Other Case-studies: non-RC and Non-American

Revd Charles Voysey (1871)

Vicar of Healaugh, Yorkshire

Mr Voysey was first dismissed from the curacy of St Mark's, Whitechapel, for denying the doctrine of eternal punishment. In the following year he became curate of Healaugh, Yorkshire. He again ran into difficulties and was prosecuted by the Archibishop of York for heresy during the period 1869-71; the Judgment of the "Lords of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council" (13/2/1871) reads:

The Appellant is charged with having offended against the Laws Ecclesiastical by writing and publishing within the diocese of London certain sermons or essays, collected together in parts and volumes, the whole being designated by the title of "The Sling and the Stone," in which he is alleged to have maintained and promulgated doctrines contrary and repugnant to or inconsistent with the Articles of Religion and Formularies of the Church of England.

He appealed against his conviction; the appeal was dismissed and Voysey was deprived of his benefice. He then went to London where he founded the Theistic Church of London.

James Henry George Chapple (1907)

New Zealand

In 1907 there was an attempt to remove James Henry George Chapple (1865-1947) from his Timaru (NZ) church. The vote was 200 for him to to 8 against. So he stayed.

In 1910 proceedings were brought against Chapple in the Timaru Presbytery. He had chaired a meeting for Joseph McCabe, former priest and leading rationalist, when McCabe spoke in Timaru in 1910. He had preached in the Unitarian church at Auckland as a candidate. He had made "some disquieting utterances''. Chapple was unrepentant:

Slowly, stubbornly, insolently, Theology has fought Truth, step by step, but always retreating, taking refuge behind one subterfuge, then another.

Chapple resigned and started a Unitarian church in Timaru. He stayed until July 1915, then spent two years in California, and returned to Christchurch in 1917 to start Unitarian meetings there.

In a speech in Greymouth in March 1918 he spoke strongly against New Zealand's participation in World War I, was charged with sedition, and spent a year in the Lyttleton and Paparua prisons.

Chapple visited England in 1924, publishing two books, The Divine Need of the Rebel and The Rebel's Vision Splendid. Chapple left Christchurch in 1925. From around 1939, he was involved for a time with the Auckland Unitarian church. His neo-Stalinist views led to several embarassing episodes, and in due course he wrote to the Management Committee saying that he thought it best for all concerned that he withdraw from further appearances in the pulpit.

Chapple was the real life counterpart of Plumb, in Maurice Gee's novel of that name, published in 1978 by Oxford University Press. Maurice Gee was Chapple's grandson.

Dr Ernest Davey (1927)

Presbyterian, Belfast

Dr Davey was Principal and Professor at Presbyterian College, Belfast (now called Union College). He was tried for heresy in 1927, primarily on issues related to modern Biblical criticism. Although he was acquitted, the trial had a deeply discouraging effect on him, virtually ending his activity as an author.

Revd Walter Gill (1964)

Methodist minister, Hartlepool, England

Rev. Walter Gill of Hartlepool, England was expelled from the Methodist ministry for heresy in 1964. In 1962, Gill was charged with denying the virgin birth, the resurrection and the divinity of Christ. The Methodist Committee of Doctrinal Appeal dropped the first charge and accepted Gill's response to the second charge. They rejected his view of the divinity of Christ and formally reprimanded him. When Gill persisted, they expelled him from the ministry in 1964. He later wrote a book, Truth to Tell, published by Lindsey Press. In 1970, he applied for re-instatement as a local preacher, but his application was rejected by the Ministerial Session of the General Purposes Committee.

Lloyd Geering (1967)

Presbyterian Minister, New Zealand

Geering was tried for doctrinal error and disturbing the peace of the church by the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand in 1967. The trial was televised in New Zealand, but the Assembly judged that no doctrinal error had been proved, dismissed the charges and declared the case closed. The Church later published a 112-page booklet about the trial. In a closing pastoral letter, the church made the following statement:

  1. The Church must constantly be rethinking its message to the world so that it can be expressed in forms and words that are intelligible to the changing generations. The responsibility for this must in the main fall upon a comparatively few leaders and teachers, and especially upon the staffs of theological colleges.
  2. This activity calls for a large degree of freedom to think, write and speak in ways that may seem inconsistent with traditional patterns of thought. This freedom, however, must in some measure be regulated by the insights and convictions of the Church as a whole, as represented by its doctrinal standards or pronouncements.
  3. Personal faith in our Lord is consistent with a great variety of theological convictions, and it must not be assumed that those who differ from us in these respects are any less devoted to Christ than we are.

