More on Jeffrey John

Adrian the Pluralist has responded to my piece on Jeffrey John, writing the following:

I have been asked to speculate on what will happen regarding Anglican politics should Jeffrey John become Bishop of Bangor.

The first important point, as stated by Peter Ould, is that there will be much hedging about his appointment, in that he has declared previously that Jeffrey John is in a celibate civil partnership. Thus a contrast will be made between him and Gene Robinson. Ould says it is sexual practice that debars a gay man from episcopal office, and it cannot be a civil partnership that debars a man because of the Church’s own position on civil partnerships when it comes to pensions. If the criticism is based on his teachings, Ould says, then it is no difference from Rowan Williams’s The Body’s Grace, or indeed what he wrote to Deborah Pitt years ago. Ould concludes, from his "post-gay" perspective:

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).

This really won’t do, nor does the positioning of the goalposts. They had been moved by Rowan Williams, when he sacrificed his friend, as he asks other bishops to sacrifice gays and lesbians in order to have a more coherent Anglican Communion. Rumourland has it that the now Fulcrum people offered Rowan Williams a bargain that Jeffrey John could be a Dean without trouble, but not a bishop, which if so was another one of those bargains that comes back to haunt.

Firstly, I’m not sure my own personal experiences validate or invalidate my analysis, so I’m not sure why Adrian brought them up. But to take his point seriously, I discussed this afternoon with a colleague the situation and we clarified for ourselves the main grounds for objection to Jeffrey John’s appointment to Bangor.

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 that 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.

Adrian writes:

On which point it is back to GAFCON again. Almost certainly they will not go with the "combination" of Peter Ould. They will just treat it as a progressive Archbishop of Wales and treating Wales as The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are treated. Indeed it would be the first way in for setting up a new Province.

Frankly I think this is naive and underestimates the FOCA crowd. They will respond with consideration and care on this issue because, as I wrote before, there are potential minefields in it if it is not handled correctly.

3 Comments on “More on Jeffrey John

  1. The term post-gay or postgay as you use it is just a general political-religious position identifier; it does matter that you think this reorientation is important, whether you have done it or not.

    Not only do all people make mistakes in life, they go on doing them, and it is a complex world where people accept some, deny others, don’t see that some are mistakes. I’m not myself particularly interested in sin, not unless it has done harm to others. I don’t regard having sex outside of marriage as a sin: I had sex outside marriage as part of a way to know and deepen a relationship to get married. It was nothing to do with sin in any meaningful sense. In any case, love and sex and relationships are enormously complicated, and it is too easy to judge people. I know someone who is married, has befriended a woman, has occasional sex with her, and he is a huge support to her, and it is known. I simply cannot rush to judgement, nor will I do so slowly.

    I don’t for others either, and I take the view that scriptures are there to serve us, not us the scriptures. Sometimes it seems that people are being criticised for their honesty: it is no good if someone behaves one way privately but preaches something different that tries to impact on others. Better that they keep quiet and try and work things through.

    As far as I can see, Jeffrey John is open and honest, is talented, thinks before he speaks and doesn’t rush to judgement. The most important qualifications are how he can show compassion and pastoral care.

    As for GAFCON, all the evidence shows that these people are in a hurry. Whether they are learning to slow down or not – such as a delay in the last announcement – we shall see, as their statements at opportune moments, their treatment of otherwise friends, and the publicity-speak has not exactly done them a lot of good. The logic of their existence is that they have to set up membership and that membership does fall out with existing Anglican structures of reference. If not then this self-appointed Primates Council does not leave itself with much to do.

  2. Adrian,

    I think this is the crucial difference between us, when you write:

    I don’t regard having sex outside of marriage as a sin: I had sex outside marriage as part of a way to know and deepen a relationship to get married. It was nothing to do with sin in any meaningful sense … I know someone who is married, has befriended a woman, has occasional sex with her, and he is a huge support to her, and it is known.

    You seem to be quite brazen in your rejection of the Biblical sexual ethic, almost to an extreme “anything goes if it’s right for me” contextual ethics attitude. I actually can’t argue against that in any meaningful way, because with one stroke you have removed any axiomatic basis for the debate, and furthermore you have presented a playing field where you can make things up morally (including any axiomatic basis to suit your perspective) as you go along. Ultimately you present a moral where you can actually do any sexual act you want without any constraint – an utter rejection of God’s sovereignty.

    In comparison to that Jeffrey John is quite conservative in his sexual ethic.

    And please put away the extremely shallow “Sometimes it seems that people are being criticised for their honesty” argument, before I bring out an honest racist or murderer to justify both of those activities. The debate is not over, and has never been over, Dr John’s sexual orientation, but rather his teaching on, and personal engagement in, sexual activity.

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