John Humphrys introduced this morning’s discussion on the Radio 4 Today programme by saying that the Archbishop of Canterbury apparently wants the new bishop of Southwark to “be Jeffrey John who is openly gay.”
Neither of the Canons, Chris Sugden and Giles Fraser, contested this opening statement. Does it have the ring of truth about it, therefore – is +Rowan himself now supporting the nomination of Jeffrey to Southwark?
Since the news broke on the Telegraph website on Saturday, the story has gained significant momentum. Whatever the truth, the outcome of the nominations process is becoming an iconic moment in the progress towards the recognition of the full Christian integrity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as members of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. It may become a moment of even greater transformation or another temporary set-back on the journey towards the inevitable outcome of radically changed attitudes.
The person specification drawn up by the diocese of Southwark says they are looking for someone willing to honour the ministry of lesbian and gay clergy. Despite this, Chris said there are several reasons why Jeffrey should not be appointed bishop of Southwark:
He is in a registered civil partnership, which the Church of England does not believe is the equivalent of marriage. (He referred, irrelevantly, to Lyn Featherstone’s written parliamentary reply of last week which makes it clear that there is a large push that Civil Partnerships should be able to be held in religious settings and recognised as the equivalent of marriage.)
Jeffrey was in an active gay relationship and is now said to be celibate and that is fine and one takes that at face value, he said. (Chris subtly implied that Jeffrey might not in truth be celibate, resting his argument on the idea that Jeffrey is unsuited because he was once in an active gay relationship. This would bar any person who had been involved in any kind of sexual relationship prior to marriage from being selected as a bishop.)
Chris then introduced the argument that if someone in high office was said to be fiddling the money, they would be thought ineligible for such office. (John Humphrys, somewhat outraged by this comparison, pointed out that Jeffrey isn’t breaking any laws. Ah, but he is breaking law of church, said Chris, the teaching of the church and the Anglican Communion that active homosexual practice is forbidden.)
The logic of Chris’s arguments is that +Rowan should not have been appointed Archbishop because he had previously written ‘The Body’s Grace’ in which he advocated ideas about human sexuality contrary to the ‘official teaching of the church’.
Giles Frazer told Chris it was outrageous to compare fiddling expenses with the way people love each other and that such love has to be honoured and respected. Chris chose not to respond to Giles, referring instead to wider issues, the three archbishops who have resigned from the standing committee of the Anglican Communion. He said the Archbishop of Canterbury would be acting against his own moratorium were he to support Jeffrey’s nomination.
Will the church split (yet again)?
John Humphries was excited by the danger of a split in the church. It’s already split internationally, said Giles, but there’s no chance the Church of England would split because it is almost of one mind on the issue.
Giles reminded us that there will be lots of threats and huffing and puffing and that there are maverick figures out there. Chris Sugden referred to one – Ray Skinner, the Rector of Morden, who with others will not take the oath of canonical obedience to the bishop and would seek alternative Episcopal Oversight unless the new bishop keeps and teaches New Testament standards. This is part of the Anglican Mainstream fantasy – that it is legally possible in England to declare UDI from your bishop and diocese – it isn’t. The threat of blackmail is also being touted again, the withholding of parish quota with the claim that they could bankrupt the diocese. Why would any Christian wish to issue such threats against their brothers and sisters in the faith?
The appointment of Jeffrey John would be a radically transforming moment in the life of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.
It would begin to heal many of the wounds which the church is inflicting on her lesbian and gay members:
It would send a message to LGBT people across the Communion that the ‘mother church’ is not abandoning them to the evils and prejudices of their own societies and of those Christian leaders who advocate violence against LGBT people.
It would reduce the isolation felt by the Episcopal Church and show for the first time that their commitment to justice and truth is shared, albeit to a lesser extent, by the Church of England.
Above all, it would help to usher in God’s new paradigm for church and creation, in which old, dualistic ideas are being overturned by (to quote James Alison) “God who is brilliantly alive, totally without violence, in no way circumscribed by death, who has revealed himself as loving humanity by giving himself to us to allow us to live outside, and beyond the culture of death.” The perception that God is love is absolutely incompatible with any perception of God as involved in violence, separation, anger or exclusion.