“Incompatible With Scripture”: Jeffrey John on Sexuality & Sanity

The news that Jeffrey John is  a leading candidate to be the next Anglican bishop has caused some panic to break out on the conservative religious blogosphere: the inappropriately and misleadingly named “Anglican Mainstream” has called for an urgent day of prayer to forestall this impending calamity. Virtue Online has dredged up and posted an address he gave back in 1998 on the theme of homosexuality in the Anglican clergy. I am grateful to David Virtue. No doubt he thinks he has posted it as some kind of “warning”:  I read it as prescient.  In the dozen years since he gave this address, years before he was first named and then asked to withdraw as bishop of Reading, the Anglican church has moved a long way, here and world-wide. But instead of simply reading the address as dated, I see it as a mirror for the present state of play in the Catholic church: exactly the same allegations of clerical and episcopal hypocrisy apply to the Church of Rome. More interesting, is that when I put this alongside the small, hopeful signs I see of an imminent shift in emphasis by Catholic bishops, I wonder if we in the Catholic church will also be able to look back twelve years hence, and to note some useful changes.

But that is speculation. Far more useful at this stage is just to read and enjoy John’s wisdom – and humour. I loved his story of the run-around he was given years before when first applying for ordination. The church authorities had established from medical records that Johns was possible gay, and had referred him for psychiatric evaluation:

So l had to go and be checked by the ACCM psychiatrist. This was the first time I realized that in seeking ordination I was entering a danger zone. I was furious that it had happened. but I duly trotted down to London from Oxford one Saturday morning and arrived at a remarkably dingy practice in Battersea. It was the sort of place one might imagine a back street abortionist to operate in, a tiny surgery with peeling wallpaper lit by one fly-blown naked lightbulb. This apparently was the Church of England’s psychiatric HQ. But the truly remarkable thing was the ACCM psychiatrist, whom at first I took to be a patient, since he was dressed in a leather jacket with studs and chains, leather boots, tight jeans, very long dark hair, and a cerise chiffon scarf. When he introduced himself as the ACM psychiatrist, I began to wonder if this was some sort of entrapment procedure – perhaps I was supposed to respond to the uniform and try to get off with him, whereupon an ACCM official would leap out from behind a curtain and say ‘Aha. Got you red-handed’

That did not happen. We had a cup of tea instead, and a cosy chat about family and feelings. Nothing at all about sexuality, nor the entry on my medical record, which was the reason I was there. After tea he said, since he realized I was more than a little angry about what had happened, that he would write his report on me right away so that l could see it myself and post it to ACCM on my way home. So he did. He wrote, ‘Dear ACCM Secretary, I have examined Mr John and conclude that he is a good deal saner than those who sent him to me. Yours sincerely,…’. I posted it in the box outside. Read the rest of this entry »

Gay Bishop for Church of England?

In a move that deserves close watching, an openly gay man has been approved for inclusion on the shortlist of candidates to be selected as the next Anglican Bishop of Southwark (South London), in a move which would make him the first openly gay bishop here in the UK. Back in 2003 he was selected as bishop of Reading – but in an embarrassing about-face by Archbishop Rowan Williams, was forced to withdraw in the face of the public outcry, and instead accepted appointment as dean of St Alban’s cathedral.

Archbishop Williams’ craven intervention has been widely seen as the nadir among many low points in his handling of the rift in the Anglican communion over LGBT inclusion. No doubt, he was hoping to placate the anger of the evangelical wing, especially in the African churches, and fend off the growing divisions. Instead, the conservatives have simply used it as a pretext for more muscle flexing and intransigence, on gay bishops and women bishops. The division can no longer be fended off – it is there already. The only question now, is the precise shape it will take.

Meanwhile, Dean Johns has gained many admirers in the execution of his duties at St Alban’s, and is well liked in the liberal leaning diocese, which includes in its area some notable concentrations of gay population:

Crucially, it is understood that many of the Commission believe that he is the best candidate. Articulate, pastorally sensitive as well as being an intellectual heavyweight, he is considered to have done an excellent job as dean of St Albans.

He knows the diocese well from his time as canon at Southwark cathedral, and would be a popular choice with its overwhelmingly liberal parishes. Read the rest of this entry »