Last Sunday morning we lurked in a very nice church: a warm, welcoming and clearly growing congregation. An Anglican church, and yes, we were in Sydney. Anywhere else the service, which featured a concrete and exegetically structured sermon and minimal ritual, would be considered unmistakably low-church, except in our strange diocese at the edge of the world this parish has a reputation for being upper-mid and “a bit liberal”.
Afterwards we were amazed to see people queuing – yes, lining up – to sign the Anglicans Together petition (the one featured on Noble Wolf’s blog) requesting +Jensen reconsider his decision to boycott Lambeth. Nobody seemed particularly interested in the machinations of church politics, and they certainly weren’t theologians. Nor did anyone appear directly involved in the struggle for GLBT equality, and in all probability most were until recently unaware of Lambeth. Yet everyone was adamant about one thing: the Archbishop of Sydney should attend.
One was a lady in her nineties; a life-long Anglican who'd always considered herself an evangelical. “Wild horses couldn’t stop me from signing this.” she insisted. “When the Archbishop has no log in his own eye then perhaps he’ll be in a position to spurn those with a speck in theirs. Until then we are all called to meet with our fellow believers.”
Like most people in the queue, she’d read +Jensen’s justifications, which were published in Sydney’s leading newspaper. And like everyone else I spoke to, she had no time for them. “If the Archbishop is right about his position then he needs to meet with other leaders and explain why they’re wrong. His complete lack of shame at ignoring this obligation suggests, however, he mightn't be as right as he tells us he is. It certainly gives the impression he doesn't listen very closely to God when it comes to making decisions.”
Signing after her was a young man; a blue-collar tradesman typical of the demographic most likely to be (to use the current jargon) “unchurched”. “I’m no poof” he said, “but if God loves and dies for someone who is then I’ve no right to knock them. Jesus wants to know everyone, and that’s why we're all here. The Archbishop should get on with his real job of telling people Jesus is real and cares about them. All this gay-bashing does is make it harder for people to see who Jesus is.”
The final word came from a retired business man. “The Archbishop has just launched 'Connect 09', and as part of that we’re all supposed to get out and invite those with whom we live and work. He must realise that isn’t easy, yet he expects us to meet the challenge as part of his call to mission. But when it comes to him talking with people who see things differently, suddenly a new set of rules apply. If that’s his idea of leadership, we’d be better off with the gay bloke from America that’s got everyone in such a fuss: at least he’s got the courage to stand by convictions.”
As I said earlier, these people aren’t ecclesiastical power-brokers; they are simply Christians who love God and enjoy expressing that love within the context of their local Anglican community. Nor (as far as it’s possible to tell) are they part of any conspiratorial “gay agenda” (whatever that is). They’re just men and women living by grace who are clearly fed up with being told what to believe by leaders grown so confident of themselves that they no longer have any qualms about being the first to grab up the nearest stone and cast it at anyone daring question their self-granted mandate to be the sole interpreters of scripture.
Sydney evangelicalism once valued lay input, and greatly respected the wisdom and understanding of the average man and woman in the pews. If +Jensen chooses to ignore the pleas of those signing this petition it will be sad evidence that Matthianism, the sect into which many Sydney clergy have tragically devolved, has now openly abandoned any notion of respect for the laity’s insight. Which will leave Archbishop Jensen and his acolytes different to the pre-reformation straw man they make of Rome in what way?