10 November 1997
Dear Mr Holloway
The election of the Suffragan Bishop of Kingston to be the Diocesan Bishop of Newcastle
I have now had some time further to consider your letter and enclosures and to consult with the Bishop elect of Newcastle, Bishop Martin Wharton.
First, I am both surprised and disappointed that in view of the concern you express, you had not already been in touch directly with Bishop Wharton. You might have explored personally and more fully with him the objections which you set out in your letter.
I have myself now spoken with Bishop Wharton about the particular sentence which you quote from the report of the Evening Chronicle, and have been assured that he stands firmly with the House of Bishops' Issues in Human Sexuality and fully accepts its position.
I am not persuaded that Bishop Wharton has either said or done anything which is contrary to the doctrine, discipline or worship of the Church of England in a way which merits my intervention as Archbishop or necessitates my taking action under Canon Cl 7.2 in the way you suggest.
You will, I am sure, be aware of the motion carried in all three Houses at the July meeting of the General Synod which commended the House of Bishops' Report Issues in Human Sexuality for discussion in dioceses, and in particular urged deanery Synods, clergy chapters and congregations to find time for prayerful study and reflection on the issues addressed by the report.
It is my hope that you would seek an early opportunity to meet with your new bishop in order that you may clarify your respective views on this issue together.
With all good wishes in Christ.
+ David Ebor:
Secondly: the following is the open letter the vicar of Jesmond, the Rev David Holloway, wrote in reply to this open letter from the Archbishop of York.
From: the Rev David Holloway, Vicar of Jesmond
To: The Most Rev and Rt Hon D.M.Hope
17 November 1997
I have now had time to reflect on your letter and assess reactions.
I know I speak for very many, and not only in Jesmond, when I say we too are "both surprised and disappointed" (to use your words). We are surprised that a very serious issue for the whole of Christendom is being turned into a local quasi-pastoral problem. This, sadly, personalizes the issue in a way we do not wish. And we are disappointed at what we judge to be an approach that seems to avoid the substantial issue and seeks to see a fundamental conflict as simply a matter of poor communication to be solved by dialogue. Surely what is required is moral decision and biblical obedience.
The church, our nation, and, because of the world-wide Anglican communion, other nations are looking to people like yourself to give a clear lead in restoring elementary biblical norms. Already the Jesmond Statement has gone round the world via the internet. We have had a large response in terms of interest and support.
People with sympathies such as we have at Jesmond Parish Church are, of course, tolerant in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion of diverse factors with which they have profound disagreements. They tolerate this diversity because they do not believe, before God, that action is always required. But that does not mean that any and every diversity can be tolerated for ever or that action is never required.
There are, indeed, moments in the history of the Church when issues surface that cannot be tolerated: they threaten the very soul of the Church. They are "beyond toleration". Such was the case with the Arian crisis in the early centuries of the Church; such was the case at the time of the Reformation in the 16th century; such was the case with the deist crisis in the 18th century; and such now, at the end of the 20th century, is the case with the extreme liberalisms that erode fundamental Christology and deny fundamental sexual ethics. There are defining moments and defining issues. We now have such a defining moment and a defining issue. It is presenting itself in the form of homosexual practice - an apparently small problem. But in the same way as the denial of "the empty tomb" of Jesus can seem at first small in Christology but then is seen to be of much wider significance, so does the acceptance of homosexual practice seem at first a small problem for sexual ethics but in reality it is also of much wider significance. And its significance is for the world as well as the church.
The Bishop of Kingston now has to be the focus. By not admitting that his is a representative position that can be addressed more theoretically, you are forcing us to personalize. We are very sorry. We understand that any individual involved in a dispute must feel hurt. But this is not of our choosing. And I need to add that that is a two way process and the distress felt at Jesmond Parish Church, and by millions like us around the world, seldom seems to be considered.
Of course, I am willing to accept that the Bishop of Kingston may never have meant to say at his press conference in front of journalists what he actually did say, namely that "homosexuality within a loving permanent relationship is no sin." However, the question is not, what did he mean to say, but what did he actually say, and what does he actually believe? Did it reflect, in an unguarded moment, his real thinking?
