Conservative parishes in the Church of England could seek alternative leadership from abroad if a gay man is appointed as bishop of Southwark, clerics warned today.
The argument over homosexual clergy in the Anglican communion was reignited at the weekend when it was disclosed that Dr Jeffrey John (pictured), the dean of St Albans, is among nominations for the post vacated earlier this year by the Right Rev Tom Butler. In 2003, John was forced to stand down from his appointment as suffragan bishop of Reading because of his sexuality after protests from traditionalists.
Reform, a conservative evangelical group, has warned the church could split if John, who is in a civil partnership but celibate, is made bishop for the south London diocese.
The Rev Paul Dawson said: “Our view is that it would be a very serious step if he were to become a bishop and it would cause very serious damage within the Church of England itself. We think that if this were to happen, then the sort of split that has happened in America would be precipitated here.”
Anglican churches in Africa intervened in US parishes where there was a difference in opinion over homosexuality by providing religious leadership that was more conservative, a practice that continues to this day. The possibility of such a scenario was also alluded to by a high-profile conservative evangelical, Chris Sugden, who was instrumental in establishing a breakaway grouping of like-minded Anglicans around the world.
Asked this morning by the BBC what would happen in Southwark should the Crown Nominations Commission settle on John as the preferred candidate, Sugden said a number of clergy and parishes would not take the oath of canonical obedience to the bishop and “would seek alternative episcopal oversight elsewhere … What will happen will be what has happened in America already. They will continue to be Anglicans and they will seek episcopal oversight from elsewhere, either in this country or elsewhere”.
Writing in the Church of England newspaper last week, the Rev Ray Skinner, a rector in Morden, south London, said it did not take “a huge leap of imagination” to predict what would happen should John get the job. “As in North America, with its shrinking liberal Episcopal Church, and growing orthodox Anglican Church, there will be a formal divide. Maybe not immediately, we tend not to rush things. There are two new groups already within the Church of England, one called Inclusive Church, the other the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans linking with other Anglican provinces.”
The commission must present two names to David Cameron who submits a name to the Queen. She formally nominates the candidate to the post.
A Reform spokesman said: “Dr John’s teaching regarding homosexual practice is contrary to both the Bible and to the current doctrine of the Church of England. To appoint him bishop would send a very clear signal that the diocese of Southwark wants to walk in a different direction to the Church of England’s doctrine. We would support churches in Southwark seeking alternative oversight should Dr John be appointed.”
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