The failure of Richard Wood to be ordained as a curate to serve Dagenham Parish Church is simply the latest in a number of tense situations arising out of the position of the Diocesan Bishop, the Rt Revd John Gladwin, on human sexuality.
These began before his transfer from Guildford. During the build-up to the consecration of Gene Robinson, Bishop Gladwin was challenged by a Channel 4 interviewer: “Either a practising homosexual is to be appointed as a bishop or he is not. Which way should it go?”
His reply was revealing: “Well, that’s just exactly the sort of way not to approach this problem and this issue. If this move is something which is good to the Holy Spirit and to the people of God, it will flourish. If it isn’t then time will wither it upon the vine. So I think we need to exercise a little bit of patience and to allow some space to see whether a development like this is going to be wholesome to the Church or otherwise.”
In a statement subsequent to the consecration itself, Bishop Gladwin urged “a period of reception and reflection”, adding that, “We have more work to do in England[,] and many other places have more thinking and praying and debating to do.”
Once the possibility is admitted, however, that the Holy Spirit might be saying ‘yes’ to the appointment of a practising homosexual as a bishop in his church, a theological Rubicon has already been crossed. For many of us in the Diocese of Chelmsford, this could not have been more clearly signalled than by Bishop Gladwin later becoming a patron of Changing Attitude.
This was particularly upsetting given that several conversations had already taken place between the Bishop and those clergy who made up the Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream ‘Core Group’, expressing our deep concerns about his statements and actions. Frankly, it felt like a betrayal, exacerbated by the fact that the Area Bishop of Bradwell had stood down from the same position after approaches from the Chelmsford Diocesan Evangelical Association in 2002.
Significantly, Bishop Green had justified his patronage of Changing Attitude on the grounds that “they are not belligerently campaigning only for one point of view but are wanting a forthright and open debate to take place with different views expressed” (letter to the CDEA Committee, June 2002). However, after this was challenged, the Bishop quietly withdraw as a patron.
Since then, of course, it has become quite clear that “campaigning” is precisely what Changing Attitude is about, whilst the degree of belligerence concerned may be judged by reading the material on their website. This is why, although Bishop Gladwin’s views have generally been a cause of concern for many throughout his incumbency in Chelmsford, it is specifically his patronage of Changing Attitude which has become the focus of dissent.
Sadly, the Bishop himself seems unable to recognise the problem, as was indicated by his response to a question put to him in the Diocesan Synod in 2006. Asked what he thought would be the impact of his decision to become a patron of Changing Attitude on those who objected to its campaigning stance, he replied only by giving his reasons for that decision:
First, because I have had many years of working with Gay and Lesbian Christians and I feel it is important that people of my tradition make these connections. Second, because I believe Changing Attitude can be a useful partner in the Listening Process in following up the Lambeth Resolutions and Statements. Third, because Changing Attitude does not require Patrons to endorse everything said or done by them but rather to encourage listening and conversation. I believe that the important challenge is that we learn to live together with difference and diversity.
Subsequent questioning still failed to elicit any proper response to the initial enquiry.
Meanwhile, there have been meetings of clergy and laity within the diocese expressing concern, including one at St Thomas’s Brentwood which resulted in a resolution, subsequently passed by a large number of PCCs who wrote to all the Chelmsford bishops urging them to uphold the principles laid out in Lambeth Resolution 1.10.
All this, however, has been to no avail. Bishop Gladwin continues to affirm that he is committed to all the standards of orthodoxy. Yet by his words and actions (a short selection of which may be found here) he frustrates many of the orthodox! Notoriously, this led to the interruption of a trip to Kenya by himself and a large group from the Diocese in 2006. The Bishop has continued to point the finger of blame at others over this, but has never acknowledged his own contribution to the difficulties.
By behaving as he does, Bishop Gladwin stretches the boundaries of what a bishop may do as an upholder of orthodoxy and as one who must represent the ‘mind of the Church’. He has thus alienated many of his clergy and, unsurprisingly, heads a diocese bogged down in controversy instead of inspired for mission.
It is still not too late for this to change. But it will require a degree of reconciliation which cannot be achieved under the present circumstances. Moreover, it is not enough for Bishp Gladwin to insist on his ‘right’ to an opinion. As Richard Hooker warned in the sixteenth century, bishops should not “disdain the advice of their presbyters”. Otherwise they might find their authority taken from them. Long before we reach the situation Hooker envisaged, however, of bishops being deposed, they can lose that authority which comes from having people’s confidence.
Revd John P Richardson
July 18, 2007