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Anglican Archbishop of Sydney: Peter Jensen

Presenter: Monica Attard

Tonight, we're talking to the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen.

The Anglican Church's highest legal authority, the Appellate Tribunal, has ruled in favour of female bishops – a milestone in the Church's history and of course its development. But the Sydney diocese, arguably the most powerful and conservative in Australia, which Archbishop Jensen heads, was vehemently opposed to the move.

Archbishop Jensen thinks, as a matter of Biblical principle, ordaining women as bishops is wrong. But why, given the Church has ordained women as priests? And given the Catholic Archbishop, George Pell, has come out in support of the ALP (Australian Labor Party) and its education policy in particular, which party does Archbishop Jensen think will win the election when it's finally called?
But he's keen to point out that at one stage it looked like the fight to protect the Franklin River was lost. Twenty-five years later, that river continues to run free.

MONICA ATTARD: But first, Archbishop Jensen on the problems he thinks will have to be dealt with if women are allowed to become bishops in the Anglican Church.

PETER JENSEN: Problems of relationship. They're not fatal but they will be problems of relationship. If you have a woman bishop of a particular diocese and there are in-principle objections… now, all around the Church this is so. There are minorities, presumably, in each of the diocese, who have in-principle objections, and they will find that difficult.

It's not like having a woman priest, you could move to the next parish. If you have a woman as your bishop and you have an in-principle objection, then that's a difficulty. And then, of course, a bishop represents their diocese to other diocese and again, if there are in-principle objections, there likewise is a difficulty.

MONICA ATTARD: But what sort of problems could arise, having a woman as a bishop?


MONICA ATTARD: In a diocese?

PETER JENSEN: …as I say, it's an in-principle business.

MONICA ATTARD: Mmm. But could you give me an example of what you think…

PETER JENSEN: Yes. There will be some, for example - I don't share this particular view - but there will be some who feel that the sacraments are not valid if a person who is not properly consecrated is giving the sacraments and therefore they will try to avoid such a person.

MONICA ATTARD: When you say not properly consecrated, what do you mean? Presumably they would be.

PETER JENSEN: They would be properly consecrated but, if you like, not validly. That is to say they're not, you know, people who should be consecrated.

MONICA ATTARD: But it would also be a valid consecration, would it not?

PETER JENSEN: Valid at one level, not at another and it'll depend…

MONICA ATTARD: But which level would it not be?

PETER JENSEN: There will be those who regard a woman as not able to be consecrated and therefore, they would say, therefore has not been validly consecrated.

MONICA ATTARD: I guess that's what I'm asking you. Why can a woman not be consecrated a bishop?

PETER JENSEN: Yep. On the side of those who are in favour of this development, they would say that it's a huge development. It's true that it breaks tradition of 2,000 years. Yet nonetheless, it must be done because of the equality of the sexes and as a matter of justice. They would say, furthermore, that any arguments against it from the Bible are not true.

MONICA ATTARD: You reject that, don't you?

PETER JENSEN: Well, I'm standing for something else. Now, I agree with the importance of justice, naturally, and I agree too with the equality of sexes but I have a different way of putting it. I see, in the opposite case, a certain degree of agreement with the independence and the individuality of our modern society. I'm standing for what you may call community. I'm standing for the relationship as the sexes as being equal but different. I'm standing for another set of values and that's what makes me, believing as I do about the Bible, against this development.

But it's not a matter of, you know, somebody might get my job one day, or something like that. I'm not accusing you of thinking that Monica, but there's a certain idea that somehow this is a power struggle. It's really a clash of two great competing values.

MONICA ATTARD: I guess that's where I'm stumped, to be absolutely honest with you Dr Jensen. If you embrace justice and if you embrace equality of the sexes, where is the disjunct between the two positions?

PETER JENSEN: In our society at the moment, there's a great deal of confusion about families and family structures. Well, I would say confusion. Others would embrace the new world in which we live. But, as we all know, in the last 30-40 years, many, many people are now living single and independent lives and not interested in being in a family on the long-term, and many others would like to be but can't find someone with whom to start a family, and marriage itself is now regarded as a, sort of, an option.


