Monday 5 July 2010

The new paradigm unfolds on Radio 4 between Chris Sugden and Giles Fraser!

John Humphrys introduced this morning’s discussion on the Radio 4 Today programme by saying that the Archbishop of Canterbury apparently wants the new bishop of Southwark to “be Jeffrey John who is openly gay.”

Neither of the Canons, Chris Sugden and Giles Fraser, contested this opening statement. Does it have the ring of truth about it, therefore – is +Rowan himself now supporting the nomination of Jeffrey to Southwark?

Since the news broke on the Telegraph website on Saturday, the story has gained significant momentum. Whatever the truth, the outcome of the nominations process is becoming an iconic moment in the progress towards the recognition of the full Christian integrity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as members of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. It may become a moment of even greater transformation or another temporary set-back on the journey towards the inevitable outcome of radically changed attitudes.

The person specification drawn up by the diocese of Southwark says they are looking for someone willing to honour the ministry of lesbian and gay clergy. Despite this, Chris said there are several reasons why Jeffrey should not be appointed bishop of Southwark:

He is in a registered civil partnership, which the Church of England does not believe is the equivalent of marriage. (He referred, irrelevantly, to Lyn Featherstone’s written parliamentary reply of last week which makes it clear that there is a large push that Civil Partnerships should be able to be held in religious settings and recognised as the equivalent of marriage.)

Jeffrey was in an active gay relationship and is now said to be celibate and that is fine and one takes that at face value, he said. (Chris subtly implied that Jeffrey might not in truth be celibate, resting his argument on the idea that Jeffrey is unsuited because he was once in an active gay relationship. This would bar any person who had been involved in any kind of sexual relationship prior to marriage from being selected as a bishop.)

Chris then introduced the argument that if someone in high office was said to be fiddling the money, they would be thought ineligible for such office. (John Humphrys, somewhat outraged by this comparison, pointed out that Jeffrey isn’t breaking any laws. Ah, but he is breaking law of church, said Chris, the teaching of the church and the Anglican Communion that active homosexual practice is forbidden.)

The logic of Chris’s arguments is that +Rowan should not have been appointed Archbishop because he had previously written ‘The Body’s Grace’ in which he advocated ideas about human sexuality contrary to the ‘official teaching of the church’.

Giles Frazer told Chris it was outrageous to compare fiddling expenses with the way people love each other and that such love has to be honoured and respected. Chris chose not to respond to Giles, referring instead to wider issues, the three archbishops who have resigned from the standing committee of the Anglican Communion. He said the Archbishop of Canterbury would be acting against his own moratorium were he to support Jeffrey’s nomination.

Will the church split (yet again)?
John Humphries was excited by the danger of a split in the church. It’s already split internationally, said Giles, but there’s no chance the Church of England would split because it is almost of one mind on the issue.

Giles reminded us that there will be lots of threats and huffing and puffing and that there are maverick figures out there. Chris Sugden referred to one - Ray Skinner, the Rector of Morden, who with others will not take the oath of canonical obedience to the bishop and would seek alternative Episcopal Oversight unless the new bishop keeps and teaches New Testament standards. This is part of the Anglican Mainstream fantasy - that it is legally possible in England to declare UDI from your bishop and diocese – it isn’t. The threat of blackmail is also being touted again, the withholding of parish quota with the claim that they could bankrupt the diocese. Why would any Christian wish to issue such threats against their brothers and sisters in the faith?

The appointment of Jeffrey John would be a radically transforming moment in the life of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.

It would begin to heal many of the wounds which the church is inflicting on her lesbian and gay members:

It would send a message to LGBT people across the Communion that the ‘mother church’ is not abandoning them to the evils and prejudices of their own societies and of those Christian leaders who advocate violence against LGBT people.

It would reduce the isolation felt by the Episcopal Church and show for the first time that their commitment to justice and truth is shared, albeit to a lesser extent, by the Church of England.

