Giles Fraser to be next Bishop of Durham
You’ve got to hand it to ‘controversial vicar' the Rev’d Dr Giles Fraser (the one on the right), who teased us in the Mail on Sunday yesterday with: ‘I was never Archbishop of Canterbury, so my Easter message isn't about gay sex... It's about faith and hope.’
As he typed those words into his laptop he must have known that his nomination to the Episcopal See of Durham was about to be announced. And so the humble parish priest of St Mary's, Newington, in the Elephant and Castle, fills the vacancy left by the newly-installed Archbishop of Canterbury The Most Rev’d Justin Welby, to become The Right Reverend Father in God, Giles, by Divine Providence Lord Bishop of Durham. He will also sit as a member of the House of Lords, which he’ll find a bit of come-down from doing 'Thought for the Day', 'Moral Maze', or writing columns in The Guardian and Socialist Worker.
The moment he resigned as Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral in support of ‘Occupy London’, we all knew that he would be duly rewarded. He was perfectly content for people to ‘exercise their right to protest peacefully’, but the Dean and Chapter thought otherwise. No-one knew more than Dr Fraser about contemporary ethics and engagement with the City of London as a financial centre, so when the Dean wouldn’t listen, there was no alternative but a principled stand against the Pharisees of the Cathedral.
The Rev’d Dr Giles Fraser is a fitting choice for Durham: he passionately supports women bishops, and is a founder (and current President) of ‘Inclusive Church’ which campaigns for lesbian and gay inclusion within the church. His ministry is widely considered to be psychotherapeutic and prophetic, especially by the Zimbabwean Mother's Union who arrange the flowers for St Mary's. He also knows a lot about economics, and writes inspirational sermons about how Christians ought to be ‘flash mobs of hope’.
Dr Fraser is eloquent and intelligent: indeed, he is one of the few Anglicans ever to demolish Dr Richard Dawkins (quite comprehensively). He isn’t afraid to speak truth to power, always siding with the poor and vulnerable. And neither is he afraid to be provocative, telling us recently: ‘I despise the antisemitism of St. John's Gospel’ and also ‘I hate Jesus’, which was lauded by the Bishop of Buckingham as ‘an antidote to the pasty moralistic "Jesus expects you to love him as much as he loves you" blackmail that used to be used to make missionary kids eat up their greens’.
Such pronouncements make him perfect for Durham – not so much as a successor to the evangelicalism of Justin Welby or the intellectualism of NT Wright, but very much of the mould of David Jenkins who denied the virgin birth and expressed a few unorthodox statements about the resurrection of Christ. Hating Jesus and accusing St John of being anti-Semitic are of little relative consequence. He greeted the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI like a true Anglican: “The moment has arrived,” he tweeted. “The world no longer has a Pope in it. To be honest, I'd be happy enough if we left it that way.”
Dr Fraser’s hero and prophet is Bishop Gene Robinson, whom he loves ‘to bits’. He also raises money for worthy charities, deciding recently to run the marathon in aid of sex workers in Ghana. Such profound theological insight and altruistic humanitarian endeavour brought him to the attention of the BBC, who invited him to be a member of the commentary team at Archbishop Justin’s enthronement, and also of the world-renowned LSE, who appointed him Visiting Professor of Anthropology.
Dr Fraser said of his elevation to Durham: “As I go on, I find myself having less and less respect for the leadership (for want of a better word) of an organisation that often seems to do little more than seek its own perpetuation. Indeed, I find the mealy-mouthed pronouncements of many bishops plain embarrassing Becoming one of them obviously makes them less mealy-mouthed and slightly less embarrassing.
“The Occupy thing obviously continues to haunt me; and I will probably remain bruised about all of that to my dying day. Watching the new man being made Archbishop at St Paul's brought much of it back – and I had been preparing this week to write something that expressed some of that emotion. It was then that I realised clearly that it was time for me to go.
“Sometimes you have to let the anger drop, if only for your own sanity. It's time for fresh fields and pastures new, and Durham will be perfect for me, and I will celebrate with a small glass of port.”