Jeffrey Philip Hywel John, Society of Catholic Priests (SCP), (born 10 February 1953) is a Church of England cleric and the current Dean of St Albans Cathedral. He made headlines in 2003 when he was the first person to have openly been in a gay relationship to be nominated as a Church of England bishop. Owing to the consequent controversy he was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to stand down before he took up the bishopric.
Dr John was born in Tonyrefail in South Wales in 1953. He studied at Hertford College, Oxford, where he gained a first in classics and modern languages in 1975. He subsequently studied theology at St Stephen's House, Oxford. After a curacy in Penarth, Llandaff, he returned to Oxford in 1980 to read for a doctorate in Pauline theology. He became chaplain at Brasenose College. In 1984 he was appointed Dean of Divinity at Magdalen College, Oxford. He was later the Vicar of Holy Trinity, Eltham, (in the Diocese of Southwark) in south London from 1991 In 1997 he became canon chancellor and theologian of Southwark Cathedral.
Dr John is a founder member and a trustee of Affirming Catholicism, a group formed in 1990 promoting Catholicism within the Anglican tradition and also supported the campaign for the ordination of women.
On 20 May 2003 his appointment as the new Bishop of Reading, a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Oxford, was announced. His nomination led to controversy both in the Church of England and in the wider Anglican Communion, despite his having stated that he was celibate. He has for many years been a campaigner for gay rights and he received criticism on his nomination both for his stance on gay issues and because he had not publicly 'repented' his past sexual activities in such a way as to indicate that they were wrong. A number of Anglican leaders in various countries stated their intention to split from the communion if the consecration went ahead. Concerns over the potential for division led the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Rowan Williams, to request Dr John to step down. On 6 July 2003, he withdrew from his appointment to the bishopric. In spite of the withdrawal of Dr John the differences in views of homosexuality within the Anglican church continued to cause controversy in 2003 following the appointment of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in the Episcopal Church USA.
Although many conservatives were outraged at the thought of any preferment for Dr John, and although many liberal advocates were equally outraged at the way he had been treated, less interested observers viewed the eventual solution as a masterstroke: by appointing him to the deanery of a famous cathedral, the Prime Minister (who, in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury had the final say in the recommendation to the Crown) was able to give him a position of equal or even greater prominence and prestige, but without the hierarchical authority over others which gave conservatives within the Diocese of Oxford grounds for complaint.
Following a talk broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in Holy Week 2007, he was criticized by some Evangelical bishops, the Bishop of Durham, the Bishop of Willesden and the Bishop of Lewes, for denying the doctrine of penal atonement. Referring to this particular explanation of the Christ's crucifixion, Dr John said, "It was worse than illogical, it was insane. It made God sound like a psychopath." In explaining his own view, he said, "On the cross Jesus dies for our sins; the price of our sin is paid; but it is not paid to God but by God". He cited Julian of Norwich, a widely admired fourteenth-century English mystic who asserted that "there is no wrath in God".
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