Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Come on Muriel, you can do better

Muriel Porter is a well-known Australian Anglican critic of the Diocese of Sydney (from the comparative safety of domicile in Melbourne!). She has just published a book Sydney and the Threat to World Anglicanism. Thinking Anglicans and The Lead carry some reports/links to an article by Porter published on the ABC's website which summarises the thrust of the book's thesis. Here is an extract concerning Sydney's links with the wider world:

"Its international influence reaches beyond the churches assisted through the GAFCON/FCA network, however. Some time ago it moved into the heartland of the Church of England through its close ties with the conservative Evangelical movement, Reform.

Similarly, there are links with conservative movements in the Church of Ireland, in the New Zealand church, in South Africa, and in the US and Canada. Sydney Diocese has also been closely involved in the formation of the breakaway Anglican Church of North America, with a leading lawyer from Sydney Diocese assisting in the drafting of the ACNA constitution.

The Ministry Training Strategy program (MTS) developed in the late 1970s by Archbishop Jensen's brother Phillip - now Dean of St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney - when he was chaplain to the University of New South Wales, has spread across the globe.

It boasts that it has been "developed, copied, refined and implemented in many parts of Australia and the world." It claims it has reached into Britain, France, Canada, Ireland (both north and south), Singapore, New Zealand, Taiwan, Japan and South Africa. Effectively, over almost 20 years, it has exported a program to recruit and train ultra-conservative Protestant ministers around the world."
This all sounds like rather a big octopus reaching around the world with its tentacles, destabilizing Anglican churches and their global commitments with each stretch of a tentacle. The fact is, it ain't so. Sydney has a role in influencing Anglican churches around the world - so do other dioceses and Anglican provinces, through companion relationships, through mission societies, through hospitality offered to (say) students invited to study in theological colleges - but what Sydney is doing does not add up to destabilization of the Anglican Communion. To the extent that 'destabilization' is occurring, many players are involved, and most of them jump to their own commands, not to the influence of others. Citing, e.g., a lawyer drafting the ACNA constitution is pathetic: ACNA is big enough and strong enough to do its thing without Sydney, but it is also humble enough to accept help from others.

Porter then describes the complex situation in the Anglican Church of Australia in which the Diocese of Sydney undoubtedly plays a significant role (it is the largest diocese, it is different to most of the rest of the church, especially on the matter of the ordination of women to the presbyterate and to the episcopacy). But no worries. Porter's train of thought steams on to the conclusion that Sydney's dark, significant threat is to the whole of global Anglicanism:

"The Australian church is facing a real crisis that may yet prove to be the "bridge too far." How the national church will be able to handle this situation and prevent possible repercussions both nationally and internationally is as yet unclear.

For all these reasons, Sydney Diocese can be seen to pose a threat to the stability of the Anglican Communion, to the cohesion of the Australian Anglican Church, and also to other Anglican churches such as those in the United Kingdom, in the United States, in Canada, and New Zealand.

It is also potentially a danger to those third world Anglican churches that are part of the GAFCON organization, because it claims its involvement is in response to Gospel truth. Sydney and its friends are the true believers.

Churches not aligned with it, taking a different view principally on the issue of homosexuality but also on women in ordained ministry, are portrayed as deniers of the Gospel. These claims, from determined, persuasive, well-resourced church leaders bearing gifts of support for, and assistance to, emerging churches, are hard to resist.

Overall, Sydney's influence is of real concern for the future of world Anglicanism."
This is just nuts. Why is Ashgate, an otherwise solid academic publisher, involved with a book which argues beyond the evidence?

For instance, Porter in this article on the ABC site, repeatedly mentions Sydney's influence on the Anglican church in New Zealand. Did she actually interview anyone here I wonder? If she had interviewed me, this is what I would have said:

1. Some Anglicans in the Diocese of Christchurch have been influenced by the Diocese of Sydney, both generally through sharing some of its ideas, and particularly through a few ministers being trained at Moore College.

2. I know of no other diocese in New Zealand in which either a general or a particular influence is at work. (For the record: I know of no general or particular influence in the Diocese of Nelson, a diocese which long ago in the past sourced three bishops in succession from the Diocese of Sydney, and for a period until around 1970 had a significant number of its clergy drawn from Moore College training backgrounds).

3. The majority of evangelical Anglicans in our church are enthusiastic supporters of their dioceses, support the ordination of women, and are open to charismatic theology and experience. That is, they are not particularly sympathetic with hallmarks of Sydney evangelicalism such as congregationalism, opposition to the ordination of women, and a negative line towards charismatic theology and experience.

