Jeffrey John to Sue the Church?

This originally in the Sunday Times (behind a pay-wall) and now in the Mail on Sunday.

A controversial gay dean has threatened to take the Church of  England to court after he was blocked from becoming a bishop.

The Very Rev Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, has instructed an eminent employment lawyer to complain to Church officials after being rejected for the role of Bishop of Southwark.

Sources say the dean, one of the most contentious figures in the Church, believes he could sue officials under the Equality Act 2010, which bans discrimination on the grounds of sexuality. Such a case could create a damaging new rift within the CoE.

Dr John was at the centre of a storm in 2003 when forced to step down as Bishop of Reading by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams after it became known that he was in a gay, though celibate, relationship. The furore fuelled a bitter civil war within the Anglican Church that has dominated Dr Williams’s decade in office.

The dean was again a cause of infighting in 2010 when he was a candidate for Bishop of Southwark. A respected theologian and former canon at Southwark Cathedral, he had strong backing from senior Church liberals and it was said even David Cameron was supportive.

Challenge: Gay dean Dr Jeffrey John has said he will take action against the ChurchBut the Crown Nominations Commission, whose members are responsible for selecting bishops and include Dr Williams, appointed another candidate. Dr John was said to be furious and his supporters’ anger was stoked by a memo by another member of the commission, the late Dean of Southwark Colin Slee, claiming Dr Williams was one of those who tried to ‘wreck’ Dr John’s chances.

Dr John has instructed Alison Downie, partner and head of employment at London lawyers Goodman Derrick, to write to the Commission to suggest it risks breaching gay equality laws if it is blocking the dean over his homosexuality.

Ms Downie previously acted for a gay youth worker who successfully sued the Church in 2008 after the Bishop of Hereford Anthony Priddis refused him a job.

It is understood there has been a lengthy correspondence between Ms Downie and Church lawyers in an attempt to resolve the dispute. No legal action has been launched but it is thought Dr John has not ruled out the possibility, although one source said Dr John suggested he would drop his legal threat if he felt he would not be ruled out for future posts.

Church lawyers published new guidelines last summer which said that under the Equality Act, candidates cannot be barred from senior Church posts because they are gay as long as they do not have sex. The guidance added that candidates could be blocked if they were regarded as divisive because their views or behaviour had angered  a significant number of their flock.

Ms Downie refused to comment last night.  A Church spokesman also refused to comment.

OK, what to make of this? When I first heard the story breaking last night my initial reaction was, “That doesn’t sound anything like something Jeffrey John would do”. However, one conversation with Jonathan Wynne-Jones later and it appears that it all stacks up. What is going on?

Back when the fuss over his nomination for Southwark emerged, I made some suggestions about how to proceed. John Richardson also had some wise words to say.

Secondly, it would be difficult to condemn Dr John’s appointment on the grounds that he is in a relationship with someone of the same sex. The Church of England accepts the existence of civil partnered clergy, and although some (including myself) may think this is a mistake, the House of Bishops has made it clear that this acceptance is based on the provision of assurances that such relationships are sexually celibate. Moreover, Dr John has (as I recall) declared that this is the case for his own relationship.

There are therefore no current grounds within the Church of England’s teaching and practice regarding Dr John’s domestic arrangements for condemning his appointment as a bishop.

In fact, the only grounds I can see for objecting to Dr John’s appointment in principle lies in his teaching about human sexuality.

Some years ago, Dr John famously wrote a short book called Permanent, Faithful, Stable in which he advocated the acceptance of homosexual relationships, including non-celibate relationships, which showed those three features. I havereviewed this elsewhere, and detailed the difficulties I have with his approach, and I believe it would be entirely proper to object to Dr John’s appointment on the grounds of the position he adopts in this book.

However, if that is the basis on which an objection is to be made, it must be realized that the same would apply — as I have pointed out already — to a number of other existing Anglican bishops.

