The Affaire Jeffrey John was described by the Archbishop of Canterbury as approaching a soap opera. Certainly any debacle requiring quite so many outraged comments by Colin Slee can justifiably be so described. But no soap opera has ever raised questions as fundamental as this.
There are two principal questions: the first addressed to Evangelicals, the second to Liberals.
Evangelicals, whose strong suit is Scripture, must tell us why homosexual relations (about which there is no dominical word) are more important to them (as a church-breaking issue, that is) than the remarriage of divorced persons – about whom there is a dominical word of some force and authority.
Why is Richard Harries a foe and Michael Scott-Joynt a friend? And how do they suppose that they have anything whatever to say about other Issues in Human Sexuality (as the cant phrase has it), when they have sold the past on the one relationship which the New Testament (see Ephesians 5) proclaims to be normative for all others, and intimately related to the mystery of Christ and his Church?
Liberals (Affirming Catholicism and Rowan Williams in particular) whose strong suit is Reason, must tell us why it was thought to be possible, desirable even, to fracture the sacramental unity of dioceses, provinces, the Anglican Communion and the Universal Church on the matter of the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate; but to conclude that gay rights are not worth the same sacrifice (particularly since it has already been made).
How can Barbara Harris place the mitre on her own head to general and uproarious applause, and Jeffrey John be obliged to back down from a similar suffragan appointment in embarrassment and confusion?
We think we know the answers to both these questions.
It has become a standard description of candidates for high office in the Church that they are ‘orthodox in everything but –’ (Christian Rees, you will remember described Rowan as ‘incredibly orthodox’, thereby demonstrating how incredible orthodoxy is to Mrs Rees.) ‘Orthodoxy, but –’ is well on the way to becoming the defining position of the Church of England. It is, of course, only a matter of time before the conjunctive particle overwhelms the noun.