Updated again on 1 February
There were two news reports in Sunday newspapers concerning the Dean of St Albans.
One was in the Mail on Sunday and written by Jonathan Petre, see ‘I’ll sue Church of England if it bars me from being bishop,’ says gay dean. (A later version with a quite different headline appears here.)
The other was in the Sunday Times by Kate Mansey but is hidden behind a paywall. However, I can say that it included a long quote from the memorandum written by Colin Slee and published some time ago in connection with a Guardian news story.
Several other newspapers have followed up these reports. The most thoughtful is the Independent which has today published the following items:
Andrew Brown has this analysis: Why is this gay cleric considering suing the church if he won’t win?
…Look at the small print of its legal opinion on civil partnerships, transparently designed to prevent John from being able to sue for discrimination. No selection committee would ask straight candidates for a job whether they had ever had pre-marital sex, and, if they had, whether they were jolly sorry for it. Yet the Church of England believes that it is legally and morally OK to ask the equivalent questions of gay men: “Whether the candidate had always complied with the church’s teachings on sexual activity being solely within matrimony; whether he had expressed repentance for any previous pre-marital sexual activity.”
That is offensive enough, but the real point is found in the apparently balanced statements of disagreement. “It is clear that a significant number of Anglicans, on grounds of strongly held religious conviction, believe that a Christian leader should not entire into a civil partnership, even if celibate … it is equally clear that many other Anglicans believe it is appropriate that clergy who are gay by orientation entire into civil partnerships.” This formulation gives the game away. It is only conservative evangelical opinion which is described as “strongly held religious conviction”. The liberals merely “believe it is appropriate”, with the implication that their beliefs on this are not religious at all. This kind of nonsense was dealt with decades ago where women priests were concerned. What needs saying, loud and clear, is that the case for liberalism here is every bit as religious, and as theologically informed, as the case for the conservatives…
Two further analyses:
New Statesman Nelson Jones Bishop sacrifice
When it was announced that the Church of England had established an advisory group on human sexuality, consisting of four bishops and a retired civil servant, there was some criticism of the fact that all its members were (ahem) male. But that was only to be expected, and not just because it happens to be a group of bishops, which remains, for the time being at least, an exclusively male club. In Anglican parlance, “human sexuality” is code for, “What do we do about the gays?”
…In the case of the Church of England, there are currently two major sticking points, which may or may not be linked: the question of whether civil partnership ceremonies should be allowed to take place in church, and the question of whether openly gay men, even if celibate, should be allowed to become bishops. In both cases the present situation is one of studied hypocrisy…
Episcopal Café Jim Naughton Misleading media coverage: the latest in the Jeffrey John saga
There is a full report in the Church Times see C of E policy on appointing bishops may face legal test
And the Press column by Andrew Brown is now also available to non-subscribers: An enemy hath spun this
…Right at the bottom of the Mail’s story was the line that “one source said Dr John suggested he would drop his legal threat if he felt he would not be ruled out for future posts.”
Of course, a huge amount turns on whether this source was a friend or enemy of Dr John, because the Sunday Times story and the Mail on Sunday’s headline both invite the riposte that they got from George Pitcher on the Mail’s website.
He wasted no time on the ball, and went straight for the man: “We’re forced to ask how seriously we’re likely to take him as a bishop if we harbour the suspicion that he won his post, even by suggestion, because he’d declared that if he wasn’t delivered such-and-such a bishopric then he’d sue.”
But is that really why Dr John was discussing legal action? It is clearly true that Alison Downie has been corresponding with church legal authorities on his behalf. But friends — real friends — of his, and allies, too, suggest that what he was trying to do instead was to ensure that civil partnerships are not in themselves a bar to promotion. That is just as upsetting to conservative Evangelicals as if he were actuated by personal ambition.
It is actually much more difficult for the Archbishop of Canterbury to handle, and much more appealing to public opinion. One begins to see why the story might have emerged from his enemies with the spin that it had.