In other words, if Dr John’s appointment is seen as a potential casus belli, it needs to be appreciated that we are potentially at that point in more than one other diocese. Personally, I do not think this has been understood, and I am not at all sure that the implications have been considered as they ought to have by those who might think this is an ‘open and shut’ case.

Before any fierce objection is voiced to the mooting of Dr John, therefore, it needs to be asked, “Why him? Why now?” And if the objections are, nevertheless, made and actions do in fact follow, then for consistency’s sake this should not just apply to Dr John’s appointment, which may, in any case, never happen.

John Richardson is absolutely right – the Church of England is now in some sense reaping the mess it has created by constantly trying to fudge this issue. We are getting nearer and nearer to the point where the institutions will have to decide one way or the other.

Of course, there is one more question to answer, and that is who to sue? Welcome to the complicated structures of the established Church…

Update

Just remembered the Bible speaks very pertinently to the situation.

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!
(1 Corinthians 6:1-8 ESV)

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  • Andrew Reid

    Isn’t the Church of England exempt from the Equality Laws in the UK? In Australia, religions organisations have an exemption from these laws, so that they are able to appoint people of their own choosing to positions within the church.

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      That is the million dollar question. The advice given recently suggests that the issue is not being in a civil partnership, but the attitude of the candidate towards previous sinful behaviour.

      27. The position in summary, therefore, is as follows:
      • it is not open to a CNC or a bishop making a suffragan appointment to
      propose someone who is in a sexually active same-sex relationship;
      • it is not open to them to take into account the mere fact that someone is
      gay by sexual orientation;
      • where someone is in a civil partnership and/or is known to have been in a
      same-sex relationship, even though now celibate, it is for the CNC in the
      case of diocesan appointments and for the diocesan bishop, in consultation
      with the relevant archbishop, in relation to suffragan appointments, to
      come to a view whether the person concerned can act as a focus for unity
      because of these matters.
      28. As a matter of law, what this involves is applying a requirement related to sexual
      orientation so as to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a
      significant number of members of the Church of England, either in the particular
      diocese or more widely. The requirement is that the person can act as a focus for
      unity, which is related to the sexual orientation of the candidate.
      29. Relevant factors which can properly be taken into account include:
      • whether the candidate had always complied with the Church’s teachings
      on same-sex sexual activity;
      • whether he was in a civil partnership;
      • whether he was in a continuing civil partnership with a person with whom
      he had had an earlier same-sex sexual relationship;
      • whether he had expressed repentance for any previous same-sex sexual
      activity; and
      • whether (and to what extent) the appointment of the candidate would
      cause division and disunity within the diocese in question, the Church of
      England and the wider Anglican Communion.

      Let the interpretation commence!

  • Jill

    Wouldn’t this also apply to the ecclesiastical patrons of, say, Changing Attitude?

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      We talking about taking a particular stance?

      FWIW, I think John Richardson raises good points, but the Church House legal advice understands this ambiguity and therefore focuses upon a candidate being unrepentant of previous sexual behaviour. And this is why it is known as the “Jeffrey John Clause”, because he fails it and yet other candidates in the past few years (and earlier) have met it.

      They’re not stupid these lawyers y’know…

  • Sue

    So, we should never threaten legal action against another Christian? I think that is easy to say until you have been there? I never have been in that position – have you?

    • Guest

      “The very fact that you
      have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already.
      Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?  Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?
      Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor
      adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.   And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were
      sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and
      by the Spirit of our God.”

      Paul makes it clear. It is better to lose financially than to sue. It brings dishonour to the Church AND it endangers your eternal standing. As Jesus says, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”

      • Cerebusboy

         This is about justice, not money. And how analogous are legal proceedings in Paul’s time to the present day legislation that concerns Jeffrey John? Perhaps this is one of those wimmin speaking in church style passages that (not just) evangelicals can handily explain away.  And the church being institutionally biased against gay people ‘brings dishonour’ ; challenging such legislation is a moral corrective.  And the idea that suing can cause people to lose their soul is an amusing one. Hope there’s no Christian lawyers out there, eh? ;-) 

        • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

          To be Devil’s Advocate, some might argue this is a case of pitting the Church’s rules (like them or not) up against the law of the land. Can’t see how that’s not a 1 Cor 6 issue.

