Rejection of gay clergyman as bishop sends CoE into spin

July 8, 2010


The Church of England has blocked the appointment of a gay clergyman to the role of Bishop of Southwark after a bitter behind-the-scenes battle which has left the conservatives and liberals at loggerheads and possibly weakened the standing of Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, media reports said.

Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, was rejected after it was leaked that he was on the Crown Nominations Commission shortlist for the post in south London, one of the most liberal of all the church’s dioceses, the Daily Telegraph said.

It is a second humiliation for the openly gay but celibate John, who seven years ago was forced to stand down from becoming the Bishop of Reading after opposition from evangelicals.

The Archbishop of Canterbury had asked his friend to forgo the Reading post in an attempt to keep the church together, and will be seen as having been central in this week’s decision.

Williams, angry that details from the confidential CNC meeting were leaked for political purposes, said he would not allow himself to be pressurised into backing any one candidate, the Times reported.

Potential schisms within the CoE and the broader Anglican Communion have been frequently mentioned in recent years, but tensions are running particularly high at the moment.

There does not seem much chance of a respite either. Next up is the General Synod this weekend – where the other most divisive issue that dominates the church, the consecration women bishops, is to be discussed.

Chatter on the Thinking Anglicans website shows a deep, and possibly lingering, enmity over John’s plight.

This is how Colin Coward described the feeling within the pro-gay group Changing Attitude: “Conservative Evangelicals are ruthless in their determination to win total control of the church, even if in the process, they destroy the Church of England’s ability to communicate the gospel to the nation, and destroy the unity of the Anglican Communion, by whatever unprincipled, destructive means possible.

“It communicates an image of the church and Christianity to our nation in which we are perceived to be bigoted, prejudiced, narrow-minded and lacking in the primary Christian virtue of love.”

The evangelical group Reform had posted on its website its opposition to John, saying his teaching regarding homosexual practice was “contrary to both the Bible and to the current doctrine of the Church of England”.

“To appoint him Bishop would send two very clear signals. First that the diocese of Southwark wants to walk in a different direction to the Church of England’s doctrine. Second that there is now little to stop the Church of England proceeding in the same divisive direction as the Episcopal Church in the USA,” it said.

The Telegraph’s Jonathan Wynne-Jones said the decision was bad news for the Archbishop.

“The Archbishop has appeared increasingly resolute and self-assured over recent months, but liberals will be left wondering why he loses his backbone when it comes to fighting their corner. Even conservative evangelicals made clear that there was no reason to object to the dean’s appointment this time round, pointing to the fact that he has stressed that his homosexual relationship is celibate,” he wrote in his blog.

“Instead of being remembered as the radical pro-gay archbishop the evangelicals feared, Dr Williams appears far more conservative than anyone could ever have imagined.”

The Times said a strain had been placed on “the moral authority of Dr Williams who has missed a chance to restore his reputation with the church’s liberal wing”. It suggested John’s rejection was not a direct result of the Archbishop’s outburst,  but said it would be interpreted as such.

Williams had attempted to put a stop to infighting over gay bishops and same-sex unions in the CoE and the wider Anglican Communion last month when he warned those member churches which approve them or actively oppose them would be sidelined from official doctrinal committees.

His words appear to have gone unheeded.

Picture credit: Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams leads the Easter Day Eucharist service at Canterbury Cathedral in in Canterbury in south east England April 4, 2010. REUTERS/Toby Melville

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