An open letter to the Bishops of the Church in Wales
The Chair of the Board of OneBodyOneFaith, Jeremy Pemberton, and Chief Executive Tracey Byrne have written an open letter to the bishops of Swansea and Brecon, Bangor, St Asaph, Monnmouth and St David's regarding the process of appointing a new bishop to the diocese of Llandaff. The text of the letter is as follows:
OneBodyOneFaith this morning published our concerns about the way the process to appoint a bishop for the See of Llandaff has been handled. The confidentiality of your processes has been blown open in a way that is very uncomfortable for you.
Jeffrey John has accused you collectively of not following due process in the way you have treated his candidature; of using his supposed notoriety, his sexuality and his relationship as an excuse for not appointing him. It is more difficult to fathom why you have acted in this way when three factors are taken into account: first, that he fulfilled the requirements of the Church in Wales in relation to the status and nature of his relationship. Secondly, that in the only other case of an appointment after a deadlocked Electoral College, the candidate appointed was arguably just as controversial as Jeffrey John. Lastly, the reported unanimity of the Llandaff electors is a strong indication of what they wish to happen.
We are very concerned that in your management of this situation you are repeating the mistakes that the Church of England has made over GS2055 and the See of Sheffield (for very different reasons). Those examples demonstrate starkly that the churches need bishops in whose leadership people can feel confident – regardless of the process for their appointment. As a candidate, Jeffrey John displays the integrity required in offering such leadership and had strong local support; it is a tragedy your people have been denied that opportunity. With the choices you have made, you risk weakening the authority of your personal and your collective episcopal office if people do not believe that there has been fair treatment or integrity in this process
The dissonance between the views of individual bishops and their actions collectively is at best puzzling and at worst unhealthy for them, and for the church. That this should be manifest in such a small group of bishops as the Welsh bench is undermining not only of your authority, but also of your work in your dioceses. False collegiality militates against accountability and transparency. For example, the Bishop of St Asaph has recently established and endorsed an excellent initiative to support LGBT people though a dedicated chaplaincy. This now appears patronising, if he continues to be unwilling to challenge the collective structural homophobia of the bench of which he is a part. Again, the Statement from the bishops last April, which struck a notably positive note for LGBT people and assured them of work to make the Church in Wales a safe place, and which offered prayers for same-sex couples, is seriously compromised by your actions over the last few weeks.
Finally, we are very struck by the comment made by one of your number in a phone call to Jeffrey John on March 3rd that you are collectively “just too exhausted” to deal with the problems you believe his appointment would cause. If the bishops are ‘exhausted’ by this process, consider how much more so those many LGBT people who have been working for inclusion for decades. It seems quite remarkable that a bench of five people, none of whom has been in office more than nine years, would find this task beyond them. It is entirely unacceptable to problematise a gay man in the way you have. Indeed, it is an insult to him and to every other LGBT+ person in your church. We are not problems, we are part of the body of Christ and deserve to treated with dignity, and to be seen as a gift. The capacity of churches to throw talent away because it doesn’t come packaged in easily manageable forms is not a reason to discard both the gift and the bearer of the gift, nor does it make that an acceptable policy option. This issue is not one of energy or enthusiasm, but one of integrity, commitment and obedience to the Spirit.
For the health of your church and the recovery of confidence in leadership that is needed, and for the sake of the mission of God in Wales, we urge you to think again, halt the appointment process, review all that has happened, reconsider the candidates from the electoral process heeding the voices of the people of Llandaff, the standing of the bench of Bishops with the people of the Church in Wales, and how the church you lead is presently perceived by the wider public.
Yours in faith and hope,
Tracey Byrne, CEO
Jeremy Pemberton, Chair for the Board of Trustees
21 March 2017