PETER JENSEN: It's in that discussion that this business about women bishops is to be found. It's in those values.

MONICA ATTARD: How? How so, can you explain it?

PETER JENSEN: Because I would say, if you went to a family, for example, and if you went to the sort of family I believe in, you'd come to a father and a mother who are entirely equal in God's sight and entirely equal in the sight of the law but are also different and have different responsibilities within the family. And it's when we start talking about those issues, and only when we start talking and working through what we believe about those issues, that issues like women bishops begin even to make any sense at all.

MONICA ATTARD: So this basically comes down to an argument that women are somehow less capable than men of carrying out the duties of a bishop?

PETER JENSEN: I'm interested in you putting that point of view Monica because, first of all, I never said anything like that at all, but what you are saying there reflects how people are determined to view my position, not through any malice or anything like that, but because it's so, it has become so self-evidently right that what I'm saying is nonsense and unjust.

MONICA ATTARD: No, not at all Dr Jensen. I guess what I'm struggling with is if you use the comparison of your very, very average family and a family that you consider to be a family…


MONICA ATTARD: …are you saying that a woman, for example, is less capable than a man of being, for example, the head of the house?

PETER JENSEN: I'd certainly say she's less capable of being a father.

MONICA ATTARD: But head of the home?


MONICA ATTARD: In the sense that a man is considered, in your view, to be head of the home?

PETER JENSEN: Yes. My way of putting that, Monica, and I think this is, this reflects the Bible's way of putting it, men and women have different responsibilities within the home.


PETER JENSEN: And sort of headship language, which to our ears sounds like domination, tyranny and all the other things that the women's movement exposed in the '60s, that way of looking at it is not what I'm talking about. But I am saying that there is such a thing as a father. There is such a thing as a husband. There is such a thing as a wife and a mother and we do have different but equal responsibilities within the home.

MONICA ATTARD: So what makes a woman then, in that paradigm, less able to carry out the duties of a bishop?

PETER JENSEN: Again, we come to the nature of the Church here. I can quite understand where these questions come from in the community because the Church looks for all the world like a big business, but you see, I see the Church as a family, first and foremost.

And in the New Testament the local church, which is a gathering of people in the same geographic area, the local church is described more in family terms than it would ever be described in terms of a company, for example, and therefore reflects family life.

We call each other brother and sister, for example. In some traditions the priest is called father. It's those relationships which are of interest to me and those relationships, I think, which ought to be reflected in the ministry of the Church.

MONICA ATTARD: So if you just changed the term "father", does that overcome the problem? I'm still struggling to see what ti is that it is inherent in women that you believe is unable to carry out the duties of a bishop.

PETER JENSEN: Well, you see, um, again I question the word "unable to" or "capable of". We're not talking here about skills…

MONICA ATTARD: Or shouldn't. Shouldn't, perhaps. Let's talk about should or shouldn't.

PETER JENSEN: …we're talking about responsibilities and given responsibilities. One of the tragedies of the modern family, I think - and I think this is coming out more and more as people really think about where they've got to – one of the tragedies of the modern family is the way in which fathers have been sidelined and fatherhood itself has become an empty shell. There doesn't seem to be a job for fathers to do anymore.

I'm saying that this argument we're having here, if you dig down more deeply, is really an argument about what fathers are about and what fathers are for.

MONICA ATTARD: But why do you think, why do you think the role of fathers is being usurped and how?

PETER JENSEN: Well it seems obvious to me that it is being usurped. The unwillingness of modern people to actually marry and therefore –cohabit, yes, but not marry – is an unwillingness to commit and it's an unwillingness, particularly of men – and why should they, in the modern world? – commit to women and families.

A father begins life first of all as a husband who has committed himself, for the long-term of his life, to a particular and unique woman, and to the family that, if God wills, they will bring into the world. Now that father then takes responsibility for the good of the home. Both sides have responsibility for that, but the father has particular responsibilities.

MONICA ATTARD: I mean, I appreciate that in the classic view of the family, but surely you would recognise as well that there are many, many different forms of family in this country.

