The Appalling Silence of the Good

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.

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7 comments

  1. Thank you for this excellent, lucid and cogent post. I entirely agree with you. The CofE hierarchy are pusillanimous and morally bankrupt. Instead of honesty and justice, we get timidity, moral and intellectual confusion and a wish to preserve an outdated model of the Church. But, of cy, it is expedient that one man should die for the people. I am very happy to be what Evangelicals call a ‘revisionist’. Daniel Lamont

  2. The position in the SEC is especially vile. One may be in a CP with one’s partner, and one may be their acknowledged social, physical and moral partner, but one may not marry them and still have an official ministry in the church. Thus only the full and final commitment of marriage is considered forbidden and wrong. I fail to understand how accepting same sex couples in bed but not married can be considered some kind of superior position to allowing them to marry.

    1. The only difference here between England and Scotland is that clergy in the Church of England are still supposed to promise not to engage in sexual intimacy with their civil partners. I agree that there is no sense at all in the SEC’s position on any of this and it is utterly vile, but I think that that part of Church of England guidance and the fact that it is still carried out are absolutely repugnant.

    2. Rosemary, I believe the hierarchy are hoping that One Blessed Day, one (or both) of the civil partners will (ahem) straighten up, and kick the other partner OUT of bed. At which point they can continue as no more than the Godly Roommates that the Lord intended—with none of that squiggily “husbands” or “wives” business that the “M” word brings. While the Spirit of Universal Gay Celibacy tarry…

  3. Oh, that is so painful.
    It’s like that parable in Matthew 21 where the one son is told to work in the vineyard, and he says, “Yes,” and then doesn’t go. A “No” is just more honest, at least. We don’t need words that say “yes, I support you,” but lives that do.

  4. Well said, Beth. You are absolutely right. Senior clergy in all the Anglican churches of these islands, and especially the bishops, are so hung up on the need not to provoke disunity that they have forgotten all about love and justice and the other demands of the gospel they claim to preach.

    1. I am increasingly disquieted by a feeling that there are few leaders or prophets in positions of influence in the Anglican Communion these days. Because if all you’re doing is avoiding provoking disunity — and you are right about that, I think — then you’re not really doing anything. It’s not just about issues around human sexuality, either. It’s something that I feel the Church is failing at on multiple levels.

      I also think that they forget, while getting hung up on not provoking disunity, that that’s sometimes just a risk that is going to be taken no matter what. In a conversation about the Scottish situation not too long ago, someone said to me that people have to remember that appealing though the status quo often seems it is not a risk-free or hurt-free or neutral option. I had already known that, but no one had said it quite so baldly before and that really focused things for me.

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