Of the nine letters in the Herald that day, only one was openly supportive Archbishop Jensen, describing the loss as “unfortunate” – an understatement if ever there was one! The writer then continued by criticising Rev. Cornish, who had previously called the Diocesan Secretariat to take responsibility for the loss, as well as for the excessive enthusiasm with which an extremely high-risk investment strategy had been embraced. “Working together to serve Jesus” the letter decries with an unctious piety worthy of Trollope’s Obadiah Slope, “might be better than embedding division”.
Which becomes hilarious when you realise that the author is a Vice-president of the Anglican Church League - one of the most divisive groups in Anglicanism, and whose web site routinely sings the praises of every schism, division, and split in the Communion – irrespective of the pain that event causes the people who actually live and worship in the country/diocese/parish where it’s occurring. “Do as I say and not as I do” just reached a whole new benchmark.
Another writer correctly points out that virtually everyone with money in sharemarket has taken a beating. What they fail to grasp is that the diocese wasn’t just investing in blue-chip stocks which will almost certainly eventually return to their pre-recession levels; the diocese was borrowing money, using their significant property assets as collateral, and then investing that borrowed money in high-risk, theoretically high-return shares. Hence they haven’t lost a few million on paper because the value of their portfolio has declined, they’ve lost $100 million because they’ve had to repay loans for shares that are now worthless. There’s a difference; the same difference as there is between gambling and investing, and it’s a difference the Sydney Diocesan Secretariat still doesn’t seem capable of understanding. Or perhaps just don’t want to admit.
Someone else asks the very valid question as to why any organisation which can accumulate sufficient assets to be able to cover this kind of loss should be exempt from paying tax. While at Moore College I was often amused at the fervor with which my fellow ordinands attacked the great Australian blue-collar passion for tax evasion, while never stopping to consider their own church’s failure to pay tax. Only once did I dare suggest if this was such a grievous sin the Church might set a better example by choosing to voluntarily pay the same rates as required of non-religious corporate citizens; the resulting fury made me think better of opening my mouth a second time. These days I’m no longer such a coward: if Churches – any church, from traditional denominations to outright cults like Scientology – engage in commercial enterprises (including property investment and stock-market speculation) they should be subject to the same rules and obligations as anyone else. Anything less is unjust.
The best letter of all was from one Sean Linskon of Potts Point – I’ll quote it in full because it really is a work of genius; almost a week later it’s still got me laughing:
Ah, the House of Jensen crippled by a bad gambling habit. God works in mysterious ways, doesn’t she?