Not entirely baseless speculation about the Jeffrey John situation

Updated again, at bottom, with Andrew Brown column.

I don’t know whether the Very Rev. Jeffrey John, dean of St. Albans, is about to be elected Bishop of Southwark by the Crown Nominations Commission. And I don’t know how Jonathan Wynne-Jones of the Sunday Telegraph learned that John had made the shortlist for this position, or that neither Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, nor John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, had objected. Further, I don’t know why the archbishops held their tongues. In fact, I know very little with reportorial certainty about what will transpire when the committee meets today and tomorrow.

With those disclaimers in place, here are three things I think I know:

1. Dean John could be elected.

2. There is at least one other strong candidate in the field. (Ruth Gledhill names this person as the Rev. Nick Holtham of St. Martin in the Fields in London, and I think that’s right.)

3. If Dean John is elected, I don’t think there is much the Archbishop of Canterbury can do to stop him from becoming the Bishop of Southwark.

I think it is too early to speculate intelligently on whether Williams and Sentamu let John be included on the shortlist because a) they didn’t think he could be elected and saw this as a low risk way to give the impression that they had thrown us lefties a bone; b) they are about to make a big deal about the difference between sexually active and sexually inactive gays and lesbians; c) because they have had a legitimate change of heart, or some other reason I have not considered.

I dearly hope the answer is not b, because if sexual inactivity becomes a criterion for judging the worthiness of a gay or lesbian candidate for bishop, then demands for proof of sexual inactivity will not be far behind, and people who still take the Anglican Communion seriously will have trouble continuing to do so.

That said, I do wonder, as I have always wondered why the election of a celibate man of any sexual orientation should trouble conservatives. And there seems to be at least one conservative clergyman in the Church of England who agrees with me.

Updated: a BBC radio interview with FOB (Friend of this Blog) Giles Fraser and Chris Sugden. BBC news has a report and a transcript of key portions here.

Andrew Brown seems to think that Williams really wants John to be elected, a scenario I had not seriously considered.

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  1. Ormonde Plater

    Are English bishops elected or appointed by the crown? Who elects them?


    There appear to be 14 voting members on the Crown Nominations Commission, including both ABC and ABY.

    — Six are automatically from the Diocese of Southwark (via it’s Vacancy-in-See committee).

    — One – Colin Slee, Dean of Southwark Cathedral (and recent host to our PB) is on the Commission representing C of E Cathedral Deans.

    In other words half the voting members are from Southwark. It only takes one more person (assuming Southwark votes as a block) to elect anyone they choose.

    One caveat – it isn’t clear if the Archbishops have veto power.

    Nigel Taber-Hamilton

  3. Peter Pearson

    Yes Jim, can you imagine anyone (straight or gay) allowing some panel of inquisitors into their home and relationship to determine whether one is sexually active or not? The thought is completely offensive regardless of sexual orientation. What it says, in fact, is that the only good gay is a non-functioning one. Why not just force people to become eunuchs if we’re that paranoid? Not for me, thanks.

  4. The Rev. Daniel D. Robayo

    Lord, have mercy! Sexual Activity Police can’t be far behind.

    It reminds me of the old joke about a cross examination in a courtroom:

    Lawyer: “Are you sexually active?”

    Witness: “No, I just lie there.”

  5. David Robinson

    Peter, I seem to recall being told that the ABY asked to view someone’s sleeping arrangements when B of Stepney. I think I also recall being told that he wasn’t invited in.

  6. Just for the record, the earlier opposition from some in the Evangelical wing to J John’s appointment as a bishop was not based on sexual activity or lack thereof, but on his being a “false teacher” in that he had written positively of the church recognizing faithful, lifelong, monogamous same-sex relationships. I consider it an honor to be a “false teacher” in his company!

  7. Dä'ved Äyan | David Allen

    Tobias, it was stated last year by no less than Peter Ould at the blog of the Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, the Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth, that the Very Revd Jeffrey John was also opposed by the Evangelical wing because he was an “unrepentant sinner” for having previously had a sexual relationship with his partner and not feeling the need to repent from it.

  8. tobias haller

    Yes, Dahveed, that is also part of it, in terms of the “denial of sin” aspect of the Evangelical Objection. In fact, their main issue has always been, “failure to name as sin something that is so obviously a sin” and “even purporting to bless sin.” They refuse to recognize that marriage of same-sex couples is just as much a “remedy for fornication” as it is for mixed-sex couples! There is no effective response to the “impossibilist” position they adopt.

    Except to get on with it…

  9. But Tobias, doesn’t that position lack integrity because it is not applied as a Communion-splitting litmus test to other bishops who hold the same beliefs that Dean John does? I would like to deny these people the use of intellectualy fig leafs to cover what is simply naked bigotry.

  10. Jim, I’m by no means attempting to defend this position, but to explicate it. As far as I know, the Right does oppose the appointment of bishops who teach that gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry and be ordained. Some of the opposition to Rowan’s own appointment was on this ground, IIRC.

    The position has its own weird consistency, though I think it wrong. It leads to benign acceptance of the closeted, because — by being closeted — there is tacit recognition that they are doing, or have done, those things they ought not to have done. But by being “open” — either in teaching or in “practice” those who do so are pushing the visible envelope in directions the Right cannot bear.

    And, yes, it is bigotry, fig leaf or no, in the classic meaning of the word: obstinate attachment to a belief in spite of all evidence to the contrary. As I’ve said before, it is self-fulfilling false prophecy.

  11. tgflux

    As far as I know, the Right does oppose the appointment of bishops who teach that gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry and be ordained

    Well, there’s opposition, and there’s OPPOSITION (disagreement, plus Angry Ick!).

    JC Fisher

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