The Observer (U.K.), 13 July 03

Top clerics attack evangelicals as gay bishop row reignites

Jamie Doward, social affairs editor

Sunday July 13, 2003

The row in the Church of England over gay bishops threatened to turn into open warfare last night.

The escalation came after senior members of the clergy warned that the evangelical group behind the row over the Canon Jeffrey John affair posed a 'direct challenge' to the authority of the Church.

This charge is the most serious yet from those opposed to the evangelicals and underlines how fiercely divided the Church is becoming over the highly emotive issue.

Anglican Mainstream, a well organised evangelical network with connections to powerful dioceses in the United States and elsewhere, has been accused by liberals within the communion of forcing out the openly gay Canon John Jeffrey as Bishop of Reading.

The highly influential group, which considers homosexuality to be sinful, has discussed plans to provide parishes that are against gay bishops with alternative episcopal oversight.

The Reverend Richard Thomas, director of communications in the Oxford diocese whose bishop, Richard Harries, appointed Canon John to the Reading bishopric, said: 'Many people in the Church will need to be reassured that this does not constitute a direct challenge to the Anglican Communion.'

Another senior liberal said: 'Anglican Mainstream are fantastically well organised. We are not. We need to band together if we are to beat them.

'I think you'll see a mobilisation of forces now. They may have won the battle. They will not win the war.' This incendiary language will dismay Archbishop Rowan Williams as he prepares to address the Church's general synod tomorrow morning.

In an unexpected move, a spokesman for the Archbishop confirmed that the speech would now address the Church's relationship with homosexuality. Most had predicted Williams, who had called for a period of reflection on the matter, would avoid discussing the issue in his presidential address.

'He's still writing the speech so we cannot say what exactly is in it. But it is to be expected that he will talk about this issue,' a spokesman for Lambeth Palace said.

Williams's decision to tackle the issue follows an attempt yesterday by the gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell to hijack the synod.

Tatchell walked on to the stage at York University with six young supporters, and told members of the Church's parliament to remember, as 'Bible-believing Christians, Leviticus, chapter 20, verse 13. It says that homosexuals shall be put to death. If you believe your Bible, then put us to death.'

The Archbishop's speech will be closely watched by both liberal and conservative elements at the synod. When he was appointed, liberals claimed Williams as one of their own.

However, recent events have caused some progressives to accuse the Archbishop of being a closet evangelist.

A spokesman for Outrage threatened that the group would protest again today. 'The authorities will be wary after what happened today,'he said. 'But we will have to see. It will have to opportunistic.'