His selection as Bishop of Durham was controversial due to allegations that he held heterodox beliefs. His statement that the Resurrection was "not just a conjuring trick with bones" was criticized in particular, though some have argued that he was misquoted.
Three days after his consecration as bishop on 6 July 1984, York Minster was struck by lightning, resulting in a disastrous fire, which some interpreted as a sign of divine displeasure at Jenkins's appointment.
As Bishop, Jenkins was known for his willingness to speak his mind. After leaving office in 1994, he continued to voice his opinions, such as in a BBC interview in 2003. In 2005, he became one of the first clergymen in the Church of England to bless a civil partnership between two homosexual men, one of whom was a vicar.
In 2006, Jenkins was banned from preaching in some of his local churches after swearing in a sermon.