Bishop pilloried for
changing his mind

The Rt. Rev. Tom Butler (just retired Bishop of Southwark) had three minutes, on BBC’s Thought of the Day for May 25, to say a word about the British Home Secretary who recently said about homosexuality, “I’ve changed my mind.” Here’s some of what Butler said:

… It’s remarkable to observe how, in spite of traditional religious teaching, public opinion in Britain over a period of a decade or so, in a remarkable shift of thinking has mostly changed its mind on the worth and place of gay people in society. The reason is simple: it’s difficult to hold dogmatic views about what is good and desirable behaviour, when some of the often obviously good, loving and responsible people you actually encounter are behaving in an alternative way.

The same thing happened in the Church over questions concerning divorce and remarriage. Thirty years ago it was almost unknown for divorced people to be remarried in church, but many changed their minds when it was their own children or grandchildren who were caught up in divorce proceedings. The messy ambiguities of choosing divorce over remaining in a loveless marriage, with often painful consequences for children whatever the choice became more apparent. Society had changed its mind and the Church if it were to continue to have any pastoral influence on those struggling to live decent lives had to take account of the change.

Of course this brings problems to a church like my own which is part of a global communion of very different cultures and traditions. I was in the Diocese of Maryland a couple of weeks ago shortly before one of their very able priests Mary Glasspool was ordained a bishop in Los Angeles. The fact that Mary has been in a twenty-year lesbian partnership was simply a non-issue for the many church people there who knew and admired her, and they found it very difficult when I tried to explain that liberal actions in America or indeed Britain can have dangerous consequences for fellow Christians living in minority situations in Africa or Egypt. But a responsible global church must take this into account and try to build bridges of cultural understanding.

But be that as it may, the price of holding the communion together can’t all be paid by stifling the lives of gay people in the West and cruelly punishing them in Africa. The Home secretary has changed her mind, and so have I. END [link added]

“And so have I.” That statement has brought quick rebuke from predictable circles. Church Mouse has a roundup of reaction, and adds thoughts we share. (Quibbles like, is it just coincidence that the bishop’s declaration comes just after retirement? – Bishop Butler’s position changed some time ago, as Chris Hansen points out in the comments.)

A Tale of Two Toms

Bishop Tom’s comments stand in stark contrast to recent ones of another so retiring Bishop Tom. That Bishop Tom believes price of holding the communion together can be paid by stifling the lives of gay people in the West and cruelly punishing them in Africa.

Addendum From Tom Butler’s Thought of the Day, 21 Nov 2006:

Women priests aren’t a problem they’re a blessing, not only to the Church of England, but to the wider community and I believe to the whole catholic church in years to come.

And what of gay priests? Of course there are divisions and splits in the Anglican Communion over this issue at the present time, and because we are a transparent church, the arguments are conducted in public. But Archbishop and Pope both know that they have serving their respective churches innumerable dedicated and devoted gay priests, often ministering in the most difficult and dangerous places on earth. They’re not a problem. They’re a blessing.

We may be in the winter of church unity negotiations, but calling blessings problems isn’t the way to move towards the spring.

At the time Anglican Mainstream said of that statement, “Bishop Butler of Southwark unclear on gay priests.”

Not so much. Bishop Butler has not remained the man he was when appointed (by the former ABC?). Growth and a willingness to shift allegiance can be good.

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