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Aired June 24, 2003 - 17:00:00   ET


JONATHAN MANN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Canon fire. The world wide Anglican Church is in an uproar over the appointment of an openly homosexual bishop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We feel that this appointment will be catastrophic.

MANN: Is it too much of a challenge, even to a church that is open to change?


Hello and welcome.

The Anglican Church was clearly in for something when it learned that its new leader would be a very political cleric, a priest who rails against corporations and consumers and has even been arrested protesting on a U.S. air base.

But it's not Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, who's at the center of a dispute that threatens to split the church and its 70 million follows. Instead it's a quiet theologian who is almost unknown, a man so infrequently in the news that few televisions have ever taken his picture.

Canon Jeffrey John is the new bishop of Reading. Not the stuff of headlines, except that Canon John has spent more than half his life in a loving relationship with another man and has said publicly that he gave up sex with him only after the church said that gay priests had to.

The Anglican Church has addressed and debated the role of women in the church, homosexual faithful and homosexual priests. But now it could be split as never before.

On our program today, what's been ordained.

We begin with CNN's Marga Ortigas.


MARGA ORTIGAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the jail in Reading, England. In the 1890's, noted writer Oscar Wilde was imprisoned here for two years. Basically, for being gay.

The town has changed a lot since then, but it seems the same controversy is still in residence. A new Anglican bishop has just been appointed to Reading, and a number of the faithful are up in arms.

Jeffrey John, the new bishop, is gay.

PHILIP GIDDINGS, GREYFRIARS CHURCH: It is a serious mistake on the part of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) bishop, who is a very good friend. It's an appointment of someone who does not measure up to the criteria that is setout in the scriptures and in the Anglican (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and its understanding.

ORTIGAS: The official Anglican criteria tolerate homosexuality among churchgoers and even priests, but officially homosexual clerics must be celibate. The rules are different for heterosexuals, both laity and clerics, who can of course be married, in the church.

The archbishop who appointed Jeffrey John says his sexuality has nothing to do with his ability to be a good bishop.

Openly gay John's appointment is now being openly contested by at least 9 bishops and 100 other church leaders, bringing to public attention a long-dormant division in the Anglican Church.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is it right for them to ordain gay priests, but to say you can only operate at this level within the Church of England. You can't become a bishop? It seems to me the Church of England hasn't through what they want to do about this whole issue of discrimination against people on grounds of sexual orientation.

ORTIGAS: John says he's sorry that his appointment has created such controversy, but he will not step down.

During an interview with a London newspaper, he defended his relationship with his partner of 27 years and said, "The relationship has not been sexually expressed for years. The love and commitment are if anything greater."

The Anglican leader Reverend Dr. Rowan Williams has tried to subdue the fury over John's appointment.

ROWAN WILLIAMS, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY: What we say about sexuality and not just on the same-sex question is a necessary part of our faithfulness. But the concentration on this in recent weeks has had the effect of generating real incomprehension in much of our society in a way that does nothing for our credibility.

ORTIGAS: In terms of credibility, the Church of England has seen better days. There are more than 70 million Anglicans worldwide, but in the United Kingdom today, fewer than 3 percent way they are regular churchgoers. So the question is, how relevant is religion in shaping contemporary values.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most people don't care, frankly, about the issue, and I think the church is really digging itself into a huge hole.

ORTIGAS: The British government has taken significant steps in recognizing gay rights in immigration, civil union benefits and unemployment. The Anglican Church, however, was recently exempted from this, so rights that apply to British citizens do not necessarily apply to British clergy.

RICHARD KIRKER, LESBIAN GAY CHRISTIAN MOVEMENT: I think there's been a great deal of ignorance and a lot of scapegoating and a lot of fear about the existence of same-sex, loving relationships.

ORTIGAS: Reverend Richard Kirker leads a gay Christian movement working for reform in organized religion.

KIRKER: What we're seeking is a genuinely inclusive church, where nobody need have any fear about being honest to others about their own true sexual nature, and should not have any discipline or regulations imposed on them which are not imposed on heterosexuals.

ORTIGAS: (on camera): The archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England, has been criticized by more orthodox of his church as being too progressive. He is now being asked to step in and overturn Jeffrey John's appointment or risk splitting his church.

