The dilemma for Gay Christians
Many are left bewildered at the sudden departure of Edinburgh’s Cardinal Archbishop, Keith O’Brien, for almost twenty eight years resident at St Benet’s in Church Hill. The accusations by three priests and a former priest of homosexuality, or homosexual intent, may or may not turn out to be true. We have to ask why the accusers have taken so long.
If there is truth in the accusations do we pity Keith O’Brien who for thirty odd years has feared being outed? Or do we pity him as the recipient of a ghastly set of untruths right at the end of his active ministry?
On a television programme in 1987 about AIDS/HIV, with Keith O’Brien and others, televised from St Andrew’s and St George’s Church in George Street, when I was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s adviser, his position was firm. Homosexuality was, is and always will be a sin. A few years later, with an evangelical Archbishop of Canterbury, I had been translated to being an executive of the Anglican Centre in Rome. True enough in Rome, the wrath of the Church burned down on all who were gay.
In the years that followed Roman Catholics were allowed, bit by bit, to accept the homosexual condition, so long as there was absolutely no hanky-panky. As Anglican and Protestant denominations began their struggle with sexuality Pope after Pope has stood firm.
There are now plenty of gay clergy exercising their ministry in Anglican and Protestant churches in the United Kingdom. And even in the Church of Scotland as Scott Rennie at Brechin and now Queen’s Cross in Aberdeen has demonstrated. Let’s see what the forthcoming report to the General Assembly has to declare this coming May.
I was only a lay member of the General Synod of the Church of England when, twenty five years ago this month, I declared quietly but firmly in a speech that I was gay. My friend Peter Tatchell was in the public gallery awaiting my announcement. What he then shouted was enough for Synod to close down whilst he was ejected and banned from Church House, Westminster for life.
Twenty five years ago nobody had yet ‘come out’ in either the House of Lords or House of Commons. I was breaking new ground in a legislative body. There were mixed results.
I had not realised, however, that my self declaration made me a target for the press, as I was to find out in the following years. As a magistrate of more than ten years, I had to reswear the Oath to be allowed to continue. Letters of support from the Archbishops and the continuation of my work for the 1988 Lambeth Conference was a great encouragement. And blow me, the General Synod went on to vote me as one of the Church of England’s representatives to the newly formed ecumenical bodies in both England and the British Isles.
I was so very fortunate to be allowed to be myself within the Church. But what of so many others - trapped by rules which seem so very outdated. Are they expected to carry on a life of pretence? Is this really what Christ wants?
Has it helped that Cardinal Archbishop O'Brien has been so outspoken on the gay issue? For Roman Catholics, of all the churches, there’s still no wholehearted total welcome after coming out. He really has not helped what will in due course be inevitable.There’s a mighty long way to go.