This weekend, it was reported in the Salisbury Journal and then very quickly all over my social media feeds that retired Canon Precentor Jeremy Davies had been banned by the Diocese of Winchester from taking services.
Jeremy is the former Canon Precentor of Salisbury Cathedral. In 2004, he had entered into a civil partnership with his partner of (then) eighteen years, and continued to serve as Canon Precentor until his retirement in 2011. He seems to have remained very active since his retirement, preaching and lecturing on both sides of the Atlantic and, by invitation, taking services in both Salisbusy and Winchester Cathedrals. In 2014, he and his partner were married. He was formally reprimanded by the Bishop of Winchester for getting married — in this case, as in the cases of Jeremy Pemberton and Andrew Forshew-Cain, the House of Bishops have missed a couple of century’s worth of etiquette lessons on how not to congratulate an employee on the occasion of their wedding. In the report in the Salisbury Journal, it is reported that he has continued to officiate at services in Winchester since his marriage and has been invited back by the Cathedral to a number of future services. In the middle of last week, he received notice from the Bishop of Winchester, Tim Dakin, that because of his marriage he was being denied permission to officiate in the Diocese.
The silence from the hierarchy of the Church of England has been deafening.
Senior figures of the Church have either been living under a rock since Saturday, or else they are all keeping their heads down and hoping that if they stay quiet then this will all go away.
For some time now I’ve been saying that my enemies in the Church are not the people who disagree with me. A lot of people disagree with me, and they are mostly people with whom I can have a conversation that is reasonable and respectful on both sides. Nor are my enemies the people who have yet to make up their mind and are truthful with me about the fact that they are still working out what they think. My enemies in the Church are the people who claim privately to agree with me and in public refuse to support me — because they’re afraid of what their bosses will say, because they’re afraid of what the papers will write, because they’re afraid that it will stir up trouble, and because, in the end, it is much easier for them to keep quiet and offer platitudes to the people whose lives are ripped apart as they stand by doing nothing and then to be surprised and offended when we lose our collective temper.
Martin Luther King once said: “We will have to repent, in this generation, not merely for the hateful words and actions of bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good.”
In our generation, too.
Earlier in the day on Saturday, the Spectator had run an interview given by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. He was asked by Michael Gove how he would react if one of his own children fell in love with someone of the same sex and asked for his blessing, and he told Gove that he would pray for them together, he would pray with them together, and, yes you bet he would go to their wedding. Asked whether he would say to them that while he loves them he would caution them that their relationship was sinful or inappropriate, he responded: “I will always love you, full stop.”
I was really pleased when he said that. It’s a big thing and a brave thing for the Archbishop of Canterbury to say that, and never mind that it shouldn’t be. I know that when I ask people to put their head over the parapet I’m not asking them to do something easy; if it were easy, I wouldn’t have to ask.
But a few hours later, this story about Jeremy Davies, which is in its way simply the next iteration of the way in which the Church has chosen over and over and over again to let down those who have asked nothing but to serve it.
I still struggle to find any love or common sense in the response of a Church that chooses to punish someone for marrying the person they love. I’ve witnessed it from inside the process — on this matter, the Scottish Episcopal Church cannot claim any moral high ground — as well as watching from the outside when something like this happens in England. I find anger and hurt and pain. I rarely find any sense of pastoral response or responsibility. I cannot believe I am seeing what God wants.
And three days after this story broke, still that deafening sound of nothing from everyone associated with the Church of England.
That is a strategy that isn’t acceptable and never worked anyway, and speaking for myself I find that I’m no longer able to pretend to respect individuals who are supportive of me just so long as I never expect them to say it out loud or in public or when it might matter.
Because here’s the thing:
Either people in the Church think that LGBT people are made in the image and likeness and love of God, and recognise that LGBT people are in and of the Church, and want the Church to value and cherish the hopes and dreams of its LGBT clergy, or they don’t.
The more we hear of stories like this one and the more senior figures in the Church of England avoid talking about them, the louder I hear their answer.