PETER JENSEN: I like the way you put it. There's a classic view of the family that I've just enunciated and of course there are many different sorts of family in our country. I would think we would be better off as a community if we had more of the classic family.

MONICA ATTARD: You said many women within the Church are opposed to the idea of female bishops. How do you know that? Is that word of mouth? Have you polled them? How do you know that there are people who are against having women bishops?

PETER JENSEN: This is well known, shall we say. But there's also an organisation called Forward in Faith and an organisation called Equal but Different. Equal but Different is made up of women and at our recent, our General Synod two or three years ago the, I think it was 1,500 women signed a petition against this development. And that was from people all round Australia, many of them in Sydney. So I happen to know many women who regard this also as a matter, not so much of male versus female and a woman can do anything a man can do, those sort of, I think, rather outdated things.

MONICA ATTARD: And do you know what their reasons are?

PETER JENSEN: The same as mine. They read the Bible. They see in the Bible a picture of family and Church which, as you've said, is classic and which they see as better for humankind. And they're perfectly happy. In fact, some of the chief opponents of this development are, of course, women.

MONICA ATTARD: Now the decision has been deferred until at least the next national meeting of bishops in April of 2008. What are you going to be doing in the meantime to contest the ruling by the Appellate Tribunal?

PETER JENSEN: Well I'm not sure I need to contest it. I don't agree with it. The end of the world has not come. The sky has not fallen in. We will continue on our relationships with each other. In a sense the chief point was the ordination, ah, the ordination of women priests.

And what's happened as a result is that our federation, our union, our unity as a Church has been loosened, undoubtedly, by that. Whereas before all who were ordained could be recognised throughout the Church, now that's, unfortunately, and I say this with grief, is now not possible.

So, our unity has been, I say loosened. It's not been shattered, but it's been loosened. There are problems with it and there are difficulties as a result. That will be exacerbated and as the years go by, if you have an organisation which has less unity, you have more, I suppose more flexibility for new things to occur.

MONICA ATTARD: Do you think that the traditionalists will quit the Church is they end up with the prospect of female bishops?

PETER JENSEN: Monica, some have. Have already. That exodus occurred, I think, back in the '90s and subsequently, as people felt they were not treated correctly, and that exodus has largely occurred already I think. I'm not sure how many people will now quit the Church, particularly before the advent of a woman bishop in their part of the world. Most people don't want to go to Church to have fights and I think they'll carry on until something happens which their conscience forces them to take action on.

MONICA ATTARD: There's also the explosive issue of the role of homosexuals within the Church, isn't it? That's something that you're also grappling with.

PETER JENSEN: Yes it is. I think we need to say, and it's not often said, I think that those who take a different point of view from me on this are not suggesting that we bless all expressions of homosexuality. They're really talking about quite a limited thing. Namely they're asking that the Church recognises the permanent union of two persons.

They're not saying that all homosexual sex is good and so forth and so on. They have a real heart for homosexual people and they wish to, they wish to make sure that homosexual people understand the love of God for them as we all must do. That is true. But they're not suggesting that all homosexual sex under all circumstances is a good thing.

So, therefore, the people that I disagree with on this are closer to me than it may appear at first sight. We have a lot in common and we have a great deal of respect for each other. But there is a fundamental difference and that difference is causing us a great deal of grief.

MONICA ATTARD: Do you think that this issue of homosexuality is one that could actually result in a split in the worldwide Anglican communion?

PETER JENSEN: At one level it has, but the answer is no. And the Anglican communion is not like the Roman Catholic Church, for example, or even like the Orthodox Church – its other two large, sort of, similar churches. It's more like, I think, a family of churches, or a federation of fairly autonomous churches.


PETER JENSEN: Now what's happened it two irreversible things. First of all the consecration of an actively gay bishop in New Hampshire in the United States of America and clearly the Americans are not going back on that. They really believe that's a Gospel issue - very important indeed. They're not going to go back on that.


PETER JENSEN: Now, that's permanent. It being permanent, the rest of us will have to live with it and find ways of living with it. One of the ways that people are living with it is that bishops are being consecrated in Africa and sent to America to look after those who are opposed to this in America. This is boundary crossing in a big way. That didn't take place before. It has now happened.

