Monday, 20 March 2017

OneBodyOneFaith writes about the See of Llandaff

Dean Jeffrey John and the Bishops of the Church in Wales

As an ecumenical organisation OneBodyOneFaith surveys the actions of all the churches in the UK in relation to their policies and practices with regards to LGBTI people. The Church in Wales is engaged in the process of replacing the Bishop of Llandaff, following the retirement of the previous bishop, Barry Morgan. The election process failed to produce a clear result, no candidate achieving a two-thirds majority of the electoral college in the time set. This means that the process now becomes an appointment process without a specified time scale, in the hands of the bishops of that church, in consultation with other designated representatives from the diocese in question and the other dioceses.

What has happened is that one of the members of the Electoral College broke the confidentiality of the meeting and let it be known that the Dean of St Albans, Jeffrey John, who is in a civil partnership, had attracted over half of the Electoral College vote, but failed to meet the two-thirds majority required by, it is alleged, only two votes. The electors from the diocese in question, Llandaff, had unanimously backed Jeffrey John.

OneBodyOneFaith commends the individual who had the courage to break confidence on this occasion, and Dean John in publishing his letter. Far from showing a lack of integrity or faith in the process, what they have exposed is just the tiny tip of an iceberg in terms of injustices which are meted out to ‘rank and file’ LGBTI+ people by bishops on a weekly basis, behind closed doors, and under the cloak of ‘confidentiality’. Such behaviour – lack of accountability and transparency – is shameful and homophobic. It does not belong in the processes of any organisation and certainly not a Christian church.

There has only ever been one other occasion on which an Electoral College has failed to make a choice. This was in 2004 when Tony Crockett failed to receive a two-thirds majority for his election as Bishop of Bangor. He was a divorced and remarried man, and notwithstanding the controversy that this provoked, the bishops went ahead and appointed him almost immediately. He proved to be a faithful, popular and successful bishop, sadly dying in post only four years later.

It now appears that the bishops of the Church in Wales have decided to omit Jeffrey John from the short-list for the appointment process, notwithstanding the precedent set in 2004 and his popularity in the diocese. In the published notice about the appointment process there is no mention at all that previous candidates for election will be excluded from further consideration. Jeffrey John has now published his response to a letter from the Chair of the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Swansea and Brecon, John Davies. Bishop Davies’s original letter has also now been published on the internet.

In his letter, Jeffrey John accuses the bishops of anti-gay discrimination. Despite declaring that being gay and in a civil partnership is no bar to appointment, he claims that they have decided to bar his candidature on precisely and specifically those grounds, in contravention of their own rules.

It appears that they told him that they were ‘just too exhausted’ to deal with the problems that they believed his appointment would cause. There is no evidence of any problems being caused by his candidature, and no reason to think that it would cause any particular problems as Jeffrey’s personal relationship falls within the permitted guidelines. A divorced and remarried man they appointed immediately, a gay man in a relationship they exclude.

The bishops’ behaviour is a very clear example of the instability and inconsistency of the institutional practices of this Anglican church in the way it treats LGBTQ+ people. The open integrity of Jeffrey John causes them more psychological disturbance than gay clergy who are closeted or semi-closeted, certainly far more than a heterosexual man who was divorced and remarried, and they have been unable to act with professional and pastoral integrity themselves. Despite their own published codes relating to this matter, they cannot manage the stress. The consequence is unjust and discriminatory behaviour. It is the kind of tension and response that is well-described in a recent article in Theology, Ledbetter, Charles, Sexuality and informal authority in the Church of England, Theology 2017. Vol. 120(2) 112-121.

OneBodyOneFaith makes an urgent call to the Bishops of the Church in Wales to think again. It is vital for the good health of their church that they re-establish confidence in their leadership and the credibility of the election/appointment process. With this in mind, we ask them:

  • To undertake a full enquiry into all the processes in this case before proceeding any further with an appointment
  • Not to exclude any previous candidates from further consideration, as they gave no notice of this
  • To follow the precedent of their church established in 2004 in appointing a bishop after a failed election, having regard to the support a particular candidate attracted in the diocese in question
  • To abide by their own guidelines regarding candidates who are gay and in civil partnerships
  • To apologise publicly to Jeffrey John for homophobic remarks and attitudes, and
  • To listen to the voices of the people of the diocese of Llandaff and the Church in Wales

Jeremy Pemberton
For the Board of
OneBodyOneFaith

Monday 20th March 2017

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 20 March 2017 at 10:20am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church in Wales
Comments

About this time last year, and following the Primates meeting, the Bishops of the Church in Wales issued a Pastoral Letter in which they apologised to the LGBTI community in the following terms:
'We recognise that you have often been persecuted and ostracized by the Church for your sexuality, that you have been mistreated by the Church, and forced into secrecy and dissimulation by the attitudes of prejudice which you have faced. We deplore such hostility, and welcome and affirm the words of the Primates that condemn homophobic prejudice and violence. We too commit ourselves to offering you the same loving service and pastoral care to which all humanity is entitled, and we commit ourselves to acting to provide a safe space within the Church and our communities in which you can be honest and open, respected and affirmed.'
I wasn't, like nearly everyone else, at the meetings over the appointment of the Bishop of Llandaff. But, like everyone else, I have been able to read about it and it seems clear that some thing(s) was/were said or done that negate what was stated in that Pastoral Letter, which raises the spectre of the 'H' word. The LGBTI community is, unfortunately, only too well versed in this dissimulation in the church and any caution or caveats people may have had in reading the bishops' Pastoral Letter will have been confirmed. Personally I was hopeful that a corner had been turned. But with this turn of events, whatever the precise details of what occurred, the damage has been done and the Pastoral Letter, with its now hollow-sounding promises, looks empty.

