English writer A.N. Wilson has an interesting piece in the Telegraph. Wilson thought the issue of gay clergy a settled one. Without question, Wilson thought, those who objected to gay clergy and bishops were closed minded, bigoted, and intolerant. Of course, they should be bishops. But then a strange thing happened. He got to know some gay bishops through their memoirs, and rather than confirming the obvious, it raised some doubts.
I used to think that it was intolerable for anti-gay bigots to use their repellent prejudices to blackmail the harmless Anglican homosexuals, many of whom have enriched the Church with their many gifts. But these two American books have made doubt shimmer through me.
The two books that raised questions for Wilson were Honor Moore’s The Bishop’s Daughter, a book about Paul Moore Episcopal Bishop of New York by his daughter. This book tells of the troubled closeted lifestyle of Bishop Moore.
But the novelistic complexity of it all never once made me feel that he would have been a better man if – an impossible thing at that date – he had “come out” and continued in office as a practising gay bishop. Indeed, the “hypocrisy” and the torment were almost certainly part of what made him such a powerful pastor, preacher and bishop.
While I don’t agree that hypocrisy and sin lead to good pastoral work, his observation that coming out the closet would not have served him well is interesting. More interesting is the contrast of Bishop Moore to another Bishop’s memoir, this one way out of the closet.
Then I turned to Bishop Gene Robinson’s In the Eye of the Storm (Canterbury Press). This is the famous Bishop of New Hampshire, who is not being asked to the Lambeth Conference for fear of upsetting the bigots. Whereas I felt that the tormented Bishop Moore’s life was marked with the sign of the cross, Bishop Gene’s ministry appeared to come marked with one of those smiley faces with which some soppy girls dot their i’s.
Like Bishop Moore, Bishop Robinson was married with children. Like Bishop Moore, he is alcoholic. But instead of thinking that torment and concealment and self-criticism are part of life, he seems to believe that the Christian gospel means God accepting everyone as they are – with no suggestion of denying the self, and taking up the cross.
Rather than seeing the collapse of his marriage as central to the story, he raises the issue of “sexuality” to a pinnacle of importance which makes it seem ridiculous. His book is that of an advanced egomaniac. He quotes 1 John 4:18 – “Perfect love casteth out fear” – thereby unintentionally reminding us of the old joke about the person who missed out the numeral 1 in that text, giving the quote not from John’s First Epistle, but from the 18th verse of the fourth chapter of the Gospel: “The man whom thou now hast is not thy husband”.
“No suggestion of denying the self, and taking up the cross.” No no. For Gene Robinson the love of self is the law of belief. Wilson’s criticisms of Robinson, while making me laugh, touch on the central issue of gay clergy. Whose Gospel is it, anyway?
Wilson’s read is correct. The lifestyle is inherently self centered and destructive. God became man in order to redeem, not to condone. This silly and sophomoric Gaius Baltar theology, “God made me therefore I am perfect” just does not stand the test. I find it delightful that someone like A.N. Wilson would come to this obvious conclusion after reading Gene Robinson ode to self. While Robinson wants you to believe that his version “Perfect love casteth out fear”, Wilson correctly concludes that “Perfect self love casteth out God.” Not much of a gospel.