The newly appointed Interim Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome has offered a statement attempting to lay to rest the controversy over remarks he made over a decade ago concerning Jesus’ resurrection.
Earlier this month, the Archbishop of Canterbury appointed the Very Revd Dr John Shepherd as interim director to fill the position vacated by Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi, who resigned in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations, until a permanent successor could be chosen.
But critics questioned Shepherd’s commitment to fundamental Christian beliefs, pointing to remarks that he made in a sermon several years ago when he was the Dean of Perth Cathedral in Western Australia. Others have rallied to Shepherd’s defence. A statement from Dr Shepherd today begins with the salutation, “Christ is Risen!”
The Daily Telegraph reported over the weekend,
In a 2008 Easter sermon, [Shepherd] said: “It’s important for Christians to be set free from the idea that the resurrection was an extraordinary physical event, which restored to life Jesus’s original earthly body. The resurrection of Jesus ought not to be seen in physical terms, but as a new spiritual reality.”
He added how the disciples merely “felt his presence after his death” and the Gospel accounts in the Bible were not “historical records as we would write history today”.
Senior Anglicans have rounded on his unorthodox views claiming they are inappropriate for someone who, as interim director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, will act as the de facto ambassador for Justin Welby, the Church of England, and other Anglican churches around the world. He will be central to discussions and meetings with Pope Francis.
Some of Shepherd’s colleagues in Australia, however, rallied to his defence. The Western Australian reports,
The Anglican Archbishop of Perth, Kay Goldsworthy, described Dr Shepherd as an outstanding member of the WA church community and said she was surprised people had been making “statements of concern” about a sermon from 11 years ago.
“If that happened to every preacher in the Church we would all be in trouble, frankly,” she said. “There is a statement that people have picked out, whoever the people are, and have sort of wanted to make some example of.
“I am not sure what they wanted to achieve.”
The former Anglican Dean of Perth, Richard Pengelley, said a lot of the criticism of Dr Shepherd’s theological positions was ill informed.
He said religion was full of mystery and Dr Shepherd was a man who looked into that mystery and faced those challenges head-on.
Earlier today, the Anglican Centre in Rome posted a statement on Facebook, in which Dr Shepherd himself writes,
Christ is Risen! There has been speculation in the press and on social media about my views on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Part of this is based on a sermon I preached in 2008. It is my faith that Jesus rose from the dead and I have never denied the reality of the empty tomb. The risen Christ was not a ghost – he ate and could be touched – but at the same time he appeared in a locked room (John 20. 26) and vanished from sight (Luke 24.31) and he was often not immediately recognised. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states (para 646) ‘In his risen body he passes from the state of death to another life beyond time and space.’ In my Easter sermon in 2010 I said ‘We believe in the resurrection of Jesus after three days, and in this faith we come to know God who raises us from despair to life, day after day.’ This remains my faith – that Christ is risen indeed.
The statement is also carried by the Anglican News Service.