Above all, it would help to usher in God’s new paradigm for church and creation, in which old, dualistic ideas are being overturned by (to quote James Alison) “God who is brilliantly alive, totally without violence, in no way circumscribed by death, who has revealed himself as loving humanity by giving himself to us to allow us to live outside, and beyond the culture of death.” The perception that God is love is absolutely incompatible with any perception of God as involved in violence, separation, anger or exclusion.

Colin Coward


  1. It wasn't legally possible in the USA either, that didn't stop ACNA.
    Are we still so naive that we don't recognise a genuine threat when we hear it?

  2. I read somewhere that the "New Testament standards of morality" were "Love God; love your neighbor".

    "Bash the queers" would not appear to be quite Christian.

    Paul Ambos

  3. Two comments:
    1. Look at who is on the Crown Nominations Commission: out of the 14 voting members 6 are from the Diocese of Southwark, plus Colin Slee, dean of Southwark Cathedral (representing the deans of the C of E) - in other words, exactly half of the commission are from Southwark. Voting as a block they at the very least tie the choice - it only takes one other person to give them a majority.

    2. The attempted departure of congregations and even dioceses in our province is being tested in our legal system. So far the Episcopal Church has spent a great deal of money but has been universally successful (though some processes are legally incomplete). Our system does not allow for costs to be assigned to the loser.

    It seems to me that the threat of legal action in the British system would, itself, stop such actions due to the high cost of losing.

    To put it another way, threats of with-holding funds, or departure, are bluff and bluster, and hugely risky financially for those who make them.

  4. The main reasons against would be three: classifying as an *unrepentant* sinner; teaching contrary to one aspect of Christianity; participation in a civil partnership, ie a fixed intent to align oneself with those in man-man sexual relationships.
    Threats against brothers and sisters in the faith would never take place: this kind of withholding would only take place if the evidence were that the said individuals were not brothers and sisters in the faith. The fiddling expenses thing doesn't seem the best parallel. James Alison has to beware of making God in the image of his ideals. We all have ideals but they do not equate to God. God is as God is, and is under absolutely no obligation to be exactly as we would wish God to be, even if each of us had the same wishes. It would be quite a coincidence if God were that way. Best wishes, Christopher Shell.

  5. "We all have ideals but they do not equate to God."

    Anselm of Canterbury says that God is greater than anything we can imagine. If I can imagine something more loving, more alive, less jealous for my human flourishing then what I am told to worship as 'God' is a projection of human limitations.

    I was taught that the way to ensure my Christology was orthodox was to be maximalist in my speaking of the person and work of Jesus - imagining him to be disdainful of human attempts to love makes him a smaller human person. And by analogy not God.

    But God in Jesus is 'brilliantly alive, totally without violence, in no way circumscribed by death' and is my Saviour. That's why I know he loves me, in and through my whole self and not just the bits we'd like him to 'save'.

  6. I am sure the wrong wingers will try to take CoE property with them as they stalk off to be holier than God. It seems to me unlikely that they can do better than their cousins in the US and Canada where the courts have found repeatedly that this is not permitted. The only case where the schism has had any chance of taking the property in the US is in Virginia where the law that is relied on is a probably unconstitutional civil war era item.


  7. "I, A.B., do swear by Almighty God that I will pay true and canonical obedience to the lord bishop of C and his successors in all things lawful and honest, so help me God." However little he may like the fact, the rector of Morden has already sworn the oath of obedience to Tom Butler's successor.

  8. I'm not sure Giles Fraser is right to assert that the CofE is almost of one mind on the issue. When you consider Reform, Anglican Mainstream, New Wine Network, Forward in Faith and other like minded churches not part of a particular grouping. 1/2 of all ordinands describe themselves as Evangelical (obviously not all Evangelicals are 'traditionalists').

    I don't think that the Church is of one mind. I think it is split down the middle. I don't see any way of reconciliation - which is a tragedy.