Will Jeffrey John make Purple after all?

Bishop David Anderson thinks there’s a chance:

With regard to "moratoria" on electing/consecrating any new homosexual bishops in the Anglican Communion, the next chance of such an election isn’t in North America. We have become aware through reliable sources that Dr. Barry Morgan is a man of his word – he previously has said, "I (Barry Morgan) would ordain Britain’s first gay Bishop."

Wales is in an election process for Bishop of Bangor and the election has as one of its still-secret nominees none other than Jeffrey John, sometime bishop designee for Reading, who had to withdraw when the appointment created an uproar. Failing to take the prize home with him, he was given an appointment as a Cathedral Dean to console him, but it now appears that some stock options for the future were thrown in as well (Dean Jeffrey John is in a same-sex civil partnership).

The electoral college consists of the clergy of the diocese of Bangor and all of the Bishops of the Province of the Church of Wales. Although being on the slate is no guarantee of an election, it is clearly something that Archbishop Morgan desires, having said that practicing homosexuals should not be barred from becoming bishops, and having called the opponents of such consecrations "exclusive and narrow-minded."

Ooohh blimey. That would put the cat amongst the pigeons.

It’s vitally important that Conservatives, if they oppose this promotion (if it indeed happens), get their response absolutely water-tight. There is a huge danger that incorrect use of language or argument will damage the orthodox position. In particular we need to be aware of what the general public will perceive from the language we use.

Let me give you a good example. Any reference to Jeffrey John being "the gay Dean" or a potential new "gay Bishop" reinforces in the public’s mind that the issue is Dr John’s sexuality. The truth of the matter is that his sexual orientation shouldn’t in any way disbar him from the highest office. It is sexual practice that is the key, not sexual orientation.

Any objection on the case of him being in a Civil Partnership also needs to be clearly thought through. Is a celibate Civil Partnership what the Lambeth Conference proposed moratorium on consecrating those in a same-sex union intended to cover? If so, does that make the Church of England’s stance on the permissibility of celibate Civil Partnerships untenable in the light of the Lambeth moratoria?

Any objection to him being consecrated on the basis of his teaching also needs to be carefully weighed. Is it fair to single out Dr John’s "Permanent, Stable, Faithful" when Rowan Williams’ "The Body’s Grace" might amount to the same stance? What about "heterosexual" bishops who teach the same thing as Dr John on same-sex unions?

One of the main objections to Dr John’s consecration in Reading was the way his candidacy had been foisted upon the Diocese. That will probably not be the situation in Bangor, so a careful response which is well thought out theologically and ecclesiologically needs to be prepared (if it is necessary). It seems to me that the best card to play is a combination of the same-sex union ban and the teaching of Dr John on sexual morality, but such an objection has huge implications for the Church of England (as regards its stance on Civil Partnerships).

Let’s wait and see…

Update – 2nd September

In a response to Adrian the Pluralist I wrote the following, which I think is a better ground for objecting to Dr John’s consecration than any of the above. I’m copying it here as readers from Kendall Harmon’s site may miss it:

Simply put, it is this. Jeffrey John is an unrepentant sinner and such a man cannot be a shepherd of the people. While all of us are sinners, you cannot have a Bishop who has sinned, that sin is public knowledge, and yet who refuses to even acknowledge what he has done is sinful, let alone repent for it.

The sin that Jeffrey John has committed is having sex outside of marriage. Although he is now celibate, he has previously in the past been sexually active with someone he is not married to. It doesn’t matter whether he had sex with a man or a woman, and certainly his sexual orientation has absolutely no bearing on the sin he has committed. It would be the same if a male candidate was put forward to be Bishop who was unmarried, was known to have had a sexual relationship with a woman for over five years, and yet refused to accept that it was sinful.

Let me quickly say that revisionists might object to this as other men have been made bishop where it is alleged that they have had previous sex outside of marriage. However, in the case of the person I am thinking of (of whom attempts were made to out him earlier this year), there was a clear position from him since then that all sex outside of marriage was wrong, including any that he may or may not have engaged in.

30 Comments on “Will Jeffrey John make Purple after all?

  1. Jeffrey John is in a celibate same-sex partnership, although given that he’ll still suffer abuse for his sexuality irrespective of his behaviour he might as well start having sex with the guy. Nice to see conservatives having such a constructive impact. Do you have a position on the outing Cardinal Newman controversy that’s been in the papers this week paper?

  2. I have no position on the Cardinal Newman outing because it’s all just supposition (unless you can link me to some firm evidence). And what would it matter if he was gay? If you could find evidence of a sexual relationship with another man, then there would be a story.

