A couple of different sources have e-mailed me this evening the story from the Daily Telegraph that Dr Jeffrey John is the short-listed favourite to become the next Bishop of Southwark.
My guess is that whilst a lot of people would greet this news with rejoicing, others will respond angrily and will be prompted to threaten all sorts of reprisals.
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.
Some years ago, Dr John famously wrote a short book called Permanent, Faithful, Stable in which he advocated the acceptance of homosexual relationships, including non-celibate relationships, which showed those three features. I have reviewed this elsewhere, and detailed the difficulties I have with his approach, and I believe it would be entirely proper to object to Dr John’s appointment on the grounds of the position he adopts in this book.
However, if that is the basis on which an objection is to be made, it must be realized that the same would apply — as I have pointed out already — to a number of other existing Anglican bishops.
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.
John P RichardsonAnonymous users wishing to paste in the comments box need first to select 'preview', then close the preview box. When posting your comments please give a full name and location. Comments without this information may be deleted.
3 July 2010
3 July 2010