May 2004

Here we go again. ‘The latest appointment of Dr Jeffrey John is a scandal.’ The scandal, however, has little to do with the headlines in most of the newspapers. In the wake of the painful charade that surrounded his appointment and dis-appointment to the suffragan see of Reading this journal pointedly distanced itself from the attacks on his sexuality and described him as ‘a gentle man and a gentleman who has acted graciously throughout’. The real objections to his appointment as Dean of St Albans are no different from the serious impediments to his becoming Bishop of Reading.

Let us review the facts. Doctor John is homosexual. He has a life partner. He has declared, and we must take his word for it, that this formerly sexual relationship was brought under godly discipline and became a celibate friendship some years ago. So far so good, and orthodox should rejoice at this development. Whether this belated reordering of his life should put him ahead of other good men who have borne the sacrifice of celibacy and aloneness all their ministry is another question. As long as Dr John retains his discipline his sexual inclinations must be irrelevant.

Why then is his appointment still a scandal? The line taken by most of the press is that, apart from his homosexuality, he is ‘entirely orthodox’. On the contrary, it is his recently chosen celibacy that is entirely orthodox and the rest of what he stands for that is not. Dr John is a founder member, with the Archbishop Rowan Williams, of Affirming Catholicism. It is Dr John who has done much of the organizing and written almost all the serious literature. Affirming Catholicism, whose members and supporters have come to occupy a hugely disproportionate number of senior posts, is an organization founded primarily to overturn scriptural teaching, most publicly on women priests and homosexual practice. Its clerical members (it is an overwhelmingly clerical body) revealed, in the massive Christian Research survey The Mind of Anglicans 2002, an astonishing ‘belief’ profile. Only 24% were confident of the Virgin birth, 35% of the resurrection and 21% of Jesus Christ as the Saviour. While Dr John cannot take all the credit for the responses of this group of ambitious agnostics, it is scarcely the curriculum vitae of a defender of the faith. Furthermore his own commitment to change the teaching of the faith remains undiminished. A longstanding lobbyist for the blessing of open active homosexual unions, he used his first press conference to commend such a course to the Church.

But the scandal is wider and deeper than Jeffrey John and goes to the very heart of the rottenness of the institution. The appointment system, so devastatingly exposed in this journal and lambasted by Lady Perry’s subsequent report, is corrupt. There is a long running pretence that extensive research and profiling and soundings are taken to find just the right man for a particular post. Dr John was the ideal man for Bishop of Reading and now turns out to be also the ideal man for Dean of St Albans. The sad fact is that the ruling oligarchy have a list of chums that must be given a job. Knowing the system, it was with every confidence that, last August, we predicted that Dr John would be made a Dean in the next round of appointments. That it should be at St Albans, where the bishop is an implacable and ruthless foe of orthodoxy, comes as no surprise.

Nor does the scandal stop with the Church oligarchy. Downing Street is utterly complicit in all this. The Prime Minister’s chosen advisers seem intent on filling senior appointments with protagonists of the liberal cause and sympathizers with the new sexual ethics wherever possible. Is this simply a series of remarkable coincidences or should someone have declared a special interest? Either way the use of the national Church as a rubber stamp for government policy is itself a scandal.

But the scandal is wider than the parochial concerns of England. When the Anglican Communion reached a crisis point over Bishop Gene Robinson, the Archbishop of Canterbury persuaded traditional Christians to hold back from biblical action against an heretical Church. Liberals likewise were asked to be patient and not take any further provocative action while a commission tried to find a way forward. The traditionalists, as ever, held their hand in good faith. The Americans consecrated Gene Robinson the very next week and now Dr Williams himself has forged ahead with the provocative appointment of his friend. The pleas of the burgeoning churches of the Third World for restraint have fallen on deaf ears. They will increasingly bear the taunts of their Muslim oppressors that they are but the imperial playthings of a decadent Western establishment. That the sexual politics of a corrupt Church should endanger our brothers and sisters is perhaps the greatest scandal all.

Finally, Dr John himself. Last time we gave him the benefit of the doubt. In the event it took Dr Williams six hours to persuade him to stand down ‘for the good of the Church’. Nine months later he is back, ambition undiminished, to claim his reward of an even better job. Perhaps the key players in this unhappy episode would like to explain how the good of the Church has been served now.

Church schools are in the news, and for two related reasons. First, there is the move by some state secondary schools to become church schools. Second, there are the statistics provided by the Trevor McDonald television programme about the deceitful lengths to which parents are prepared to go to gain places for their children in certain schools – church schools and consequent lies about religious commitment conspicuous among them.

Anybody with an interest in the future of our schools will want to ask two questions.

In the case of first schools they will want to ask why proof of religious commitment is required of parents seeking places for their children; but not of those who will teach those children when they are admitted.

In the case of secondary schools they will want to know, what are the criteria which define a church school. If claiming to be a church school were a crime, what evidence would be needed for conviction?

It is an open secret that many – perhaps most – of our schools pay lip-service to the ‘Christian ethos’ which ought to characterize them, and offer little or nothing in their curricula which is committedly Christian or specifically Anglican. In many of those schools the religious practice of the teachers would not secure the admission of their own children.

What then are they for?