Posted by: Roger Antell on Monday, 20 March 2017 at 11:31am GMT

I detect that double standards are at work in the Church in Wales when considering the election of Anthony Crockett to the See of Bangor and contrasting that with the failure to elect Jeffrey John to the See of Llandaff.
Should such a significant appointment be left in the hands of the self-confessed "exhausted" Welsh bishops?
In past times, even popes were selected by "Acclamation"! Those delegates from the diocese of Llandaff charged with the responsibility of selecting and electing their next Father in God unanimously opted for and voted for Jeffrey John. Let the will of the people in the diocese of Llandaff prevail and ensure that Jeffrey John follows Barry Morgan as the next Bishop of Llandaff; otherwise it very much looks like yet another victory for homophobia.

Posted by: Father David on Monday, 20 March 2017 at 11:31am GMT

The bishops of the Church in Wales are "just too exhausted" to deal with the possible challenges they think they would face if they appointed Jeffrey John to the see of Llandaff. Discrimination is just exhausting for the poor bishops. They want this matter to go away, so that they can go back to pretending that they do not discriminate against LGBTI persons in the Church. They are too tired to accompany oppressed people in their struggle for human dignity and equality in the Church. What do these bishops imagine is their role in the work of securing justice for any community of persons who have been the object of hatred and discrimination? Oh, I know. They can just write another letter excusing their unacceptable behavior and blaming the oppressed for making the bishops uncomfortable. This is Lent! May I recommend for the lectio Divina of the bishops of the Church in Wales, "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?

Posted by: Karen MacQueen on Monday, 20 March 2017 at 4:35pm GMT

Perhaps Jeffery John might be approached for one of the vacant sees in the SEC. Seems to me that if there's a good potential Bishop going spare we might as well nab him!

Posted by: Jo on Monday, 20 March 2017 at 5:20pm GMT

I have said this on a previous thread, so apologies for the repetition; but I think it is important. The first person to block Jeffrey John from nomination to a Welsh See was the former Archbishop, Barry Morgan. I was an elector in both the Bangor (2008) and St Asaph (2009) elections before moving away from Wales, and the Archbishop, Dr Barry Morgan, made it clear that a gay man in a civil partnership was disqualified from nomination. This was at exactly the same time as he was making statements to the media (e.g. the Sunday programme on Radio 4) to the effect that he would be more than willing to consecrate a gay bishop. Dr John was not mentioned by name, but everyone knew who was being referred to. This was an example of how the former Archbishop 'abus[ed] confidentiality as a cloak for injustice and deception.' This is especially so because, at the Bangor election in 2008, another gifted and popular candidate was the subject of outrageous, scurrilous and unfounded allegations by a female cleric, which the Archbishop knew to be untrue, but failed to check or reprimand. Indeed, as soon as the comments were made, the Archbishop disallowed any further contributions that day and adjourned the College, leaving a whole 16 hours for electors to discuss the spurious and (frankly) actionable claims being made before resuming the next day. I say all this because, in the case of the Llandaff election, the bishops of the Church in Wales appear to be following the precedent set by the previous Archbishop when it comes to abusing the oath of confidentiality.

In the last few days I have been told, by someone present at the Llandaff election, that electors from other dioceses were less inclined to support Dr John, along with the bishops. This was not because of his sexual orientation or his civil partnership; but because (rightly or wrongly) his candidature was understood to have been supported, even brokered, by the former Archbishop. In that sense, I think the Bishop who spoke with Dr John on the telephone, and told him that the bishops were 'too tired' was absolutely right. I think they are exhausted after a decade and more of divisive issues and double-speak.

To allow only three weeks between the retirement of the previous incumbent and the election of a new bishop is no way to facilitate a rigorous process of discernment. Consequently, I am hardly surprised the Electoral College reached an impasse. Personally, I have no doubt that Dr John would be a superb bishop for Llandaff, and would certainly heal some badly bleeding wounds. Unfortunately, in the eyes of others, he is seen as Dr Morgan's anointed successor, and that is not good news for a Church, or a bench of bishops, that knows what has happened in the past and needs to move on from an archiepiscopate that was (from my perspective) all about slogans, issues and 'divide and rule.' It does not make Dr John's situation any less unjust, nor his personal pain any less acute. But context is important and it has to be asked, is this right time and place for Dr John to flourish as a bishop in this particular diocese for the well-being of the whole diocese, and heal the divisions being felt in the wider Church?

Posted by: David Richards on Monday, 20 March 2017 at 5:24pm GMT

Sadly, the Church in Wales action re its lack of nerve in rejecting the popular choice of Dean Jeffrey John as the next Bishop of Llandaff is not seen by Anglicans around the world to be at all consistent with its declared polcy of openness to LGBT people within its community. 'Handsome is as handsome does' or 'Actions speak louder than words'

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 21 March 2017 at 5:35am GMT

David Richards' perspective is very welcome and confirms what many of us have been thinking for a long time. I was having a drink with someone, the other evening, who likened the current situation in the Church in Wales to Libya after colonel Gaddafi. Suddenly, everyone has woken up to the fact that they have the freedom to do something new, but the framework imposed on them for so long means they are incapable of doing the right thing because the person who determined the actions and the outcomes has left a huge vacuum.

It is depressing in the extreme because it shows how the current Bench of Bishops (appointed by the former Archbishop - and I say 'appointed' deliberately)not only lacks moral fibre but is utterly devoid of a coherent vision for the future of our Church.

Dr John is right. An appointment to fill the vacant See of Llandaff should not be made at this stage: both because there is no longer any trust in the process; and because there has not been sufficient time allowed for a proper process of discernment. One thing, however, is very clear. None of the current Bench is worthy of election as Archbishop.

Posted by: Nigel Evans on Tuesday, 21 March 2017 at 1:49pm GMT
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