Does this represent a split? I don't think it represents a split as much as a very severe loosening of the communion and new ways of being Anglican are going to have to be found in the world.

There's a lot of respect for each other. There's a lot of mutual help that goes on. We don't want to lose anything like that but we are going to have to find new ways of being Anglican I think.

MONICA ATTARD: Now you've recently joined religious leaders around Australia in condemning the Government's workplace relations laws. You've told the Bulletin you're worried about the decline of unions. Why?

PETER JENSEN: The issue I've been trying to raise is the time and relationship issue. You know, in the Bible it says, you shall work six days and rest the seventh day. That's pretty wise, if I may say so, since it comes from God. That rest on the seventh day is intended for us to refresh our relationships with each other, to make sure we don't exploit other people by overworking them and to allow time for God.

Now, how that works out in a modern industrial society is another matter again but surely we need to be very careful before… see, there's recent talk about banks opening on Sundays. I think that's foolishness. I don't think that's necessary and I think yet more people now are going to be involved on Sunday work and Sunday business on a day when we could be giving time to relationships.

Now it's that sort of issue, rather than holus-bolus condemning the IR laws, it's that sort of issue that I want to make sure we've got on the agenda and we're talking about in our community.

MONICA ATTARD: So your argument then is that there are, Sunday at the very least, is a day that ought to be reserved for relationships rather than anything to do with the number of hours that people necessarily work?

PETER JENSEN: Well, it's both actually. Yes, there is a, there is a usefulness in having… it may not be Sunday, but a shared day off in which we can all be pretty sure that we'd be able to go and visit mum in the nursing home. Now, and whether you're religious or not, it may not involve going to Church, but whether you're religious or not, to have a shared day off is a very good thing.

On the question of working hours, the point I'm making though is connected to this bigger issue that you've referred to here, and that is working hours and the number of hours we work. And given that now we almost certainly have two people from every home working, getting time together, getting time with children, getting time when we can spend on the things we want to do, is a crucial issue virtually for every Australian family.

Now, our governments have got to at least help us in that area and not make things worse for us.

MONICA ATTARD: Do you think the Government has actually underestimated public sentiment on the industrial relations reforms?

PETER JENSEN: Yes it has.


PETER JENSEN: Yes. Because, see, there's government and there's culture. Governments can only do a certain amount. They may think they can do a lot but they can only do a certain amount to help the culture of a society. The culture of a society rises from far deeper wells than merely what the government can do.

Now, culturally, we have got ourselves into the position of regarding work as being almost the most important thing. That’s' not just government, that's culturally. And we need to raise the question, both for the Government and for the culture as a whole, are we happy doing this?

MONICA ATTARD: And your answer?

PETER JENSEN: No, we're not. We are financially wealthy. We are relationship poor. That poverty of relationship is biting all over this country. People are feeling it.

MONICA ATTARD: What's your advice then to John Howard and Joe Hockey, the Industrial Relations Minister, with an election looming?

PETER JENSEN: I think they've got to say to this country that in the next period of government, if they are elected, they are going to give a great deal more attention to human relationships and making space for human relationships and I would go further in supporting the classic family, because I think that in the end we will deliver happier people if, on the whole, we can live within these families of father and mother and children.

MONICA ATTARD: And if the Government doesn't do that?

PETER JENSEN: Well I think this present Government does believe that. All our political leaders are caught between different philosophies. There is, in the present Government a sense of a, what you may call a libertarian philosophy, which works against that. Hence, WorkChoices, as though choice is the supreme human value.

On the other hand, what I do like about the present government is the sort of social conservatism as well, which has shown itself in various ways, and which I think is for the good of society as well. So, I'd like to make sure that they are attending to the issues of what you may call social conservatism.

MONICA ATTARD: Do you not, do you not see Kevin Rudd as being socially conservative?

PETER JENSEN: Well I was talking about the present Government. Now we've got to move to the government of the future. Once more - potentially government of the future - once more the Labor Party too is caught between its competing philosophies, I think within its own ranks.

