Leading Gay Cleric Jeffrey John Narrowly Rejected As Bishop In Wales
A leading gay cleric has narrowly missed out on becoming a bishop after his appointment was rejected for the fourth time.
Very Rev Jeffrey John, who has twice been turned down for senior roles over his sexuality, was in the running to be Bishop of Llandaff, Christian Today understands. But despite winning support from more than half of the nominating body, he just missed on the two-thirds majority required.
Christian Today understands Dr John’s long-term civil partnership with Grant Holmes, another Anglican priest, was a factor in his rejection by traditionalists.
After three days of discussions the electoral body of 47 people, made up of locals from the diocese, bishops and the official nomination committee, failed to agree on any candidate. The final decision will now be down to senior bishops despite Dr John winning strong support among electors in the mainly Anglo-Catholic region of Llandaff.
Neither the Church in Wales nor the Church of England are opposed to clergy being in civil partnerships. The Church of England requests that clergy in civil partnerships vow to remain sexually chaste, but the Church in Wales has no such restriction.
Currently Dean of St Albans, Dr John was previously nominated to be Bishop of Reading in 2003 but was forced to withdraw himself under intense pressure from traditionalists.
He was later in the running for Bishop of Bangor in 2008 and then again for Bishop of Southwark in 2010 but was both times turned down with conservatives threatening a split in the Church.
But Dr. John’s latest rejection to be Bishop of Llandaff is particularly striking because of the strong support he received among local clergy and parishioners in the largely liberal diocese.
It comes after the recently retired Archbishop of Wales used his final address to urge the Church to rethink its stance on LGBT couples.
Dr. Barry Morgan said supporting gay marriage did not mean ‘abandoning the Bible’ and that gay sex was perfectly ‘proper’. He said typical texts used to condemn homosexuality could be ‘interpreted in more than one way’ and read as a whole it is impossible to say there is ‘one settled understanding of what the Bible says’.
He said: ‘What all this amounts to is that one cannot argue that there is one accepted traditional way of interpreting scripture that is true and orthodox and all else is modern revisionism, culturally conditioned…so taking the Bible as a whole and taking what it says very seriously may lead us into a very different view of same-sex relationships than the one traditionally upheld by the Church.’
He went on: ‘We are not thereby abandoning the Bible but trying to interpret it in a way that is consistent with the main thrust of the ministry of Jesus, who went out of His way to minister to those who were excluded, marginalised, and abandoned by his society because they were regarded as impure and unholy by the religious leaders of his day, either because of their gender, age, morality or sexuality.’
Dr. Morgan’s address came after the Church in Wales has apologized unreservedly for its mistreatment of gay and lesbian people and strongly indicated it could allow or bless same-sex marriages in the future.
In this article from ‘CHRISTIAN TODAY’, the heavy-type emphasis is mine – reflecting the empathy I reserve for the retiring Archbishop Wales’, Dr. Barry Morgan’s, insistence on the new understanding of human sexuality as now applicable to the Church in Wales.
Having made a recent statement – in accordance with the final paragraph of this article – the Church in Wales could well have been expected to have acted on the proposition of electing Dean Jeffrey John to become the next Bishop of Llandaff. However, it appears that the conservatives in the Welsh House of Bishops have prevented that from becoming a reality. This ‘failure of nerve’ is a sad reflection on the Church in Wales’ determination to bring this Anglican Province into the modern world, where homosexuality in no longer attributable to human depravity; the work of the devil; or of any psychological, biological, or sociological dysfunction in the human sphere (homosexual relationships being already seen as a feature of life in other parts of the created order) but, rather, a natural occurrence that has for too long been considered by both Church and society as a ‘moral evil’.
Dean Jeffrey John, perhaps because he has been considered – especially by conservative Evangelical in the Church to be the ‘poster-boy’ Gay Cleric; has all too predictably become the object of official neglect in the matter of clerical preferment. His intellectual and theological gifts have rendered Dean Jeffrey as a likely candidate for an episcopal role in the Church – a role for which he has been recommended no less than twice after his initial forced withdrawal from his election to the Reading bishopric.
The reason for his advice to withdraw – given at the time by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams (although Archbishop Rowan was one of the Proposers of G.J. for the post) – was the ABC’s fear of schism in the Church of England, if not in those Provinces of the overseas Church (GAFCON) that considered homosexuality to be the ‘work of the devil’.
One wonders how much longer the cult of institutional homophobia will continue to govern the polity of the Anglican Communion Churches – to the point where their ministry will be adversely affected by it? In a world where such matters are no longer considered to be tenable; where sexual differences are recognized as a fact of life in the broader educated community, subject only to the very same constraints as are applied to the rest of society; how long can the Church be seen to hold on to out-of-date shibboleths that prevent the world from seeing the love of God in the Church that seeks to represent the divine will and purpose for the whole of Creation.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand