Gay Cleric Blocked from Becoming CofE Bishop

Dr. Jeffrey John, outside the St Albans Cathedral in 2004 Photograph. John, who is a partnered but celibate homosexual, was rejected as the next Bishop of Southwark. (Photo: PA)

An openly homosexual cleric has been rejected in considerations for the next Bishop of Southwark, one of the most senior positions in the Church of England (CofE).

Dr. Jeffrey John, the Dean of St. Albans Cathedral, is no longer in the running for the position after a vote this week from the Crown Nominations Committee (CNC), whose recommendations will be considered by UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

The defeat marks the second time that John, who is in a civil partnership but remains celibate, has been denied the position of bishop, the first instance being in 2003 when the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams forced him to stand down as the Bishop of Reading following the discovery of John's orientation.

London Telegraph religion correspondent Jonathan Wynne-Jones said that the decision, which should have been made confidentially from the beginning, is bad news for both conservative and liberal Anglicans, saying that the "row over homosexual clergy…will now fester until a gay priest is finally made a bishop."

Jones also said that the decision will not fare well for Williams, who was reportedly in support of John's nomination this time around, as liberals will be "left wondering why he loses his backbone when it comes to fighting in their corner."

Colin Coward of pro-gay group Changing Attitude seemed to concur with Jones' remarks, saying in a blog posting that Williams had succeeded in "betraying his friend for a second time and handing an apparent victory to the conservatives who seem to be successfully controlling him."

Coward mentions, however, that Jones omitted "far more important" reasons as to why John's denial is bad news for the Communion, which Coward says continues to bear "an image of the church and Christianity…in which we are perceived to be bigoted, prejudiced, narrow-minded and lacking in the primary Christian virtue of love."

"Tonight, the church stinks. Tomorrow in the dawn light, it will become glorious again for this gay priest and for my many, many friends, gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, lay, ordained, bishops and archbishops, for whom it is our glorious home," Coward writes.

"There is nothing, not even betrayal by a member of the Crown Nominations Commission, that can ever separate us from the infinite love of God in Jesus Christ."

Conservatives, meanwhile, are relieved that John is no longer in the running.

"It's appropriate that [John] shouldn't be a bishop until he publicly changes his mind about what he teaches," said the Rev. Paul Dawson of the group Reform, adding that "this issue won't go away, whether it's Jeffrey John or someone else."

"We know that, and we will continue to encourage those electing bishops to choose those who are willing to uphold the teaching of the Bible and the doctrine of the Church of England," he said.

"It is vital that the Church holds firm to Biblical teaching regarding sexual ethics and marriage as between one man and one woman," commented Andrea Minichiello Williams of the Christian Legal Centre. "If the Church endorses or is seen to endorse anything other than this truth then there will be still more confusion and disillusion."

"Society is crying out for strong and courageous moral leadership. We must not shirk back from speaking the truth on these issues and proclaiming the gospel, whilst always affirming God's love for every human being," she continues. "We wish to thank all of those who joined with us in resisting this appointment."

The CNC's selection for the next Bishop of Southwark, which must be approved by Cameron and Queen Elizabeth, is not expected to be announced until the Fall.

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