Long-term readers of this blog, and that under the heading Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream, can hardly have been ignorant of the significant difficulties experienced by conservatives and traditionalists in the Diocese of Chelmsford caused by former Bishop John Gladwin’s stance on human sexuality.
Bishop John was, amongst other things, a patron of the campaign group ‘Changing Attitude’. The fact that he took up this position in 2006, whilst already in difficult face-to-face discussions with representatives of those conservative and traditionalists in his own diocese did much to heighten the tension.
The stance of Changing Attitude, incidentally, may be gathered from the following comments in its Tenth Anniversary Report on the ideas put forward in a book titled Same Sex Intimacies: Families of choice and other life experiments:
Social changes are affecting both non-heterosexual and heterosexual lives alike, underpinned by a widely accepted friendship ethic in which men and women who have rejected the ‘heterosexual assumption’ are creating ways of being that point to a more diverse culture of relationships than law, tradition and the church have sanctioned. [...] Many individuals in contemporary society have a strong sense that opportunities now exist on a greater scale than ever before for the construction of more open and democratic relationships than are allowed by the traditional family.
The disquiet with Bishop John’s approach began before his appointment to Chelmsford. Interviewed on Channel 4 news at the time of Gene Robinson’s election, Bishop John was asked rather directly, ‘Either a practising homosexual is to be appointed as a bishop or he is not. Which way should it go?’
His reply was thus:
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 ... um ... 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.
The response of many us would be, well we’ve waited and now we know.
As a Diocese, therefore, Chelmsford does therefore have ‘form’ with regard to the position of incoming bishops on the issue of human sexuality and their comments to the press. It was thus with some concern that I read the following in the Church of England Newspaper for April 1st, regarding newly-elected Bishop Stephen Cottrell’s views on Bishop James Jones’s recent highly controversial remarks to the Liverpool Diocesan Synod:
Bishop Cottrell said: “I think it was a very helpful and interesting contribution to the ongoing discussion. I think one of the things which probably distresses me the most is that we’re not very good at actually having an open discussion about these issues. It can often be a kind of megaphone diplomacy, or megablog diplomacy!”
‘Helpful and interesting’ was certainly not how Bishop Jones’s remarks were regarded in conservative and traditionalist circles — ‘alarming and divisive’ would be more like it, especially when one takes into account Bishop Jones’s apparent attempt to position his diocese halfway between Africa and TEC (and therefore not with the rest of the Church of England!)
The really difficult point to accept, however, is Bishop Stephen’s assertion that there has been a lack of ‘open discussion’. On the contrary, one sometimes feels there has been discussion about almost nothing else for more than a decade. I myself was on a working party, put together by the Bishop of Chelmsford before John Gladwin, which drew up a study document on this subject for use around the parishes.
In any case, one must ask whether more discussion is what is required. It has long struck me that the first ‘dialogue’ in Scripture, recorded in Genesis 3, did not end well for the human race — and that one also began with the famous word, “Has God indeed said ...?”
Bishop Cottrell is well-known as a member of the Liberal Catholic body ‘Affirming Catholicism’, which also includes Dean Jeffrey John amongst its members. It is perfectly reasonable to ask about the Bishop, therefore, what it is in the ‘AffCath’ approach to life and faith that he finds particularly appealing. It is also reasonable to ask, since he has called for “open discussion” what exactly he thinks on the subject of human sexuality and how and why he has reached these opinions.
The truth is, though, that I wish it were unnecessary.
John P RichardsonAnonymous users wishing to paste in the comments box need first to select 'preview', then close the preview box. When posting your comments please give a full name and location. Comments without this information may be deleted.
17 April 2010
17 April 2010