There's a sort of, there's a sort of, sniff of the 1960s and '70s sometimes about the Labor Party in which it's all liberty and people have got to be given as much freedom as possible, with of course, a much more profound sense of social justice and of looking after people in the community, which reflects again its Christian roots.

Now how that's going to be played out if there is a Rudd government is going to be very interesting to see.

MONICA ATTARD: Do you think there will be a Rudd government?

PETER JENSEN: Well, there could be one, one of these days. Whether it's going to be the next election I'm not so sure.


PETER JENSEN: Well, who am I?

MONICA ATTARD: What's the sense, what's the sense that you're getting?

PETER JENSEN: I'm not here speaking as a Christian leader, let me say. I'm simply speaking as Peter Jensen who reads the same newspapers as everyone else does.

MONICA ATTARD: But what's your sense from your own community?

PETER JENSEN: Oh, well, we don't talk about politics much in our own community, actually. Anglicans keep their votes very much to themselves and I wouldn't, couldn't tell you whether Anglicans in my part of the world vote mainly Labor or vote mainly Liberal. I think our interests are more in the community and the well-being of the community rather than in who's in charge in Canberra or in Macquarie Street.

But leaving that to one side, if you ask me purely for Peter Jensen, ordinary citizen in the street, I would say don't think that Mr Howard is as yet beaten.

MONICA ATTARD: Archbishop George Pell, of the Catholic Church, has come out in support of the ALP's education policy, at the very least widely being interpreted as an endorsement of the Labor Party's chances at the next poll. Is it valid for a Church leader to come out in support of one political party over another?

PETER JENSEN: Yes. Because this particular Church leader, and me too to a lesser extent, has a very deep interest in education through the Catholic schooling system and speaking on that behalf he is certainly right to indicate how he thinks about it.

MONICA ATTARD: We know that you don't much like the Government's IR laws. You've told us that. Which other policies do you think they need to revisit?

PETER JENSEN: I think that the Iraq, I said at the time I didn't think that they had sufficient moral grounds to go into Iraq, I think that was demonstrated shortly after that adventure occurred. I think our Government has to keep reviewing that particular policy. I ma not sure that it's time to remove our troops from Iraq because of the, because once we're there, we're supporting people on the ground. I think our troops are doing very well there but I think they ought to keep that under review.

Clearly, if Mr Howard is to regain office at the next election, he must very, very clearly indeed give the country the lead on two major things. One is climate change. The second is Indigenous policies. On the second one, I know that he has made a decisive intervention and I think on the whole we are pleased with that, although we have hesitations about it, but that decisive intervention can only be the beginning.

This country has a huge responsibility for its Indigenous people more than, in a sense, almost anything else. The results so far, on the whole, have been appalling and unless we… well we just must continue to concentrate on this area and realise that we are dealing here with a long-term issue which must be dealt with and which we must support our governments in dealing with.

MONICA ATTARD: And do you trust Labor on both those issues – climate change and Indigenous affairs?

PETER JENSEN: So far, what I've seen would lead me to think that a Rudd government would take the responsibility in Indigenous areas quite seriously but I want to make sure whoever's in government that the matter is handled as a matter of very high priority.

MONICA ATTARD: Dr Jensen, a final question. Do you think Australia is ripe for a change after all these years of a Coalition Government?

PETER JENSEN: (laughing) That's tricky. Certainly, judging by what we're seeing around us, people are thinking that. Although it looks as though Australia is ready for that change, and I think Mr Rudd has been very wise in what appears to be a move into what I'd call a socially conservative direction, I think that's been wise, nonetheless, I wouldn't regard Mr Howard as beaten yet.

MONICA ATTARD: But do you personally think Australia is ripe for a change?

PETER JENSEN: You see, I don't really regard it as much of a change. Ah, I think on the whole, whichever side governs we'll get much the same sort of government.

MONICA ATTARD: And that was the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen ending Sunday Profile for this week. Thanks for listening.

Thanks to Sunday Profile Producer, Lorna Knowles, and to Local Radio Producer, Dan Driscoll.

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Last Updated: 14/10/2007 9:30:00 PM AEST


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