Another Day, Another Crisis…

But I didn’t think it was going to be *this* crisis (all over again).

A confidential meeting, chaired by Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has approved Dr Jeffrey John, the Dean of St Albans, to be on the shortlist to be the next Bishop of Southwark.

He is understood to be the favoured candidate.

Dr John is a hugely divisive figure in the church after he was forced to stand down from becoming the Bishop of Reading in 2003 after it emerged he was in a homosexual, but celibate, relationship.

Promoting him to one of the most senior offices in the Church would trigger a civil war between liberals and conservatives and exacerbate existing divisions within the Anglican Communion.

Members of the Crown Nominations Commission, the body responsible for selecting bishops, will vote this week on whether Dr John’s name should now be put forward to the Prime Minister for final approval.

David Cameron has been made aware that Dr John is on the shortlist for the post and is understood to be supportive of such an appointment.

Once the preferred candidate is rubber-stamped by Mr Cameron it is passed to the Queen for final approval.

The best of the early comment comes from John Richardson.

I cannot speak for those who would support the appointment, but I want to urge those who might oppose it to think very carefully before they object, for the situation is nothing like as straightforward as might be assumed.

First, we ought not to condemn Dr John because he is, in the words of the Telegraph article, ‘openly homosexual’. I have said many times, including on this blog, that we ought to have far more ‘openly homosexual’ people in the Church. Indeed, one of the clergy I most admire is ‘openly homosexual’ — at least, he has openly told me his is ‘gay’ — and I would have no problems whatsoever attending his church or working with him in any capacity.

We would not be in half the mess we are in today if the Church, during the years in which homosexuality was almost universally regarded as perverse, had acted as a haven for real sinners, rather than a rather choosy hostel for the outwardly saintly. We ought to remember the words of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 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.

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.

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.

Wise words I think. I would add another objection to the one that John raises, and that is whilst Dr John is currently celibate, he has never repented of his previous sexual activity that was sinful.

I guess the big problem though is that Dr John is iconic for the revisionist cause. In some sense the objection to his promotion *is* because of who he is, not because he is gay but rather because of what he stands for. In that sense the elevation of Dr John to the See of Southwark would be massively controversial – it would send a large and blatant signal that the revisionists were in the ascendency and that a serious challenge could now be made to the Church’s doctrine of marriage.

I think that’s all I want to say at the moment. If Dr John is formally proposed as the candidate I’ll address the issue again.

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