David Ison with Queen Elizabeth at St Paul's Cathedral to mark her Diamond Jubilee in 2012
Is David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, angling for the top job in the Diocese of London? Will he be a worthy successor to ‘he of the sonorous voice and imposing beard’ the legendary Richard Chartres, ‘the last of the great prince bishops?’ Or will he inject the poisonous serum of identity and gender politics into the fabric of the last of the thriving dioceses of the Church of England?
The leftist and feminist wing of the CoE would crow triumphantly from the rooftops were a woman to be elevated to this most exalted bishopric. Any male making a pitch for the job would have to flash his pro-LGBTIQ manifesto widely and brazenly enough for him to beat his nearest female rival to the episcopal throne. Even if he scrapes through by a hair’s breadth of a couple of votes, once the mitre is on his head, his position is secure for life.
One reason the Diocese of London has not gone the way of all flesh is because of the thousands of black and Asian Christians who have kept their bottoms glued to the fast-emptying pews of the CofE. In addition, Nicky Gumbel and his Alpha-based evangelical congregations have planted churches owing allegiance to the Holy Trinity Brompton brand of Christianity-lite.
Last month, Dean Ison turned the spotlight on himself. “Look at me! My face fits! I’m the right man for the job.” Undoubtedly, he was “only” chairing a public consultation last month at St Alban’s Church, Holborn. But when you have the Prime Minister’s Appointments Secretary, Edward Chaplin, and the Archbishops’ Appointment Secretary, Caroline Boddington, present at the meeting setting out nine priorities in the ‘Statement of Need,’ the most important face that will stick in their mind is the face of the Chairman. And when one woman, Caroline Boddington, has ‘disproportionate power over C of E appointments’ in ‘an unhealthily one-sided gatekeeper situation’ there is only one way to the throne.
Politics aside, does Ison’s track record cry out “axios” in full fortissimo? Axios is a Greek word meaning ‘worth of,’ ‘deserving of,’ or ‘suitable.’ It is an acclamation adopted by the early Eastern Orthodox Church and made by the people at the ordination of bishops, priests and deacons. Or does Ison’s track record cry out loud and clear that he is “unworthy?”
Integrity is stating what you believe
and sticking to it.
One virtue utterly indispensable in any minister, let alone the Bishop of London, is integrity. Integrity is stating what you believe and sticking to it. ‘Walk straight, act right, tell the truth,’ is how The Message paraphrases Psalm 15:2. Ison plays hopscotch jumping on one leg to whichever square he finds most convenient. In a BBC interview, he backed away from his own pledge to conduct same-sex blessings at St Paul’s Cathedral following his appointment to the prestigious position. Asked if he would be ‘happy to conduct a gay marriage at St Paul’s?’ he responded that ‘there is no such a thing as gay marriage.’
Ison would be great at painting London pink, rather than purple. Ison also juggles with words in a manner of ‘a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing.’ London needs a bishop who means what he says and says what he means and Ison’s rhetoric is slippery as an eel darting down the Thames.
In an interview with Ruth Gledhill, Ison reveals how he created small groups for people to ‘talk to each other about your past and present sexual practices and how they make you more or less holy in the sight of God.’ The interview is no longer available online. If Ison has orchestrated this, does it reveal a man who is no longer willing to stand by what he says and wishes to have it quietly expunged from the public domain?
In 2015, veteran journalist and commentator David Virtue raised a number of troubling questions about Ison’s integrity. ‘Billing himself as an evangelical, he (Ison) announced back in 2012 that he had performed ceremonies for homosexual couples who had had civil partnerships when he was Dean of Bradford. Did he violate the canons of the Church of England by doing that? If so, why was he not brought up on charges? How did he convince the evangelicals who recommended him for that post? Was the being truthful in what he believed about sexuality? Was there an element of deception there?’
Did the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral deliberately mislead CofE evangelicals?
Virtue followed with an article asking: ‘Did the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral Deliberately Mislead CofE evangelicals?’ Ison’s position on gay marriage turned out to be profoundly divisive. ‘The net effect of his now clear public advocacy for same-sex marriage resulted in St. Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate, a well-known evangelical Anglican center of ministry in the City of London with a number of church plants saying they would no longer send its candidates to the cathedral for ordination,’ wrote Virtue. A bishop is supposed to unite his diocese.
Ison backs gay marriage. There is nothing surprising about that. In their desperation to be diverse and inclusive most CofE bishops will be happy to marry a transgendered Martian to a transvestite wizard from a Harry Potter novel. However, Ison admits to performing “ceremonies” for homosexual couples when he was Dean of Bradford—a cathedral with historic evangelical roots—even though this was in flagrant violation of the rules of the church. A bishop who blatantly admits to violating the rules of the church is not “axios.” He is going to be the final arbiter of discipline. When the shepherd conspires with the wolves to pull down the fence protecting his sheep, he is no longer a shepherd but a hireling.
Ison goes beyond recognising gay marriage and says he believes gay people should be able to adopt. Was he present at a fringe meeting of the recent General Synod meeting in July where Professor Robert Oscar Lopez spoke movingly of his horrendous upbringing as a child adopted by lesbian couple? Professor Lopez is editor of Jephthah’s Children: The Innocent Casualties of Same-Sex Parenting. The book is a collection of first-person testimonies from children who have been brought up by same-sex couples. The authors cry out in distress from the abuse suffered as a result of being adopted by gay couples. Is this the abuse the future Bishop of London should be seen to be promoting?
One of the most important aspects of the Bishop of London’s portfolio is how he treats people of other faiths. With anti-semitism on the rise and with Jews constituting a significant religious community in London, it is vital that the future Bishop of London does not have the faintest odour of anti-semitism clinging to his cope. When Ison was Canon at Exeter Cathedral, he took a party of pilgrims to Israel at the start of the intifada in 2000. They had a Palestinian guide, visited only Christian sites in Arab east Jerusalem and the West Bank, and talked to virtually no Jews, writes Melanie Phillips. She quotes: ‘The Old Testament is a horrifying picture of genocide committed in God's name…. And genocide is now being waged in a long, slow way by Zionists against the Palestinians.’ What will the Jewish Board of Deputies have to say if Ison becomes Bishop of London?
‘Asked what he made of Yasser Arafat’s rejection of the offers made by Israel at Camp David and Tabah, he said that he knew nothing about that. Indeed, he said, he knew nothing about Israel beyond what he had read in a book by an advocate of replacement theology, with which he agreed, and what he had been told by the Palestinians on the pilgrimage,’ writes Phillips.
Ison has made his pitch to the left-wing camp of the CofE by flaunting his pro-gay agenda. The more discerning of those who sit on the Crown Nominations Commission will have to look beyond political showmanship. They will need to consider if the candidate for the See of Londinium is truly “axios.”
(Originally published in Virtue Online and posted with permission)