What are we to make of a parish in Bishop Wharton's own diocese of Southwark (and known to members of Jesmond Parish Church) which in your words has "explored personally and more fully" the issues and then reports to us as follows:
"after a reasoned and gracious discussion the bishop, if put to it, couldn't find it in his heart to say that a loving, stable same sex relationship was sinful."
And what are we to make here on Tyneside of the following words of the Rev Richard Kirker, the secretary of the Lesbian and Gay Christian movement, (whose 20th anniversary celebrations were held in Southwark Cathedral last October, with Bishop Wharton in attendance) - words reported in The Journal newspaper (4 November 1997):
"Bishop Wharton publicly upholds the official church position condemning homosexuality, but it is well-know that he doesn't uphold it privately."
There is an on going pattern. Last year I took part in an Everyman BBC TV programme following this Southwark Cathedral celebration. One of the other participants in the programme was a clergyman who publicly admitted, in front of the cameras, to being an active homosexual. And he said this: "all my bishops including the present bishops - both diocesan and area bishop - have been totally supportive." He then went on to say, "it leaves open the curious question of what they are doing in relation to Issues in Human Sexuality and the line that the bishops are supposed to be taking, because they are breaking this line." His area bishop was (and is) Bishop Wharton.*
We also noticed in the Church of England Newspaper (3 October 1997):
"Rev Dr Jeffrey John ... has recently been made Canon Theologian of Southwark Cathedral and is one of the few openly gay priests in the Church of England."
And Dr John's advocacy of "Christian Same-Sex Partnerships" forms one of the chapters in a new book, The Way Forward (Hodder, London, 1997). But there was no protest reported from Bishop Wharton at this appointment.
It should therefore be obvious to you that in this context for me to have sought to "clarify" the new bishop's views, or in the future to seek to do so, would be quite improper. It is not my duty to hold a virtual consistory court! Under Canon C 17.2 it, surely, is your duty to "make good the defects of other bishops"
To approach Bishop Wharton I personally would have had to do considerable research in the Southwark diocese before discussion. At least I would have had to find out who is correct - the clergyman recorded on Everyman, or Bishop Wharton. You must admit, there is a prima facie problem. The bishop-elect was reported in the Evening Chronicle as saying after his remark that "homosexuality within a loving, permanent relationship is no sin" the following: "but I think it would be inappropriate within the priesthood."
Perhaps you will now appreciate why, in the debate over homosexual issues, I can no longer automatically trust what bishops say. Many of them have indeed "weasel words", or, in the words of my good friend, the late Garry Bennett in respect of a member of the current House of Bishops' committee on Homosexuality, "honied vacuity". Worse there are lies. On BBC national TV, the morning of the General Synod debate on homosexuality last July (1997), a pro-homosexual bishop with whom I was being interviewed appeared to be lying - outright. I was arguing against lowering the age of consent to 16 with its slippery slope. I said the bishop was already advocating 14. He denied it. "I want," he insisted, "to correct something David Holloway has said. I have not said that I want to lower the age of consent to 14. I want that to be made quite clear."
However, I have a copy of his letter in the Gay Times from the previous summer, where a year before he had written this:
"ideally starting with the age of puberty we don't need an age of consent for gay sex though I think 14 would be reasonable."
The point surely is clear. I could give example after example to show that unless I had researched and acquired a full picture of his Southwark episcopal area, I would never be confident that I had got to the truth with Bishop Wharton. This is a sad observation; but I must be frank.
Were I to approach him after making enquiries in this way, you and others would be the first to accuse me of conducting a witch-hunt. Also you would accuse me of impertinence and arrogance. I think there would be good reason. It is not for me to summon evidence and interrogate a bishop-elect and then take judicial action. This is exactly how it would have been interpreted if, after discussion, we, at Jesmond Parish Church, had taken the action we are taking.
