The Guardian view on Anglicans and gay clergy: stop listening, start leading | Editorial

A whole generation of gay and lesbian Christians have been denied their place in the rituals of their faith

George Orwell’s phrase about “the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls” was coined at a time of impending global tragedy but it returns as parochial farce to haunt the General Synod of the Church of England. On Wednesday, it meets to consider a report that appears to be a further attempt to avoid a decision about gay people.

The official language of the church piles phrases like experiencing “same-sex attraction” alongside the plain English that makes its problem clear. There is an obvious explanation for this: the church is facing an existential crisis in membership and credibility, and the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, like his predecessors, is concerned above all to avoid an open split over sexuality or anything else. Since there is no real agreement possible between those who think that gay sex is always wrong and the rest of us, the only way they could even appear to agree is to change the subject. But they can’t. For both sides, this has been the consuming test of Christian values for the past 30 years.

One result has been that efforts to talk about other things – such as Mr Welby’s brave and clear call for justice for child refugees – are more readily ignored because the church spends so much more energy on internal wrangling. The Church of England is not alone in this. All of the Christian churches have had to come to terms with the consequences of the sexual revolution, and none can be said to have succeeded. But their problem with gay people is particularly hard for them to solve. Unlike women, who will one day win their struggle for equality if only for demographic reasons, there is no gay majority, but neither do LGBT people form a minority so small that they can be entirely ignored.

It is generally accepted that about one in 10 of the Anglican clergy are LGBT (three times the proportion of non-white clergy). This figure seems to have held steady through decades of official discouragement. In stalemate, both sides hope time will do their work for them. The liberals await the steady working through of enlightened attitudes from society at large; the conservatives, who have not given an inch since 1991 (hence anguished protests by 14 retired bishops at the weekend), believe that so long as all openly gay clergy can be stopped at the theological colleges, denied promotion, and sacked if they marry, sooner or later no new ones will arise to take their place.

In the meantime, both sides believe that while they keep talking past each other, something important is preserved. But there is a price for this, in irrelevance, self-importance and dishonesty. The synod will be asked this week to affirm that it believes that marriage is something that can only take place between one man and one woman, for life. Don’t anyone mention the Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Charles, the next supreme governor of the church. The church has not even the courage to publish official services of blessing for gay couples, in case this suggests that it might be all right for them to have sex.

The synod is being presented with a report that says nothing as elaborately as possible, and urged to “take note” of it. That would mean nothing, which is why it has been suggested. But the synod should refuse even to “take note”. This teetering pile of disingenuous waffle is not worth even the synod’s attention.

• This article was amended on 13 February 2017. An earlier version said the aim of the Church of England report appeared to be to avoid the words “gay” and “lesbian” entirely, while using phrases such as “experiencing same-sex attraction” instead. In fact the report does use the words “lesbian and gay” and “same-sex attraction” appears only alongside them.



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