Colin Coward of Changing Attitude ‘outs’ 13 Anglican bishops
Not that His Grace is ageist, you understand: it is a simple sociological fact that a heterosexual union between a 65-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman (or vice versa) would also raise eyebrows, so not to levitate the forehead follicles at this happy union may be interpreted by some as an unacceptable discrimination.
But the Rev’d Colin Coward does appear to have one or two problems with the concept of honesty and integrity. Last week, he got himself into a bit of tizz over the leaking of a memo by the late Dean of Southwark, Colin Slee, who had recorded his recollections of the appointment of a new bishop for Southwark last year. In particular, the memo recorded how the Archbishops of York and Canterbury had made absolutely sure that the name of the Rev’d Dr Jeffrey John – presently Dean of St Albans Cathedral, who had been nominated and then 'withdrawn' from the suffragan bishopric of Reading – would not go forward for Southwark. The memo fumed with the injustice of a new legal opinion produced by the solicitors of Church House which suggested a number of legitimate reasons why candidates may be passed over for promotion to pointy-hat status – reasons which would have legally excluded Dr John.
Colin Coward was furious, and said so as much on his blog. In a fit of pique he wrote:
I could name a number of bishops who are gay, including several appointed in the last 12 months. I’m sitting here this morning wondering whether I should, knowing that to do so is not in accord with my Christian ethos.This was then followed by a blog comment in which he wrote:
I’ve read all the comments and am conflicted personally about whether bishops who are known to be gay should be outed. As Director of Changing Attitude, the guidance from trustees (and Tina has commented above) is that Changing Attitude does not out people. I will go a step further, however, and say that I would confidently name 13 bishops as being gay, meaning over 10% of bishops in England are gay. How any of the 13 live with themselves, their inner world and truth, in the aftermath of yesterday’s revelations, I can’t imagine.Or at least, if you went to the blog post today, that's what you would read. But that isn't what his comment originally said. Colin Coward actually wrote (click to enlarge):
The redaction is evident, but why did he do it?
Well, it takes not two minutes to do the most superficial search on the internet and count up the number of single diocesan bishops in the Church of England, and the number of single suffragans.
Oh dear. The ‘personally conflicted’ Rev’d Colin Coward ‘outs’ 13 Anglican bishops, in clear violation of the guidance from the Trustees of Changing Attitude and in contravention of the organisation’s code of conduct. How he can live with himself, his inner world and truth, in the aftermath of these revelations, His Grace can’t imagine.
At this point it might be pertinent to see what the other director of Changing Attitude, Christina Beardsley, has to say about ‘outing’. Luckily for us, she clarified her position in a comment on the very same blog post:
Outing bishops, or even an archbishop (as has happened) achieves very little: ‘my sexuality is a grey area’ hardly moves things on. OutRage, for example, has tended to limit outings to those who have compromised themselves by issuing homophobic statements (though I guess one could argue that the imposition of – a selected reading – of ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ has made the CofE institutionally homophobic) but CA has always refrained from outing others and if you have been outed yourself you will understand why: it is violent and, in some instances, a betrayal of trust. In any case CA’s role is to win the argument by argument not by pressure tactics, but if the leaks continue in this vein they will do that for us very nicely!So let's just make sure we understand this: the outing of bishops (or, indeed, anyone) is ‘violent’ and ‘a betrayal of trust’, which is why Changing Attitude ‘has always refrained from outing others’. It’s a good job that her co-director doesn’t allow his ‘personally conflicted’ state to interfere with his professional judgement, is it not?
His Grace was so concerned about the ‘violence’ and ‘betrayal of trust’ inflicted upon these bishops that he politely enquired of Colin Coward why he had made swift edits to his comment. The response was illuminating; not so much for the detailed explanation and apology for the major error he had committed (as if Colin Coward would have the integrity to do that), but rather for the way he launched into a bout of ad hominem against His Grace, simply for daring to ask a few pertinent questions. Colin Coward accused His Grace of ‘contribut(ing) to maintaining a culture in the Church of England which is deeply compromised and allows dishonesty and abuse to infect the life of the Church’.
