Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney has declared that the division or dismemberment of the Anglican Church of Australia is not in the best interests of Christianity in Australia. But he also asserted Sydney’s right to encourage and support the growth of evangelical ministries in other dioceses.
In his Presidential Address to his Diocesan Synod in October, Dr Jensen said Sydney was not a monochrome diocese and that it honoured and respected other expressions of Anglicanism.
But he admitted there were a number of factors making the relationship with some fellow Anglicans as fraught as it had been for some time and noted that antagonism to Sydney is especially powerful in the General Synod Standing Committee and in the General Synod electoral system.
“It is exacerbated by the publication of prejudicial material intended to damage our standing in the broader Anglican world,” Archbishop Jensen said.
“The National Church existed before it had a Constitution and is a reality with or without the Constitution. But, after years of patient negotiation, the national Anglican Church was given a new legal status in the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia in 1961.
“It was our deliberate choice to enter the constitutional arrangement. Your parish is bound to the Diocesan network, and we are all inescapably linked to the church of the Province of New South Wales. Then, we are just as inescapably linked to the national church.”
Dr Jensen said there were four basic principles that guided Sydney’s policy and relationships with the national Church:
- “First, it is best if the national church is committed in form and fact to orthodox doctrine and behaviour.
- Second, we labour to retain the integrity of the national church.
- Third, Sydney always insisted that the national federation be decentralised in ethos and diocesan in structure as it is under the Constitution.
- Fourth, our Diocese has a role to encourage and support the growth of evangelical ministries throughout the national church.”
The Archbishop said Sydney virtually always had been overwhelmingly evangelical but “we are acutely conscious of the way in which evangelicals elsewhere have struggled to maintain their place”.
“Dioceses which began as evangelical, even more so than Sydney, have been changed, with evangelicals becoming a small and sometime harassed minority,” he said. “I am glad to say that there seems to have been a greater acceptance of evangelicals in some dioceses, although in others it remains a struggle. Our commitment to national evangelicalism is part of a commitment to defend and proclaim the gospel.”
Archbishop Jensen said his diocese’s policy was always to encourage the orthodoxy and mission of the fellowship of Anglican Christians around Australia, rather than to commit all its time and energy to the political and legal processes of General Synod.
Sydney would continue to uphold the significant constitutional autonomy of individual dioceses. And it would pay its share of the money needed, but resist the expansion of the activities of the General Synod and in particular the growth of the activities of the Primate beyond those stipulated in the Constitution.
“A number of things hearten me about Australian Anglicanism, apart from the potential we have to do much good around the nation,” Dr Jensen said. “To mention only two things of a number, several times now the
General Synod has formally rejected the moral libertarianism of so much western Anglicanism. Furthermore I value my personal links with other Diocesan Bishops, and in my experience they are well aware of the need for evangelistic mission, and many are working vigorously in their dioceses for growth.”
But he said the issues that made relationships with some fellow Anglicans fraught included “consistent, long-term misunderstanding of and even overt hostility to Sydney, given some credibility because of our failure to explain ourselves, by mistakes we have made and because our size makes us appear threatening: the loosening of the structure of the national church caused by the ordination of women; the “shock to the system” caused by the use of the Appellate Tribunal to win a political battle over the consecration of woman bishops; and poor policy and practice by the General Synod Standing Committee over such matters as the primatial research assistant, the exaggerated growth in general assessments, interference in diocesan questions of order and good government, episcopal standards, the holding of the General Synod a year earlier than it was needed and the wrong use of confidential material.
“I am sorry to say that all this means that we have reached a more than usual difficult point in our relationship, especially within the Standing Committee of General Synod,” Dr Jensen said. “However, I am a believer in conversation and prayer together, and am hoping that there will be a greater willingness to come to the table and talk about some of these issues. We want to establish the point that the ready appeal to the law to solve relational and political problems is unfruitful and to ensure that there is minimum interference with the life of the dioceses, in line with the spirit and intent of the Constitution. At the same time, we want to affirm our strong commitment to the national church and its usefulness under God as an instrument for the defense and proclamation of the gospel.”