Defenders of the Faith?

Ed Tomlinson on the role of bishops

It is my understanding, gleaned from the historic teaching of the Church, that the primary task of a bishop is to safeguard the Christian faith. This necessarily involves each bishop ensuring that sound doctrine gets preached on his patch and, where this is not happening, acting lovingly to correct and discipline. My recent criticism of a liberal colleague brought this matter to the fore.

During August one of my parishioners entered St Leonards, Hythe, in the Diocese of Canterbury. Inside the magnificent edifice she discovered a series of tracts produced by the vicar, Tony Windross. They are promoted under the tag line you don’t have to believe all sorts of odd things before you start taking religion seriously.’

Shocked by teaching

The content that followed so appalled my parishioner that she returned with the entire set for me to ponder, handing them over with a simple question, ‘How can he write this and yet also claim a stipend?’ Quite.

Windross begins by suggesting the creed is out-dated and irrelevant. Being, in his opinion, man-made, he argues it should be totally dismissed. He then pours scorn on the Atonement. For Tony ‘it is a repulsive picture, based upon a monstrous understanding of God’ andphrases such as ‘Jesus died for my sins’ represent language that is grotesque and disgusting to intelligent and civilised people.’

Having dismissed the creed and rendered dormant the sacrifice of Christ, Windross attacks the doctrine of original sin. “There is somethingnot just grotesque but deeply offensive about the idea… this is such a sad, sick, stupid view of life that the sooner it disappears the better.’

I could continue (for quite some time) but this article is centered on bishops as ‘defenders of faith’ and not on errant priests. But if you do want to read the pamphlets in full simply enter St Leonard’s Hythe using a search engine, and look for the box entitled why bother with religion’ on the main page.

The tracts left me in a predicament. I take no joy from exposing a priest as a heretic but a parishioner had provided evidence of some deeply offensive views at odds with the Christian faith. I was left with little option but to inform his bishop who, as defender of the faith, would be duty bound to take this matter seriously.

The man in question was +Venner, whose performance at Synod suggests a respect for orthodox theology. In an email I outlined my concern, stressing that I wanted to ‘know how, as defender of the faith, you allow Revd Windross to serve as a priest in God’s church when it is abundantly clear he does not subscribe to even the most basic of Christian beliefs? I am certain Mr. Windross is a pleasant chap and has an effective pastoral ministry, that is not in question.’

Emailing the bishop

The Bishop’s response was encouraging: ‘Thank you. I am of course always concerned to ensure that The Faith is appropriately guarded and proclaimed, so I take your challenge seriously. I shall indeed look at the website and will be talking with the archdeacon about it. Please forgive the brevity of the reply, but there is much to do!’

Understanding that Bishops are busy fellows I settled back into parish life satisfied that the matter was being dealt with. Many weeks later, and the pamphlets were still available in church and on the internet. It was time for another email to +Stephen. Again the Bishop responded, ‘We are pursuing the issue, but these matters are never as black and white as some like to think, and they take time to resolve…’

Where’s the grey?

It is this response that troubles me. Whilst I want to take the bishop at his word, and accept the matter is being dealt with, I want to know why it is not ‘black and white’? We are dealing, after all, with a cleric who refutes Christ’s divinity, incarnation, resurrection and pretty much all established doctrines of faith including the creed! What could be more ‘black and white’ than that? It is often suggested that we Anglo-Catholics are unhappy in the Anglican fold because we cannot accept women’s ordination and gay marriage. But, as this article so clearly demonstrates, these are mere symptoms of a much deeper malaise.

Those who are charged with defending the faith have lost their vigour in protecting it and, as a result, it is being abandoned in many places. Mr Windross will be welcome in the church of the future; we who subscribe to an orthodox theology continue to hang on by a thread. Why is the name ‘Screwtape’ echoing round my skull?