Dr Jeffrey John, the recently-appointed Dean of St Albans, responds in a sermon yesterday to criticism from evangelicals who oppose his appointment (and his earlier nomination as Bishop of Reading):
| "The ability of the church to ignore the deeper implications of its own scriptures is horribly plain throughout history. Remember it took 18 centuries for Christians to realise that slavery is against the Gospel. Remember that those who supported slavery claimed to do so on biblical grounds ... Remember too that Jesus was condemned to death for his own inclusive attitudes by fundamentalist zealots who believed that they were obeying scripture.
"In all these cases those who opposed change could quote the Bible in their defence. With hindsight the church sees that they were wrong; they were killing the spirit with the letter ... In the same way the church will one day look back on the issues that divide us today and find it incredible that it once thought it right and 'scriptural' to treat women and other minorities as it does now.
"The struggle to make the church inclusive is not based on some secular, woolly 'liberal agenda' (the charge endlessly parroted against us) but on a scriptural imperative to do what Jesus did. It is the same struggle to oppose prejudice, bigotry and oppression and open the kingdom to everyone, especially the most marginalised.
"Inclusivity is not a soft option. It is harder to live in a truly diverse and welcoming community than it is to live in a community of the respectably like-minded, just as it is harder to be an intelligent student of scripture than it is to be a fundamentalist ... All of us must be challenged and changed in every department of our life, by the Gospel and by one another, whether we are male or female, black or white, gay or straight, rich or poor."
His use of scripture, quite correctly and accurately of course, is not likely to endear him to those who oppose him - because his criticism so telling. This debate is far from over.