Church of England Could See First Openly Gay Bishop

The Dean of St. Albans, Jeffrey John, who was previously asked to stand down as Bishop of Reading in 2003, is under consideration to be the next Bishop of Southwark, one of the most senior positions in the Church of England. (Photo: PA)

Just days before the Church of England (CofE) begins one of its most heated debates on allowing women to become bishops, conflict has erupted over whether an openly gay cleric may reach that position first.

Dean of St. Albans Jeffrey John, who entered into a civil same-sex partnership in 2006, is currently shortlisted to become the next Bishop of Southwark, one of the most senior positions in the CofE.

John was previously elected as the Bishop of Reading in 2003, but was forced to stand down by the Archbishop of Canterbury after it was discovered that he was homosexual.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has strongly backed the homosexual agenda since being elected earlier this year, is said to be in support of John's nomination, which will be voted on this week by the Crown Nominations Committee (CNC).

The announcement has conservative Anglicans up in arms, who say "serious damage" could be inflicted on the church if John is allowed to take the position.

"Our view is that it would be a very serious step for the Church of England if he were to become a bishop and that it would cause very serious damage within the Church of England itself," the Rev. Paul Dawson of Dundonald Church in Wimbledon said in a statement. "We think that if this were to happen, then the sort of split that has happened in America would be precipitated here."

Sheffield-based group Reform has warned that John's appointment would send a "clear signal" that the diocese of Southwark wants to "walk in a different direction to the Church of England's doctrine" and that a split would be imminent.

"We would support churches in Southwark seeking alternative oversight should Dr John be appointed," they said.

The Anglican Mainstream, meanwhile, has issued an "urgent" call for prayer over John's nomination, asking that people pray for the CNC to choose a "godly person whose life and doctrine is fully in accord with the Church of England's teaching and formularies, which means most of all in accord with the teaching of Holy Scripture."

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