous to me that we are faced with potential ordinands deliberately seeking to hoodwink the selection process and seeking to justify themselves on the grounds that it is the only way by which they can make their contribution to the Church. Does the church need the kind of contribution which is offered only by deceit?
It is also alarming to see how the Bible is disregarded whenever it fails to affirm a chosen course of action. It seems to me that if Scripture describes certain activities as “detestable” and an “abomination”, that whatever it means, it is hardly likely to mean that these activities actually meet with God’s approval. Someone said on air that the opposition to homosexual activity is based on only about seven references in the Bible. I had to point out that I could not think of any passages of the Bible that commend such activity. Seven nil is a fairly emphatic score line!
Another caller said he was surprised that the Church could not find something more relevant to talk about, given the needs all around us. I guess he was right, but we do seem to allow ourselves to be at the mercy of single-issue pressure groups. It is certainly not the Standing Committee of the General Synod making the running on this issue.
I had no sooner got back to my office than I had a phone call from a BBC World Service radio producer in Boston, Massachusetts asking me to take part in a studio discussion in the wake of the collapse of the trial of Bishop Walter C Righter, the retired Episcopalian Bishop who had admitted ordaining a practising homosexual. So in the evening, I found myself in a studio in Bush House, while the interviewer was in Boston along with an American Episcopalian female lesbian priest.
The outcome of the Righter trial came after major setbacks for supporters of homosexual ordination in other US Protestant denominations earlier this year. In January two small Lutheran congregations in San Francisco that had hired homosexual pastors were expelled from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. And last month the United Methodist Church’s legislative body, its General Conference, voted to retain a clause in that church’s rule book that pronounces homosexual practice “incompatible” with Christian teaching.
My fellow interviewee hailed the Court’s finding that in the Episcopalian Church “there is no Core Doctrine prohibiting the ordination of a non-celibate homosexual person living in a faithful and committed sexual relationship with a person of the same sex.” What could I say? If the court is correct, then it would appear that the scope of Episcopalian doctrine in this area is seriously deficient. If they do not have a doctrine in this area, I would respectfully suggest it is time they had one. And just in case there is any lack of suitable source material, I will drop a hint to one of my friends in the Gideons that he might find it worth his while to visit the Episcopalian Church’s General Convention in Philadelphia next year.
Gerry O’Brien is a lay member of the General Synod. He represents the Diocese of Rochester.