An immediate solution, of course, is possible. The Bishop simply has to sign up to the Reform propositions and the Kuala Lumpur Statement as an expression of orthodox Christian sexual ethics. The reason, of course, why he needs to sign up to those propositions is so that I can report it on Tyneside (through the media). This now is the only way that the public damage Bishop Wharton has caused can be redressed.
But Bishop Wharton knows all this. That is why there was and is no need for discussion. He was written to, and given a copy of the Jesmond Statement, before it was published. He read in the Jesmond Statement that:
"We, of course, would welcome any bishop who having publicly expressed heterodox views on sexuality (such as the bishop-elect of Newcastle and the bishop of Jarrow) then publicly admitted the error and also affirmed the Reform subscriptions. Such action would indicate orthodoxy and a sympathy for the Kuala Lumpur Statement and thus a return to the biblical and legal position of the Church of England. We cannot ignore the legal position of the Church of England."
Had there been some huge misunderstanding, the bishop could immediately have contacted us and said that we had got it all wrong; that he did not mean what he said at the press conference; that he did not mean what he said to the PCC in Southwark; that Richard Kirker's comment was wrong; that his going to the Southwark celebration meant nothing; that the clergyman on Everyman was wrong about his bishops; and the fact that this clergyman is still working in his episcopal area was an aberration. He could then have agreed to the Reform propositions and for that agreement to be publicised in the North East through The Journal and Evening Chronicle newspapers together with the local TV.
Had the bishop done that, the Jesmond Statement would not have been published - or in a very different form. The bishop-elect, however, decided not to do that. Nor were we expecting him to do so.
Instead, he issued a statement saying that he took the ambiguous report Issues in Human Sexuality "as guidance and ... its position as the best pastoral approach while the debate continues."
We accept that that is the position of Bishop Wharton. This allows him to say that stable homosexual relationships are not sinful. This can be said blatantly, as in his statement reported in the Evening Chronicle; or it can be said more subtly, as with the Archdeacon of Northumberland, who seems to be defending Bishop Wharton in his absence. On homosexual sex the Archdeacon's views, as expressed on BBC Radio Newcastle, last Thursday night, were as follows:
"There may be some doubt that the traditional moral teaching of the church is applicable in every single situation. I would want to stick by it and say that it is the general rule. But I would also want to say that there may well be pastoral situations where for particular individual needs there has to be a somewhat more generous approach."
We, at Jesmond Parish Church, understand that, but think it is wrong. It seems so minimal; but in fact it opens the flood gates. It is the crossing of that fundamental line. We have explained that in the Jesmond Statement. That is why we are still asking for alternative episcopal oversight.
The issue is much bigger than Jesmond Parish Church - can I implore you to see this.
Yes, we are drawing a line. Yes, we are saying that "enough is enough". No, we are not precipitate or unthinking. Can I say that on our PCC are several doctors, university professors, lawyers, business people, educationalists, others from the caring professions, as well as lay church staff with wide experience; and many of us are parents, deeply concerned for the future of our children and grandchildren in a world of collapsing standards and decadence even in the church.
Furthermore, we are convinced that there are many other important issues we have to be dealing with as Christians at the end of the 21st century. We have been discussing this question of homosexual relationships publicly since 1979. A conclusion has to be reached. We have concluded. Others may not like our conclusion. That is inevitable.
But our concern on Tyneside is to evangelise and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ; to help people show true love, both inside and outside the church; and to be, in so far as we can be, "salt" in a decaying society and "light" in a dark world. We are not willing to go on arguing in the church over the obvious. We need to be sharing our Christian insights with the world. So many outside the church are wanting a moral lead today. But this lead has to be rational, well thought through, well researched and coherent. To give that we cannot afford inordinate amounts of time on internal arguments over fundamentals. The Jesmond Statement was emphatic:
"The Church of England at large has been arguing since 1979, the year of its report Homosexual Relationships. We now see that arguing has helped to validate the assumption that sexual ethics are negotiable. It is used as a political ploy. We note that Jesus indicated it was possible for some to be always arguing and seeking proof but never be open to conviction. He called such people 'an evil and adulterous generation'."