  3. Peter, I thought one of the reasons conservatives objected to John was because his same-sex partnership was unbiblical (c.f. your own writing on the Christ/Church symbolism that is only expresed in male-female marriage, and how eroticism is manifested in your relationship with your wife even when you’re going through dry spells) irrespective of whether it actually involved homosexual practise? If it can be reasonably established that Cardinal Newman had a male partner then I think you can still claim him as gay even if he was celibate.

  4. And I know you said it shouldn’t matter if he was gay, but it’s, at the very least, good to know that someone so objectively disordered can become a Cardinal.

  5. Ryan,

    I’m afraid that there is little evidence Cardinal Newman had a male partner of the manner you are initimating. Unless you can back that up with some evidence you’re just making yourself look foolish by claiming as much.

  6. Gah! What’s with the makeover!? Bit of a shock, and it was odd to see you remove the picture of you and your wife as it obviously supported your post-gay beliefs, but it does look more classy.

    As regards Newman, given the illegality of homosexuality in the period of question I’m not sure it’s fair to say we can only consider someone gay if some sort of smoking gun proof is offered. You don’t need to prove that Jonathan and David were a sexual couple to say they had an emotional bond which is similar to contemporary same sex relationship. If we know that Newman loved St.John (in a personal sense different from the love christians should have for everyone) they lived and were burried together then is it not disengenous to say it was just a normal  masculine friendship?

    I would reiterate that I am certainly not trying to say that Cardinal Newman definitely engaged in homosexual practise (although i am curious if you think the mooted 40% statistic for gay men in the catholic church is accurate)

    Just back from Pride!

  7. There is also the concern about Jeffrey John’s  theology of the crucifixion.  Wasn’t he the one who used the phrase “cosmic child abuse”? Didn’t he say during Easter Week in 2007 that substitutionary atonement theology is “repulsive” and “insane” and “makes God sound like a psychopath. If a human behaved like this we’d say that they were a monster.”?

  8.  Is believing in substitutionary atonement theology a mark of orthodoxy? I don’t see why  (unlike blessing gay relationships, denying a literal resurrection etc) one can’t agree with John on this and still be a good conservative/evangelical.

  9. Hello folks,

    (nosey aside – ryan, which pride were you at? I haven’t got to any this year…)

    …back to topic: liking your post at top of this thread, Peter. (is it me or has something shifted a bit in the way you write about ‘gay issues’ recently? I’m applauding, for one.) I’d guess you’re right that if it transpires that this story is true, and Dr John were the favoured candidate, some quite knotty questions arise. That said, based on the considerations you raise, it’s hard to see how there could be a strong case against Dr John’s consecration. Given that he publicly said 5 years ago that his partnership is celibate, and given that the House of Bishops’ guidelines allow clergy to enter civil partnerships provided they’re celibate, what objection on these grounds can there be? I think you make a good point about his teaching too, particularly in relation to ‘”heterosexual” bishops who teach the same thing as Dr John on same-sex unions?’ (why the inverted commas round heterosexual?) – John Gladwin and Michael Doe, to name two, are, I think, patrons of Changing Attitude and I’ll risk assuming they’d follow JJ’s teaching on this.

    in friendship, Blair

  10.  Pride Glasgow, Blair. My facebook profile also has a pic of me with +Gene Robinson!

    That said, the “It Ain’t Necessarily So! Things They Never Told You In Sunday School” and “Texts of Terror: Dealing With the Bible Basher” leaflets from the MCC (they had a stall, as did the polis and the Inland Revenue) were not exactly very theological convincing.

  11. Rubbing shoulders with the stars then :)   Hope it was a good day.

    To be honest, your comment about the MCC leaflets does confirm a prejudice of mine (I’ve been to a couple of MCC services but not seen the leaflets you mention). ‘Theologically convincing’ for me means James Alison, Rowan Williams, Gareth Moore OP, Rabbi Steven Greenberg… tho’ yes, I do risk making idol(s) of their work…

    Picking up on the comments about the atonement: Jeffrey John’s by no means the first person to have used the phrase ‘cosmic child abuse’ (or words to that effect). I didn’t read any of them closely, but there was a flurry of articles not long ago after Steve Chalke wrote (jointly? can’t remember) a book which (I think) also strongly criticised the (penal) substitutionary model of the atonement. If I remember rightly he himself was strongly criticised by some evangelicals – though not all. If the story is true and Dr John is in the running for Bangor, and if a similar pattern repeats (that some but not all evangelicals criticise him), I guess Peter’s words about needing to make the argument carefully would apply again, lest those opposed to his consecration (if it’s to happen) end up fighting each other more than anything else. what a rambly sentence…

    in friendship, Blair

  12. RE: “You don’t need to prove that Jonathan and David were a sexual couple to say they had an emotional bond which is similar to contemporary same sex relationship.”

