Dean Jeffrey John and the Bishops of the church in Wales
As an ecumenical organisation OneBodyOneFaith is concerned for 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 his popularity in the diocese. He has now published his response to a letter from the Chair of the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Swansea and Brecon, John Davies. You can read a copy of that letter here.
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 one of the bishops told him 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, Sexuality and informal authority in the Church of England*: you can download a copy of this important paper here.
OneBodyOneFaith makes an urgent call to the Bishops of the Church in Wales to think again. In particular, 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
*Ledbetter, Charles, Sexuality and informal authority in the Church of England, Theology 2017. Vol. 120(2) 112-121