Thursday, 8 July 2010

Jeffrey John: now you see him ...?

According to the latest ‘scoop’ from the Daily Telegraph, Dr Jeffrey John has now been “blocked” from becoming the next Bishop of Southwark — a report which suggests either that the current sessions of the Crown Nominations Commission include their own ‘Deep Cantor’ or that someone is, to use the vernacular, ‘having a laugh’ feeding stories to the press.
In this regard, a couple of points need to be made.
First, I am not aware — though I am open to correction — that either the Commission or “senior Church figures” can ‘block’ the appointment of someone as a bishop, since this lies directly in the gift of the Crown.
It is worth remembering that the protocol regarding episcopal appointments, whereby the Commission puts forward preferred names for consideration, was brought into existence in 1976 on the personal initiative of the then-Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan. Prior to that, the final choice of bishops was made by the Prime Minister alone, acting on the advice of his Appointments Secretary. The background can be read in Colin Buchanan’s Cut the Connection, whilst the Church Times website carries from September 1960 an entire letter from David Stephens, the Appointments Secretary to Harold MacMillan, which gives a fascinating insight into how these things used to work.
The recommendations of the Nominations Commission are, therefore, just that, and it is strongly rumoured that past Prime Ministers (including — it is said — both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair) have indeed rejected names that were put forward. By the same token (though it might now cause a constitutional crisis of its own), I imagine it is theoretically possible that the Prime Minister could revert to the old system and simply nominate a candidate of his own choice.
All this is simply by way of saying that speculation seems to be abounding not merely about names but about processes.
The second point is that the proceedings of the Commission are (supposedly) confidential. There is therefore no way of really knowing what has been said — if anything at all. Even if someone has been speaking to journalists, these stories presumably cannot reliably be cross-checked. There is no doubt that there has been considerable speculation. There is at least a chance that there has also been deliberate manipulation. The best policy from this point forward regarding specific names is doubtless a studied silence: “Hear a rumour, squash a rumour.”
What this does raise, however, is a serious question about how so-called ‘preferment’ operates in the Church of England. Wikipedia is not wrong when it describes the appointment of bishops as “a somewhat convoluted process, reflecting the church’s traditional tendency towards compromise and ad hoc solutions, traditional ambiguity between hierarchy and democracy, and traditional role as a semi-autonomous state church.”
As is often the case in the Church of England, it is also a process which maintains the appearance of quiet dignity whilst concealing the political shenanigans which are inevitably involved. Despite the election of some members of the Commission, disproportionate influence is repeatedly wielded by the same individuals, and whilst confidentiality is meant to avoid just the sort of brouhaha we have seen in the past few days, it means the final choice is somewhat foisted on dioceses, rather than being given their due consideration in advance.
One result is a stream of rather ‘clone-ish’ candidates. Given that Anglican clergy tend to have a similar personality type anyway, I am sure this is even more so for bishops. Even my wife (not given to ecclesio-political enthusiasm) burst out once, “Why are they all the same?”
Perhaps, given the choice, Southwark generally would have gone for Jeffrey John, and perhaps this would have been an unwise decision. Given the current state of the Church of England, however, I cannot say when it comes to the appointments process this is a case of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It would be a good outcome, in my view, if what all this actually led to was a review of the ‘appointers’, rather than the just ‘appointees’.
John P Richardson
8 July 2010
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  1. This is very sad news. I am thoroughly ashamed of those people who call themselves Christians and say they follow Jesus Christ, yet have shown no grace towards this particular clergyman.

    For goodness sake, it's not as if he was going to be the first homosexual bishop in the Church of England. Also in his favour is his celibacy.

    As TPTB have been bullied into rejecting him for Southwark, I sincerely hope he will be offered Lincoln, where I have no doubt we shall welcome a holy man of his calibre with open arms.

  2. The system is not all that bad. It prevents the appointment of bishops who are not acceptable to the local leadership or representatives of synod. It requires a review of the needs and aspirations of the diocese. It's strength or weakness is that it is an efficient cloning process. The church perpetuates itself in its own image. without structural change, it could produce very different results if the Archbishops wanted it to. They are on each committee and hopefully have the best ongoing knowledge of potential candidates. What actually happened is shrouded in mystery. See Nick Baines Blog

  3. There are three possibilities here:

    1. The conspiracy theory that liberals (eg
    Paranoid, oops, sorry I mean Thinking, Anglicans) are peddling: Jeffrey John was under serious consideration, his appointment looked likely, and an Evangelical leaked to try and prevent this happening.

    2. The alternative conspiracy theory: Jeffrey John had been mentioned, but his appointment looked unlikely, so liberals (Colin Slee?) leaked as a way of putting pressure on the CNC and embarrasing Rowan Williams into backing Jeffrey John, but the plan backfired on them. It is a little suspicious that Colin Coward, Riazat Butt, and Stephen Bates are all now claiming inside knowledge of what happened on the commission after the first story broke. Strangely, no-one on "Thinking" Anglicans seems to find this leak outrageoous, only the first one.

    3. There was no conspiracy, and maybe no leak: as I said on the other thread, this stinks of an artificially created crisis. The "news" all comes from Jonathan Wynne-Jones and as far as I can tell, nowhere does he actually say that he has a source on the CNC. As Nick Baines has pointed out, Wynne-Jones misrepresents the appointment process, not least the amount of power that the Archbishop of Canterbury has. It could be that he's heard some gossip, and decided to turn it into a story. The blustering defensiveness on his blog makes me wonder if this is what has happened.

    Stephen Walton, Marbury

  4. Putting Jeffrey Johns homosexuality aside...

    His rejection of the Biblical and church doctrine of penal atonement calls into question his orthodoxy. To reject the saving blood of the lamb is to reject Christ as saviour.

    He shouldn't be allowed to be a Sunday teacher let alone a bishop on this point alone.