On 19 April 2004 Jeffrey John, the Anglican clergyman who withdrew from his appointment as Bishop of Reading, was officially named as the next Dean of St Albans. Having already been asked my views for the Sunday Telegraph (which were reported the previous day) I was asked to say a few words on BBC Radio 4's The World at One that Monday about the appointment. Also I was interviewed for BBC TV's The Ten O'Clock News that evening. Extracts were then quoted in various newspapers and with various spins. For the record - and to indicate the seriousness of the situation - the following is what actually was said.
The World at One
In his introduction Guto Harri, the interviewer, announced the appointment and said:
>"Dr Jeffrey John who is openly gay faced an outcry last year from traditionalists. 'If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.' Or if you can't get a job as a bishop, why not get a job as a dean. Downing Street has today confirmed that Canon Jeffrey John has been appointed as the next Dean of St. Albans, a very senior position in the Anglican Church. Last year he was forced to stand down as the Bishop of Reading because he is gay. One of Jeffrey John's strongest supporters has been his boss, Colin Slee, the current Dean of Southwark Cathedral."
Harri then quizzed Colin Slee who said this was "very good news"; the job offered John "enormous potential"; he was sure "this does have the backing of the Archbishop of Canterbury or it wouldn't have gone ahead;" and "it's an appointment whose authority has Number 10 behind it, but it will be after very, very thorough consultation."
When asked, "what would you say to those today who feel outraged, who feel very sore, or who perhaps want to leave the Church of England?" Colin Slee replied as follows:
"Jeffrey has been appointed after all the proper and agreed due processes of the church and if you are a member of the church, it's important that you accept and conform to those processes."
The opposing view
Guto Harri then went on to consider those of us who are deeply worried by what has happened:
"There are concerns that the appointment of Jeffrey John could re-ignite tensions between the so-called 'progressive' and the 'conservative' wings of the Anglican Church. The Rev. David Holloway is the Bishop of Jesmond. In the past he has been a vocal opponent of the appointment. He joins me now on the line."
The following is a transcript of the discussion:
Harri: "Downing Street has approved it. The Queen has approved it. Are you happy with this appointment?"
DH: "No! - actually I'm the vicar of Jesmond - I am very unhappy with it. The Church of England by its constitution is, quotes, 'grounded in the Holy Scriptures'. The Bible is crystal clear: sex is for heterosexual monogamous marriage. This is what the clergy must teach and Jeffrey John publicly does not teach this."
Harri: "Do you suspect that Downing Street has had a say in all of this, nudging the Church of England in the direction that people like you do not want it to go?"
DH: "Obviously Tony Blair has had a say and also the Bishop of St. Albans has had a say in this, as it is also a parish church. I don't know what Tony Blair has in mind. It's certainly in keeping with this government's commitment to pieces of immoral legislation - from endorsing virtual gay marriage to promoting, or allowing the promotion of, homosexual relationships in schools which happened with the repeal of Clause 28. But the reason why this is so serious is that at the moment we have in this country one of the worst marriage records; and any public endorsement of immorality is an attack on marriage. And then, you know, the break-up of the married family is serious for society. It damages children. On average, they suffer with alternative families and so forth. So we are dealing with a matter of great social importance and the Church is seen, with this appointment, to be institutionalizing (as it were) what I would call decadence."
Harri: "Very briefly, is there anything you can do beyond complain?"
DH: "No! But may I say that where the life and growth is in the Church - in the Church of England and indeed in mainstream Protestantism - is where you have people who teach the Bible."
Harri: "David Holloway, there we must leave it, I’m afraid."
The Ten O'Clock News
On BBC ONE's evening television news that day (The Ten O'Clock News) the newsreader announced the appointment and then commented that "Dr. Jeffrey John who is openly gay but celibate, faced an outcry last year from traditionalists within the Church of England. Dr. John's new appointment was approved by the Queen in the past few days, as Annita McVeigh reports" - [the following is a transcript of her report]:
A McV: "After the controversy of last summer Jeffrey John had dropped out of the spotlight until now. Today was about new beginnings for the gay Canon whose appointment as Dean of St.Albans has been approved by the Queen. He spoke first about the generosity of the welcome at the cathedral."
John [insert]: "It's a very inclusive place, a place with a warm tradition of welcoming everybody whoever they are and whatever label is attached to them and that's something for which obviously I have a special reason to be grateful here today".
A McV: "Last year he was at the centre of one of the biggest crises in the history of the Anglican Church over the decision to appoint him as Bishop of Reading. Conservatives warned of a split if the appointment went ahead. For the sake of unity he stepped aside. A short time later the Church's General Synod ruled out a debate on the issue saying it would generate more heat than light."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams [insert]: "It's better to have a debate which is more general than personal in its focus. It's better to have a debate when a little time for reflection has elapsed."
A McV: "But events are overtaking the reflection, not least gay and lesbian unions in America and the plans for a civil partnerships bill here. Canon John says he will not act against the teachings of the Church but supports Church and State providing frameworks for these partnerships."
John [insert]: "I don't much mind whether one calls that a marriage or not, but what matters is that gay people are given that framework for stable, holy living."
A McV: "It's too early to assess the full impact the appointment will have on the Church, but some traditionalists have clear opinions on what it means. David Holloway, Jesmond Parish Church in Newcastle ... "
DH [insert]: "Any public endorsement of immorality which this is, undermines the married family and at the moment in the West, not least in England and Britain, we need to support the married family for the good of society, for the good of individual couples and especially for the good of children."
A McV: "Jeffrey John chose his words carefully today, wary of being misinterpreted in this most controversial of debates on sexuality and the church. Nevertheless there are plenty of people who feel this is a provocative development; Annita McVeigh, BBC News, St Albans Cathedral."
Jeffrey John is a propagandist for the homosexual cause. Like his friend Rowan Williams, he is fluent, genial and clever. But, like his friend, he defies the clear teaching of the Bible. Jesus spoke of "false prophets in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves" (Matt 7.15). Paul spoke of "savage wolves ... even from your own number men will distort the truth" (Acts 20.29-30). Jude spoke of "men who change the grace of God into a licence for immorality" (Jude 4). As were indulgences at the Reformation, so is homosexuality a presenting problem today. As then, huge issues are at stake, not least that of Biblical authority. Do you go to the Bible, to quote Charles Simeon (the Evangelical leader at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries), "to sit as a learner at the feet of the holy Apostles" or "to teach them how they ought to have spoken?" Had Jeffrey John said that a life of greed was compatible with the Christian faith, we would have been just as opposed.
Jesus was the most compassionate of all. He welcomed prostitutes and other sexual sinners, but also the hated and fraudulent tax collectors. However, Jesus never muted either his sexual ethics or his attacks on greed. He was more strict in sexual matters than his contemporaries - witness his teaching on divorce and remarriage (Mark 10.2-12); but also he was very strict on greed - witness his dealing with the rich young man (Mark 10.17-23). But there was forgiveness for everyone - from the woman caught in adultery (John 8.1-11) to Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector (Luke 19.1-9). That must be our position - compassion and care, but faithfulness to Christ and so firmness where necessary.