So what's going on? For years, I've had a niggling in the back of my head that said some day I would be a priest, but I thought nothing of it until in September, five months ago, when it reared to the forefront and suddenly 'some day' was right now. So since then I've embarked on what is known as the discernment process, where the church and I - the Church of England - discern whether what I think I feel is correct. You can read about how I've getting on at thewayishouldwalkin.blogspot.co.uk.
I haven't posted on this blog for a while because nothing really relevant has cropped up; you can see how sporadic things have been over the last few posts. But this issue, the process by which the church will seek to know me inside out, my bisexuality and general stance on sex/gender suddenly becomes quite, quite relevant.
If you're in the UK, you've probably seen the tumultuous goings-on about same-sex relations within the Church of England, and you might have heard about them abroad too, as the ripples reach the rest of the Anglican Communion. The most recent epicentre was the meeting of Primates in Lambeth that resulted in the Episcopal Church in America being sanctioned for embracing same-sex marriage.
What's official comes from three things: Issues in Human Sexuality, a report from 1991; a Synod motion from 1987, below; and to a lesser extent, this resolution of the Anglican Communion. (For more click here.)
"This Synod affirms that the biblical and traditional teaching on chastity [refraining from extramarital/all sexual intercourse] and fidelity in personal relationships is a response to, and expression of, God’s love for each one of us, and in particular affirms;
(1) that sexual intercourse is an act of total commitment which belongs properly within a permanent married relationship.
(2) that fornication [sexual intercourse between people not married to each other] and adultery are sins against this ideal, and are to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion.
(3) that homosexual genital acts also fall short of this ideal, and are likewise to be met with a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion
(4) that all Christians are called to be exemplary in all spheres of morality, and that holiness of life is particularly required of Christian leaders."
So to summarise the official stance of the CofE on bisexuality in 2016 is that ideally I should be celibate until I marry a man, and further, being with women isn't best practice, but they aren't going to burn me at the stake if I date or even get a civil partnership with a woman.
But not if I'm a priest.
I've been re-reading the Pilling Report; it refers Issues in Human Sexuality which distinguishes "between the clergy and lay Christians in that, whilst the good conscience of lay people who chose to enter a sexually active same sex relationship should be respected, the clergy cannot claim the liberty to enter into sexually active homophile relationships...[also] clergy cannot claim the liberty to enter into pre- or extra-marital sexual relationships, however ‘normal’ or trivial such relationships may be to the surrounding culture."
It was encouraging to read in the PR: "Rather than thinking about the human population in terms of a fixed binary division between two sets of people, those who are straight and those who are gay, it seems that we need to accept that while there is a large majority of people who only ever experience heterosexual attraction and a smaller number who only experience homosexual attraction, there is also a significant minority of people who either experience some form of bisexual attraction or who move between heterosexual and homosexual attraction at some point or points in their life."
So there is an institutional awareness of bisexuality, and things have VERY SLOWLY been going the right way for a while. There's certainly condemnation of treating LGB people negatively.
I am scared however. There is anecdotal evidence that anyone who openly has same sex attraction is grilled harder when they put themselves forward for discernment, because they are a bigger potential scandal risk. I fear not just my openness about my sexuality will be a barrier, but my general liberal attitudes to all things sex and gender, which I am not willing to either change my mind or be silent about, because silence means people continue to suffer.
It's not definite that it'll be a problem: "As the 2005 Pastoral Statement from the House of Bishops acknowledges that clergy are fully entitled to argue for a change to the Church of England’s teaching on human sexuality, it would not be appropriate for candidates to be questioned in ways which imply that they may not so argue in the course of their ministries."
I do already argue for change and I will not stop. Official statements about sex are so inaccurate to the human condition, which has finally found a voice in the 21st century, that it's laughable. Just look at those 4 points above, I can agree with hardly anything there! Liberal ideas about sex ie. sex is not just one thing, it is a vast number of possible things depending not just on gender but context, relationships, abilities, time and place, pleasure, love, necessity, boundaries, desires; it's emotional, social, physical, psychological; it's SO MANY THINGS - these ideas are not new, and the current attitudes and policies are so restricted now that it's becoming clearer. And don't get me started on gender.
This isn't a generation making stuff up, it's a generation that has FINALLY broken down taboo and been able to express and discuss sex in a mature and compassionate fashion; we can now actually be truthful about sex, and not be ashamed of the truth. It's the same with everything, shame generally comes from ignorance, and once educated, the shame disappears and acceptance of the full scope of truth leads to happier people, fruitful societies, good all round. Surely it is right, and good, and proper to live our lives truthfully? I can't understand how anyone can still think so narrowly, and use it to judge and condemn people living their truth without negative impact on the world.
The question remains how detailed are the questions going to be about my conduct and what I'll be asked to promise to do or not do. For I very much plan on living my love life with integrity, respect, love, honouring myself and others, in line with my personal faith, my relationship with God; and being leader in the Church who doesn't disregard it's teaching outright, who engages in dialogue and seeks to live a life centred on the Great Commandment, love God and love neighbour. But I don't know if that's enough.
Looking at the details, the criteria for selection simply says "Candidates must be willing to live within the discipline of Issues in Human Sexuality."; and there are two relevant questions in the ordination service:
- Will you endeavour to fashion your own life and that of your household according to the way of Christ, that you may be a pattern and example to Christ's people?
- Will you accept and minister the discipline of this Church, and respect authority duly exercised within it?
I think 'the way of Christ' is found in my above declaration of integrity etc, and 'respecting authority' has room for interpretation. The criteria bit is a tad tricky, but I'll get to that when it comes to it, and I'll seek advice as well. I maintain that I have a right to privacy, regardless of how the CofE wants to get to know me. We'll see how that flies. I may have to take a good long hard look at whether I want to work for an institution who might reject me because we don't see entirely eye to eye on one matter within my private life. But I've always said, with the beginning of this blog, I am willing to be a flag waver, I will step up and speak out for a better world, and to be honest that's partly come from my faith; I follow a political rebel after all. So maybe it's worth it.
I just hope I don't get crucified.