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      Actually, yes.

      I went to someone who was wiser and in authority, and he made a ruling which I abided with.

      • Cerebusboy

        Didn’t you also take legal action to get Fr. David Heron’s website shut down? I think a Christian priest counts as a “brother”. 

        • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

          David Heron is currently stripped of a licence after admitting 20 or so counts of conduct unbecoming a clerk in holy orders, including grossly offensive racist and sexist comments. He is now on the Archbishop’s list and has to have these offences (which, I repeat, he fully admitted in writing) made known to any Bishop to whom he applies for a licence.

          That’s my final word on that matter.

          • Cerebusboy

             Peter, I wasn’t saying you were wrong to take the initial action. In fact, the information you have supplied surely indicates that there are all sorts of occasions where it is legitimate for someone in the church to take legal action against someone else in the church, negating the narrow interpretation of 1 Corinthians 6 that is being used to condemn Jeffrey John’s (apparent) possible actions.  If it was moral and not unbiblical for you to take legal action against another Christian then why does the same standard not apply to John? 

            • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

              Let me be clear. I have never taken David Heron to a secular court. I haven’t yet taken him to an ecclesiastical “court” (which in the first instance would be his bishop), though I have all the necessary material to do so if necessary.

              That said, everything I wrote above stands. David Heron has admitted 20 or so charges of “Conduct Unbecoming”, some of it of a highly offensive nature. He no longer holds a licence and is on the Archbishop’s list. I understand that the person who laid these charges against David Heron first went directly to him to ask him to cease and apologise, and when that didn’t work went to the Bishop responsible who took it from there. Classic Biblical approach.

              If you want to discuss the matter further then email me, but let’s stop discussing it here.

      • Sue

        Undoubtedly Jeffrey John has sought similar advice and guidance from those in positions of authority whom he considers wise. It is a difficult and stressful decision. Let us leave it at that.

  • Cerebusboy

     I hereby predict that the ‘Christian’ Institute et all will rail against the evils of a “homosexual” (note: not “someone currently having gay sex”) trying to become a bishop. Jeffrey John has heroically borne his mistreatment to date, but I’d imagine there comes a point when it becomes all to obvious that the alleged distinction between sexual behaviour and sexual *orientation* is not, in fact, maintained by all (most?) ‘conservatives’ in a manner that very much does and should raise questions of equality law. There’s a reason why race and sex equality legislation was required in this country.

     And the proof text is inane (but then so’s proof-texting…).  Challenging an unjust law or *organisation* is hardly the same thing as unnecessary litigiousness aimed at a fellow believer. I’d also make the point that the passage quoted and your apparent understanding of it is consistent with the sort of above-the-law exceptionalism that the Roman Catholic church (or FIFA! ;)), say, has invoked and that has led to it getting into situations (c.f. clerical abuse scandals) that are demonstrably *im*moral

      Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers

     Is that question purely rhetorical? ;-)

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      Quite, but this is what episcopal churches have Bishops for.

  • Jill

    If he were to succeed, how would they get round the historic formularies of the Church of England?  Cranmer can hardly be rewritten, yet JJ could hardly claim to be ‘husband of one wife …’

    Rhetorical question, by the way.

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  • Guest

    The wolf in sheep’s clothing reveals his teeth.

    The COE has tried the “live in the contradiction”, a strategy that all have known will fail. The two sides are oil and water. The liberals have driven out the anglo-catholics. The evangelicals are next (excluding the phony “open evangelicals”). The evangelicals/fulcrumites have been foolish bridesmaids. They have ignored the obvious. They could not have predicted that the liberals would use secular courts against them??? Are they really that dense?

    Rowan Williams is the COE’s Frank Griswold. The liberals are playing the same book as the ones in America, just ten years after the fact.

