Speaker by Various Artists

Interview with The Reverend

by The Rt Rev Richard Randerson

The Rt Rev Richard Randerson, dean of Auckland's Holy Trinity Church was kind enough to come on my Wire show on 95bFM yesterday, and a good interview took place on the matter of the controversial comments by the new head of the Anglican church in New Zealand, Archbishop Whakahuihui Vercoe reported in the Weekend Herald last Saturday.

The transcript below (thanks to Patrick Crewdson for such a prompt and accurate job) can't fully reflect the tone of the discussions, but I thought the Rev Randerson was since and genuine in what he said. Clearly, the church has some sorting out to do after this business. Anyway, read on, Cheers, RB.


Russell Brown If you picked up the Weekend Herald on Saturday, you couldn't have missed its screaming headline: "a world without gays". The story below was based on an interview with Bishop Whakahuihui Vercoe, the new head of the Anglican church in New Zealand.

Bishop Vercoe expressed the hope that one day society would embrace a "new morality" to the extent that homosexuality would become unacceptable and - however unlikely this may seem - disappear entirely. He also declared a view that we should "close the door" on immigration and said that he would never ordain a Maori woman as a priest, for cultural reasons - even though the church does accept women as priests.

It looks like a lurch to the right for New Zealand's biggest church - but the irony is that it was prompted by the most liberal of urges. As the Reverend Richard Randerson explained in a sermon after the election of Bishop Vercoe, the church has worked hard to embrace the Treaty, and has a separate Maori caucus. When the time came to vote on a new Primate, the Pakeha caucus didn't put up a candidate - it was time, said the Reverend Randerson, for leadership to pass to tikanga Maori, in the form of Bishop Vercoe.

Richard Randerson joins us now, to discuss what has become a controversial appointment. Reverend Randerson - welcome.

Rt Rev Richard RandersonGood afternoon. Thank you.

RB: Firstly, do you think Bishop Vercoe was treated fairly by the Herald?

RRRR: I think they gave undue prominence to his remarks they way they plastered it right across the front page. At the same time, they were accurate in what they reported and I think he was culpable in having used the words he did in describing homosexuality as sinful and unnatural and an abomination. I think those words were somewhat intemperate and he would have been better not to have used them.

RB: He hasn't apologised though, has he?

RRRR: Well, no, he hasn't really, and what I think was the most unfortunate thing was that he made no reference to the General Synod resolution. If your listeners read the Herald for this morning you'll see an article which I had written on the opinion page pointing out that the General Synod - that's the national body of the Anglican Church - that they passed a resolution last month which acknowledged and honoured the contribution that gay and lesbian Anglicans make to the life and ministry of our church. Now that's the official view of the Church. The archbishop is entitled to his opinions and they should be listened to with respect, but at the same time he needs to state what the General Synod resolution was and he omitted to do that.

RB: His views weren't a secret before the vote though, were they? He's expressed them before.

RRRR: Yes.

RB: Were they a consideration in the vote?

RRRR: It was a very difficult thing because, as the introduction to this interview mentioned, in the tikanga Pakeha caucus we felt it was not appropriate to cling to Pakeha leadership of the Church. Our church models a partnership between Maori and Pakeha, and Pacific Islanders as well, and so the question of leadership also has a tikanga dimension to it. We felt tikanga Maori - the Maori stream of the church - that it was time that they made a leadership offering. So we really, I think, as Pakeha passed the mantle across and we felt in doing so we had to leave it to them to decide who it was. It wasn't for us to tell them who they could have and who they could haven't. Some people say that was a mistake, but that was our feeling, that we should not try to dictate what choice they made. And so they did have some debate within the Maori caucus but in the end they came up with Archbishop Vercoe as their nomination and so it really came to us to endorse that.

RB: Can you see the irony in the fact that the most liberal of motivations, the desire to embrace the Treaty, has resulted in what looks like a lurch to the right for the Church in New Zealand?

RRRR: Yes, I see the irony in that entirely, and I have nothing to say that can lessen the irony of that. It was a debate in the end between the mana of another tikanga taking the lead vis-a-vis the personal views of a particular person, in this case Archbishop Vercoe. And I guess Pakeha ran with the tikanga issue rather than the personal choice one.

RB: I recall a sermon by you last year where you emphasised that love and commitment are to be admired in any relationship. That's still your view, I take it?

RRRR: Yes it is and I've set it out very clearly in the article in this morning's Herald. And that's a view that the Archbishop of Canterbury - as a person now, not in his official leadership - he made a study of sexuality in the 1980s and he came to the view that the nature of the relationship is more important. He said, for example, that faithful and committed same-sex relationships might also be acceptable in the eyes of God. I support that view of the Archbishop of Canterbury, I support the appointment of the Archbishop of New Hampshire in the USA, the gay bishop there, which has sparked tremendous controversy, of course.

RB: That's been a highly controversial issue within the Church itself, hasn't it?

RRRR: Yes, it has.

RB: Is that any closer to resolution?

RRRR: A special commission has been set up worldwide by the Anglican Church to look at issues of unity - how do we maintain unity in the Anglican Church when there are sincerely-held opinions on both sides of the debate? We have to be able to respect the differences and listen to people whose view is different from ours. That's the trick, I think, not to try and reach an agreement that this is right or that is right, but to say 'We need to be in respectful dialogue together'. That is, I believe, the way forward at this time.

RB: Now, I have a story which I can assure you is not apocryphal. It's that of a young, gay Maori man who spent Saturday in tears after reading that Herald story. He felt he had pride in the whole of who he was and yet he'd been told that he was an abomination to the dark races. How do you feel about that?

RRRR: I feel absolutely appalled that the story in the Herald should have that impact upon him. I feel for him and many others entirely, and I would like to apologise formally now to gay and lesbians in the community and to other members of the community who were offended and damaged by those remarks in the Herald. I am terribly sorry for them, for the damage that it caused. Although I'm only one individual bishop in the Church, nonetheless I just want to say how deeply distressed I am by the remarks and the impact they have had on people, like the young man you quote.

RB: How will this be handled in the Church? Where will it go from here?

RRRR: Well, the General Synod - as I say the national body of the Church that met last month in Rotorua - they committed themselves to a process of dialogue in the resolution. The first part of the resolution, as I said, affirmed the life and ministry of gay and lesbian people in the Anglican Church. The second part called for a new study, and as part of that study it calls upon us all to listen actively - and I'm quoting now from the resolution - "to listen actively to the opinions of gay and lesbians, both practicing and celibate, before we start making any recommendations. So that process of listening and dialogue that we are committed to is the way ahead.

RB: Reverend Randerson, thank you for your time.

RRRR: Good to speak.