Jeffrey John: some historical notes

Bishop? Jeffrey John

You will remember Jeffrey John was to be suffragan Bishop in the Diocese of Oxford in 2003 until a public campaign pressured Rowan Williams into pressuring John to stand down. (MCU's contributions to the issue are here.) Now it seems there is the possibility that he may be elected bishop in the Church in Wales: The Times, The Guardian, Pluralist, and I can't raise Thinking Anglicans but they'll have all the links.

Over the previous two centuries there have been campaigns against a number of episcopal appointments. What made this one different was that it was the first to succeed.

There was, for example, strong opposition to the appointment of Frederick Temple as Bishop of Exeter in 1869. Convocation had condemned Essays and Reviews in 1864, and Temple had been one of the essayists. In the face of demands that he renounce its supposed heresy - from other bishops as well as campaigners - he stuck to the grounds of law.
But all consideration only brings me back to this, that the one safe rule for me
to follow is the law of the Church of England. While I am neither refusing to
say nor do what the law does not require, I am on safe ground; and the
responsibility lies with the law and not with me. The moment I step beyond these
limits, I take the responsibility on myself, and I cannot shift it; and whatever
ill consequences follow, the blame is mine. (In Sandford's Memoirs of Archbishop Temple, vol I, p. 293)

In other words: he met all the conditions required and no-one else had authority to demand more of him.

In 1917 Hensley Henson was nominated to Hereford and his well known modernist views (he was never really a liberal) similarly provoked an outcry and a campaign to prevent his appointment. Again several bishops, led by Charles Gore, were also in the opposition. Amongst other reflections Henson saw that, if he withdrew following his nomination, it would hand his enemies the power to demand statements of belief - tests of faith - well beyond what was legally required. In his case the English Church Union would become arbiters not only of who was a fit person to serve as bishop but also of the doctrine of the Church of England.

Both Temple and Henson had the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

But in Jeffrey John's case the Archbishop of Canterbury vacillated. In twisting John's arm to withdraw he handed Anglican Mainstream (what happened to them?), and behind them the organized ranks of conservative opinion, the power to determine both who shall be bishop in the C of E and to stand in judgment on a man's life.

But, perhaps, not the power to decide for the Church in Wales. Whether John is appointed or not let it be because the proper constitutional processes have been followed, and not because sectional and sectarian groups in the church flex their muscles.


  1. It seems that Thinking Anglicans is in hospital at the moment.

    I've been asked to speculate further on the impact for liberals of Jeffrey John being appointed (if he was to be appointed). I will do so later.

  2. If a Particular Candidate is the best Candidate to be Bishop, then they should be Bishop, Regardless, of Sex, Age, Skin Colour or any other Nasty [ism] that is out there. It should be left in the Hands of God