Dean Jensen challenges inaccuracies

Allan Dowthwaite  |  19 October 2004  
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Dean Phillip Jensen addressed the Sydney Synod tonight, challenging and correcting inaccuracies in the media coverage of his recent visit to the UK. A full text of his speech is below.

Brothers and sisters in Christ thank you for giving me this opportunity to make a personal statement.

I am sorry to take the time of Synod, but recent media reports concerning me have caused great and unnecessary alarm in our diocese. Worse still it has diminished our good standing in the eyes of some people that we are hoping to reach with the saving news of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I have not been able to speak before this for a variety of reasons. When the reports first came out I was still in England. Before I had a chance to read them I was in the air flying home.

As a very bad traveller, I already had jet lag and migraines before boarding at Heathrow and I have continued with them since landing in Sydney. On the last leg from Singapore I was struck with an ongoing and extremely painful medical condition. Doctors on the plane gave me sufficient narcotics to knock me out and I was offloaded from the plane by ambulance and taken to the Prince of Wales Hospital. With sufficient rest I was able to fulfil my preaching engagements on Sunday and made most of Synod yesterday.

I have some sympathy for the journalists who work in our public media. They work in a highly competitive environment under the pressure of furious timetables and deadlines. They have to trust each other’s reports and so frequently recycle each other’s news. They are serving a public that wants everything, even complex issues, summarised down to the simplest sound bite possible.

Unfortunately instead of simply reporting what happened their reports make them into players in the events, they operate in the worldly paradigms of conflict and politics, which does not allow them to report what actually happens – especially in religion. They rarely pay attention to the difference between written and spoken words as means of communication, nor of the social context of relationship in which the words are spoken

While sometimes, concrete errors may be corrected when people complain – the impressions given are never corrected. When the story is repeated in many media outlets it becomes impossible to correct.

Notwithstanding my sympathy for the difficulty of their work, I must say they got this story wrong and have done great damage for which we are owed an apology and correction. I did before leaving England dictate a very quick letter to the Guardian warning that I had been “grossly misrepresented”, but that did not prevent the story travelling around the world and growing in bizarre nonsense as it travelled.

I did not call Rowan Williams a prostitute; I did not refer to him by name or by title.
I did not say “Kings College Chapel in Cambridge was a ‘temple to paganism” for selling the records and compact discs of its famous choir in the ante-chapel.”
I did not launch an attack, blast or berate my hosts – Reform – because they sent an email apology to the Archbishop Canterbury over my “indiscretions”.

Reform did not apologise for my supposed indiscretions or inappropriate language but rather for the misrepresentations of the conference by the Guardian.

Reform has not withdrawn their support for me any more than I received the wrathful blast of my brother on the telephone.

In fact Reform have written endorsing my views

To the editor of the Church Times

Dear Editor

Pat Ashworth’s report of last week’s Reform conference referred to an email I sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury and suggested that it contained an apology for the views expressed by one of our speakers, the Dean of Sydney. That is incorrect. 

Phillip Jensen’s remarks to us were biblical and challenging. We support his analysis of the current state of affairs in the Church of England. Indeed, the proposals we passed were all designed to respond to the position we are in, where some of our bishops apparently subscribe to the Church’s official position on matters of human sexuality while making clear that their views are at odds with the Church’s historic teaching. It is not possible for a bishop or Archbishop only to fulfil his canonical duty to “teach and uphold sound and wholesome doctrine” (Canon C.18). It is surely a corruption of high office for which you receive a stipend to try to “uphold” a fundamental doctrine, while you fail positively to “teach” it because you do not believe it. That was the gist of Phillip Jensen’s assertions. We fully agree with him and, sadly, two years ago we also asked the Archbishop to stand down, as he knows.

It is true that I was taken aback by the headline which appeared in the Guardian “Evangelicals call Williams a prostitute”. This misrepresented what was said at the conference. It was for this reason that I contacted the Archbishop’s office to say that I was sorry for any hurt caused by the Guardian’s reporting.

Yours truly,

David Banting

Chairman of reform

Furthermore seven ministers of some of the largest churches in England attending the Reform Conference have written their support of me as published this morning.

To the Editor
The Sydney Morning Herald

18 October 2004


Dear Sir,

As leaders of some of the largest Anglican churches in England, we wish to say that we fully support the position of the Dean of Sydney expressed at the Reform National Conference. He said that when those who hold high office and receive a stipend in the Church of England publicly uphold one set of beliefs while privately believing differently, they should resign.

Because Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has publicly admitted this, two years ago we of Reform sadly also requested him to stand down, as Rowan Williams knows.

Yours faithfully


David Banting
Vicar of St Peter’s, Harold Wood, Essex

Richard Coekin
Minister of Dundonald Church, Wimbledon

Jonathan Fletcher
Vicar of Emmanuel, Wimbledon

David Holloway,
Vicar of Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne

Angus Macleay
Rector of St Nicholas, Sevenoaks

Hugh Palmer,
Vicar of Christ Church, Fulwood, Sheffield
Rector-elect of All Souls’, Langham Place, London

Vaughan Roberts
Rector of St Ebbe’s, Oxford

William Taylor
Rector of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, London

Melvin Tinker
Vicar of St John’s, Newland, Hull

These serious errors of fact have been published around the world but I doubt that they will ever be corrected because it is old news and an embarrassing systemic failure of modern journalistic methodology.