    Schism today is the only answer. But the fulcrumites have too many Grima Wormtongues in their midst saying they can take Sarumen at his word. Unlike the LOTR, it won’t end well. There is no elvish army to help.

    • Cerebusboy

       I suspect that many ‘liberals’ – certainly to judge from the Scottish Episcopal Church – would be far more comfortable in an Anglo-Catholic service than either party, used to evensong and the Eucharist, would be in an evangelical church. I wonder how long a self-declared evangelical who didn’t believe in female ordination would last in today’s ‘Family Values’, women and kiddie preocuppied evangelical culture?

       And ++Rowan as wormtongue is hilarious. That would be the same ++Rowan that liberals call ‘Judas’ for his treatment of Jeffrey John and his failure to turn church teaching closer towards the sort of ideas he expressed in The Body’s Grace? Are elves conservatives in your wackadoo analogy? I fear that their fabulous sense of style and ‘effeminate’ nature suggests, Forward in Lace aside, that they are a far better analogous match for those evil liberals ;-)
       

      • Cerebusboy

        Ah, ++Rowan as Sarumon that would be. He does, I concede, have the beard ;-) 

        • Mark

          Yes liberals do decry ++Rowan for being too conservative. But that’s fairly typical isn’t it? The progressive strategy invariably is to have one group on the leading edge campaigning for the most radical reforms to be done right now and ‘damn the torpedos’ and a second group working with an eye to what is politically possible in the current climate. That second group is then attacked regularly by the first group, which enables them to position themselves as moderates who can act as ‘honest brokers’ in conflicts – which they then resolve in a way that helps move the tide slowly but definitively in the progressive direction.

          ++Rowan hasn’t been prepared to have the up-front fight that the first group wants. But there’s nothing he’s done that wasn’t intended to ensure the eventual victory of that cause. And the furor of the more “let’s have the fight now” group has certainly helped him have the room to do that.

          Not saying any of that is planned or deliberate, it’s just the way social groupings work. One group wants a more radical approach, one a slower, and the disagreement between them often helps the second group position itself as moderate in comparison to the first group.

          • Cerebusboy

             Even if you were right about liberals political strategy you would hardly be right about ++Rowan. Alienating liberals (c.f. the non-invite to +Gene Robinson etc) is a curious tactic to ensure their victory, unless it’s either a cover story or provocation to war (Emperor Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith style) . Here in Scotland the college of Bishops produced a statement in 2005 saying that the church has no problem with actively (or, one imagines, passively) gay being priests. That’s a concrete example that conservatives and evangelicals (although – and I’m not complaining ;-)- we have very few of these in the Scottish Episcopal and Fabulous church) can cite as an example of a liberal victory over traditional church teaching. What of ++Rowan (and the analogy of course isn’t perfect of course, the worldwide Anglican communion being far more diverse in every sense than the SEC) can one cite as being comparable? You can say “failure to have an up-front fight” but I think people on both sides assume that ++Rowan is or is was playing the long term game. Such a ‘game’ is hardly intrinsically liberal; i.e. conservatives can claim that liberal theology is ultimately self-negating (citing Spong et all) meaning that the long term approach will lead to their ideology naturally triumphing over the liberal one (whereas liberals who view conservatives as Dinosaurs-who-will-die-out can simultaneously view the long term approach as benefiting them) 