4. I detect no destabilising influence in our Christchurch Diocese from those with links to Sydney.

5. In a worst case scenario in which a breakaway Anglican church was established in NZ (i.e. as has been murmured from time to time since the ordination of Gene Robinson) then (a) any 'Sydney' part of it would be a minority; (b) any such breakaway would be small relative to the totality of our church; (c) our whole church would not be destabilized in such an event. (In other words: conservatives in our church, including conservative evangelicals are quite capable of working out their own responses to issues before them, they are not at all bound to do anything which would destabilise our church, and the last rather than first thing they are liable to do is to make a phone call across the Tasman to Sydney).

In eight words: Sydney is not a threat to NZ Anglicans.

Quite the contrary, Sydney has been a good friend to us, not least, this year, in offering financial support to our Diocese as it seeks to rebuild.

I wonder if Muriel Porter in her book ever mentions actions by other churches in the Communion as destabilizing the Communion ... say, against the grain of Communion thinking, ordaining a gay bishop or two?

Just a thought!


Father Ron Smith said...

Your final paragraph, Peter, shows your identification with Sydney, as a partner with the schismatic tendencies of ACNA in North America - not to mention Sydney's influence through Abp Jensen's intimate connection with the GAFCON movement

These influences - from the Diocese of Sydney - are indeed worrisome, especially to those parts of the Church that are trying to bring some sort of restorative justice to Gays and Women.

By the way, you seemed not to mention the terrific influence of Sydney on the Diocese of Nelson, N.Z., which has been known to send it's ordinands to Moore College - one of the evangelical propagation centres of conservatism. Its own small theological institute in Nelson, though trying to replicate the Moore college ethos, has been seen to defer to Moore to educate its brighter evangelical sparks.

Your use of the term 'ministers' as opposed to the usual term which describes Anglican clergy 'priests', certainly indicates the extent to which Sydney advocates the gift of preaching - as preferable to the charism of priesthood. It's opposition to women is not so much a defence of priesthood, as a barrier to female preaching and leadership in the Church.

Also, Sydney's longing for Lay-Presidency at the Eucharist is at odds with most Provinces of the Anglican Communion, and contrary to the ethos of Anglicanism

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
I identify with all Anglicans concerned with the schismatic tendencies of TEC!

Have you read what I wrote? I specifically spelled out the non-relationship between the Diocese of Nelson and the Diocese of Sydney since (around) 1970. You will not be able to tell me the name of one clergyperson in the Nelson Diocese today who has a degree from Moore, let alone was 'sent' there by the Diocese of Nelson.

Kurt said...

I suppose that one cannot blame Dr. Porter for feeling as she does; after all, many Australian Anglicans find Jensenism repulsive. I agree, however, that what appears to be “a big octopus reaching around the world” to Dr. Porter, appears to many of us in North America as a curious Calvinistic denomination in its birth pangs. The analogy of big frog, small pond also comes to mind.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY
(Where we just dodged Hurricane Irene!)

Andrew Reid said...

Dear Kurt,
Many of us Australian Anglicans (even people from outside Sydney like me!) do not find the Sydney Diocese or the Jensens repulsive, but celebrate their commitment to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and growing His kingdom. They are probably the only Anglican diocese in Australia that puts serious investment (money, time and effort) into outreach and evangelism, rather than maintaining the buildings and structures.
Some of us evangelicals outside Sydney think on occasion they could pick their battles more wisely (e.g. diaconal presidency), and don't necessarily agree with all their theological positions (e.g. women's ministry). But we rejoice that they take the Bible seriously, preach the gospel fearlessly, train their ordinands soundly, and equip their lay people for ministry.
I am currently living in the Diocese of Egypt, where Moore College has been a great partner with the Alexandria School of Theology, and especially with establishing their Masters program.
What repulses Dr Porter is that anyone has the gumption to oppose the "progressive agenda", which is actually an agenda to abandon the orthodox faith, in Australia and throughout the Communion.

Father Ron Smith said...

Andrew Reed's last post, in which he claims the superiority of the Sydney Diocese (in the Anglican Province of Australia) in the task of promoting the cause of biblical literalism throughout the Anglican world; he is probably correct.

However, that does not necessarily equate with the task of loving people into the ethos of Gospel Freedom; the Good News of God's love for all people, which is the task of the Church Catholic.

Andrew Reid said...

Hi Father Ron,
I didn't say that Sydney promotes Biblical literalism at all. I said that they take the Bible seriously, meaning it is their final authority.
Show me any other Anglican diocese in Australia (or even the Communion) that has done anything on the scale of Connect09 to promote the sharing of the Good News, and I will happily recant my statements about their leadership in evangelism and outreach.