Some Consideration on the Law and Bangor

As regards the possibility of Jeffrey John becoming Bishop of Bangor, it might be worth reviewing the conversations on this blog last summer after the Priddis / Reaney case.

As you remember, Reaney took Priddis, the Bishop of Hereford, to court alleging direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds that the Bishop refused to accept his assurances that he would remain celibate. The employment tribunal found that indeed he had been directly and indirectly discriminated on the following basis:

  • The Bishop refused to accept his assurances that he would remain celibate
  • The Bishop asked him questions that he wouldn’t have done if Reaney wasn’t homosexual.

The meat of the issue is discussed here, and take careful note of Simon Sarmiento’s comment here which, on reflection, explains the case very well and holes my argument pretty effectively (though I did put up a struggle for a number of comments afterwards).

So, where does that lead us as regards Dr John and Bangor? Well, let me precede the following paragraphs with a very clear and unequivocal statement. My understanding of Jeffrey John is that he is a highly gracious man who has no intention of making any political points out of this whole affair, and that because of this fact the scenario below is very unlikely.

Let’s say Dr John gets nominated by one of the Electoral College and goes through to the ballot. Before the ballot it is made known to the electors that the Church Hierarchy would have a serious problem with Dr John being elected, and as a consequence of this, Dr John is very quickly out of the running. Dr John then goes to an Employment Tribunal arguing that the pressure applied on electors contravened the 2003 Employment Equality (SO) Regulations. Would he have a case?

Firstly, the difference between this case and the Reaney case is that there one is a job interview and the other an election. Can the 2003 Regulations cover an election? Secondly, there would need to be some clarification over exactly what the employment status of a bishop was. Office? Title? Job?

Assuming that those two hurdles are passed and the 2003 Regulations are pertinent, then on what grounds was the discrimination? A number of factors to consider:

  • It is very clear that Dr John fulfils all the pastoral praxis considerations in relation to Issues (1990). He is celibate, has been for a number of years,and can be assumed to intend to remain so until the church’s guidance changes.
  • It can’t be argued that any objection is on the basis of his teaching as other Bishops teach the same thing he does on human sexuality (and the atonement)
  • The best objection is that Dr John is an unrepentant sinner (he has been sexually active and has neither repented of it nor said that it was incorrect). But this reason to deny him office (whilst theologically and ecclesiologically I believe valid) surely falls foul of the 2003 Regulations. Is this objection being applied to him where it has not been applied to others in the past? Is it being applied to him because of the particular forms of sex he has engaged in in the past?

As I said above, this scenario is unlikely to happen, but considering it is, I believe, a worthwhile exercise, if only to demonstrate to fellow conservatives the potential legal minefield such a possible appointment might present.

What do you peeps think on these issues?

13 Comments on “Some Consideration on the Law and Bangor

  1. I’m no expert in employment law but isn’t all this concern merely a symptom of a far deeper problem to which you allude?

    Take, for instance, the main doctrinal issues in the 39 Articles. How many Anglican bishops actually believe and teach them? (eg the role of scripture and the nature of the atonement) Why does this matter? Doctrine precedes and determines ethics.


    Bishop Foxe

  2.  Peter, how do we know that he hasn’t repented? If John stood up and said his former gay relationship was immoral, surely conservatives would be forgiven for thinking it was just a political act to get the position?

  3. We know he hasn’t repented because he hasn’t said he has. And given the integrity of the man, it’s not the kind of thing he would do just to get the job of Bishop….

  4.  Peter, didn’t conservative bishops (Wright and others) write a letter to the Times recently saying that ++Rowan’s pro-gay letters weren’t significant as all bishops can hold private views as long as they pubicly uphold the teaching of the church? Presumably Dr.John would have to take a vow to this effect; it’s a bit strange that his integrity is applauded whilst still worrying that he would teach heresy from the pulpit (or whatever bishops have instead of a pulpit!). 

  5. Doesn’t follow Ryan. Take for example the issue over substitutionary atonement – that’s not just something he holds privately but that he has taught publicly.

