OPINION | Nathan Campbell
Tuesday 11 September 2012
** Published with permission from St Eutychus
He was introduced as “Australia’s most prominent and outspoken Anglican Archbishop”, and Peter Jensen, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney certainly had Twitter ablaze over comments from last night’s QandA program on ABC. Nathan Campbell, from his blog St Eutychus, gives us his thoughts on the program.
While every word he spoke was seized on and ridiculed by Catherine Deveny, Peter Jensen winsomely, faithfully, and articulately, presented the gospel and called for a more respectful public discourse about serious issues.
Let me just start by articulating, lest there be confusion, why I think Peter Jensen did a good job while saying substantially the same thing as the ACL.
He talked clearly and winsomely about Jesus and how the gospel impacts our social position. Not on all issues – Jesus was almost absent on his treatment of Asylum seekers – though his love for others wasn’t – and he said that it wasn’t “unChristian” to seek asylum”… he also talked about things in a measured way and talked about wanting to improve the tone of conversation around these issues – I don’t think the ACL models this well, and they certainly talk about Jesus much less than Jensen did, and does. A friend suggested that my favourable response to Jensen, when he not only endorsed the ACL, but took the same position as them, was possibly a result of bias, or that it would be perceived to be the case. But let’s walk through last night’s program and see how the Archbishop did (this friend didn’t actually watch until the end, and I thought it got better as it went along).
On Asylum Seekers
I think this was where what I am guessing was a strategy that Archbishop Jensen employed to demonstrate that careful engagement isn’t the order of the day on Q&A – he has been, perhaps rightly, criticised for being a little waffly – but I think he may have been inviting people to interrupt. He’s typically incredibly well briefed and sensitive to different mediums. There’s also this:
Which is interesting. So I think he’s subverting the medium to make a point about public discourse.
ROSS GRENFELL: Archbishop Jensen, do you agree with Tony Abbott’s comment that good Christians would not use the back door in relation to asylum seekers using boats? After all, weren’t Mary, Joseph and Jesus undocumented asylum seekers when they fled to Egypt to escape Herod.
TONY JONES: Peter Jensen?
PETER JENSEN: No, I don’t agree with it and I do agree they were refugees and Christians ought to be extraordinarily sensitive to refugees and their needs. I agree with all those things. Can I go on?
TONY JONES: Yes, of course.
PETER JENSEN: I thought you might allow me. I do think, in terms of our political discourse, I’m sorry we can’t let the Government change its mind and get away with it because, after all, when new facts come in we’ve got to have people to change their minds.
In the light of my recent posts on asylum seekers I will say, that apart from tone, in the black and white form of the transcript, Catherine Deveny made some solid points, given extra credibility off the back of her recent Go Back To Where You Came From appearances.
CATHERINE DEVENY: …This is very easy. This is not about stopping the boats, this is about starting the planes. This is about processing in Indonesia and in Malaysia. There is no deterrent that you can set up in Nauru or Manus Island or Christmas Island that is going to stop those people getting on boats. They say to me – every single one of them has said to me, “I would be happy to be swallowed up by the ocean than go back to where we’ve came from.” You have no idea what these people are facing. It is extraordinary that we’re not doing our basic obligations as signatories to the UN Refugee Convention. We shouldn’t just be doing what the UN suggests we should be doing, we should be doing so much more. We have so much to give. This is a country that has been built on boat people, as they call them. I don’t see boat people. I just see people.
There was a nice moment where Peter Jensen promised to hold the government to account on its treatment of asylum seekers according to a recent report – which he had read, and could engage with.
CHRIS EVANS: Well, as I say, you can’t put a length of time on it. We don’t honestly know but in implementing the whole package one would hope that the deterrent value would start to see a change in behaviour. It’s one of the reasons why I think the…
TONY JONES: All right. So, no, just having elicited that answer I just want to hear from Peter Jensen. Are you satisfied with that, no time limits?
PETER JENSEN: Yes, well, I’ve had a look at the report. The spirit of the report is saying something a bit different, I think, Chris, and I trust that as you implement it you will be there’s nothing like hopelessness.
CHRIS EVANS: No.
