An openly gay clergyman whose appointment as a bishop divided the Anglican Church has decided not to take up his post, the Church of England said Sunday. The church's spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, said the decision by the Reverend Jeffrey John should give Anglicans "pause for thought." "This has been a time of open and painful confrontation, in which some of our bonds of mutual trust have been severely strained," Williams said. "We need now to give ourselves the proper opportunities honestly to think through what has happened and to find what God has been teaching us in these difficult days." John declined the post of bishop of Reading in a letter to Bishop of Oxford Richard Harries, who appointed him. John wrote that he made the decision because of "the damage my consecration might cause to the unity of the Church, including the Anglican Communion." A spokesman for Harries, who released a copy of the letter, said John planned to seek permission from Queen Elizabeth II to withdraw his acceptance of the appointment.
Several Anglican bishops from around the world wrote to oppose John's selection by Harries in May, saying the appointment violated church teaching that gay sex is "incompatible with Scripture." John had been due to be ordained in Westminster Abbey on October 9. Harries wrote in reply that he accepted John's decision, "made in the interest of wider Church unity." He added, "However, I would like you to know that not only did you have my unswerving support but also that of a great many others in the diocese." John has said he is in a long-term relationship with another man but that he has been celibate since the 1990s and would uphold church policy on sexuality.
The issue of homosexuality has recently flared up elsewhere in the worldwide Anglican Communion--in the United States with the election last month of a gay priest, the Reverend Canon Gene Robinson, as bishop in New Hampshire; and in Canada with the decision in May by the western Canadian diocese of New Westminster to sanction the blessing of gay relationships. Speaking to reporters outside his Lambeth Palace office, Williams said John's withdrawal "should not be taken to mean that the church can now stop being concerned about how it discerns the will of God in this area of ethics." He said some of the opposition to John's appointment had been "very unsavory indeed." "Our official policies and resolutions as Anglicans commit us to listening to the experience of homosexuals and recognizing that they are full and welcome members of the church loved by God," he said.