Anti-gay bishop's job sparks boycott calls

Share this article

SCOTLAND'S most ancient seat of learning has been hit by calls for a funding boycott following the appointment of a controversial theologian to a senior post.

Dr Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, who has famously opposed the ordination of gay clergy, is due to take up an academic position at St Andrews University in September.

However, his appointment to the Fife institution's School of Divinity has prompted a senior Episcopal clergyman to urge wealthy graduates not to support the university's fundraising appeals.

The Rt Rev Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St Mary's Cathedral in Glasgow and a St Andrews graduate, has withdrawn financial support over Wright's "anti-gay views" and is encouraging others to do the same.

The openly gay priest made his views known on his weblog, writing: "I'm so sad that my old college has announced that Tom Wright is to be appointed as professor of New Testament and Early Christianity. Actually, it's more than that, I feel ashamed of St Andrews University.

"It is hard to think of a more divisive figure to appoint. I don't think it is to the credit of a modern university to appoint staff with such ghastly anti-gay views."

The former Stirling University chaplain urged former students to make their opposition felt by joining him in taking direct action. He stated: "St Andrews University writes to me regularly asking for money.

"The answer from now on could not be clearer. No extra funding for a university that appoints anti-gay figures to prominent positions. I hope other alumni will keep their hands firmly in their pockets and when the call comes for money, just say no."

Holdsworth acknowledged the trenchant nature of his stance might surprise some, adding: "We do need to be a nice, welcoming and inclusive church and my comments might at first appear to be in contradiction to that.

"However, we need to be a church which does not do active harm to others.

"Tom's claim, when civil partnerships came in, that he would discipline any members of the clergy in his diocese who entered into a partnership puts him firmly in the category of those who would harm others." When contacted by Scotland on Sunday, Holdsworth stood by the strongly worded views expressed on his website, but declined to comment further.

But Wright's appointment has sparked a debate on the University of St Andrews Alumni Network page on Facebook, with some supporting Holdsworth's position and others expressing backing for the bishop. Backing for Holdsworth has emerged from other St Andrews graduates. Helen Oliver said: "He (Bishop Wright] has argued that justice never means 'treating everybody the same way, but treating people appropriately'. Yes, it's time to redirect the funding."

Fellow alumni member Crispin Pemberton added: "He (Bishop Wright] is a great theologian, but I have got to agree with Kelvin – flawed on the gay question."

But the Rev Ross Kennedy, a member of the Episcopal Church's conservative wing, felt Holdsworth's remarks were unduly harsh.

The associate minister at Dunfermline's Holy Trinity Church said: "It just goes to show that liberal does not necessarily mean tolerant.

"Some of us might disagree with aspects of Bishop Wright's ethical and theological opinions, but he might make us think and re-evaluate our own views and that can never be a bad thing."

Northumberland-raised Wright is no stranger to controversy. He publicly criticised embryo research and warned clergy that they could face disciplinary action for taking part in same-sex unions in 2005.

He also made international headlines in 2008 when he compared the consecration of Gene Robinson, the gay American Episcopalian bishop, to the US invasion of Iraq.

Wright said: "Bush said he was going to invade Iraq. Everyone told him not to do it because there would be consequences, but he did it anyway.

"The Americans floated the balloon in 2003 when they consecrated Gene Robinson. They knew exactly what they were doing. Either the rest of the world caves in or someone has to stand up to them."

He later defended his opposition to gay clergy by stating: "Justice has never meant 'the right to give active expression to any and every sexual desire.'"

St Andrews University, which was founded in the 15th century, issued a strong defence of Wright with a spokesman stating: "The charges made by Rt Rev Holdsworth are unsubstantiated and unfair and Bishop Wright is fully supportive of, and committed to, our policies on preventing discrimination.

"Like every committed believer, whether they are Presbyterian, Roman Catholic or Muslim, Tom Wright, as an Anglican, will inevitably be associated with the official views identified with his religious affiliation.

"If we were to exclude all such people then universities would become highly exclusive – when they ought to be the one place where differing views can be freely held, expressed and challenged."

A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Durham said the Bishop was away on retreat and would not be available to comment.

The worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Scottish Episcopal Church is a part, has been bitterly divided over the issue of homosexuality in recent years.

At the 1998 Lambeth Conference, Anglican bishops from across the globe voted by 526 to 70 to declare gay relationships incompatible with the Bible. They also upheld a ban on the ordination of gay priests and the blessing of same-sex marriages.

In 2008, more than 200 of the 800 invited bishops boycotted the Lambeth Conference because pro-gay bishops were present.

The Scottish Episcopal Church takes a more relaxed view on the gay issue and has stated it has never "regarded the fact that someone was in a close relationship with a member of the same sex as in itself constituting a bar to the exercise of an ordained ministry".

Back to the top of the page