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Last Updated: Friday, 20 June, 2003, 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK
Gay bishop answers critics
Canon Jeffrey John
Jeffrey John says his 27-year relationship is now sexless
The gay bishop at the centre of a Church of England storm surrounding his appointment has described his relationship as a "gift from God".

Canon Jeffrey John, appointed to be Bishop of Reading, posted a lengthy statement on the Diocese of Oxford website, just before his opponents met to try and reverse his appointment.

Conservative and evangelical Anglicans are meeting the Bishop of Oxford on Friday in a final attempt to persuade him to change his mind.

The group will tell Richard Harries that Canon Jeffrey John is unfit to take up the post of Bishop of Reading because he has had an active homosexual relationship.

Although Dr John says the 27-year relationship is now celibate, those opposed to his appointment are angry that he has failed to express regret.

In his statement he described his "life partnership" with another man as a "gift and vocation from God".

We're talking about people who are seeking to listen to the Word of God rather than the voice of culture
Reverend David Banting

He said he respected those who opposed him, but wanted to alleviate their concerns.

"My own view is that there is a sound argument from scripture and tradition in favour of Christians accepting same-sex relationships, provided they are based on a personal covenant of lifelong faithfulness" he said.

"I would not term such a relationship a 'marriage', but I believe it could be understood as a legitimate covenanted relationship."

Dr John also tried to explain how his personal view would reconcile with his role in upholding Church teaching, and denied it was a dishonourable position.

Scripture scrutiny

Earlier on Friday, Bishop Harries raised the issue in Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He said: "Does Jesus rejoice in such transforming friendships, such love or not?

"Some honestly believe the scriptures are so clear, we cannot answer 'yes'.

"Others believe that the lived experience of good people helps to open our eyes to the true meaning of scripture.

The Bishop of Oxford
The Bishop of Oxford is responsible for Dr John's appointment
"But many believe we are also committing to reading scripture in the light of those many in society who consider themselves wonderfully blessed, blessed by God, through such committed, faithful love."

The group of church representatives meeting Bishop Harries have threatened to withhold funding from the diocese and seek pastoral care from other bishops.

Novelist and columnist Anne Atkins told Today: "If anyone could show me how to interpret the New Testament with intellectual integrity to say that homosexual relations are acceptable to God, I would be delighted."

The meeting was due to take place as 15 other bishops prepared to sign a letter rebutting criticisms of Dr John by nine senior clergy earlier this week.

Derek Rawcliffe, who became the first Anglican bishop to admit being gay eight years ago, said the same fuss was made over the ordination of women priests 10 years ago.

On Thursday, Archbishop Peter Akinola, leader of the 17.5 million strong Anglican church in Nigeria, threatened to split from the Church over the appointment.

The BBC's Sophie Hutchinson
"His appointment has caused outrage amongst conservative and evangelical elements in the church"

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