    No they didn’t.

    Their “emotional bond” was called friendship — and it’s telling, of course, that those who need to attempt to defend sex between same genders are now going back and scouring up all deep friendships between same genders and proclaiming them homosexual.

  13.  Sarah : really?

    Try being an evangelical chuch and having a male-male friendship that outstrips the love of women and see if they regard that as normal/biblical just becuase there is no evidence of actual sex.  Given the penalties associated with homosexual practise for centuries it is ridculous to say that we can’t speculate usefully on homosexuality. Was Oscar Wilde the only homosexual of the 19th Century?

  14. RE: ” Sarah : really?”


    RE: “Try being an evangelical chuch and having a male-male friendship that outstrips the love of women and see if they regard that as normal/biblical just becuase there is no evidence of actual sex.”

    Actually it happens all the time among heterosexual men and women. I wouldn’t call it “common” since it’s not often that we meet such dear and close friends — but it’s a consistent happenstance.

    Again . . . the only option for gay activists is to attempt to redefine and claim such friendships as homosexual.

    Which tells me just how desperate gay activists are, or how incredibly ignorant of heterosexual friendships they are.

    Either way it’s telling.

  15.  Sarah

    Gay people actually have lots of experience of heterosexual friendships. Due to societal homophobia, your average gay person has walked lots of miles in straight shoes (not birkenstocks) whereas (as you demonstrate) lots of straight people have no experiences similar to those of gay people, which makes it easier to demonise them. Most gay men of a certain age could be called ex-ex-gay as they have, at one time or another, had to live like they were straight.  Again : does the fact that no major Christian figure underwent any Wilde style punishment for homosexuality mean that none of them were gay? Isn’t this more than a little statistically ridiculous?

  16. ryan you speak too broadly. The point you make is not about evangelicalism but about the sexualisation of relationships in the western world. In the evangelical tradition in India with which I am familiar deep celibate male friendships with physical expression – holding hands, arms around the shoulders – are not only common but uncontroversially valued. Indeed, as you probably know, public physical expressions of friendship are much more acceptable when they are between two male friends than when they are between even man and wife. Of course, the men are usually married or expected to be so, so their friendship, like David and Jonathan’s, is not constructed around a “sexual identity” but around a sense of the kind of intimate friendships that it is praiseworthy and virtuous for men to share.

  17.  No.5

    But I – and I think most liberals – would freely concede the existence and prevalence of the relationships you describe. My point is that it is intellectually dishonest to not see such behaviour *potentially* indicating a sexual relationship when you know and I know that the illegality of homosexuality meant that people couldn’t tell the truth about such relationships. Was Michelangelo heterosexual too?

  18. But you make the very assumption that I am challenging. In other words you import a particular cultural assumption about “sexual identity”. I’m not denying the presence of non celibate same sex activity, nor even non celibate same sex relationships in some cultures. I am questioning the universal applicability of a western notion of “sexual identity”. Could it just be that when folks live out publicly valued, socially acceptable, physically expressed but celibate same sex friendships they could lead us to challenge  the sexualization of identity in our own cultures?

  19.  Have just realised that I used inadvertently used homophobia above, albeit not in an ad hominem manner directed at a individual. Obviously this contravenes the posting policy so I will hold off replying untill Peter decides whether or not to ban me.
    I am actually starting housegroup at a conservative/evangelical church tommorow (peter knows the Pastor) so, ironically, I may end up agreeing with him on sexuality issues!

  20. Ryan, I think we all understand that the context of the post above wasn’t the kind of “you’re all just a bunch of bigoted homophobes” perjorative that I won’t allow here. I’m perfectly content to have a reasoned debate about whether there is such a thing as societal homophobia, I’m not so happy to be told that because I read the Bible literally I have no brain or morals.

  21.  Thanks Peter. I just realised that I had arguably transgressed the rules after posting the message, and obviously I don’t think regular posters should be free to ignore the standards everyone else has to adhere to.  Serious question : are you not worried that if Jeffrey John doesn’t become bishop then it will arguably be just as much of a liberal victory as if he did, as it will “prove” that the orientation/practise distinction conservatives claim to adhere to isn’t really valid? John has already said (as ++Rowan had to) that , as a bishop, he will adhere to the teaching of the church, so I don’t give great value to conservative’s objections to his teaching on sexuality. ++Rowan, due to the demands of his job, pretty much sold out liberals/reappraisers etc and I think John would be expected to do the same.

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