          • Cerebusboy

             Even if you were right about liberals political strategy you would hardly be right about ++Rowan. Alienating liberals (c.f. the non-invite to +Gene Robinson etc) is a curious tactic to ensure their victory, unless it’s either a cover story or provocation to war (Emperor Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith style) . Here in Scotland the college of Bishops produced a statement in 2005 saying that the church has no problem with actively (or, one imagines, passively) gay being priests. That’s a concrete example that conservatives and evangelicals (although – and I’m not complaining ;-)- we have very few of these in the Scottish Episcopal and Fabulous church) can cite as an example of a liberal victory over traditional church teaching. What of ++Rowan (and the analogy of course isn’t perfect of course, the worldwide Anglican communion being far more diverse in every sense than the SEC) can one cite as being comparable? You can say “failure to have an up-front fight” but I think people on both sides assume that ++Rowan is or is was playing the long term game. Such a ‘game’ is hardly intrinsically liberal; i.e. conservatives can claim that liberal theology is ultimately self-negating (citing Spong et all) meaning that the long term approach will lead to their ideology naturally triumphing over the liberal one (whereas liberals who view conservatives as Dinosaurs-who-will-die-out can simultaneously view the long term approach as benefiting them) 

            • Mark

              Well, ‘strategy’ was the wrong word choice by me, I’m more talking about a dynamic. And the same dynamic holds true for the ‘conservative’ side. There’s lots of people who point to the guys further on their right to say ‘I’m not like those guys so you can work with me’ – Fulcrum and the Open Evangelicals have benefited a lot from the presence of Reform and conservative Evangelicals in that respect.

              I agree about how both conservatives and liberals see the long term game as ultimately coming out on their side, but while the game isn’t intrinsically liberal, ++Rowan is clearly on the liberal side in that long-term game. From the various things he’s reported as saying it seems to me that he’s confident that in the long term the Christian church, in all its branches, will accept women’s ordination and the morality of same-gender sex. And I think that informs the decisions he makes in the short term – it’s classic English ‘advance by degrees so as not to give the opponents something to rally around’ rather than the more American ‘come out all guns blazing for the principle’ approach. 

              The non-invitation of +Gene would be a classic example of that IMO and this would be where we differ in our interpretation. Given that the Primates Meeting had required the non-invitation of +Gene *and* those bishops involved in his consecration, ++Rowan couldn’t just invite +Gene without setting off a serious fracture and *openly* putting the lie to the idea of collegiality at that level of the communion. So he doesn’t invite +Gene, but does invite everyone else, conceding just enough to the ‘conservatives’ to prevent opposition by more GS primates than just the GAFCON group, but falling far short of what the statement indicated, and so leaving the large group moving in a pro same-gender sex direction in place. The conservative thing to do would have been to have followed the direction of that instrument of communion. The radical liberal thing to do would have been to have blown it off completely. He did something in between – and I think that better fits the ‘long-term game’ liberal.

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  • Don

    When the Anglican Church of Canada became embroiled in this issue, the ‘conservatives’ broke away and formed the Anglican Network in Canada.  Instead of just walking away from their property they went to court (and lost), but many of their supporters were concerned from the beginning because while we believed they were entitled to their property, fighting for it in secular court was a lose-lose situation, and that’s precisely how it was regarded in the end.  Are we in line for the same thing here in the CofE?  With such a large number of churches and dioceses, that could get very ugly very fast and all the non-believers will just smirk and say that’s why they aren’t Christian!

    My second concern is for the ex-gay, who arguably have been lost in the current gay rights campaign in the church.  We are told that we are denying our true creation; for me that is utter nonsense!  I have been denied many postings because of my public stance.  Should I be suing in courts?  No, because I adhere to the Biblical standard you quoted Peter.  I took early retirement from the Anglican Church of Canada because the writing was on the wall–they were going to fire me because of who I am and what I stand for, which was definitely against the mainstream liberal agenda.  Rather than losing everything, I left quietly with a greatly reduced pension.  Had I stayed (or tried to) for another few years, my pension would have tripled!!  I am paying a price for my faithfulness to scripture, and I am trusting God to provide for me, and to date He has!  Go to courts for a resolution?  Not possible in my estimation. 

  • Pab

    Every aspect of this story is unbiblical. A so called bishop sueing the church, and a weak church that turns against clear biblical teaching.

    • pab

      I correct myself a Dean, wanting to become a Bishop.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/nixonislord Nixon isLord

     Religion is such a farce; the only thing these people are united on is clinging to the pitiful scraps of privilege and Establishment.

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