In Reading, I'm Marga Ortigas, for CNN.


MANN: Well, as we just heard, very few of the English actually attend services of the Anglican Church weekly. Mosques there tend to be more crowded. But the Anglican communion is a global association of 38 churches in more than 160 countries. The incoming bishop of Reading has quickly become a very important man worldwide.

A short time ago we got in touch with Stephen Bates, religious affairs correspondent of "The Guardian." He said Dr. John was put in an odd position for a priest, making his private life very public.


STEPHEN BATES, "THE GUARDIAN": He's given one interview in the last two or three weeks, where he was forthcoming about the nature of his relationship in a way that he hadn't been publicly before. So they forced out of him really the fact that he had been in this relationship for 27 years, that he'd been celibate for the last 10 years of that. But that his partnership was continuing, he was still very close to his long-term partner.

MANN: Where do things go from here? The appointment has been made public. It has, I gather, already received the approval of the prime minister and in a sense I suppose the queen has mandated it. Can it be rescinded at this point, or is this essentially final?

BATES: It's essentially final.

The queen, of course, is the supreme governor of the Church of England, and so once she's signed on the dotted line, as it were, that's it. The only way that it's not going to happen now is if Canon John actually falls on his sword and retires of his own volition, and that's what he's coming under heavy pressure from the evangelicals to do.

And equally, his supporters are pressing him very hard to stick this one out.

MANN: So how serious is this debate now, both for the Church of England and for the Anglican communion worldwide?

BATES: It's very serious, because the Church of England certainly hasn't had an openly gay bishop before. It's clearly had closet gay bishops, and may still have them. But Canon John is the first one who has made no secret of his sexuality, and that's caused a lot of anguish for the evangelicals in the Church of England. They don't like it at all, and some of them are saying that perhaps they might consider splitting off from the Church of England.

How they would do that, what exactly that would entail, is not at all clear.

Abroad, of course, you've had the first gay bishop elected in New Hampshire recently and a same-sex blessing in Vancouver, and the Anglican communion in the developing world, particularly in Africa, is very deeply unhappy about this.

They've got very conservative social mores over there, and a lot of bishops in places like Nigeria, where the church is very popular, very vibrant, where there's an extremist Muslim element in the country, the bishops there shoring up their constituency have said they are very unhappy. They regard homosexuality as an abomination and totally unbiblical, and they say they'll separate from the Anglican communion and certainly from the Church of England if this appointment is allowed to stand.

MANN: Is that threat being taken seriously? Could that really happen, do you think?

BATES: It could well happen. What the effect of it would be is much more problematic at this stage.

The fact that the archbishop of Nigeria and the 17-1/2 million Christians, Anglican Christians in Nigeria might separate themselves off from the church in the United States and in the Church of England is something which would be very unfortunately, that the Anglican communion makes huge efforts to keep together, keep the whole communion together, keep the show on the road, and if the largest and most vibrant parts of the church in Africa are saying they want nothing to do with the Western church, then that is a problem for archbishops and bishops across the communion.

MANN: It's a very serious time. You mention that Canon John has been quiet in the last few weeks. What about the archbishop of Canterbury? He seems to be very quiet as well, given how serious this has become.

BATES: Well, it has become serious. The archbishop of Canterbury is the leader of the Anglican communion worldwide by virtue of his post. Rowan Williams, newly appointed last year, just enthroned this February, has made no secret in the past that he thinks the church ought to be tolerant towards gay couples. And he is in a very difficult position, because he's also sworn to uphold the policy of the Anglican communion, which is, as I say, one where gays, if they're appointed to posts as clergy, then they must be celibate.

He's reluctantly, very reluctantly, yesterday issued a letter to all the bishops of the Church of England, saying he can't intervene, but praying for time, reconciliation, tolerance, consideration for other people's points of view and all the words that you might imagine, to try and keep things together and not falling apart too far.


MANN: Stephen Bates, of "The Guardian."

We have to take a break. When we come back, what the priests are saying.

Stay with us.


