A PRESS STATEMENT RELEASED BY ANDREW FURLONG, DEAN OF CLONMACNOISE ON 15TH DECEMBER 2001
The deeply attractive vision of a God of infinite love is, in my belief, (with all the problems and paradoxes it raises) part of the great and challenging mystery of the life we are caught up in. It is this vision that I reach out towards in a search to transform traditional forms of Christianity. Joan D. Chittister wrote in her book, Heart of Flesh p.172, "The revolutions that count come silently, come first in the heart... Revolutions of this magnitude do not overturn a system and then shape it. They reshape thought, and then the system overturns without the firing of a single cannon. Revolutions such as this dismantle walls people thought would never fall because no wall, whatever its size, can contain a people whose minds have long ago scaled and vaulted and surmounted it."
Jesus of Nazareth lived in a very different world from ours today. He never drove a car, he never travelled by aeroplane, he did not hold a passport, he did not have a radio or TV or a mobile phone or a computer or a Visa card or life insurance. Yet despite all the differences, he shares some fundamental values with those who in one way or another sense that they share some common ground with him. His religion was that of ancient Israel, and in Temple or in synagogue, he found vehicles to use to convey his worship to Israel's God. These vehicles may be quite different from those used in Christian worship, but what they transport is much the same: praise and gratitude, penitence and remorse, bewilderment and pain, trust and rage, dependence and responsibility. Many of the ethical and spiritual values of ancient Israel's faith are found in the Christian way of life too: peace, forgiveness, justice, compassion, hope, accountability, freedom, dignity, worth, love, and co-operation.
Jesus, it seems to me, was a self-effacing person who wanted to point people to the mystery of a God of immense tenderness, understanding and concern. Such a remarkable member of the ancient community of Israel needs to have his place re-discovered within the Christian community which would not have come into existence had it not been for him.
With the deepest respect for others and their beliefs, to my mind, Jesus, and John the Baptist also, were mistaken and misguided 'end-time' prophets; Jesus was neither a mediator nor a saviour, neither super-human nor divine. There is a sense in which the time has come to leave Jesus to his place in history and to move on; while at the same time I want to say that there is a need to re-discover his place in the totality of the Christian community as we understand it now. I believe that a new spirit of freedom will be sensed. People, nurtured in the Christian tradition, will no longer constantly be looking back over their shoulders to some allegedly complete and full revelation of divine love and human perfection, because they will not find such old beliefs credible any more.
The Anglican Provinces have never been strangers to tensions and conflicts within their membership. Out of such tension and conflict growth has come. There is a cost to being in a minority camp, as there is a cost to tolerating minorities within the main grouping. Grace, generosity and goodwill are all required.
My Bishop, Most Rev Richard Clarke, on 5th December 2001, withdrew his licence which authorised me to work as a priest; in his words "I am providing you with three months leave of absence from any ministerial duties, in order that you may reflect on the serious concerns that I expressed to you … regarding your recent public statements concerning faith and belief."
My most recent article: "Pain and Integrity: reform from within" which was read at a Spirituality seminar at St Deiniol's Library, Wales on 3rd November 2001 may be found in the Theology section of Anglicans Online www.anglicansonline.org and there are links there for other articles I have written.
I am deeply concerned about the disturbance caused within the parish where I have been working. The ideas and beliefs of people here are to be found on different places on the theological map of believing, thinking, doubting and searching. Some people are evangelical, some conservative and traditional, some radical and liberal; some are still processing the faith they received in childhood in order to reach out towards a more credible adult faith.
I am sorry for the embarrassment and shock many people in this parish have felt and am very conscious of their varied thoughts and feelings. I am grateful for support both from within the parish and world-wide. I am sensitive to the weight of responsibility my Bishop, who is a personal friend of thirty years standing, feels.
I see this situation, once the dust has settled and all of us have processed our immediate reactions, thoughts and feelings, as one which might provide both this parish and the Church of Ireland as a whole with an opportunity to affirm the extent of diversity of interpretation that exists in all of humanity's religions. I have tried to make our Parish website which has received world-wide acclaim (and where my articles had been published) a forum for diversity and conflict, as well as a focus for co-operation and unity. Such a forum and focus can only be sustained in a spirit of tolerance, of broad-mindedness, and with an awareness that living alongside unlike-minded people is the challenge given to us as we search for truth in all its complexity and mystery, and seek to shape a lifestyle reflective of our ethical values and religious vision.
One of the most positive aspects of my suspension is that it has enabled me to become more transparent about my present searching and beliefs. Up till now I had been living with a constant tension between saying what I really thought and what it was more appropriate to say given any particular situation. I am aware in my life of both deception and cowardice as well as of a search for integrity and of courage; I am sustained by both the support of others and a profound and mysterious conviction of being understood by God.
Andrew Furlong 15th December 2001
For more articles