Religion Report: Archbishop Peter Jensen interviewed on Communion issues

Source: ABC Radio National (Australia)

Stephen speaks to Archbishop Peter Jensen about the 2006 Synod, the Global South and what Jensen calls ‘the deep rift in Anglican Communion’.

This transcript was typed from a recording of the program. The ABC cannot guarantee its complete accuracy because of the possibility of mishearing and occasional difficulty in identifying speakers.

Stephen Crittenden: Welcome everyone, to The Religion Report.

Sydney’s Anglican diocese is holding its annual Synod at present. Last week in a bleak speech about the difficulty of achieving his missionary goal of getting 10% of the Sydney population into Bible-based churches, Archbishop Peter Jensen compared himself with Moses, leading the rebellious and grumbling Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

Peter Jensen
: Moses had to move a very unwilling people forward. You’ll remember that he had to this without compromising the word of God in the slightest. You’ll remember that it was God who actually used him to do this task. As in all ministry, as in all Christian leadership is done in the strength of God. Moses was a pretty unwilling leader, you’ll remember. It took the Lord speaking to him, even out of a burning bush to get him back to Egypt. And there were times when he clearly felt that he didn’t want to lead this people any more. Remember when they made the golden calf? Talk about bad excuses. We threw the gold into the fire and out came this calf. Well, in the midst of that, the Lord said to Moses: ‘Your people who you bought out of Egypt have become corrupt.’ Moses said to the Lord: ‘Why should Your anger burn against Your people who You bought out of Egypt?’ As far as the people were concerned they were quite happy to offend both the Lord and to insult their leader: ‘Come make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who bought us out of the land of Egypt, we don’t know what’s happened to him.’ I don’t think the majority of our Sydney Anglicans are like that. I think there’s a great willingness to observe the Lord although it involves sacrifice. There will be those who shrink back. There will be some who say ‘We’ve tried it. It’s been to hard for us.’ Some will say ‘You don’t know the people that God has given me to lead.’ And others, perhaps the same group, will say ‘You don’t know the one who has been sent to lead us.’

Stephen Crittenden
: The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter (‘Moses’) Jensen, who gave a second rousing speech to the Synod on Monday night, about the crisis over gay bishops that’s splitting the worldwide Anglican Communion. In his second speech he warned that ‘We may be only at the beginning of the disturbances which will lie before us.’ Archbishop Jensen said two overseas churches had already approached him seeking alternative Episcopal oversight, and he indicated that he was prepared to go global if asked, that Sydney was prepared to provide the moral and intellectual leadership to the Anglican churches of the Global South, and the disaffected conservative parishes and dioceses of the west.

Well in recent years there’s been close interaction between the Sydney diocese and the churches of the Global South, many of which are in Africa where the real weight of numbers in the worldwide Anglican Communion can now be found. And this week in fact the Secretary of the Global South Primates, the Archbishop of Singapore, John Chew, is in Sydney and attending the Synod.

Well I went along to speak to Archbishop Jensen yesterday about his speech, and I began by asking whether it represented a declaration of war on the very idea of a unified Anglican Communion.

Peter Jensen
: No, it’s definitely not. In fact I’ve learned to value the Anglican Communion more than ever. Archbishop Chew has been with us in the last two or three days, and he has underlined for me the importance of the Communion and the way in which the mere fact of the Anglican Communion opens doors in East Asia and elsewhere. I think the Anglican Communion is a very important thing indeed, and I want to see it strengthened, not weakened.

Stephen Crittenden: You’ve said that it at least two churches have applied for oversight from Sydney. Who are they?

Peter Jensen: Well there’s one from the United States of America, and one from the United Kingdom. But the United Kingdom one was a year or so back. These sort of things happen all the time around the traps.

Stephen Crittenden
: Well you’ve said in fact that you expect that they’re going to be happening increasingly.

Peter Jensen: Yes. I myself don’t think this is the way forward for us. I mean one looks at these things. I prefer local answers for local problems, and joining up a church in America to a church in Australia doesn’t seem a likely go-ahead for me. But on the other hand, why I mention it, is an indication of the anguish being felt by some about developments within their own church.

Stephen Crittenden: Well let’s come back to my first question. You say it’s not a declaration of war; maybe some people would say that speech was about, in a sense, flashing to the rest of the Anglican Communion that you’re here and that you’re available, if you need it. Are you saying that the Sydney diocese is offering a leadership role if required, in the united campaign?

Peter Jensen: Yes but it’s not so much political as the leadership role, and the ideas that are flying around. We’re aiming in two directions. First of all we’re saying to the Global South people, ‘Look, you’re not on your own. It’s not as though the West has turned entirely against you, there’s an awful lot of people within the western churches who feel as you do, so you’re not on your own’, and the idea that the Global South are somehow primitives and don’t know what they’re doing is a totally false one in fact, and the fact is that many people in the West feel exactly as they do. So that’s the first thing.