PETER JENSEN: And to have arrived at Nauru and to have Australian protection in that sense, I know it’s an independent country, but to have no timeframe will breed the hopelessness that leads to self-destruction and to depression. So I would be looking for something better than that if possible, I have to say, and I think that’s the spirit of the Aristotle-Houston report.
I actually thought Chris Evans was worse to listen to than Catherine Deveny.
The Archbishop’s gospel contribution began in earnest on the question of the Sydney Anglican’s alternate marriage vows.
ELIZABETH ANNE SMITH: As a young woman and feminist living in the 21st century, where everyone is entitled to equal rights, I would like to know what valid reason the Church has to request a wife submit to her husband in marriage.
TONY JONES: Peter Jensen, let’s start with you since you started this debate.
PETER JENSEN: I thought it might be me. Yes. Thank you very much. Thank you for the question. Really I mean that, because at long last we’re beginning to have a conversation which sounds as though it’s going to be a rational and serious conversation about the nature of marriage and I have to say, from my point of view and perhaps some others as well, the whole question of marriage and family is one in our community that needs careful thought. Now, when I say the Church, by the way, we have put forward a possible service for use. It’s not mandatory. It’s an alternative. Let me say that. What we’re seeing, I think, is a clash of world views between what I’d call individualism and what you may call family or, in a sense, community. It’s a clash of world views which is going on all around us and it has drastic consequences one way or another. If you agree with me that a man is a man and a woman is a woman and although they are we are absolutely equal, equal in the sight of God, both made in the image of God, both with the same destiny, both with the same value, all those things are inherent in the Christian gospel and they must remain in the Christian gospel, agree with that and yet, on the other hand, I would say there are differences between men and women which both sides bring to a marriage and we have not been good recently at working out what it is that men bring to marriage and women bring to marriage.
This was perhaps my favourite moment of the night, Tony Jones treats his guests with thinly veiled contempt a little too often…
TONY JONES: Okay. Let’s just get to the heart of the matter and to the question. Now, you’ve said biblical teaching is that the bride can make a voluntary promise to submit to her husband. So what exactly does the word “submit” mean to you.
PETER JENSEN: Well, it is a biblical word.
TONY JONES: Well, it’s an English word, actually. It would have been in Hebrew in the Bible.
PETER JENSEN: I don’t know quite how to tell you this, but it was Greek actually, if that’s all right but don’t worry
Then there was this:
PETER JENSEN: If submission is in view, it is because a husband has made certain key promises. This is more about men than it is about women and it is about a concern that men are not being men in the community. What men bring to marriage, what men bring to anything, is that sort of physical strength, if you like, a certain degree of arrogance, a certain degree of determination to be bossy, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. What men are being asked – they were asked something before the women say anything. What men are being asked is will you live towards your wife like Jesus Christ who gave his life for his bride. Will you do that? And if the man says yes to that and only then, otherwise I would not recommend it, if a man says yes to that and so commits himself, then I believe it’s right for a woman, if she chooses to, to say I submit to that in the sense that I recognise it, I respect it, and I’m going to give you space in our marriage – I’m going to give you space in our marriage to be a man.
As Tony Jones turned to Catherine Deveny in response to this Peter Jensen showed he had been briefed, with a reference to a tweet she put out a week ago.
PETER JENSEN: Now, you believe in marriage.
CATHERINE DEVENY: No, I don’t.
PETER JENSEN: That’s an important first point.
CATHERINE DEVENY: I don’t believe in marriage.
PETER JENSEN: You don’t believe in marriage.
CATHERINE DEVENY: I’ve never been married but I’m a very big supporter of same-sex marriage because I believe that marriage is a mistake that everyone has the right to make. I have never been married but I would like to congratulate you on your decision to proudly fly the misogynist and medieval colours of your religion and I do support your right to discriminate within your religion. And what I think is great is that you can choose to go to Las Vegas and be married by an Elvis or now you can choose to go to the Anglican Church and be married in a museum by a dinosaur….
So I think it’s interesting that you guys are going for a niche market there. I mean you guys could have gone for the Gloria Jeans, the corporate rock, the Hillsong, the ‘Be awesome for Jesus’ but you’re going, ‘No. No. Men are in charge because of the mumbo jumbo.’ So congratulations.
