THE former Bishop of Durham (1984-94) Dr David Jenkins died on Sunday morning, aged 91.
Dr Jenkins, whose public ministry was characterised by his colourful expression of strong political and theological views, died in Barnard Castle, County Durham. He had been living with Alzheimer’s disease for several years, his family said. His wife, Molly, died in 2008.
The Bishop of Jarrow, the Rt Revd Mark Bryant, said that Dr Jenkins’s impact in the wider community had been “perhaps even greater than in the Church”.
Dr Jenkins spoke out during the miners’ strike in 1984, and was forthright in criticism of policies pursued by the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and her government. He spoke in the House of Lords against the decline of industry and rising poverty in the north-east of England. “Certainly there are many in the mining community who still speak of him with great affection,” Bishop Bryant said.
The Archdeacon of Sunderland, the Ven. Stuart Bain, recalled his “electrifying sermon” at his enthronement, with “his less than flattering” comments about the Coal Board chairman, Ian MacGregor: “The first and only time I have ever heard spontaneous applause during a sermon in Durham Cathedral.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury said on Monday that he was “deeply saddened” by news of Dr Jenkins’s death. “Those who knew him well found him extremely engaging, sympathetic, warm and a natural human being,” he wrote on his website. “On occasions his quick thinking made him sound more controversial than he meant to be but he wanted to engage people in conversation.”
Dr Jenkins’s consecration in York was preceded by protests and petitions about his theological views. A fire in the Minster two days later was taken by some to be a sign of “divine outrage” . In a TV interview, he had cast doubt on the historicity of the Virgin birth. His views on the resurrection of Jesus also proved provocative. In a radio interview, he questioned the idea that the resurrection was “literally physical”: “After all, a conjuring trick with bones only proves that somebody is clever at a conjuring trick with bones.”
In a General Synod debate on Christian belief, in 1986, he suggested that miracles were “probably something much more historical, real and down-to-earth than monophysitely divine manipulations of the physical”.
In retirement, as an honorary assistant bishop in Ripon & Leeds, he was criticised for blessing a civil partnership between two gay men, one of whom was a vicar.
Archdeacon Bain said: “Occasionally one did get a bit worried when the twinkle seemed to appear in his eye when he was speaking and you were never quite sure what he would say next. Often his more controversial comments about God got people talking about theology, debating and thinking about their faith; and, frankly, that had to be a good thing.”