Time for the truth that sets us free

The Very Revd Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, has an article in today’s Church Times titled ‘Time to tell the truth about gays’. He says:

“It is obvious that a number of bishops are gay, and some are or have been in gay relationships, yet they constantly refer to gay people as if they were somebody else. For all the fuss that was made about Gene Robinson, there are probably more gay bishops in the Church of England than in the American Episcopal Church. The difference is, the Americans tell the truth.

“This is why I have said the official Church does not deserve to be listened to on this subject. What is the point of listening to people who do not say what they really believe?

“By opposing almost every advance gay people have made since decriminalization, and now by opposing same-sex civil marriage, it has turned itself into Enemy Number One of gay people – despite being one of the gayest organizations in the country.

“This is a disaster for the Church’s mission, its integrity, and its morale. ‘A lying mouth destroys the soul’ says Wisdom. It is time for the truth that sets us free. “

Jeffrey’s article is published the day after publication of the damning interim report by Bishop John Gladwin and the Revd Chancellor Rupert Bursell QC on their visitation in relation to safeguarding in the Diocese of Chichester.

They describe the Diocese as “dysfunctional” and conclude that:

“… the authorities in the diocese were very slow to recognise what was happening and did not act with the rigour and expedition vital to all safeguarding work. A whole series of investigations and reports across nearly two decades bears witness to a profoundly unhelpful and negative culture in parts of the diocese that led to its failure to take the action needed”.

“… the history of safeguarding in the diocese of Chichester has in the past fallen woefully short of what should be expected of any institution with a ministry and care for children and young people”.

They recommend that the governance of the diocese should be reconsidered:

“If final responsibility for safeguarding rests finally on the diocesan bishop – involving as it does appointments, the conduct of clergy and the policies in the parishes – it is essential that the bishop’s authority is both recognised and effective throughout the whole of the diocese.”

From the information Changing Attitude receives about the Diocese of Chichester and attitudes towards women in ministry and the total disjunction between official C of E teaching and the attitude to gay people in the diocese, and at a national level, the continuing appointment of gay men, celibate, single and partnered as bishops (and it’s Jeffrey saying this, not me), the comment by John Gladwin that the Diocese of Chichester is deeply dysfunctional applies to the national Church and Jeffrey’s comment that all this is a disaster for the Church’s mission, integrity and morale is absolutely true.

In the recent past, there was a Prime Minister’s appointments secretary, William Chapman, whose gaydar was very accurate, as were his networks in those parts of the Church where information about potential bishops could be gleaned. This is no longer true – neither Archbishop nor other staff involved in the appointment of bishops share William Chapman’s ability to know things about episcopal candidates which might prevent them from appointing men who are widely known to be gay, and some partnered.

Some of those appointed in the past are now being implicitly criticised in the Chichester report. Every bishop in the diocese, including the now retired diocesan John Hind and the two area bishops, Wallace Benn and Mark Sowerby, are held responsible for the failure to “act with the rigour and expedition vital to all safeguarding work” in relation to the abuse of children.

Meanwhile, Bishop Wallace Benn finds time to launch a CDM investigation against David Page, a priest of impeccable integrity and the highest Christian values.

The whole mess stinks. Jeffrey John and David Page and thousands of other LGB&T Anglicans, lay and ordained, are routinely abused by the Church, whether directly in clerical appointments, or indirectly by the systemic culture of abuse, secrecy and dishonesty in which people pass for straight and support teachings based on Lambeth 1.10 and Issues in Human Sexuality which are hostile to the spiritual health and integrity of all people, not only those who are LGB&T.

David’s congregation in Lewes recognise the contribution both he and Howard, his partner of 40 years, make to the life of the church in healthy, holy, spiritual ways – in the Diocese of Chichester. In St Albans, partly thanks to the significant number of refugees from conservative evangelical and Roman Catholic congregations in the diocese, the cathedral is overwhelmed with worshippers on Sunday mornings. The team for which Jeffrey John is responsible create Christian worship which is alive, spiritual, creative and profound and attractive. There is missionary and evangelical zeal a-plently.

Slowly, a more truthful picture of our Church is emerging. In parishes across the country, people still gather to break bread, maintain buildings and meet the needs of the local community. But there is a great deal of frustration and disillusionment. I’m not surprised. Vision and energy are impoverished, and of course they are, because at the institutional centre, in the House of Bishops, Church House and General Synod, a tyranny of conservative fundamentalism prevails where the truth becomes almost impossible to tell.


  1. Richard Ashby says

    Excellent. I hope that you and Jeffery are right and that all hell breaks loose within the next few months. It’s high time that the duplicity of many bishops and their cohorts and the machinations of Church House exposed. The report into the Diocese of Chichester reveals not only the appalling and scandalous failures of the safeguarding officers and procedures but the complete breakdown of the management of the diocese, which has to be laid at the door of the Bishops some of his senior team and the senior people in Diocesan Church House. Perhaps this is an opportunity for the truth to set us free. At last someone has told it as it is.

  2. Rosina Elston says

    I have been waiting for YEARS for this moment, when the Chichester set-up will be broken open to let in the light. The secretive nudge-nudge wink-wink culture has invaded all parts of the church, leading to a pompous smug play-acting of ‘preaching the Gospel’. In educational and social work circles, the church has been discredited for years. You would not think this if you listen to those ‘in the fold’ with their ears, eyes and mouths clammed tight, but only listen for a moment to those ‘outside’ who have been bruised by blatant bad manners, if not outright abuse. You will know why so many are not ‘going back to church’ on the ‘go back to church’ Sunday, and why so many have withdrawn financial support.

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