Bishops issue letter against appointment of gay theologian
A group of nine, largely evangelical, diocesan bishops have issued an open letter attempting to get the appointment of of a gay theologian as suffragan bishop of Reading, rescinded.
The intervention, by some of the church's most senior bishops, is an unprecedented interference in modern times in an appointment made by another diocese and reflects mounting conflict over the decision by Richard Harries, the Bishop of Oxford, to appoint Dr Jeffrey John, canon theologian of Southwark, to the post.
Those signing the letter are Michael Scott-Joynt, the Bishop of Winchester - the fifth-ranking bishop in the church and a clutch of leading evangelical bishops: Carlisle, Liverpool, Rochester, Chester, Bradford, Exeter, Southwell and Chichester. Seven suffragans have also signed.
Their letter is also seen as a challenge to Rowan Williams, who has expressed sympathy for gay couples and who is thought to have been consulted about Dr John's appointment.
Dr John has been a staunch critic of the church's 1991 compromise on gay relationships, Issues in Human Sexuality, which allowed lay members to be in gay relationships, but not clergy.
He has admitted being in a gay relationship for 20 years but, as a condition of his appointment, told the bishop he had been celibate for a long period and would in future uphold the church's position.
The open letter claims that, although Dr John has "many admirable qualities" for a bishop, "the issue is what is acceptable sexual behaviour in God's sight".
It added: "We warmly commend such relationships to the church as a whole. But it is the history of the relationship, as well as Dr John's severe criticism of orthodox teaching which gives concern."
One evangelical bishop last week said Dr John's assurances of current abstinence had "nearly" satisfied him, but clearly they do not go far enough for the signatories. Some evangelicals have been probing electoral registers to see whether Dr John has been telling the truth.
The Bishop of Oxford has accused critics of the appointment of homophobia and has insisted that Dr John's consecration will go ahead in the autumn even if the ceremony in Southwark Cathedral is boycotted by other bishops.
The diocese has said only eight or nine of its 800 clergy have asked to see the bishop because of their concerns and some 100 of the diocesan clergy have written in support of it.