Dean Andrew Furlong - the Tip of the Iceberg?
Recent reports in the Church Times and the Irish Times have highlighted the case of the Church of Ireland Dean of Clonmacnoise, Andrew Furlong, who has been disciplined by his Bishop for his unorthodox doctrinal views.
On his parish website, the Dean writes: "...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. The time has come to leave Jesus to his place in history; and to move on."
Since he has come to reject the orthodox Christian understanding of the trinitarian faith, the Dean confesses that he finds Christmas and Easter the two most stressful periods of the year. For him, as Christ is not God incarnate, Christmas carols and hymns that express this orthodox doctrine such as 'O Come Let us adore him, Christ the Lord', "appear idolatrous and painful." Regarding Easter, he writes: "I would not find myself able to say 'Jesus died for you' or 'Jesus died for your sins'."
After years of struggling with being unable to subscribe to much of the Church's official position on doctrinal matters and being reticent to air his views publicly, Dean Furlong's web-site article was an attempt "to become more and more transparent in relation to my beliefs.." He recognizes that his "theological positions... are not the positions of the majority of members of the Christian churches; many of whom would question the right of people with views like mine to be in positions of leadership..". Unfortunately for him, his Bishop has agreed with him here, and has temporarily "withdrawn his authority to exercise the duties of priest or deacon in the dioceses", according to the Church Times report.
It is encouraging to note the action of the Most Rev. Richard Clarke, Bishop of Meath and Kildare, in banishing this erroneous and strange doctrine. However, whilst commending this, Reform Ireland believes that some important matters remain unclear and unresolved concerning discipline over such fundamental issues.
The Dean writes: "There have been those within Anglicanism who have replied to the position of this paper by saying that if people do not believe in a Trinitarian conception of God and in an Incarnational God, then they need to look elsewhere for a different spiritual home such as the Unitarian Universalist church. This works for some people, but for others who feel the 'reforming fire' in their hearts and minds, it does not appear to be a viable alternative." Since part of the calling of a Bishop in the Church of Ireland is to be 'ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God's Word; and both privately and openly to call upon and encourage others to the same' (BCP service of 'The Consecration of Bishops'), how will the House of Bishops fulfil this promise in relation to those with doctrinal views similar to the Dean of Clonmacnoise, and who are determined to stay within the Church of Ireland?
Will they simply ignore them, so long as they remain quiet and do not commit the 'sin' of going public with their views? Or will they, as in this case, take decisive action to ensure that such anti-trinitarian beliefs have no place in the pulpits of the Church of Ireland?
Furthermore, many clergy who have been subjected to the teaching of liberal theology through their training in the Church of Ireland Theological College (CITC), are no strangers to the kind of theology espoused by the Dean of Clonmacnoise. Why does the House of Bishops seem content to allow the kind of views advocated by the Dean of Clonmacnoise to flourish in the training of ordinands, with very little input from conservative scholarship?
The liberal theology that is taught at CITC is not merely an academic question but undermines the doctrine of the Christian faith as the Church of Ireland has received it. Why is no action taken to ensure that the biblically orthodox doctrines of the Thirty-nine Articles and the Prayer Book are taught in the training of clergy rather than the promotion of views, which lead to the kind of doubt and unbelief exhibited in the opinions of the Dean of Clonmacnoise? After all, this is what a Bishop promises to uphold in his episcopal vows. It is also what Church of Ireland people expect and pay for.
The truth that the House of Bishops must face up to is that there are quite a number of clergy who share many of the doubts of the Dean of Clonmacnoise, but, unlike him, have stayed quiet about it.
Reform Ireland therefore calls upon the House of Bishops to address urgently the root of the problem and to recover orthodox Anglican Christian doctrine in the theological training of the clergy of the Church of Ireland. Otherwise, the case of the Dean of Clonmacnoise is only the tip of the iceberg. 20th Dec 2001