TONY JONES: I think you ought to be able to respond to that but briefly I just want to hear the…
PETER JENSEN: Where would you start to respond to that? I’m looking for a respectful and serious discussion of very important issues.
CATHERINE DEVENY: That is respectful.
PETER JENSEN: And we get dinosaurs and this sort of stuff. Interestingly, in the churches for years now we have not been using this language and we’ve gone down to 30% of the market.
CATHERINE DEVENY: Mm, the market.
PETER JENSEN: I’m saying, no, I think there’s a clash of – I think it was your word. I think it’s a clash of cultures here, very important. I may be wrong about all this. I’m only human. I think it’s important.
That my friends is epistemic humility. It’s disarming.
BRONWYN FRASER: Hi. I work with Christian cultures – women in Christian cultures overseas who do have this biblical wife submission approach to marriage and they also report some of the highest levels of domestic violence and sexually-based violence. Up to 60% of the women have experienced this. Could it be that this sort of inequality in marriage can lead to domestic and sexually-based violence and, as a Christian, how does this actually represent what Jesus stood for?
TONY JONES: Peter Jensen?
PETER JENSEN: Yep. I believe this, again, gets to the heart of issues that are very important and can I say I utterly abominate the whole idea of domestic violence. I think it’s a wicked thing and any person – particularly any man who lays his hand on his wife is, to my mind, committing a grave sin. So that is what I believe. Now, is my view contributing to that end? I trust not because, properly understood, my view is saying that no man could ever do that, that it’s really he is to behave towards his wife as Jesus Christ behaved towards the Church.
He was again humble and open to discussion on gay marriage.
“PETER JENSEN: Yeah. Yeah. And again there’s an argument for this and it’s one that we ought to conduct in the right spirit, I believe, and with give and take and listening to the whole matter. I do…
TONY JONES: So you have an open mind about gay marriage?
PETER JENSEN: Well, I have the same open mind most people have about most things. Namely, with a good argument you may change your mind but for the moment you keep going down one track.”
Then it got really interesting, for me, anyway, given the last week… I take some solace from the bolded bits…
PETER KEEGAN: The Australian Christian Lobby has again made the headlines for offensive remarks made by its director, Jim Wallace. As a Christian, I continually find that the ACL does not speak for me and does not represent the kind of faith that I see reflected in the teaching and ministry of Jesus. Archbishop, will you publically say that contributions like those we heard from the ACL pose a greater risk to the health of our public discourse and the integrity of our faith than the presence of lifestyles or beliefs that may differ from our own?
PETER JENSEN: Again, thanks for the question. No, I won’t say that. I am generally supportive of ACL, I have to say. I don’t support everything that’s said by its leaders.
TONY JONES: What about this very specific statement where Jim Wallace suggests that homosexuality poses the same kind of health risk to the community as smoking does?
PETER JENSEN: It needs to be observed that he has been somewhat quoted out of context in some reports. I’m not sure about that one but in some reports he’s been somewhat quoted out of context. But what he has done for us, rightly or wrongly, what he has done is given us an opportunity to talk about something significant, namely the question of health risks. Now, I think it is true to say – I think it is true to say – it’s very hard to get all the facts here because we don’t want to talk about it and in this country censorship is alive and well, believe me…
In response to a gay teenager, brought up in a Christian home who explicitly cited the rejection from his Christian community as the reason for his suicide attempt, the Archbishop had this to say… I loved the last bit, because it’s what I’ve been arguing our response should be.
ALISTAIR CORNELL: My question is for Peter Jensen. I was born and bred Anglican but at the age of 15 I tried to take my own life. What advice would he give to a 15 year old suffering almost to the point of death from the rejection of his community about being gay?
PETER JENSEN: Thank you and thank you for the courage of coming on and telling us that story. You see, one of the difficulties is to get that story, to get it to someone like me and to give me the chance to assess it for what it is…
PETER JENSEN: Well a 15 year old sorry, I need to be careful here. We don’t want to talk about this particular young man with his courage. But clearly a teenager is going through a period in their lives, exciting as it is, in which they’re seeking to find themselves. A person who feels in themselves same-sex attraction and I might add, a lot of such folk have talked to me over the years, is seeking, I think, to find themselves, to find an identity and in our sort of society, with its emphasis on sexual activity as an identity finding activity, there is therefore the opportunity to think that that is the way to do things and yet here you have this frowned upon same-sex feeling.
