According to Jonathon Wynne Jones in the Telegraph, Jeffrey John has been shortlisted as a candidate to be Bishop of Southwark. This news, announced yesterday, has already caused a flurry of speculation about its potential to exacerbate the “war” between conservatives and liberals within the Church of England.
Well, I have stated before that I agree with the James Jones, bishop of Liverpool and Michael Perham, bishop of Gloucester that we have to stop thinking in terms of “war” and take a more mature and respectful attitude towards differing views on this issue. There are no grounds to reasonably debar Jeffrey John, except perhaps from most extreme and graceless conservative mindsets, given that the Church of England allows celibate priests in civil partnerships and Jeffrey John has stated that he is celibate.
I personally believe Jeffrey John has so much to offer the Church. I’ve already read conservative bloggers complaining that his appointment would be “iconic” for gay Christians. I am not sure I agree with that; some gay Christians feel he is a “tame” choice in that he is fully compliant with the rules on gay clergy anyway. However, the appalling way Jeffrey John was treated sent a loud and clear message to so many LGBT Christians and his appointment now would certainly be encouraging and healing to many. Many LGBT Christians, not to mention friends, families and supporters, feel disillusioned with the church. Some have left the church. I frequently have doubts about being involved myself, not because of the attitudes of individual churches, but because of the overarching stance and the hypocrisy it involves.
I hope Jeffrey John will be appointed, I don’t think he will, and I don’t quite know why I think that! I hope there wouldn’t be a conservative outcry if he was to be appointed, but I think there still might. Despite all the love and grace you can find at the grassroots (and there is a lot around), I have lost faith in the hierarchy of the Church of England not to cave in to pressure but to act with decency and a little teensy bit of grace and maturity over these issues?
So I am not sanguine, but I would be very, very happy to be pleasantly surprised...