MANN: It's been nearly 60 years since the first woman was ordained as an Anglican priest. It set off decades of debate in the Anglican community worldwide. The mother church, the Church of England, agreed to it only about 10 years ago.

Welcome back.

Women are now routinely ordained in many Anglican churches and serve as bishops as well in some. Will the current controversy be addressed in the same way? Some people believe it's much more divisive.

Joining us now to talk about it are two guests, the Reverend Richard Kirker, general secretary of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. You saw him in our report earlier. And the Reverend Alistair Tresidder, chairman of the London area of the Reform group, an evangelical lobby.

We thank you both, gentlemen, for being with us.

Reverend Kirker, I wonder if we could start with you.

Our reported alluded to it, and we heard about it a moment ago, but let me just ask you, how many gay or lesbian priests have been ordained in the Anglican Church? How many gay and lesbian people serve the church in other ways?

KIRKER: It's probably about 30 percent of clergy, and it might be a lower -- it might be a higher percentage amongst the laity. It's very hard to give a definite figure.

And of course, some are sexually active in same-sex relationships. Others are not. Some are married to members of the opposite gender. They appear to be heterosexual to the outside world but are in fact gay. And some are called to be celibate and have made that choice freely. Others feel that they have no choice, that they must be celibate, and therefore they're celibate under duress, essentially.

MANN: And so, Reverend Tresidder, hearing all of that, why refuse a gay bishop?

ALISTAIR TRESIDDER, REFORM: I think I'd first of all disagree with Richard's statistics, certainly on the laity. 30 percent of the Anglican attendees in the Church of England certainly are not gay, whether secretly or otherwise.

Why shouldn't we have a gay bishop? Because of the church's traditional and biblical position on same-sex relations. The Bible is very clear, I think, that actually sex is for heterosexual marriage. It's been clear for 4,000 years.

MANN: I'm very frightened -- forgive me -- let me go back to Reverend Tresidder. I'm very frightened to start quoting scripture to a man of the cloth, but the Bible is also relatively approving of slavery and very, very hard on women, and the Anglican Church is neither of those things.

TRESIDDER: I think you're right. Yes, it is very easy to misquote the Bible, and many of us do it from time to time.

I don't think the Bible is anti-women at all. If you read Paul's letters, he is extremely pro-women and women's ministry, and I'm extremely pro-women and women's ministry.

I think where it is difficult perhaps is that he says -- there are some limits to how much ministry perhaps a woman should do, perhaps, in a mixed congregation. And that's perhaps where people find it's counter- cultural once again.

MANN: Once again, I do this with trepidation. I'm quoting Corinthians here. "Women should be silent in the churches for they are not permitted to speak but should be subordinate."

You could make arguments on this basis, I suppose, on either side. It comes back to, if there are things like this in the Bible, why not use 21st judgment rather than rely on scriptural instruction in that way.

TRESIDDER: Absolutely. Well, 21st judgment I don't think necessarily has the monopoly on truth.

I think if the Bible is God's word, as is the traditional position of the Church of England, then we've got to take it seriously, however hard we find it to understand, however hard we find it to put into practice.

I think where -- we cannot just simply turn the Church of England into a club which makes up its own rules and changes them whenever it wishes.

MANN: Reverend Kirker.

KIRKER: Well, the Church of England, the Anglican communion, is an autonomous federation of churches that do already travel at a different pace, and that's part of its attraction. To others, it's a source of deep frustration and annoyance, and one reason why they don't become members.

But the reality of the Anglican communion has been that we value diversity and we put a great deal of energy into trying to insure that we attract as many people as possible and that's right for any Christian church. And one of the tasks that the Anglican community faces is to attract self-affirming lesbian and gay people. They should not be excluded or feel rejected by the church in any way whatsoever.

And if we're going to attract self-affirming lesbian and gay people, those who are at peace with their sexuality, and either seek or are in a same-sex relationship, we must be able to affirm that relationship and offer them the respect which any human being, regardless of their sexual orientation, has a right to seek and receive from the Christian church.

TRESIDDER: You were saying to me earlier on, Richard, that you were trying to drive people like me and my beliefs out of the Church of England, but that seems to contradict what you've just been saying.

