Jeffrey John withdraws acceptance of bishopric in Church of England
After weeks of debate over whether he should be made the Church of England's Bishop of Reading, Jeffrey John yesterday withdrew his acceptance of the post.
The canon theologian at London's Southwark Cathedral, John says he has been in a homosexual relationship for 27 years, but that the relationship became celibate when the Church of England reiterated its teachings on sexuality in 1997.
Still, his vow to work toward changing the church's sexuality doctrines to include committed homosexual relationships raised hackles from conservative Anglicans both inside and outside the U.K. Several Anglican churches, including the Church of Nigeria (the largest Anglican community in the world) threatened to break off their relationship with the Church of England if John was confirmed as bishop.
"It has become clear to me … the damage my consecration might cause to the unity of the Church, including the Anglican Communion," John said in his letter to Bishop of Oxford Richard Harries, who nominated him for the position.
"I much respect your decision, made in the interest of wider Church unity," Harries replied. "However, I would like you to know that not only did you have my unswerving support, but also that of a great many others in the diocese."
"The announcement must give us all pause for thought," said Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, head of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion worldwide.
We have to grasp that Canon John's appointment has brought to light a good deal of unhappiness among people who could by no means be described as extremists, many of whom have willingly testified to their personal respect for Canon John. … Such unhappiness means that there is an obvious problem in the consecration of a bishop whose ministry will not be readily received by a significant proportion of Christians in England and elsewhere. … The estrangement of churches in developing countries from their cherished ties with Britain is in no-one's interests. It would impoverish us as a Church in every way. …
Two weeks ago, I warned against interpreting the appointment as an illegitimate attempt to 'short-circuit' the Church's continuing obedient engagement with that teaching. I must be equally clear now. Canon John's withdrawal should not be taken to mean that the Church can now stop being concerned about how it discerns the will of God in this area of ethics. …
Let me add that some of the opposition expressed to Canon John's appointment has been very unsavory indeed. A number of the letters I received displayed a shocking level of ignorance and hatred towards homosexual people. Our official policies and resolutions as Anglicans commit us to listening to the experience of homosexuals and recognising that they are full and welcome members of the Church, loved by God. Not everyone, it seems, takes equally seriously this element in the teaching of the Anglican Church. …
The British press is outraged by what it sees as a "forced" resignation.
"It emerged last night that he had bowed to pressure from key members of the [Archbishop of Canterbury's] staff at the end of an extraordinary six-hour meeting at the palace on Saturday," the Guardian reports.
"The meeting, which began at 8 a.m., lasted so long because he refused to sign the first draft of his letter of withdrawal, and it took time to negotiate an acceptable form of wording," says The Times. The paper says the pressure was mainly financial: "Church leaders' fears about the appointment had grown when it became clear that threats from wealthy evangelical parishes to divert funds away from the diocese were real. Had parishes in other dioceses followed suit, the Church's financial problems would have become crippling."
In editorials (called leaders across the pond), the British papers universally decry evangelicals' efforts to stop John's appointment.
"For both sides it is unfortunate that an issue so redolent of prejudice, so lurid in its public discussion and so irrelevant to the wider Christian message should have become the touchstone for one of the most bitter confrontations since the Reformation," says The Times.
In an editorial titled "The Bigots Win," the Guardian puts the blame on Nigeria and other non-Western churches: "For once the voice of the developing world has been listened to, but, sadly, it is one of the few occasions when it should have been totally ignored." John, the paper says, "should unquestionably have been promoted to send an unmistakable signal that the church has entered the 21st century."
"Dr. John's withdrawal represents a serious setback for the liberal wing of the Church in the face of protests from evangelicals who had opposed the appointment from the start," says The Times, but evangelicals are certainly not dancing in the streets.
"Our initial thoughts are relief that the decision has gone this way," Joel Edwards, head of the Evangelical Alliance U.K. (a group representing British evangelicals inside and outside the Church of England), told the BBC. "It is definitely in the interests of the church."
"There is no doubt that everyone must feel profoundly sorry for Dr. John," says Peter Jensen, the Archbishop of Sydney, Australia.
This is a courageous decision, and we should remember him in our prayers. He was placed in an invidious position, indeed, one that he should never have been put into by other church leaders. … Though the challenge facing the Church of England is lessened, a range of issues remains. The crisis for the worldwide Anglican Church continues. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the rest of the Communion's leadership now has to decide what to do about parishes in the Diocese of New Westminster, Canada [where the church leadership is supporting homosexual unions] as well as the many faithful, Bible believing bishops, clergy and laypeople in the Episcopal Church in the United States [where another gay priest—this one not celibate—has been elected bishop].
But while the main battlegrounds in the Anglican Communion will be New Westminster and New Hampshire, England isn't off the hook, observers say.
"The move is likely to bring only a temporary respite in the church's continuing convulsion over the issue of same sex relationships, and represents a serious blow to Dr Williams' authority as head of the worldwide communion," says the Guardian in its news story.
"If anything," diocese of Oxford spokesman Richard Thomas told the paper, "this is going to be the start of the debate, not its conclusion."
Larry Burkett dies
Christian financial adviser Larry Burkett died Friday in Gainesville, Georgia, after a long battle with kidney cancer and heart problems. Earlier last week, doctors at the Mississippi Medical Center found him free of cancer, The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Mississippi, reported.
"He had his family with him," his physician, Patrick Sewell, told the paper. "He got to say goodbye and talk to them. When he couldn't talk any more, he wrote goodbyes to people."
Guests are welcome at the memorial service, which will take place at Atlanta's Church of the Apostles Friday afternoon.
For more on Burkett, see Christianity Today's June 2000 profile by Larry Eskridge: "When Burkett Speaks, Evangelicals Listen."
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