But with them have come the false impressions that will never be corrected because – being impressions – they cannot be proven. The impression given is:

That I took it upon myself with scant regard for my hosts to go to England to launch an ill-considered and personal attack on the Prince of Wales and the Archbishop of Canterbury;
That my hosts in England were embarrassed and tried to apologise for having me;
That the leaders of the Diocese of Sydney were embarrassed and distanced themselves from me;
That having made a complete fool of myself I had returned and “confined” myself to home not taking any calls because of fairly pathetic headaches and jet lag.

Whereas in fact I did not go to England on my own initiative (or diocesan finances). I went to England at the persistent invitation, and under considerable pressure, from our friends at Reform who paid for the trip.

My hosts are thrilled with the conference and voted unanimously (with one abstention, on one motion) for all the matters that were before us and that they had invited me over to persuade their members to adopt.

Our diocesan leaders were not speaking because they only had the media reports and rightly suspected that these were serious misrepresentations.

And yes, my body has its weaknesses and frailties – I do get jet lag and migraines, and the leg from Singapore was frankly horrifically painful. So I needed time to recover for I was preaching in our Cathedral three times on Sunday. But I was not hiding.

For the last twenty years I have been in dialogue with a group of Evangelical Anglicans who have come together under the name Reform.

Their conferences have become stuck because there are those who want to take one action, those who want to take a different action, and those who want to take no action.

However with the current crisis in the Church of England, their committee knew that at this conference they would have to agree to take action or give up.

So they pressured me to come to their conference in order to persuade their membership that it was time to take action.

I gave three long talks – each over an hour – as well as being in their consultation groups all day and into the evening. The talks were all prepared at the conference in the early hours before breakfast in response to their struggle to find the right way forward. I have not got a full text of the talks. They were given extemporaneously from notes. I have not got tapes of the talks, though I am having them sent to me. Through jet lag and migraines and without scripts I cannot be absolutely sure of what I said – and preaching extemporaneously amongst friends in a live conference situation – I may well have used loose expressions or confused my meaning.

The talk pursued one long argument through the topics such as – should Christians fight or contend, if so how – with what weapons under what circumstances and with whom? This required discussion as to the nature of the Church of England: Is it the church of the English people or the church of Jesus Christ in England? Is it God’s heavenly church or a temporal religious organisation? It required discussion on congregationalism and denominationalism as well as corporate sin and responsibility compared to individual sin and responsibility. In particular it required the exploring of concepts of the corrupting consequences of heresy and immorality, in order to gain some agreement and understanding of the extent of the problems in England – where there is great diversity from one diocese to another, and confusion between the present presenting problems and the underlying real historical problems. Especially we discussed the issue of the extent of the problem and whether the Church of England was systemically corrupt and sinful. All these issues and more, as you can imagine, need to be explored by the faithful members of the Church of England before they can choose to take serious action and reform the church.

In the process of this lengthy discussion I used many illustrations of the problems. I tried to keep them anonymous wherever possible because I was illustrating principles and ideas not attacking persons. Some illustrations could not be anonymous because they were so famously public there was not much point to trying to cover what was being spoken about. The Journalist who attended only one of the talks, referred to some of these illustrations without ever explaining what they were illustrating or what I was speaking about. He clearly did not understand some of the illustrations and filled in the names where I had studiously avoided doing so. I was not playing the man but the ball.

So what of these notorious illustrations?

As I remember it, the Prince of Wales illustration was part of the discussion on whether the Church of England was the Church of the English people and if so then he could become as he wishes “the defender of faith” – or the Church of Jesus in England and if so he should become “the defender of the faith”. However such a consideration cannot be made without noticing the connection between his morality and his religion.

On the difficulty of the Church of England’s understanding of itself, I used my first visit to King’s College Chapel in 1983 as an illustration. There were large signs indicating that this was the holy place of God and a house of prayer for all nations. Therefore we were bidden to be quiet and meditative. Beside these signs was the counter selling mugs and tea towels and recordings. I pointed out that if the signs were right then as a follower of Jesus I should have cleansed the temple of the traders. On the other hand if the signs were wrong and it was only a beautiful rain shelter then they could legitimately sell their goods and wares and I could legitimately use the place to declare to the other tourists the great saving message of Jesus.

But what of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the phrase “the prostitution of Christian ministry”? There I was discussing whether the church had become systemically corrupt. With allusions to several different bishops but without naming him or any other one, I pointed out that when the chief office bearers publicly subscribe to the church’s official set of beliefs but privately pursue a different set – while still in the pay of the church – we do in fact have corruption. They cannot teach what they do not believe for that would be hypocrisy – but not to teach what they have been appointed and have undertaken to teach is a dereliction of duty. Worse still, their appointments and committee work is at best under a cloud of suspicion, or worse are plainly expressions of their personal agenda.

I am sorry that the media reporting of my activities have caused embarrassment to Christians in Sydney over the last week. Our friends around the world are in great difficulty at this time and are looking to us for help. Their problems are much greater than embarrassment. We cannot ignore their pleas for assistance. We cannot be engaged in their battles without calling sin, heresy and corruption for what it is. We are engaged in a spiritual warfare and if the first casualty of war is truth you can rest assured that a war with the father of lies must inevitably be encased in falsehood, rumours and lies.

I am truly sorry if I have failed you in any way but I was only earnestly doing the shepherd and watchman task to which I believe I have been ordained.

CONTACT:
Margaret Rodgers
(W) 02 9265 1507
Mobile: 0411 692 499
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