News is coming in from a variety of sources that the Dean of St Albans, Jeffrey John, is a nominee for the Electoral College of the Diocese of Bangor in the Church of Wales. Ruth Gledhill is now back from holiday so her column is a good source for the sources and reactive comments - Jeffrey John being gay, and previously offered and then not offered the bishopric of Reading.
This is worth a comment from Down Under because we are as interested in the New Hampshires, New Westminsters, and now, possibly, Bangors, as anyone in the Anglican world. The signs are manifesting of another 'perfect Anglican storm' brewing (just as the rain outside my windows, as I write, are of a storm which is depositing twice as much rain in South Westland, NZ as has been falling on the levees of New Orleans!!).
But I think we should trim our sails and ride out this storm!
In the dust up over Jeffrey John nearly becoming the Bishop of Reading (actually a suffragan post within the Diocese of Oxford) it emerged (and you can read it in Ruth Gledhill's column) that Jeffrey John has a permanent relationship with a man but the relationship is not expressed sexually. In short, Jeffrey John has a companion and not a lover; he is celibate, and lives by the guidelines of the Church of England on human sexuality (which, in sum, sets a higher standard for clergy than for laity).
In other words, Jeffrey John's life appears to conform well to conservative theological thinking when conservatives say that we think "homosex" contravenes the abiding law of God, but we understand and support (non-sexualised) friendship, companionship, and close human relationships between men and between women, noting, after all, that such relationships are found on numerous occasions in the Bible (Ruth and Naomi, Jonathan and David, Jesus and the Beloved Disciple, to say nothing of Paul always travelling on many occasions with close male companions in the gospel task).
So, there are grounds for trimming our sails and riding out the (seemingly inevitable) storm which is arising around this possibility for Bangor (bearing in mind, of course, that we are talking about an election and not an appointment, so it may become a damp squib)!
Yet, in the same breathe, it can also be observed that not all conservatives are happy. Ruth Gledhill writes,
"But in a joint statement, Canon Chris Sugden and Philip Giddings, of Anglican Mainstream, the conservative lobby set up in response to Dr John’s appointment to Reading, said: “If he is being nominated to a Welsh episcopate, the obstacles remain the same as to his previous candidacies for senior appointments.” "
I cannot find the whole of this joint statement but I presume they are talking about the fact that as a teacher in the church, Jeffrey John has taught a liberal approach to gay and lesbian sexuality, and has never retracted that teaching. But if this objection is so, on the larger canvas of 'what people believe who get to become Anglican bishops' this is not reason itself to ramp up the storm of controversy! Not that that will hold the media back from doing their bit.
Will we be patient, fair, and gracious?
Peter Ould carefully, and wisely makes these comments:
"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?"
Nevertheless Peter Ould in the same posting makes the point worth pondering that there is an objection to Jeffrey John being made a bishop. What do you think?
Incidentally, it is the same objection, whatever appointment an unrepentant sinner holds in the life of the church.
Postscript: Jeffrey John, in part, is famous for writing a book 'Permanent, Faithful, Stable': Christian Same-Sex Partnerships. As books go on making Scripture compatible with same-sex partnerships its difficult to praise this one. This review by John Richardson points out why. (I have read the book - it sits on my desk as I write. But John has written a handy review, so I refer you to it, rather than do my own).