by MONITOR

TO an outsider, Dr Jeffrey John's enforced decision not to take up his appointment as Bishop of Reading, because of opposition to his acknowledged homosexuality within the diocese and more widely, seems extraordinary. His decision came after a six hour meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams - and it is the fact that this newly-appointed Archbishop should have been the one to persuade Dr John to stand down which is at first sight most shocking. Dr Williams, we were told, was a tolerant and humane man, a reformer who would rid the Church of England of what the Archbishop of York yesterday called its “ignorance, bigotry and homophobia”. Yet, after only a few months in the job Dr Williams appeared to be taking as strictly conservative a line as any of his predecessors in the past fifty years would have done. However, a single sentence from a close observer of the Church of England put the matter in perspective: “Dr Williams is deperate not to go down in history as the man who presided over the biggest schism since the Reformation.” The stakes, apparently, were that high with rooted opposition to Dr John's appointment in England and Wales and even stronger resistance to it in the wider world Anglican community, especially among its numerous members in West Africa and the Caribbean. While acting in what he saw as the interests of the Church as a whole, Dr Williams will not give up his vision of what kind of a Church it should be a communion rather different from the literal-minded evangelical Christians who have won this particular fight.