The second thing is, it’s also sending a signal to people in the UK, Canada and the USA, that they too are not on their own. Very often evangelicals in particular, are so involved with the pastoral work of the churches, that they do little at what you may call the political level of their churches. This has just been true for a couple of hundred years. Consequently when a great political crisis arises, they feel marginalised, they feel as though they’re powerless, they feel alone, and therefore for Sydney to say, ‘No, look, we’re here; we believe as you do. We have a strong theological tradition and we would like to support you in this’. It’s a battle, if you like, of ideas rather than a battle of politics.

Stephen Crittenden: Nonetheless, aren’t you in fact signalling that you’re now actively working towards a new model for the Anglican Communion?

Peter Jensen: No, what I’ve said is that these present tumults (and I’ve said this consistently for the last four or five years) these present tumults will lead to a weakening of the existing federation, with new alliances, new partnerships being forged. Now that day I think has arrived. I think we’ve reached that point. There’s been a significant shifting of alliances and partnerships in the Anglican Communion, and I think this will become clearer as time goes on.

Now the question before us is not ‘Are we trying to create that?’ No, we’re not. We’re not doing anything new, we’ve taken no innovations, we’re not creating this. But since it has been created what new partnerships can we forge? How can we network with others, how can we better support others who feel as we do?

Stephen Crittenden
: Well in your speech, you raised the question of whether Sydney might be prepared to provide oversight. If you received such a request, you say you expect calls for help to intensify. But it seems to me that you back away from telling us clearly what you will do if and when you receive those calls for help. What will you do?

Peter Jensen: I also said in my speech that I believe that local answers are best for local issues. So I’ve always said that the sort of appeals we’ve had for help have come from parishes struggling with the situation in their dioceses. To my mind, if that’s the situation for example in the US or Canada, it’s far better for people to look to the next door diocese, or look close at hand for an answer.

Stephen Crittenden: So you’d refuse such requests?

Peter Jensen: Well I simply - what I do is talk to the people. I offer pastoral comfort and advice and wisdom, but I don’t activate the requests. There’s nothing I have done at all, at any point, in order to make those requests become a reality even if I could.

Stephen Crittenden
: Talk to me a bit more about this idea that Sydney, and I assume this also means specifically Moore College, in a sense at the centre of the ideas, the battle of ideas. Why is that?

Peter Jensen: What I said in my address was that Sydney was not - we mustn’t exaggerate the importance of Sydney, but nor must we underestimate it. The thing that distinguishes Sydney from other places is the concentration of evangelicals here, and the concentration of evangelical thinking here, associated with Moore College. Now we mustn’t exaggerate the importance of them. There are other places in the world where, for example there are evangelical thinkers in abundance.

On the other hand, we must also play our part. We see what our strengths are. Now one of those strengths is the strength of Moore College, and it’s a very strong faculty, it has a faculty of 20, its faculty is extremely well-trained, with many PhDs for example from overseas universities. I would say it’s by all means the equivalent of a faculty at a university say in History or English.

Stephen Crittenden: How significant, what’s the reality at the moment, of its reach in terms of transmitting its ideas, Moore College, to the churches of the Global South? How influential is it as of 2006?

Peter Jensen: The college - let me start at the really basic and most important end. The college has for 40 years now, been running a correspondence course to train lay people. Well that was its design, it now also trains clergy. That correspondence course has now 5,000 students in 49 different countries, and we are partnering with dioceses in South America, in India, in Africa, and in other parts (it’s been translated into Chinese), where our courses are being taught and examined in all those countries. And it’s being used for training of lay workers and for clergy, interestingly, in various parts of the world. Now that’s by no means the only thing one would say. We also operate of course at the level of very sophisticated theological writings and our speakers go out into all the world. But if I could just mention the correspondence course on its own, I would have considered that to be an extraordinary way in which the college is now influencing people in many, many places.

Stephen Crittenden: Right. You say in your speech that the churches in the Global South are looking to Sydney to provide leadership from the West. Isn’t that contradicted in a sense, by what you say elsewhere in your speech about the new level of maturity and independence from the West on the part of the Global South churches?

Peter Jensen: It’s a delicate balance. Thank you for raising the point. One of the things about Australia and Australians is that we are an ex-colonial country. In other words, we do understand something that perhaps the older nations of the West don’t understand: what it is to be a colonial society. And I found that that’s very helpful indeed as we’re dealing with people from the Global South, who were colonised. I think we have traditionally approached people in the Global South with partnership in mind with a recognition that we can learn as much as we can give.

Now that being so, the great need in the Global South at the moment, in many places in the Global South, is for theological education. The reason is simple: they have had immense success evangelistically, with thousands and thousands of people coming into to their churches. If it had happened to us we would have difficulties. They have difficulties in terms of training enough workers, in training their ministers, in the basic theology of the church. That is something we have some expertise in. We will not force it on people in the Global South, but a number of people are interested in our contribution.

Stephen Crittenden: The Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen.


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