Doctor Jensen, I Presume

‘I want to stake my life on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. That’s the agenda; that’s the news as far as I’m concerned. The main contest today in the world in which we live is a contest between the men and women who think that this world is all there is – and therefore there is no hope, no eternal life, no God, no forgiveness of sins, no Holy Spirit – and those who believe, as I do, that God is true, that his kingdom will come, that there is eternal life and that angels exist. I believe in the Holy Spirit, and angels, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. That’s what I’m on about.’

With these powerful words, Dr Peter Jensen began his first press conference as Archbishop-elect of Sydney on Thursday 7th June. He went on to speak about the link between unbelief and ‘the grave social difficulties we are experiencing in our community’, in particular the ‘lack of hope’ infecting young people. He also urged his hearers to ‘look to the way in which we treat the lonely, the dispossessed, the vulnerable, and especially how we as a community treat prisoners and captives.’

Electoral process

Archbishops of Sydney are elected by Synod, a large body of over 700, comprising all the rectors of parishes and two lay people from each parish. Candidates and their opinions are thoroughly scrutinised by Synod; speeches are made for and against each of them, and various rounds of voting take place until a clear result is achieved.

This happens behind closed doors, and it is well known that participation is not for the faint hearted. A major concern of Sydney was to allow the democratic process to be as transparent as possible. For some weeks there had even been an election web site containing updates on the candidates together with a digest of articles appearing in both Church and secular media. The word ‘campaign’ was actually used by some of the candidates to describe this period.

During that time the Sydney Morning Herald seemed to be running an anti-Jensen line, joining forces with Professor Michael Horsborough whose anti-Jensen article in the Bulletin (the national news weekly that publishes Peter Carnley’s articles from time to time!) seemed to write off as obscurantist anyone who believes in the bodily resurrection of Christ and the revealed nature of God’s truth.

Five candidates stood for election. It is interesting that the three who were knocked out in the first round of voting were the most ‘flexible’ on a range of matters, especially the ordination of women.

Front runners

The election was always going to be a contest between Assistant Bishop Robert Forsyth and Dr Peter Jensen, Principal of Moore Theological College. They are old friends, and most Anglicans outside Sydney would be hard pressed to distinguish between them theologically. Forsyth, however, was presented by his supporters as being ‘a bit more Anglican’, with wider sympathies than Jensen. Indeed, his campaign material made it clear that while he theologically approves of lay presidency at the Eucharist, he believes that now is not an opportune time for Sydney to move in that direction, for to do so would limit Sydney’s influence and leadership among Evangelicals in the wider Communion.

This was Archbishop Goodhew’s line, supported by Bishop Paul Barnett in the light of Sydney’s new-found relationship with a growing Evangelical constituency in first world Anglicanism as well as with burgeoning Evangelical Third World provinces since the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Forsyth believes that breaking the nexus between ordination to the priesthood and presidency at the Eucharist would prejudice these Evangelicals against Sydney.

Initially, Forsyth received a majority in the house of laity but not in the house of clergy, whereas Jensen received a majority in the house of clergy, but not in the house of laity. The following night, after what members describe as a particularly robust debate on the candidates and their merits, Forsyth failed to receive a majority in either house, and Jensen received a sizeable majority in each.

Then the motion was put, ‘That Canon Peter Jensen be invited to become Archbishop of Sydney.’ The laity voted 336 for and 80 against; the clergy voted 214 for and 25 against. When this result was announced, the Synod rose and broke into spontaneous applause.

Lay presidency

Dr Jensen will be consecrated and installed on 29th June, ensuring that Sydney will not be without an Archbishop for General Synod just three weeks later.

Today’s press conference was the beginning of Peter Jensen’s relationship with Sydney ‘at large’. Partly because he is a quiet man by nature, and partly because his ministry has been predominately played out behind the scenes, he has not had a lot of public exposure in the media. That made his performance today all the more remarkable.

The journalists found him intellectually engaging, and quick to respond to their curliest questions. During the press conference and in an interview shown on national television this evening, Dr Jensen witnessed to the centrality of the risen Christ; he kept referring back to the Scriptures, even when calling into question various government social policies, including the Prime Minister’s refusal to say ‘sorry’ to the aboriginal people for the devastation of their culture. Gently but firmly he reiterated his opposition to the ordination of women; he also upheld the uniqueness of Jesus as the Saviour of the world.

Dr Jensen was asked whether, unlike Archbishop Goodhew, he would assent to an ordinance allowing lay presidency if the Synod voted to allow it. He responded, ‘That’s assuming that it might. I have not revealed to anyone what I might do under those circumstances – and I don’t intend to reveal it today – partly because I really am waiting to see what happens, and the circumstances in which this all does happen. And I’ll make my judgement then. Though I have to say I’m in favour of lay administration – you realise that of course.’

Interesting days are ahead!

David Chislett is Rector of All Saints’, Wickham Terrace, Brisbane in the Diocese of Brisbane.