And for good measure, he added:
The problem lies with people like you and groups like Anglican Mainstream whose campaign against LGBT people in the Church which repeatedly seeks to malign our integrity (as Canon Chris Sugden did yet again on the radio this morning) poisons the culture of our Church.Malign? Poison? His Grace was somewhat taken aback (not to say utterly bemused) by this violence and vitriol, and was left wondering which aspect of Colin Coward’s character he finds most disturbing: his intellectual dimness which led to him ‘outing’ 13 Church of England bishops without even realising it; his manifest lack of integrity in refusing to admit to a grievous error of judgement; or his inability to reason which left him resorting to baseless ad hominem.
Surely the director of an organisation who transgresses a code of conduct or contravenes established protocol should either resign or be disciplined by his superiors with the likelihood of dismissal? Whatever he may personally believe and however he may desperately redact, Colin Coward has unequivocally and undeniably ‘outed’ four diocesan bishops and seven suffragans. He has done this at the same time as his organisation professes to be hyper-sensitive to the personal assault and ‘violence’ that can be inflicted on those who are homosexually-inclined.
Since it was alleged that His Grace has a ‘campaign against LGBT people in the Church (and) repeatedly seeks to malign (their) integrity (which) poisons the culture of our Church’ His Grace politely requested the evidence for this allegation.
Answer came there none.
His Grace tweeted three times (here, here and here).
Answer still came there none. But, astonishingly, Colin Coward did see fit to drip-drip-drip the allegations again in the cyber pages of The Guardian.
Quite why he believes it to be pastorally and ecclesially wholesome to indulge in conjecture and libel instead of simply naming those church leaders he accuses of hypocrisy is unknown. To change an attitude requires education, sensitivity and persuasion, not ignorance, bullying and innuendo. All that we have definitively from him is this statement of belief: ‘The Church culture is not transparent and honest, it is driven by a small minority who are obsessed, for whatever reason, with homosexuality and what people get up to sexually. It is unhealthy and it is destroying the Church step by insidious step.’
And Colin Coward has shown himself to be far from honest and transparent in his own ministry: he is manifestly one of a small minority who are obsessed with homosexuality and what bishops get up to sexually, irrespective of whether those bishops have repented of their past behaviour or have chosen to live a sacrificially celibate life. Who is Colin Coward to judge these men? It is his personal agenda which is ‘unhealthy’ and which is ‘destroying the Church step by insidious step’.
This isn't a question of homophobia; it is a matter of hypocrisy. It is people like Colin Coward who keep issues of sexuality and visions of genitalia at the forefront of people's minds when they consider the ministry of the Church, and while its priests and bishops try to go about the work of God for the salvation of souls. For the record (and for Colin Coward's information), His Grace’s definitive word on the whole ‘gay’ obsession was written some time ago:
By devoting so much time and effort to the ‘gay issue’, instead of challenging society by deconstructing the question or focusing on poverty and wealth (for example), the church is simply showing itself to share the same obsessions as the world. Paul allowed no compromise on the restriction of sexual activity to heterosexual, monogamous marriage. But such an ethic seems almost utopian to our sex-besotted age, in which it appears at times that one’s identity is made to reside in one’s sexual organs and their untrammeled exercise. The issue for the Church of England is that this debate has been blown out of all proportion; it is neither a battle for the soul of the church, nor an issue worthy of schism. It is a question utterly peculiar to this era, and those on both sides of the divide – both politicians and theologians – might consider toning down the rhetoric and the apologetics, and instead preaching a message that, contrary to society’s thinking, sexual expression is neither a necessary line of inquiry in every human interaction, nor an essential component in human fulfilment.Perhaps Changing Attitude might change its attitude.
Either that, or appoint a director of good judgement, pastoral sensitivity and spiritual discernment who can practise what the organisation purports to believe.