Friday, 18 March 2011

Is there really a problem of clergy homophobia and discrimination?

John Richardson reports this today:

Church in Wales recommends action against 'homophobic' clergy

UPDATE: the full report is here

The relevant paragraphs would appear to be 22, 29 and 35:

22. It is necessary to provide a policy with guidance to clerics on the dangers of emotional abuse arising out of the inappropriate use of pastoral supervision or theological teaching.

29. The cleric as role model, as seen by children and young people is significant. This needs to be fully recognised and appreciated by the Church in Wales. Inappropriate and unacceptable conduct such as discriminatory behaviour involving aggression, bullying or attitudes such as homophobia should not be tolerated and can in some instances be emotionally abusive. This should be a professional development issue and where necessary, subject to disciplinary procedures.

35. Reference has been made earlier to the need for policy and guidance in relation to certain approaches to ministry within the Church in Wales (see 21 and 22 above). It would be appropriate to initiate a debate on the subject which would include exploring the importance of ensuring responsible attitudes towards age appropriate emotional and spiritual growth. This would ensure that the Church in Wales exercises its duty to protect children and young people from spiritual and emotional abuse.
His full post is here

I'm not sure these kind of reports are something to be unduly alarmed about. Like most documents of this kind, it seems to be a combination of the unexceptional and the highly questionable. It is worrying only in so much as it displays in full measure the irresponsible trend within our communion to make sweeping and politicised declarations in areas where the authors seem to be have (one hopes) little awareness of the theological implications of what they are proposing.
It does also highlight the rather unpleasant habit of modern ecclesiastical management's 'professional development' structures (how ever did we get here?) to trust the clergy less and less, and to feel the need to justify their existence by these kind of attempts to 'micro-manage.'
I don't need to point out that this is also illustrative of Anglicanism's (long-standing but now resurgent) instinct to follow the zeitgeist first, and reflect theologically later, if at all.
If it is really felt that these kind of issues are a major problem for the Church (and not just a rather craven attempt to be seen to be on the right side of secular liberal opinion) the solution would seem to lie in the  selection and formation (remember that word?) of candidates for the priesthood. But the truth is that  this is a smokescreen.
Before we go any further, it would seem necessary (and, moreover, just) to define exactly what is meant by  "homophobia," or 'discriminatory behaviour.' To some, such an attitude would include the kind of aggressive, bullying and abusive behaviour we would all wholeheartedly deplore and agree should have no place in any Christian community; to others, it could include merely a robust (or even not so robust) defence of the Church's traditional moral theology or its historic theology of holy order.
"Homophobia" and "discrimination" are clearly offences which are in the eye of the beholder, and that is what makes them such dangerously subjective and nebulous concepts to include in any discussion of clergy discipline. Fear of giving offence is perhaps not the best disposition in which to approach the proclamation of the Gospel, and attempts to change the Church's stance on controversial issues are best undertaken honestly and directly and not by stealth.
It's hardly surprising that some of us are increasingly (made to feel) uncomfortable in our present ecclesial home.


  1. Is there a problem? Five years ago, when I moved parishes, the first Deanery Chapter I attended was taken up 80% by colleagues denouncing homosexuality and other matters in conjunction with the Jerry Springer thing that was current at the time. When that issue occupies so much of a cleric's conscious concern, yes there is a problem and a danger that it will work itself out into homophobic behaviour. The Conditions of Service document is absolutely right to single out homophobic behaviour, bullying and the like as unacceptable for those modelling a Christian lifestyle (adultery &c might well be included). Saint Paul was of course good at putting together lists of relevant behaviours to be avoided in particular churches and cultures.

    You have pointed out where the REAL issue lies, and that is where behaviours are perceived by the recipient in a different way from the perpetrator. The bishops and the RB are in no way ready to deal with the legal cans of worms this will open up. There will be no easy way of defining these issues until a good number of cases have been tested in court and a body of precedent has been built up. The Church in Wales has neither the HR nor the legal capacity to deal with such complex issues in small numbers, let alone in the larger numbers that could well arise as a result of these Conditions of Service.

    The new Common Tenure arrangements have their advantages but they do materially alter the way in which the ordained are perceived - legally, and I suspect ultimately ecclesiologically. They need to be challenged not for their content but for their principle, and in the mean time anyone compelled to sign up to them would do well to take out Union membership, as the Church is not equipped to deal with the HR and legal implications should one end up on the wrong side of a disciplinary issue.


  2. P.S. Regrettably, you may, at least on this issue, feel just as uncomfortable in an alternative ecclesial home.



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