Our concern, however, is not limited to Tyneside. We have global concerns. We have a formal partnership with a parish in Africa. We cannot ignore Christians in Africa and their horror at the immorality they see in the Church of England. We also have had connections with the Province of South East Asia. We cannot ignore Christians there, either. As we have explained in the Jesmond Statement that Province has already taken action. We applaud them and support them in their faithfulness to the Bible. Then there are the pressing social problems of the Two-Thirds World we must be concerned with. It is not just that the Two-Thirds World is appalled at the doctrinal and moral laxity of the Western church. It is appalled that the West is so absorbed with sexual self-fulfilment and personal gratification.
It sees the philosophy that says "sexual drives have to be acted on" - a basic predicate of heterosexual immorality but especially of the homosexual life-style - as not only un-Christian but callous. It sees it as creating a culture of narcissism and self-gratification that ignores others. And those ignored include millions in the Two-Thirds World experiencing serious national debt; desperate poverty; and all the deprivations that follow such debt and such poverty in terms of basic food, shelter, clothing, health and education. That so called Christians in the affluent West cannot make sacrifices and exercise sexual restraint in line with the Bible, from a Two-Thirds world perspective is nothing other than obscene. We identify with those Two-Thirds World Christians. It is from this context that Christians have signed the Kuala Lumpur Statement.
True, in this issue we cannot all be winners. There will have to be exclusions and discipline. That, however, is not our fault nor our responsibility. You have the jurisdiction in the Province of York over bishops; you have the responsibility for exercising that discipline under Canon C 17.2.
I will not rehearse the arguments we put in the Jesmond Statement. We do believe there are "defects" in the bishop-elect. We believe you have a duty to address these issues which are of world-wide significance and must take appropriate action. These are not local pastoral matters to be resolved by better communication. As we have explained the conversation that is required is not a private conversation between myself and Bishop Wharton; rather it is a public conversation between Bishop Wharton and the media of Tyneside when he tells journalists that he subscribes to the Reform propositions and the Kuala Lumpur Statement. Otherwise action must be taken.
In Antioch when there was a public crisis in the church over table fellowship (Galatians 2), Paul did not have a private conversation with Peter. There was a public taking of issue by Paul "in front of them all". Yes, I would rather have objected, on behalf of Jesmond Parish Church, publicly at the original press conference with Bishop Wharton present. That, for obvious reasons, was not possible. Of course, where there is a private grievance, you go privately first and deal with your Christian brother or sister according to Matthew 18. But Bishop Wharton has not "sinned against me" in a personal way by his confusions and heterodoxy. Nor has he simply confused our church. Rather, in the most public way possible - through the modern media - he has confused the world. That is why it is, in our judgment, serious. This is a public issue. This is not, I must repeat, a local pastoral problem. The substantial issues cannot be avoided. The conflict cannot be resolved by better communication. We are indeed facing a "crisis" in the literal meaning of that term. It is a time for moral decision and biblical obedience.
We therefore appeal to you again under Canon C 17.2 for alternative episcopal oversight.
We noted that your letter to me was in the nature of an "open" letter, publicised through a press release. It would, therefore, seem right that this too should be an "open" letter.
* The transcript from Everyman, 20 November 1996
Clergyman from Bishop Wharton's episcopal area of Southwark:
I've served in this diocese for 17 years. I must have worked under six or seven different bishops, all of whom have known I am gay and for none of whom has it been a problem.
All my bishops, including the present bishops - both diocesan and area bishop - have been totally supportive, and my sense is that they value my ministry very highly and that it is not a problem for them that I am gay.
It leaves open the curious question of what they are doing in relation to Issues in Human Sexuality and the line that the bishops are supposed to be taking, because they are breaking this line.
In part they break it because they don't actually ask me the ultimate question - am I sexually active. But I don't think it would make a difference, even if that were asked and if the response were "yes".
Are you sexually active?