Apparently the Bishop of Grantham, the Rt Revd Dr Nicholas Chamberlain, has a gentleman friend with whom he doesn’t have sex. Unless you’ve been living in a cave you know that already; but there was something very odd about the story that broke a few weeks ago in the Guardian. It amounted, effectively, to “Church leader abides by rules” – so nothing new there. It’s given plenty of people time to jump up and down; but no one seems to have grasped the actual kernel of news, hidden a few paragraphs in.
If Dr Chamberlain’s sexuality was a secret, then it was a Church of England secret – i.e. not a secret at all. The Bishop of Lincoln knew Dr Chamberlain was gay before he put his name forward as his suffragan; and so, apparently, did everyone else. And “everyone” in this instance included the Archbishop of Canterbury as well.
“I am and have been fully aware of Bishop Nick’s long-term, committed relationship,” said Archbishop Welby. That is the news story, right there. Even after Jeffrey John protested his celibacy, Archbishop Williams dared not support his appointment to the see of Reading for fear of censure. Archbishop Welby could have prevented Dr Chamberlain’s appointment, and there are those who have said he should have prevented it – GAFCON are furious, of course – but the fact remains that he did not prevent it. His Evangelical credentials are looking a little less impeccable; and only time will tell whether Dr Chamberlain will become to Archbishop Welby what Dr John became to Dr Williams.
Dr David Jenkins died on 4 September, aged 91, after the latest edition of New Directions had gone to press. What does one say about someone who was a fine, pastoral diocesan bishop, outspoken in his championing of the downtrodden; but whose “gadfly approach to matters of deep religious sensitivity”, as the Daily Telegraph put it, divided the Church of England and led to recrimination, bitterness, and despair?
He was not, perhaps, served well by his advisers. For a bishop to come out with statements that dealt abstractly with concrete and indisputable theological truths was either irresponsible or naïve. Auckland Castle did not – and could not – have any control over how priceless soundbites like “conjuring trick with bones” would be presented and interpreted, either in the Church of England or beyond.
As Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith observed, writing in the Catholic Herald:
Long before the ordination of women, David Jenkins was one of the reasons why many people decided to abandon the Church of England. As one good man, who had spent decades as a Naval Chaplain, and who was later ordained a priest in the Catholic Church, put it to me: “The Bishop of Durham professes the historic Christian creeds, but he also believes he can interpret them as he pleases. This means that the profession of the Creed is now meaningless, because it can mean whatever we want it to mean.”
Dr Jenkins could not, surely, have intended this to be the consequence of his comments on the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection. His painful example is a warning to any church leader of the present generation who delights in the offhand comment; or the hurried Facebook status update; or the hastily-composed Tweet: quod scripsi, scripsi. David Jenkins’s sayings cannot be unsaid: all the Church can do now is to commend this good, kind, and gentle man to the loving mercy of God.
Does the Vicar of Christ take New Directions? He’s yet to write in, but Pope Francis seems to have changed his tune on the religious-violence issue in the murder of Fr Jacques Hamel [ND, September 2016]. Preaching at a mass offered for Fr Hamel at the Vatican on Holy Cross Day – in the presence of pilgrims from the diocese of Rouen, including Archbishop Lebrun – he made the following remarks.
Father Jacques Hamel had his throat slit on the Cross, precisely as he was celebrating the Sacrifice of the Cross of Christ. […] There is one thing about this man who accepted his martyrdom there, with the martyrdom of Christ, at the altar […] He gave his life for us, he gave his life in order not to deny Jesus. He gave his life in the same Sacrifice of Jesus on the altar and from there he accused the author of persecution: “Be gone, Satan!”
“Martyrdom”; “sacrifice”; “persecution”. You’d think he’d read last month’s issue, wouldn’t you?