THE rector of an influential Anglican church has disagreed with the Sydney Archbishop Peter Jensen’s recent letter to parishioners opposing proposed federal legislation which would legalise same-sex marriage.
Dr Jensen has provided little evidence for his argument that same-sex marriages are bad, except to give a specific interpretation of the Bible with no further proof, the rector of St James’ Anglican Church, Andrew Sempell, says in his own letter, released to the Herald.
Given that the same-sex marriage issue has caused internal rifts among Anglicans, the Sydney diocese may be entering into a public debate on a decision in the sphere of the state ”more for the purpose of managing its internal concerns than for the welfare of the wider community”, he said.
Divisions in the US and Canadian churches struggling with questions about recognition of legal same-sex civil unions have loomed large in the Sydney diocese in recent times, Father Sempell said yesterday.
Revealing that senior legal minds have advised him in framing his statement, Father Sempell has proposed that ”all marriage-type” relationships including the de facto and same-sex varieties be recognised as civil unions under one federal Act. Churches could separately decide their own forms of recognition, he said.
Father Sempell’s high church liberal views tend to be at variance with his conservative Archbishop’s. The flock of his city church includes prominent barristers and judges, but Father Sempell declined to name those who helped him.
He was responding to the letter which Dr Jensen distributed to rectors a fortnight ago on the same Sunday that the heads of the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches issued strong statements opposing political moves to legalise same-sex unions. They were concerned about private members’ bills which have now been tabled.
A spokesman for the Archbishop, said that Dr Jensen had indicated that he would respect any rector’s decision to not distribute his letter.
This article from today’s ‘Sydney Morning Herald’- details the challenge by the Rector of the central City, Sydney, Anglican Church of St. James, to a public statement made by Sydney Archbishop Peter Jensen’s to congregations of the diocese, presenting his own conservative views about same-sex marriage.
Both Anglo-Catholic churches in Sydney – St. James & Christchurch Saint Laurence (near the central railway station) are outposts of a Liberal-Catholic ethos, at the centre of a mostly Conservative Evangelical diocese within the more liberal Anglican Church of Australia.
Sydney’s leadership is well-known for its reactionary attitudes toward gender and sexuality issues which are being brought to the fore in the world-wide Anglican Communion. Archbishop Jensen is connected, for instance, with the GAFCON group of Provinces in the Communion that have split with Canterbury, TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, on matters concerning the Ordination of Gays, Same-Sex Blessings and now the possibility of intervention in state facilitation of Same-Sex Marriage.
In addition to this, Archbishop Jensen is known to be against the likelihood of women having any role of leadership over men in the Sydney Diocese. He is also a prime-mover in the initiative to allow Lay-Presidency at the Eucharist in his diocese. These attitudes bring him into a situation of being at odds – not only with the Province of Australia, but also with most of the Western Provinces of the Anglican Communion.
It should be no surprise then that his latest campaign, to outlaw the possibility of Civil Marriage for Same-Sex couples in Australia (affecting not only Anglicans but also people totally unconnected with the Church) should draw criticism from those communities of Anglicans who do not agree with their Archbishop’s philosophy of trying to outlaw the possibility of Civil Marriage for non-church-affiliated citizens of Australia.
In a secular state – such as Australia happens to be – it ill-behoves religious leaders to deny what is intended to become a civil right for all citizens. Mr Jensen’s own religious opinions are not necessarily those of all Anglicans in his diocese, and I am glad that the rector of Saint James’ Church in the City is ready and willing to challenge his culture of homophobia.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand