Monday 10 August 2009

The dangerous Bishop of Durham – part 1

The Bishop of Durham’s paper claiming to ‘unpack’ the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Reflections is dangerous for the Church of England, for LGBT people and for the worldwide Anglican Communion. People in the Changing Attitude network, gay and straight, are furious at his abuse and dishonesty. The paper reveals a bishop with a megalomaniacal drive to impose his own solution unilaterally on the Communion.

Durham would like The Episcopal Church and partnered LGBT people evicted from the Communion right now. His stand is unprincipled. The bishop has partnered lesbian and gay clergy in his own diocese and knows full well that there are many partnered clergy in the Church of England. Instead of addressing what he says is the impossibility of the church recognising same-sex blessings, he diverts attention away from home and focuses his attack on The Episcopal Church.

Interfering with The Episcopal Church
The Bishop of Durham sets out to exacerbate divisions within The Episcopal Church. Whereas the Archbishop of Canterbury writes of ‘the broken bridges into the life of other Anglican Provinces’, Durham claims that the Archbishop ‘rightly’ indicates that ‘the Communion is already broken’. TEC is not choosing to walk apart now but did so some time ago, he declares. ‘Schism has already happened’ (Para. 13 iii). The Bishop of Durham has joined those conservative pressure groups that have been campaigning for some years to evict The Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion. They misuse language and construct their own reality in pursuing their goal.

Durham slides statements which have no basis in reality into his argument against The Episcopal Church by stealth. In paragraph 4 he writes of ‘the theology which underlies the Communion’s constant and off-repeated stance on sexual behaviour’. The Communion as a whole does not have a systematic theology of sexual behaviour as far as I am aware. Neither does the Communion have a united, constant and oft-repeated stance. The Episcopal Church is not the only Province which dissents in whole or in part from Lambeth 1.10.

The bishop claims that prior to 1998 the church universally held a traditional stance on same-sex blessings and the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals. The bishop was ordained into a church which ordained closeted, partnered gay men. Resolutions at Lambeth 1978 and 1988 asking for the church to undertake a study of homosexuality did so because the church accepted that questions were being raised to which it did not have answers.

The official position of the whole of the Anglican Communion has not been repeated again and again by Lambeth Conferences, ACC and Primates as Durham claims. The resolutions of Lambeth 1978 and 1988 demonstrate that this is totally untrue. I doubt that any Lambeth Conference, ACC or Primates meeting prior to 1998 took a position on homosexuality. Such blatant distortion of the truth from a bishop who claims to be the interpreter of truth for the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion renders him deeply dangerous to the Communion and to LGBT Anglicans.

Clarifying the Archbishop’s language and intention
For Durham, the Archbishop of Canterbury has been too ‘imprecise’ (para. 2) so at various points in the letter, the bishop clarifies what the Archbishop ‘really’ meant. The Archbishop’s language is complex and needs to be penetrated. The Bishop of Durham knows that General Convention really voted against two of the moratoria ‘in effect if not in so many words’. He knows what the Resolutions of General Convention really mean and he knows what the Archbishop of Canterbury really means.

The Bishop of Durham wants to short-circuit the Archbishop’s timetable. He wants a decision about who is in and out of the Communion to be made NOW, not postponed until the end of 2009 when Section 4 of the Covenant is finalised (para 19). ‘We do not need to wait until Section 4 is redrafted’ (Para 21(iii)). Interim structures are needed ‘now, not in six months, let alone six years’ (para. 21(iv)). The Archbishop of Canterbury should move unilaterally and ‘swiftly to implement what he himself has said’, ‘counting on support from bishops around his own Province’ (para 20).

Durham proposes using the Anaheim Statement as a rallying point for TEC dissidents. Signing Anaheim and Sections 1-3 of the Covenant could function as a ‘prerequisite for participation’ in representative Anglican functions and bodies. He wants to do away in one move, now, with the ACC, Primates Meeting and Lambeth Conference as at present constituted, ending TEC participation in the Instruments of Communion and all other bodies constituted under their auspices.

The Bishop knows that the English bishops do not fully support the policies that Durham, York, Canterbury, London and Winchester want to impose. They were defeated in the vote taken at the July 2008 York Synod on women bishops. Durham knows bishops can’t be counted on to support speedy action designed to punish The Episcopal Church, action which will also have a negative impact on LGBT clergy in England. He enlists as allies in this unsubtle move, ‘the whole Christian tradition’, ‘the real heart of all authority within the body of Christ’, and ‘the genuine apostolic authority of the word of God and prayer’, as Canterbury ‘has himself insisted’. This is a transparent attempt to enlist the heavy guns and bind the Archbishop of Canterbury to Durham’s own agenda.

He claims: ‘These are only suggestions, designed to help those on the ground’. They are nothing of the sort, but rather very concrete and dogmatic proposals designed to pressurise the Archbishop of Canterbury into taking action of which Durham approves and which short-circuits the Archbishop’s own careful (but ultimately misguided) strategy.

(Part 2 tomorrow)


  1. Bravo Colin! This bishop is behaving in the least Christ-like manner imaginable and we've needed someone to take him to task for years! N.L.

  2. If you read +Tom with the same care and precision he has given to the ABC you will realise that the author of this article has failed to grant +Tom the same consideration.

  3. I'm afraid +Tom doesn't do anything with care and precision... His latest rhetoric is simply his latest means of getting his name in print. When is the CofE going to have some bishops we can respect?!

  4. +Tom does not diver attention away from home and focus his attack on the Episcopal church. He simply addresses his subject which is the ABC's statement.

    To say that +Tom wants to evict anyone is just silly.

  5. Kurt from Brooklyn, NY11 August 2009 at 14:47

    I'm afraid that some English evos have little appreciation for American perceptions of Bishop Wright. He is increasingly viewed as hostile to The Episcopal Church, and as someone who wants to push TEC out of the Anglican Communion. Every time he opens his mouth, or writes on the printed page, he reinforces this view.

  6. Colin, you have no idea how tiresome a good many of us in the US find Bishop Tom's bashing of gays and lesbians and the Episcopal Church. Thanks for your essay.

  7. drdanfee
    A story about Ernest Hemingway, paraphrased. Once upon a time a young media reporter was interviewing famed novelist Ernest Hemingway. The reporter had aspirations of his own to be a writer, so he asked Hemingway, What is the one indispensable thing you need, if you are going to be a great novelist? Hemingway, paused, mumbled a bit that there was hardly any single thing. Then got that aha look on his face. Well, Hemingway told the young man, I guess there is one thing after all. If you are going to be great, you need a really good crap detector. Let we who have ears, hear what Hemingway was saying to believers in our modern era. Thanks lots, keep up the hard work.

  8. bishop with a megalomaniacal drive to impose his own solution unilaterally on the Communion.

    So now we have Thomas Dunelm contra mundum. A worthy successor to Athanasius perhaps but unfortunately a work of fiction. In the numbers game GAFCON wins

  9. Whether or not the Bishop of Durham is right, accusing him of abuse, dishonesty, and megalomania is hardly the kind of language likely to help the Communion in its present fractious state.

  10. From a TEC member, it has come to the point that many in the TEC don't even regard the ABC as part of our church. As for the Bishop of Durham, he is responsible for his actions and should held accountable. Someone who doesn't respect others likely doesn't respect themselves. The Anglican Communion doesn't have a Pope because?