    One can hold a private view on the morality of an activity, but that is different from having done the activity and refusing to accept that it was immoral.

    I refer you to the last paragraph beginning “Let me quickly say…” here.

  6.  Read the link, thanks. Forgive my ignorance, but is public repentance in these cases normal? I assume that a priest who was engaged in some sinful behaviour that warranted public attention (e.g. adultery)  may be forced to clarify the situation publicly, but that repentance is still largely a private matter between a person and God. Is substitionary atonement a key orthodox doctrine too, that Dr.John would have to repent of his views on to become a suitable bishop candidate too? Do you (slightly off topic, but I’m interested) believe that there are some forms of liberal christianity that have a place in the Anglican Communion or is the whole movement essentially heretical?

  7. Let’s address the specific issue of Dr John. I think that given the public and *iconic* nature of his ministry, nothing less than public reassurances are going to do.

    And let me put my cards on the table here. Were Dr John to come out in public and say “My same-sex activity in the past was sinful and I repent of it. I am committed to never again having sex with anybody but my wife (were I to marry)”, then I could see absolutely no reason why he shouldn’t become Bishop. Indeed, at that point he would probably go top of the list of the available candidates for any post in the country.

    As to your second question, I am firmly of the belief that there is no place for creedal apostates in the Church. Yes, they are heretics.

    I applaud you for saying that John’s orientation per se shouldn’t be a bar to his joining the episcopacy, but am not sure what actually counts as being a creedal apostate. Most liberals I know of (+Gene Robinson included) have no problem believing literally in the Nicene Creed.

  9. Ryan,

    I would challenge you to get any statement from the mouth of Gene Robinson that affirms every single line of the Nicene Creed, in the way that its original framers intended. Dr John on the other hand would, to the best of my knowledge, have absolutely no problem with doing so.

  10. Peter, if people like Gene Robinson had to state their faith in the beliefs represented by the Nicene Creed to get ordained then why would they subsequently have to continue to reiterate it, as if their faith is shaky and must neccessarily have changed? I assume that evangelical ministers don’t feel they have prove their faith in the creed in every sermon; are liberals guilty until proven innocent?

  11. Peter, I agree with you that if the Very Revd Dr John were to have repented and commited himself to chastity outside marriage it would be great to have himas a Bishop (all other things being equal!).
    However, I think that the Government has no business telling religions how, and on what basis, they can select their own leaders!  I know liberals think that they have a divine right to impose their absolutes on the rest of society – including our religious, family and private spheres – but that iwas not the original purpose of Human Rights: nor are governments competent to do this!
    If Dr John has not repented and he were proposed and then rejected – on the basis of his stance on homosexual sex (since he himself says he isn’t doing it anymore) – then as the rejectors could just say it was his theology for which they rejected him.
    Surely that is a reasonable basis for a religious organisation to choose its leaders?  And surely the law is not competent to decide what theology is / isn’t acceptable!
    I’m not naive enough to think that the usual suspects wouldn’t then go all over the media shouting homophobia as loud and long as possible, and invoking as many influencial people as possibe to denounce it too, but they might be made to look pretty silly if the CiW spokesman just points out that theology is a valid basis for a church to choose!

  12. To the best of my knowledge the government, at least in the UK, would do everything it could to avoid getting into arguments over who is best fitted to be a church leader. The case of the Church of England (which does not include Wales) is exceptional in that the government still plays some role in the actual appointment process so it can’t really help getting involved to some extent; but that wouldn’t apply in the case of Bangor. The courts are a slightly different matter because they have to deal with cases that are brought before them in accordance with the law; but the law does seem to give far more leeway to churches to choose their leaders (as opposed to more humdrum officials) than it does to ordinary employers. In fact clergy are normally regarded for legal purposes as not employees at all but office holders, which is a bit different anyway. Furthermore, in the case of Wales (unlike England) there seems to be some real election involved in the appointment of bishops, and as Peter has pointed out that could make a big difference – after all, in the case of political elections the electors are allowed to be as prejudiced as they like without fear of lawsuits!

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