When I heard that a clergyman was making a fool of the Church of England again over sex, I didn't pay much attention. Then someone gave me the gist of your merciless goings-on in Southampton, and I saw you quoted in the papers under such headlines as 'Vicar casts out adulterers from flock'.
One paper even reproduced an absurd little clip from your church magazine which I suppose must be real. Here you urged your parishioners to follow Corinthians and shun two of their number - a Mr Goddard and a Mrs Furby - who had committed adultery. It's not a take off, is it? Not a late April fool?
It also appears that you have made these parishioners' lives miserable, and that you feel good about it. You justify yourself by saying: 'I am doing as I would with my own children in sending them upstairs to their rooms and saying they can come down when they say they are sorry.'
I want to make two points. The first is, aren't you ignoring the teachings of Jesus? You quote from St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. While Christians owe much to Paul, you know that he never met Jesus; Paul's knowledge of Jesus relied on faith and what other people told him years later. Paul rarely quotes Jesus's lessons in his letters.
Whose teaching is paramount? Luckily, we can complement Paul's early letters with the four Gospels. And what, according to John, did Jesus say when faced with a case of adultery? He simply asked those without sin to throw the first stone. Who is that? You? Me? The rest of the congregation at St James's? When Jesus asked that question, a mob, stones ready in their hands, just melted away. Shouldn't you take that as your text? Isn't that a more compassionate example to follow?
The second point. Do you have to align the Church with the attitude prevalent in public life that it's only sex that can get you thrown out these days? Your two parishioners are suffering the same fate as certain recent government ministers. No one is ever thrown out for lack of compassion - though John Redwood (on single mothers) and John Major (on beggars) score high marks in that department.
That's what I mean by bringing the Church into disrepute. I work in a parish with 50 per cent unemployment, where almost everyone faces and dreads biting, long-term poverty.
Jesus had strong words about allowing people to suffer from hunger, thirst, nakedness, homelessness and loneliness: 'Anything you did not do for one of these, however humble, you did not do for me.' He had nothing to say about harassing single mothers, or couples - like Mr Goddard and Mrs Furby - struggling to forge new, open and honest relationships in difficult circumstances.
Come off it, Peter.
Narissa JonesReuse content