69 Fundamentalism Down Under – further news

In the previous post I wrote a piece about an archetypal fundamentalist system of theology emerging from the Diocese of Sydney in Australia.   What I was basing my findings on were two books published three and five years ago respectively. Time moves on and there are two important events that have taken place since the situation that I reported. One salient event was discussed by Muriel Porter’s book, namely the meltdown in the finances of the Diocese of Sydney. The second event is the election of a new Archbishop, Glen Davies to replace Peter Jensen.

Sydney Diocese for many decades has been one of the wealthiest dioceses in the Anglican communion. This was based on endowments and property holdings. With that wealth came power and influence. Quite a sizeable amount of the costs of the first GAFCON conference in 2008 in Jerusalem were met from the endowments that flowed into the Sydney coffers. Money was also found to base this organisation in Sydney, providing office space and administrative backup. Archbishop Peter Jensen was the first secretary, a post he retains in his retirement. Another organisation which benefits from this largesse is the organisation in England with the misleading title of Anglican Mainstream. This organization appears to do everything with a web-site and while it sponsors gatherings it has no membership structure. To judge from the web-site it has a task of criticising real mainstream Anglicans from an ultra-conservative position.

The extensive wealth of the Sydney diocese received a severe dent between the end of 2008 and 2010. Although the fall in stock-markets was a factor, more serious was a remarkable degree of amateurish decisions made by enthusiastic but naive members of financial sub-committees. Borrowing money to buy shares and then selling them at the bottom of the market wiped out some 200 million dollars worth of investments. Muriel Porter details the various stages of the meltdown in her book. The consequence of the collapse was that the income of the diocese was halved and halved again. Many of the ambitious projects for converting ten per cent of the population to Calvinist Christianity within the diocese had to be put on hold and there was little money to employ all the new eager graduates of Moore Theological College. The Archbishop at the time, Peter Jensen put a brave face on things, but it is clear that he was fairly shattered by the whole fiasco. Before we leave the finances, it is worth noting that three areas of outreach did not have their support cut in any way. The first is Moore Theological College which continues to receive 1 1/2 million dollars a year. The second is the support for GAFCON, both the secretarial support in Sydney itself and grants for their gatherings. Thirdly the support for Anglican Mainstream is left unaffected.

In June 2013, Peter Jensen was required to retire as Archbishop on reaching the age of 70. The task of appointing a successor attracted a lot of interest from church and media alike. The legacy of Peter in preserving a ‘pure’ form of Calvinist theology was something that many of his supporters were anxious to ensure. Lobbying, political manoeuvring and canvassing were the order of the day for several weeks last summer. The two candidates were an existing Bishop, Glen Davies aged 62 and a priest Rick Smith aged 49. Both candidates came from the Sydney mould and it is difficult this far away to distinguish them on the grounds of theology. But Rick Smith attracted the support of Philip Jensen, the Dean of the Cathedral and many of the Standing Committee. Whether this association with a Jensen brother was a handicap or whether the reputation of the Standing Committee was still in doubt after the financial debacle is unclear.   For whatever reason Glen Davies was elected. Sydney may be beginning to row back from the political extremes of theology and intolerance. Let us hope so. The signs look good that eventually Sydney may begin to move back towards the central ground.

The Anglican Communion may well have been irrevocably fractured by the political shenanigans exercised in America and Australia with the help of allies from Africa. But there is in this Sydney election the first sign of a ray of hope that theological extremism is no longer going to be the order of the day in an entire diocese. One would hope that Archbishop Glen will make it his task to reach out to the embattled Archbishop of Canterbury to articulate a very small gesture of support which say just this: ‘I may not agree with your theology but I defend your right to hold this different point of view.’ That courtesy has been absent from recent statements from GAFCON as recently as last week. Is that very much to ask of one Primate to support another?

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

3 thoughts on “69 Fundamentalism Down Under – further news

  1. Nuts in May? A rant from Chris Pitts

    “For many long hour I’ve been thinking about this. That Jesus Christ was betrayed by a kiss. But, I can’t think for you, you’ll have to decide, whether Judas Iscariot had God on his side!”

    So wrote the young Bob Dylan in 1963. To me these words ring out down the decades and pose a question that lingers on unanswered.
    We have an organised ‘Christian’ religion that attracts the incompetent from Enid Blyton wonderland, and, the “All things bright and beautiful” brigade from the dark side of the Full- moon. We also have visionary vicars like David P who wanted to house the homeless inside his church and found a rejection that borders on fanaticism. Put this together with a stilted over view of the struggling lower classes and what have we got? A hell of a bloody mess.

    For those of you who know my background you will not find this rant surprising.
    It seems that the elites that read the Church times and other publications like talking to themselves. I say this because they will never talk directly to the disempowered underclass, no, it will always be a streamlined interpretation.

    Who will face this betrayal? When will the real talking begin?

    Chris Pitts

  2. The blessing and the curse of the Church of England is (are?) the not quites and nearlies who faithfully go to church, sometimes every week, and sort of believe, but would say themselves that they are unsure,and in a way, don’t know what it is they believe in. They are of course, welcome, and just as well, since they are the mainstay of coffee mornings and essential services (in the other sense) of most churches. But they also represent a mission field, and are not altogether aware of it. Often, religion should be private in their view, never overt. Revolutionary zeal is not quite British. And they have seen vicars come and go, and are of the opinion “this too shall pass”, so are disinclined to welcome the changes. It seems like a fashion fad, that will simply change again with the next incumbent. They also, and this is good in a way, see that “This is our church”, not the vicar’s. Pity more don’t! So, the incumbent has to bring them along with him, and love them, so they love him back. That way, they’re more likely to go along with his crazy ideas!

  3. Thanks English Athena, Is it not just a plain fact that the word ‘Christian’ has been hijacked?

    The way it’s been put through the sausage machine, is like getting a wonderful birthday present wrapped up in a big parcel, and after you have unwrapped it finding a Kleenex tissue? Chris Pitts

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