Anglicans obsess about gay bishops -- yet again

It’s time to move on from pettiness and prurience.

I used to know a couple of journalists who took such an obsessive and prurient interest in whether people they wrote about were homosexual or not that gay colleagues wondered if this supposedly straight pair were themselves harbouring secretive same-sex desires.

The same appears to apply to the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion, many of whose members give the impression that nothing matters more to them than what their priests get up to in the privacy of their own bedrooms.

I refer, of course, to the news that Jeffrey John, the Dean of St Albans, has been blocked from becoming Bishop of Southwark after being shortlisted for the post -- because he is gay. This is the second time he has been deprived of the opportunity to wear a mitre, as he had to stand down after being appointed suffragan Bishop of Reading in 2003 on the same grounds.

What makes the current fuss all the more absurd is that John, though in a long-term partnership, is celibate -- which means he doesn't get up to anything in his bedroom anyway. As William Oddie, a former Anglican priest and ex-editor of the Catholic Herald, writes for that newspaper:

The point about Dr John is that he is "celibate": and by that he means that he and his long-term partner are chaste, that they abstain from any kind of sexual act. In other words, his behaviour is entirely consistent with Article 2359 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which teaches that "Homosexual persons are called to chastity" and that "By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom . . . they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection".

In other words, his behaviour is an example of chastity for other homosexuals to follow, not an encouragement to clerical promiscuity. Dr John is a man of integrity . . . if the Anglican Church is split from top to bottom over his appointment to Southwark (which I trust will now take place) it deserves to be, as a punishment for its gross theological incoherence.

If Dr John had been appointed to the see of Southwark, he would have followed in the footsteps of Mervyn Stockwood, another gay but celibate bishop whose colourful and campaigning style led him to enjoy a public popularity and renown few prelates could hope for today. We have even had a far more senior Church figure -- David Hope, the former archbishop of York -- admitting that his sexuality was "a grey area". Really, one can't help but feel that the C of E has far bigger problems on which to concentrate.

Or is it, as a column in the Times put it a few years ago, that: "Homophobia really does mean fear of the same. Look at those institutions in Britain most hostile to equality for gay men and women -- the Church of England and the Tory party. One thing unites them. Gay people are strikingly over-represented in their ranks."

But, the article goes on to argue,

if homosexuality were an elementary matter of free will, there would be every reason for both the Conservative Party and the Church to smile on its embrace. It is seldom observed, as it should be, that one of the principal reasons fiercely liberal New York turned Republican is that its nightclubbing, high-earning, aesthetically conscious gay citizens were those most agitated about violent street crime, wasted taxes and urban squalor in Manhattan. It is rarely noticed, as it should be, that homosexual clergy, unencumbered by family and animated by compassion, are those most likely to be found in those difficult urban areas of London or Liverpool where the Gospel most needs to be heard.

That goes for Southwark, too. Perhaps opponents of John's appointment might care to discuss that with the author of the article. Their paths are quite likely to cross at some point, after all, as faith schools come under his purview -- for the piece was written by none other than that hard man of the traditionalist right, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove.

If he can take that view, isn't it time Anglicans grew up?

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.