Geering has since become a well-published theologian, and was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2001; in 1988 he was honored as a Companion of the British Empire. He is Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand, a founding member of SoF NZ and a Fellow of the Westar Institute Jesus Seminar.

On 27 September 2002, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa (New Zealand) sent formal congratulations to Lloyd Geering on his appointment to the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2001. The New Zealand Presbyterians voted "That the General Assembly convey its greetings and congratulations to the Rev. Professor Lloyd Geering in recognition of his being made a Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. In so doing the General Assembly recognizes the long standing contribution of Professor Geering to the field of Religious Studies in this country and to the task of taking theological discourse beyond the universities, seminary and the church into the public arena." The resolution was disputed, but passed on the voices.

Geering is the author of several books, including Christianity without God (2002), Christian Faith at the Crossroads: A Map of Modern Religious History (2001), Tomorrow's God (2000), and The World to Come: From Christian Past to Global Future (1999), all published by Polebridge Press of Santa Rosa, California.

Robert Van de Weyer

Anglican vicar, UK

Van de Weyer was ordained in 1982 and became the non-stipendiary priest-in-charge at the village of Upton. When his license came up for renewal, it was refused. On receiving numerous messages of support from the people of Upton, Van de Weyer decided to continue as their priest, which he does to this day. During the period of his work at Upton, regular church attendance has increased from 3 or 4 people to about 12% of the population, with a further 50% attending on a more occasional basis. He has been forbidden to preach in four dioceses and considers himself an agnostic, but does not see honest agnosticism as an impediment to church life; he describes himself as 'a loyal rebel'. Van de Weyer's latest book is Dear Rowan: Please Save the C of E, published by John Hunt.

Anthony Freeman (1994)

Anglican priest, Diocese of Chichester, UK

Freeman was sacked by the Bishop of Chichester in 1994 following the publication of his book God in Us: the case for Christian Humanism—see the review by Lloyd Geering and an alternative review by Adrian Worsfold, as well as Anthony's essay Theology and the Church. He is currently the editor of the Journal for Consciousness Studies.

Ray Billington (1971)

Methodist minister, England

In 1971, Billington was charged with teaching false doctrine following the publication of his book The Christian Outsider, specifically because he stated that God did not exist, that Jesus was not the Son of God, and that there was no life after death. The complaint was researched and the Committee of Doctrinal Appeal submitted a report to the 1971 Methodist Conference, which dismissed Mr Billington in June of that year. Billington's most recent book is Religion without God (Routledge, 2001).

Dr Peter S Cameron (1992)

Principal, St Andrew's College, University of Sydney (Presbyterian)

On the 2nd March 1992, the Rev. Dr Peter Cameron, Principal of St Andrew's College at the University of Sydney, preached a sermon at a Dorcas Society Rally in the Ashfield Presbyterian Church entitled "The Place of Women in the Church". As well as supporting the principle that women should be ordained to the ministry, it argued a case that the Bible had to be understood within the context of the times in which they were written. Cameron was tried and convicted for heresy. He appealed, but resigned before the appeal could be heard. The Presbyterian Fellowship gives some further details; an article in support of Cameron was published by The Green Left. He has subsequently published three books: Heretic (Doubleday 1994), Necessary Heresies (New South Wales University Press, 1993) and Fundamentalism and Freedom (Doubleday, 1995). The Sea of Faith Australia website includes a review of Heretic by Rod Jensen. Our website includes a review of Fundamentalism and Freedom by Lloyd Geering.

Andrew Furlong (2001)

Dean in the Church of Ireland

Furlong was Dean of Clonmacnoise in the Republic of Ireland. In 2001 he published on his church website a number of articles challenging traditional doctrine, including stating that Jesus was not the Son of God. His bishop directed him to take three months to reflect on his beliefs; having not changed his beliefs in that period, Furlong was invited to resign, which he declined to do. He was then due to appear before an ecclesiastical court on charges of heresy, but resigned on the day before his trial.

Andrew's book, Tried for Heresy: A 21st Century Journey of Faith, ISBN 1 903816 52 1 (9.99 in the UK or $14.95 in the US) was issued by John Hunt Publishing in autumn 2003. Read the review HERE

In Feb 2004 Andrew published his thoughts on his story in the Guardian's 'Face to Faith' column in an article entitles Pilgrim's Progress.

Various articles on the case