Tried for Heresy: A 21st Century Journey of Faith

Furlong’s journey of faith is a fascinating, if sad, story of his ordeal confronting the power of the church establishment. But he is in a noble company of those who know that orthodoxy, understood as “right or correct belief,” is not necessarily the truth once delivered to the saints and is in the vanguard of those seeking to develop a new paradigm of the Christian tradition.

Topics: Theology & Religious Education. Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Tried for Heresy: A 21st Century Journey of Faith

  1. Review

    When I heard the title of this book, minus the subtitle, I assumed it was a fictional story set in the Middle Ages. When I received the book and saw the subtitle I was dismayed. A heresy trial in the twenty-first century? But believe it or not, this book is Andrew Furlong’s story of his journey of faith which led to his trial for heresy on April 8, 2001, the first in one hundred years in the Anglican Church in Ireland.

    Andrew Furlong received a degree in Philosophy from Trinity College Dublin and read for a degree in theology at Cambridge University. During his three years at Cambridge, he became aware of profound changes in his understanding of Christianity. He writes, “I would cease to believe, in a literal sense, in Jesus as the Savior of the world. I would no longer see him as both human and divine, in the sense required if it were to be claimed that God had entered our environment and become a human being.” He was ordained a deacon in 1972 and served as a curate in two parishes for ten years. During that time he thought of working somewhere else in the world and, recommended by the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to the Bishop of Zimbabwe, he served in that country for eleven years. Returning to Ireland in 1997, he became Rector of the Trim and Athboy Group of Parishes and the Dean of Clonmacnoise.

    Soon thereafter, Andrew Furlong’s journey of faith took an unexpected turn. He began to be open in sharing his beliefs. He presented papers to a variety of audiences, sought to publish articles in the religious and secular press, and established a parish website which contained controversial articles on the Dean’s page. In December 2001, he was summoned to the office of the Bishop who imposed a three month enforced leave of absence from his ministry to give him time to reflect upon the issues of faith and belief he was raising. From this encounter one might conclude that it is permissible to be a heretic in private but not in public. In reflecting on this meeting, Furlong writes, “The cost of seeking to serve the cause of truth, for me, could be very costly indeed: my livelihood, and all it meant to me and others, was at stake, but so, I felt, was a credible vision of the church for the twenty-first century.”

    On March 5, 2002, Furlong was again summoned to meet with the Bishop who asked him if his articles in the media and on the website represented his views. He writes, “I neither affirmed or denied this. I did say that I thought of myself as a Christian and was not engaged in any form of deception as far as that part of my identity was concerned.” Three days later he received a letter from the Bishop inviting him to resign as Rector and Dean. If he did not resign, the Bishop said that he would have “no option but to bring the matter to the he Court of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland.

    After consulting with others, he replied to the Bishop that he would not resign and would go to court. He writes, “I wanted the whole question, in a post modern age, of the appropriateness of the concept of orthodoxy discussed.” He also writes that he “wanted to share my approach to Christianity as a life long quest for meaning and truth, a journey characterized by uncertainty, provisionality, pluralism, tolerance, and the constant need to re-interpret the faith for a new age.”

    With a legal advisor, he prepared for the trial. When the day of the trial arrived and Court was declared in session, his legal counsel appealed for an adjournment for four weeks, which was granted. During that period Furlong wrestled with all the implications and possible fall out from the trial on himself and others. He thought the trial would offer an opportunity for the issues involved to be brought out into the open. On the other hand, if he were to be found guilty of heresy, it would “strengthen the fundamentalist wing and weaken the liberal position.” In any case, it became evident that he had no future in the ordained ministry in the Anglican Church of Ireland. So reluctantly he signed a letter of resignation and the Bishop withdrew his petition to the Court. As he wrote the story of his journey of faith, Furlong was studying for a post-graduate degree in International Peace Studies at Trinity College Dublin.

    In Part Two of the book Furlong shares his thinking on some of the “key areas within Christianity” which he believes need to opened and discussed. Twelve chapters are devoted to such areas as “The Bible – reconstructed and re-evaluated,” “Jesus of history – credible and elusive,” “Christ of faith – symbol and archetype,” “An Interventionist God in question,” “Has the time come for new liturgies,? “Credo, mine and other people.” Ten Appendices which form Part Three of the book, contain some of his own writings, and the writings of his consultants and editors of newspapers who covered the trial. In an Epilogue he speaks of the “challenge of welcoming diversity.” He quotes, W. Paul Jones from his book, “Dealing With Theological Diversity.” “There never has been either a unified Christian Church, or a common Christian theological position, in the light of which diversity can be faulted. What is new in our era, then, is not the fact of diversity, but the call of the Church to celebrate this diversity in a gesture of rare and expectant honesty.”

    Andrew Furlong’s journey of faith is a fascinating, if sad, story of his ordeal confronting the power of the church establishment. But he is in a noble company of those who know that orthodoxy, understood as “right or correct belief,” is not necessarily the truth once delivered to the saints and is in the vanguard of those seeking to develop a new paradigm of the Christian tradition.

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