How the Church of England chooses its bishops

There has been extensive press comment following aleations that the C of E nominations system had discriminated against gay clergy in episcopal appointments. Extracts from and links to The Guardian and Church Times follow.

The Guardian published a series of articles last week, under the title, “How should gay bishops be chosen?”

It stated : The Church of England has obtained legal opinion that sets out factors to be considered when promoting gay clergy.

“The bishops of the Church of England have been unable to agree on rules for the promotion of gay clergy. So what should they have decided? At present, the rules say that only celibate gay men can be considered for the job, but a legal opinion obtained to help them sets out a row of additional considerations that appear specifically designed to exclude Dr Jeffrey John, the most famous gay priest in England, from ever being promoted.

“According to the church’s lawyers, it is perfectly legal – despite the equality law– to consider “whether the candidate had always complied with the Church’s teachings on same-sex sexual activity” [John has not]; “whether he was in a civil partnership” [John is]; “whether he was in a continuing civil partnership with a person with whom he had had an earlier same-sex sexual relationship” [John is]; “whether he had expressed repentance for any previous same-sex sexual activity” [John has not]; “whether (and to what extent) the appointment of the candidate would cause division and disunity within the diocese in question, the Church of England, and the wider Anglican Communion”.

“Obviously, all these highly priced lawyers must be right about the law. But is their project sensible? Is it just? Is it Christian?”


In another article in the series Lesley Fellows writes:

Jeffrey John is a man in a faithful relationship with his life partner. Normally the church would commend this sort of long-term and committed relationship – but the rules change when the two people in question are the same gender.

Behind the paywall at The Times of London. Ruth Gledhill gives a taste of it on her blog. Here’s a brief excerpt:

“The process that I witnessed was so different than the one described by the late Dean Colin Slee in his now-famous memo, that it seems almost unfair to draw comparisons. In filling the vacancy in Southwark, the English method of appointing bishops was clearly at its worst. Or so one hopes. A story of subterfuge leavened with a dash of Python-like absurdity, it featured a media leak meant to scuttle two candidacies, clumsy attempts to blame the leak on an innocent party, an investigation into the leak whose findings have been kept secret, and a delicious moment in which the Archbishop of York lobbied for votes while leading a group outing to the toilet. Little wonder that members of the Crown Nominating Committee were reduced to tears during the proceedings.”

Giles Fraser, Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, in his column in the Church Times commented:

“This advice shows how much the Bishops have been straining every legal sinew to exclude openly gay bishops — even celibate ones — from their number. Do we really think that straight bishops have been chal­lenged to repent of whatever they might have got up to at university, as it were? Of course not. And this double standard is a clear symptom of the fact that what is really going on here is prejudice, pure and simple.

“The other weasel construction that those who pick bishops have alighted on is that a bishop must be “a focus of unity”. No: first and fore­most, a bishop must be a man or woman of the gospel. Sometimes this means arguing for the right not to bring peace, but a sword.

“To insist that bishops must be “a focus of unity” is a recipe for having bishops whose primary identity is that they are unobjectionable. In­deed, there is something almost heret­ical about this phrase; for it makes the quest for a quiet Church more of a priority than that of the preaching of the gospel.

“The trouble is that, at the moment, a whole world of grammar is being invented with the express purpose of keeping gay people out of senior church positions. From the dreaded Anglican Covenant (whose purpose seems to be much the same) to this new advice, our Church is construct­ing its ground rules specifically to exclude homosexuals. And there is another phrase for that: institution­alised homophobia.”

Other Guardian articles:

Homophobia has infected the Church of England


The Church of England has double standards when it comes to gay bishops


End the cold war over gay bishops