A guest piece from a sixth form student who was intrigued by the situation in Llandaff, views entirely her own.
Sat in the common room of my Sixth Form College, I picked up a copy of The Guardian, in a search for some interesting news stories to reflect on and, debate. I found that far from being drawn to issues relating to the triggering of article 50, or the Trump presidency, what grabbed my attention above all else was a decision made by the bishops of the Church in Wales. I am referring to the article entitled ‘Dean denied post of bishop accuses Church in Wales of homophobia.’ As a queer member of the Christian community, I take significant personal interest in the issues surrounding identity within the Church and have recently I have been proud to note signs of changing perceptions towards sexuality and gender across the churches of the Anglican Communion.
Growth of acceptance and understanding is something I believe the Church should prioritise. My sense of pride in being able to identify with a liberal and welcoming Church was knocked back as I read about the refusal to appoint the Very Rev’d Dr. Jeffrey John as Bishop of Llandaff. In a spirit of open inquiry and equity I did not allow myself to become outraged over one article in one newspaper, and resolved to investigate further to see if there were any important facts that I was missing. I did so through the lens of ‘secular publications’ (the Guardian and BBC) as well religious web sites (Thinking Anglican and Christian Today). I also read Dr. John’s Open Letter. The more I read the more resigned I became, losing hope that it was all a misunderstanding, and that the Church could not be accused of blatant homophobia.
My shock increased when I discovered that this was not the first time Dr. John had been passed over for promotion. He was asked to withdraw from his appointment as Bishop of Reading by Rowan Williams (the then Archbishop of Canterbury) in 2003, as some ‘traditionalists’ supposedly threatened to leave the Church. 2003, in terms of gay rights history, is essentially a lifetime ago and, barely in my living memory. My expectation was that real progress might have been made over the last fourteen years and that notions of equality, justice and love would be firmly established within the ordinary life of the church, and what could be more ordinary than the appointment of bishops? However, I cannot assure myself that any substantive progress has been made. In this case it appears that the Welsh bishops, like others before them, have bowed down to pressure from a minority, damaging the well being of the church overall. The church cannot thrive when fear holds sway, and when one group essentially seeks to hold the wider church to ransom. It may sound harsh but what I would like to say to those who exercise stewardship over the various churches is stop trying to appease the traditionalists and, if the traditionalists can’t accept progress ‘let them leave’. As a body of faith do we wish to be associated with homophobia? Is tolerance, inclusivity, unconditional love or, exclusivity and discrimination the message we, the church, wish to convey? I appreciate that to lose any member of the Church, let alone several Church leaders and presumably some of their followers would be devastating, but it may well be for the best and, necessary if we are to realise our mandate to pursue all that leads to love and justice.
I also agree with Dr. John’s argument that to discriminate against him on the grounds of his homosexuality is to argue without any ‘moral or legal basis’. To argue in such a way is theologically incoherent and cannot reflect a Church which exists to promote and reflect the image of an all loving Christ. What of ‘though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread’ and how can we propose to live out our liturgy of grace, mercy, peace and unity if we explicitly deny one of our body the opportunity to become a bishop based on his sexuality?
Part of the incoherence of this situation is that Dr. John is in a celibate homosexual relationship, and therefore is living within the scope of permissions granted to Anglican priests. He is living within the doctrine of the Church. Dr John is correct therefore in suggesting in his open letter that the Welsh bishops can be regarded as acting hypocritically and with scant regard for truth. The very integrity of the church is therefore under scrutiny. My personal belief, irrespective of Church policy, is that whether or not a relationship is celibate does not weigh on the ability to practice and teach the Word of God. I none the less affirm Dr. John and his partner’s integrity in choosing to remain celibate. The Very Rev’d Dr. John has stressed that the bishops’ decision not to appoint him was based on the feeling that they were ‘just too exhausted’ to deal with potential backlash of such an appointment, presumably similar to that faced in 2003. This is an entirely unacceptable stance. The bishops only concern should be with doing right.
In response to the situation in Wales I am calling for the examination of the process for appointing Bishops, sanctions against all acts of institutionalised homophobia, a revised statement of purpose relating to the appointment of LGBTQ+ clergy and, an official apology to be made to the Very Rev’d Dr. John. I long for the day when I can begin to feel proud in the church, as a queer Christian.