KIRKER: I'm saying that people -- the current debate is very healthy, because it is showing that there are differences of opinion. We're not a political party that is afraid to debate differences, and it's much healthier and honest to have these debates and to hear the voices of lesbian and gay Christians, which are so often suppressed or rejected entirely.

And the Christian community will be deeply enriched by sending out a clear and unambiguous signal that everybody, not only on the grounds of their gender and their color but also their sexual orientation, is welcome in our church. And our churches need every member that they can. And I find it very strange that one part of the church, yours, is doing its best to send a very negative signal to a segment of our society that quite rightly are not going to want to come and be part of a church which is saying that you must be celibate.

We don't have a gene implanted in us at birth that makes us capable of being celibate and celibacy should be a freely chosen option.

MANN: Let me turn to Reverend Tresidder there. Is the church trying to have it both ways, because, as we've just heard, it is welcoming to homosexuals at a certain level. It is welcoming to homosexual priests if they will be celibate. It is not welcoming to homosexual bishops.

Does it need a consistent policy one way or the other?

TRESIDDER: Absolutely, and I think this is where poor old Dr. Williams and Canon John are going to find themselves in enormous difficulties, because they privately believe one thing, but then will be promising publicly at their consecrations to defend and teach something which they don't believe privately. And I don't envy them that position.

And that sends out enormously confusing signals and messages to the clergy, both gay and straight, and to all the people in England and beyond. What do they believe?

KIRKER: Well, I agree with that, in fact, because it would be much healthier if the private view and the public view were consistent and identical. And I think that we do face a challenge, and bishops no less, to make sure that what is said in private is also said publicly, because the outset world, long ago, I think, realized that there were lots of gay people in the church at all levels, including as bishops, and that they were not all celibate, and it would be much healthier for all concerned if there was more honesty in this debate, and also a greater respect for the diversity of human nature and much less emphasis, in fact no requirement, that celibacy should be mandatory for any of its clergy.

Celibate lives are the choice of a very small minority, and great danger can flow from imposing celibacy on people who are desperately of what most heterosexuals seek and are fortunate enough to attain, namely a partner of the opposite gender.

We are simply saying that our requirements at a sexual and emotional and a spiritual level, are most likely to be met with a person of the same gender. And to acknowledge that in Christian terms by respecting that God and acknowledging that God has made all of us equal, is a Christian principle which doesn't seem to be stretching any basic biblical or Christian tradition or teaching too far.


MANN: Gentlemen, I want to jump in here. You're both being very articulate -- I'm going to jump in -- forgive me for doing that -- because I'd like to ask you about your thoughts about the threat of real division inside the church.

The archbishop of Nigeria, who leads, I believe, the largest Anglican Church in the world, has been very clear about this.

What he has said is, "We claim we are Bible-loving Christians. We cannot be seen doing things clearly outside the boundaries allowable in the Bible. We will sever relationships with anybody, anywhere, anyone who strays over the boundaries."

Is it possible that the Anglican Church, the Anglican communion worldwide, will really be split by the bishop of Reading and what he represents? Do either of you think that will happen?

TRESIDDER: Yes, absolutely. I think that the archbishop of Nigeria has said a line in the sand is about to be crossed. And as he said in that quote you had, he feels that the Bible has been sidelined, and he will sever relations with the Church of England.

And we've got to remember, as you've just said, that the action in the Christian world is in the southern hemisphere. In the northern hemisphere, the Episcopalian Church and the Church of England in England, it is a dying church.


KIRKER: I don't wish to see any part of the Anglican communion sever links with any other part, and I don't think that the Nigerian (UNINTELLIGIBLE) view of the Bible is shared by a large number of other Anglicans, and I would ask him to be as respectful of the traditions of the churches in other parts of the world as he hopes that we will be of his.

We don't make demands on him about what happens in the church in Nigeria, and I think it's inappropriate for him to make demands of the church in Canada, America, South Africa for that case, or in England, which we simply would not find acceptable.

MANN: On that note, we than you, Reverend Richard Kirker, of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, and Reverend Alistair Tresidder of Reform.

Gentlemen, thank you.

That's INSIGHT for this day. I'm Jonathan Mann. The news continues.



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