The election of Dr Peter Jensen as the next Archbishop of Sydney looks as though it will produce fireworks in the Australian Church and across the communion.
Fireworks in Australia because there is no love lost between the ‘radical conservative’ (his own description) archbishop elect and the ‘liberal post-catholic’ (our description) Primate of Australia.
At his first press conference, Jensen let off the first salvo in what may well become a celebrated conflict. He spoke powerfully about the centrality of faith in the bodily resurrection of Jesus - which Carnley is given urbanely to denying. And he signalled no truce in the struggle over women’s ordination. Why, asked Jensen, are those who are so eager to confect women bishops (against whom there is a clear scriptural prohibition) at the same time so adamantly opposed to lay celebration of the Eucharist (when the scriptures are notably silent about who may preside)?
Jensen’s was a timely reminder that, if Sydney opts for lay celebration without the authority of the General Synod (as it will), the Primate of Australia (who himself did the same thing over women’s ordination) can hardly complain. What is sauce for the Perth goose is sauce for the Sydney gander.
But fireworks, also, in the wider communion because the glue of orders will have come further unstuck, with all that that entails. Here the liberals have only themselves to blame. They have deliberately turned Catholic ecclesiology on its head. The Catholic Church demands that its bishops uphold and defend the Apostolic faith. The liberal post-Catholics have proclaimed that whatever a bishop is prepared to defend is the Catholic Faith; and that to oppose or denounce it is a schismatic act. Their bluff is being called by an Archbishop who does not much care for their ecclesiology, but who has a burning love of the scriptures, and (what the post-catholic liberals lack) a burning desire to win souls.
Sydney, moreover, is a diocese with a sense of world-wide vocation. It aspires, from Moore College (the intellectual hub of which Peter Jensen was principal), to influence the whole network of Anglican Evangelicals world-wide. It is rapidly gaining that influence.
We advise George to continue taking the valium.
Congratulations to the Bishop of Blackburn for his recent forthright comments on the state of Christian education in schools. Clergy who regularly visit schools will be all too aware of the deepening crisis in Christian education over the last 30 years. The rules on school assemblies and acts of worship are ignored wholesale. In their place, all too often, is an unedifying mixture of school business; the sound of teachers’ hobby horses being ridden; dreary morality tales of a politically correct hue; and an uncertain exercise in crowd control.
Teaching in the classroom frequently relegates Christianity to the back of the queue behind the minority faiths and, under the banner of ‘respect’, ‘tolerance’ and ‘multi-faith awareness’ produces a spiritual stew without savour or nourishment. There is little evidence that any of this produces greater racial tolerance - one of the major aims of its social engineering - and has been of most benefit to the secularizers in our society. Our neighbours, of different faiths, have certainly never sought to downgrade the teaching of Christianity in our schools and, indeed, many of them have preferred Christian education to godless state regimes. But they have also pushed on apace with the religious education of their own children, all too aware of the ‘multi-faith’ trap.
The Church of England has many fine schools and it is a foolish parish priest who does not major on his school if he has got one. It is important that these schools are led and staffed by practising Christians unashamed of their faith and able to teach children in its ways. The vocation of a Christian teacher is second to none in importance for the future of the faith in this land.
Last month Lord Dearing published a report stating what we all knew. Church schools are very popular. Many of them offer a very high standard of education. As a result Dearing calls upon the Church to raise £25 million to start 100 new schools. But he also notes that some have utterly lost their way and scarcely qualify as Christian schools. Some dioceses have given their education brief, over many years, to career liberals embarrassed by the faith - with predictable results.
Three things need to be said: -
1. Instead of rushing to make every vocation priest-shaped we should be encouraging our young men and women to become Christian teachers. They are likely to have far more influence in that capacity on our future than most priests will ever have.
2. The diocesan education brief needs to be in the hands of educated committed believers determined to appoint practising Christian Heads and staff.
3. If Church schools are what people want then the government should stump up the cash. £25 million is a drop in a bucket to them and we have already paid the taxes for our children’s education.
The death of Cardinal Thomas Winning is a sad loss to the Church militant in these islands. The BBC managed to report his passing with restrained hostility for a man they clearly regarded as a superannuated bigot. The Prime Minister, whose shameful parliamentary record on life issues had been the victim of a Winning reprimand, briefly applied an onion skin to the official eye. The liberal intelligentsia hated Winning because he was that most unanswerable of critics – an educated working-class boy who, in his ascent to high office, had lost neither his convictions nor his courage. Growing up in poverty, he could speak for the poor. Knowing the implications of an ‘unwanted’ pregnancy, in those circumstances, he could stand firmly for the child and the mother. He understood at a profound philosophical level, as well as that of his unswerving Christian faith, the implications of the state sponsored culture of death. He distrusted the touchy-feely religious politics that hid its monstrosities behind comfortable language.
Winning had strong pastoral gifts and a sure public touch. He understood that the Church is not here to court popularity but to be prophetic. He confounded those in the Church who, like the current ruin of the Tory party, believe that shamelessly chasing after perceived public sentiment leads to success His personal standing and effect on public life remained high because, agree or disagree, people knew that Winning was authentic. He had integrity.
It is probably inconceivable that a man like Winning would ever achieve high office in today’s Church of England .It remains to be seen whether our Roman brethren have another doughty fighter in their ranks to strengthen the gospel witness in these islands .
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