Due Diligence of Shepherds

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So the media in the UK have caught onto the controversy surrounding the appointment of former Dean of Perth, Dr John Shepherd, to be the interim director at the Anglican Centre in Rome; essentially the “ambassador” to the Vatican.

At the time of writing we’ve seen pieces in the Telegraph, the Mail and the Times. Archbishop Cranmer has added his voice and others seem to be joining the throng by the hour. This one won’t go away, nor should it. John Shepherd’s promotion should have rung alarm bells at Lambeth Palace.

All three papers quote from a statement given by Lambeth Palace. The Times has it in full:

Dr Shepherd is a priest in good standing in his diocese and due diligence was paid in appointing him to what is a temporary role.

Due Diligence, they say. I think it’s time for this:

Just before Christmas a para-church organisation approached my boss and asked if they could meet up. He mentioned it to me and I said I’d do a bit of background work for him to get him ready for the meeting. It took 1 minute of googling to make it clear to us that he ought to exercise some caution going forward. Just 1 minute. That was basic due diligence.

So what due diligence was done with respect to Dean John Shepherd? The Scriptures themselves advise to do some work in the appointment of Christian leaders, even if there is no history.

1Tim. 5:22    Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.

1Tim. 5:24    The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. 25 In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever. 

Whether or not the language of “sin” is relevant here the principle still remains. When we appoint people to positions of leadership we ought not to be hasty lest we end up with a sticky mess on the hands that we just laid on them. Of course, sometimes things trail behind them and it takes a while to see what’s going on – so don’t rush. On other occasions it’s already more than obvious that there is an issue (and, we will see, is quite obviously the case with Shepherd).

Lambeth Palace are clearly very busy so davidould.net would like to help them out. I’m not suggesting that a web search is the only way forward but it’s always a good start. As Eternity Newspaper notes, the internet never forgets. Here’s the return on a google search for “Dean John Shepherd” conducted on the morning of 14 January 2019 AEST.

That’s just the first 5 returns. The first is by his home cathedral. The second and third are from this website, including a piece reporting a controversy that arose when Shepherd was invited to speak to the Melbourne Diocesan clergy meeting. Shepherd eventually withdrew. Even a brief read of that article would make it clear that there was some background here and that a large number of Anglican clergy were already concerned about his positions.

But perhaps you’re circumspect about websites like davidould.net. Fair enough. Result #4 should be helpful. This is a mainstream newspaper reporting on Shepherd’s retirement. For some reason they used the headline “Controversial Dean set to sign off”. If you go to the article then you can read the following:

On the eve of his final Easter service Dr Shepherd, who is retiring in July, says he has never considered himself controversial and “just said what I think is true”.

Those truths include his support for gay marriage and an article in The West Australian in 2003 suggesting that the teachings of Christianity were largely symbolic and need not be taken literally.

The West Australian 19 April 2014

They also describe him as “outspoken”. Now I’m sure I could be described in the same way but, at the very least, it surely gives some brief pause for concern. Surely?

Google “John Shepherd Perth” and the first page of results includes this stunner:

Again, maybe I’m picky but that word “heresy” might be of interest. Go to the article and you read the following:

Self-described champion of heretics, the Anglican Dean of Perth, Dr John Shepherd, has spoken out against core Christian beliefs, including the meaning of Jesus’ death and his bodily resurrection.

Dr Shepherd, who runs a study group at the Cathedral called ‘Heretics Anonymous’, made the comments in an article in The West Australian newspaper on Easter Saturday.

Dr Shepherd wrote that it was not necessary to believe the Gospel accounts of Jesus appearing to his disciples, that Jesus was physically and literally raised to heaven, or that he will come again ‘in the form in which he has already been present on earth’.

He also said that there is no need to believe “there will be a final judgment where the righteous will be accepted into a so-called heaven, and sinners condemned to everlasting damnation.”

Again, I would have thought that would have raised a number of questions and would be worth at least a chat between the Archbishop of Canterbury and Shepherd.

Even the most brief and basic due diligence reveals that Shepherd has long been a controversial figure. They might be comfortable with that in the Diocese of Perth, where today both the Archbishop and current Dean have defended him, but surely Welby should know better. No wonder there is such a concern now about this appointment. And there ought to be concern about the advice that Welby is getting. The job of his staff is to protect him from this sort of controversy.

But let’s not forget one individual who also needs to take responsibility for putting Welby in such a difficult position; Shepherd himself. The first thing he should have done when he was approached about the role is make quite clear to Lambeth Palace that he had raised some serious controversy in the past about fundamental Christian doctrine. He owes Welby an apology for this scandal which would never had happened had he simply the integrity to recognise that his views were so out of place for a Christian leader. And integrity, of course, is the consistent problem in all these cases.

Many of us are hoping that Welby will at least have some and deal with this.

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