UK

Gay bishop: Appointment of Nicholas Chamberlain 'major error' says Gafcon

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Media captionBishop Nicholas Chamberlain: "My sexuality is part of who I am, rather than the whole of who I am"

Appointing a gay man as the bishop of Grantham was a "major error", the conservative Anglican group Gafcon has said.

Bishop Nicholas Chamberlain said he was gay and in a relationship on Friday.

He was consecrated last year by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby - who has said he knew about the bishop's sexuality.

Bishop Chamberlain told BBC News: "We are all God's people together... I hope that you will be able to understand."

He also said he understood and lived by the Church guidelines, which say gay clergy must remain celibate.

'Respect'

"I never thought that I would be on the front page of a newspaper or indeed in the news in this way, because my sexuality is part of who I am, rather than the whole of who I am," he added.

Asked about those who were uncomfortable about his appointment as bishop, he said: "I very much understand and respect their feelings and convictions and I hope that we are all part of God's people together."

He also said he had been open about his sexuality prior to becoming a bishop.

But Gafcon, a group which includes conservative Anglicans around the world, said there had been an "element of secrecy" in his appointment.

A statement from Gafcon said the news about Bishop Chamberlain would "exacerbate" divisions within the Church of England and the wider Anglican world.

'Serious concern'

"There are aspects of this appointment which are a serious cause for concern for biblically orthodox Anglicans around the world, and therefore we believe that this appointment is a major error," the Gafcon statement added.

It said the "element of secrecy" in Bishop Chamberlain's appointment gave the impression "that it has been arranged with the aim of presenting the Church with a 'fait accompli', rather than engaging with possible opposition".

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Media captionRevd Canon Andy Lines: "Christian leaders are to be above reproach"

The statement was signed by the Most Reverend Peter Jensen, who is the group's general secretary, and Canon Andy Lines, who is the chairman of Gafcon's UK task force.

Canon Lines later told the BBC News website he considered the Bible his "supreme authority" and that it listed a number of behaviours, of which practising homosexuality was one, which "required repentance".

While he admitted that celibate same-sex attraction required no such repentance, he described Bishop Chamberlain's appointment as "unfortunate" for the Church in terms of the the public perception it created.

He said that if Bishop Chamberlain was living in the same home as his partner it would give the perception of marriage, but he conceded that he did not know any specifics about his life.

He also said the timing of this news "was unhelpful and suspicious" given that the Church of England's College of Bishops meets this month for the next stage of the Church's discussions about sexuality.

Bishop Chamberlain's sexuality was publicly disclosed in an interview with the Guardian, and it has been reported that he gave the interview because his private life was about to be exposed by a Sunday newspaper.

He told the Guardian he had been with his partner for many years and said: "It is faithful, loving; we are like-minded, we enjoy each other's company and we share each other's life."

Remain celibate

In response to the Guardian's story, Archbishop Welby said: "His appointment as bishop of Grantham was made on the basis of his skills and calling to serve the Church in the Diocese of Lincoln.

"He lives within the bishops' guidelines and his sexuality is completely irrelevant to his office."


Same sex relationships and the Church

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Media captionBishop Chamberlain is said to be in a long-term - but celibate - relationship.

The House of Bishops has issued guidance about gay relationships which say "same sex relationships often embody genuine mutuality and fidelity".

But the guidance adds: "Getting married to someone of the same sex would, however, clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England."

In particular, it says "It would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same sex marriage."

The Church also teaches that "Sexual intercourse, as an expression of faithful intimacy, properly belongs within marriage exclusively."

However, these sentiments have not been followed throughout the Anglican communion.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Gene Robinson is considered the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican world

In the US, Gene Robinson's election as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003 provoked a furore from conservative Anglicans around the world, and contributed to the rise of the conservative Gafcon movement.

In the UK, the Dean of St Albans, the Very Reverend Jeffrey John entered into a civil partnership in 2006.

He was twice tipped to become a bishop - at Reading in 2003, then at Southwark in 2010 - but was not appointed. On both occasions his sexuality was stated as a "difficulty" for Church of England - despite his assurance that he was committed to sexual abstinence.


The Gafcon statement also took the opportunity to criticise the Church's outlook on same sex relationships.

"We remain opposed to the guidelines for clergy and bishops, permitting them to be in same-sex relationships as long as they publicly declare that the relationship is not sexual.

"This creates confusion in terms of the Church's teaching on the nature of sex and marriage, and it is not modelling a helpful way to live, given the reality of our humanity, and temptation to sexual sin," it said.

But Susie Leafe, the chairwoman of the conservative evangelical group Reform, said she sympathised with Bishop Chamberlain for having been "hounded by the secular press and forced into making a statement".

'Complex desires'

"All human beings have a range of complex desires; who he is attracted to should not make any difference to his ability to do the job of a bishop," she added.

It is thought no serving bishop has ever before gone public about their sexuality. The former Archbishop of York, Lord Hope, said in 1995 that his sexuality was a "grey area".

Image copyright Diocese of Lincoln
Image caption The Bishop of Grantham became a suffragan in the Lincoln diocese in November last year

The dean of St Albans, the Very Reverend Jeffrey John, withdrew from the selection process to become bishop of Reading in 2003 after an angry reaction from traditionalist Anglicans about his sexuality.

A Church of England spokesman said: "Nicholas has not misled anyone and has been open and truthful if asked. The matter is not secret, although it is private as is the case with all partnerships/relationships."

The Rev Sally Hitchiner, who is gay and runs the LGBT support group Diverse Church, told the BBC she was looking forward to the day that a bishop's sexuality was not a news story.

"He's being very clear that he's sticking within the Church of England guidelines and being celibate. Most of us in the Church do know about people who are gay in high office," she said.

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