There are many clergy serving the Church of England today who live in trepidation. I cannot believe that this is an acceptable situation.
In 1975 The Naked Civil Servant, a 1975 TV film based on the 1968 autobiography by the gay icon Quentin Crisp, was broadcast on independent television here in England. It was regarded as the fourth most successful British programme ever broadcast by the British Film Institute in 2000.
I mention this film because it was a pivotal moment in changing English attitudes towards people who are gay. It has not transformed every person in England and I am certain that sections of our society are as oppressive towards gay people today as much as they were in 1975. However we are living in a society that is largely comfortable with people’s sexuality and we are a much more liberal society as a result.
However the truth is that gay clergy live under the rule of that section of English society that remains oppressive towards gay people, the Church of England establishment.
Whatever theological or ethical stance a person may take on the issue of sexuality the truth is that a person who is both gay and a member of the Clergy here in England will be prejudiced against preferment if he or she makes public their private sexual life.
Parishioners, on the other hand, are far more in touch with the ‘pulse’ of the nation and perhaps the nature of God. Having a 'vicar' at all is the concern of the average church goer today and irrelevant complications of worrying about their sexual orientation is simply not an issue. The Anglican God, here in England, is understood by the people to be a loving and inclusive God. The Church of England establishment, on the other hand, is seen as excluding and conservative and more in tune with avoiding mis-perceived 'scandal'. The Anglo-Catholic wing has not had a problem with clergy sexuality for generations.
The possibility of becoming a Bishop in the Church of England if one is openly gay is reduced. Men and Women serving in the Church of England live in fear that to disclose the truth of their sexual orientation would be to end their hopes of preferment!
The matter of sexual orientation is a non-issue for the vast majority of people in England. It is entirely possible that the appointment of a gay man as a Bishop would in fact endear the church to the people of England.
The Naked Civil Servant was broadcast a long time ago, Jim’ll Fix it and The Good Life premièred that year and soon after ‘queer bashing’ began to give way to to ‘paki bashing’. The Church of England establishment remains living in a world that only has four TV channels and appears still to be using a ‘Gestetner’ for all its photocopying needs.
This is a very rough and ready calculation but one that might give food for thought. Surveys seem to conclude that around 6% of the population are not heterosexual and that would mean that there are approximately 450 non-heterosexual clergy serving today, and of them about 20 are senior clergy, including Bishops.