TONY JONES: Okay, I’ve just to interrupt because we do need to hear other panellists on this subject but put simply are you saying or repeating, in a way, or making, you know, a sort of more complex argument about what Jim Wallace said, which is homosexuality is bad for your health? Are you seriously trying to make that argument tonight?
PETER JENSEN: I would like to know see, people tell me that it is and they produce literature on the subject. I can’t get a discussion going on this because it’s a forbidden subject. Now, I’m open on this. I hope it’s not true, Tony. I don’t want to see my friends dying and I’ve seen my friends dying. I don’t want to see that. I don’t want to hear stories like that. But, dear friends, sorry, when do we get to the point where we can talk about this without shouting at each other and hurting each other?
This bit was helpful too…
TONY JONES: Well, can I just ask, presumably you’ve looked at some of the science around the health statistics, have you actually looked at the science about the gay gene which suggests that it is intrinsic in a person their sexuality and if you’ve looked at that, I would ask you this: if God actually created homosexuals, would you not then have to turn around and change your mind on all of these issues?
PETER JENSEN: Thank you, Tony. God did create homosexuals. I don’t need the gene to tell me that. God created homosexuals. God created every person and loves every person, without doubt.
TONY JONES: No, I mean he created if there is a gay gene, would you say the creator was responsible for creating that?
PETER JENSEN: Well, I would say that that that may be the case but we’re not talking about same-sex attraction, we’re talking about the acting out of same-sex attraction. We’re talking about well, I realise that we’re living in a very, very different world from the one I’m talking about but I’m living in a world where a number of my friends have life long committed themselves to no sexual relations.
Then we were on the home stretch – atheism and proof of God’s existence.
“CATHERINE DEVENY: For me, I mean, you can took about proof and there’s no proof. I mean one of the things that I always think about is like if God exists why doesn’t he show himself? But when you actually look at the Bible, which is – that’s the only text that I’m – like, religious text that I’m really familiar with, it is basically social engineering embedded in fairytales and horror stories which is just chock full of homophobia, misogyny, discrimination and division and most people haven’t even read it. It has been written by 44 – you know, 60 people, I think, 44 chapters, you know, three different languages over thousands of years, thousands of different interpretations and despite all of those different interpretations, the only thing they can all agree on is homophobia, misogyny, discrimination and division. So, I’m sorry, the way that I see it, it’s just been a very, very handy way to keep people in their place, particularly women, homosexuals and people who don’t believe what they believe.”
Then there was this. Pure gold. Christ centred gospel in the face of the chatter of Catherine Deveny who couldn’t resist scoring cheap points with angry soundbites. This is why I’m so very happy with last night. I know most people agree with Catherine Deveny’s assessment that the church is out of touch on social issues – you only have to look at the comments on this post that went up when it was just my tweets… but that’s not the point. Winsomely, and gently, responding to criticism and seeking a conversation where you can get to this point – having argued your position on social issues on the basis of Jesus and the gospel all the way through – that’s why this man is an example for how to, as John Dickson says, do public Christianity.
PETER JENSEN: Okay. Has God shown himself? Yes, I believe he has and I believe he’s shown himself in Jesus Christ. I believe if you want to know examine his life, examine what he said, examine his miracles and that’s where the big issue is. Come back to Jesus Christ and examine his life, examine what he said, examine what’s around him. I have to say that Catherine’s account of the Bible is as fanciful as a tooth fairy. It’s got no bearing on the reality of the Bible.
CATHERINE DEVENY: You mustn’t have read it.
PETER JENSEN: Yeah, I’ve read it a bit. And really the big look, I tell you what, the big story of the Bible is just as simple as anything. Jesus Christ came into the world to save us and he is God amongst us. What more could we ask? I tell you what, it’s the most gracious I’m so sorry you’ve got your view of it.
CATHERINE DEVENY: You said, “What more could we ask?” Equality, that would be good.
PETER JENSEN: Well, we’ve got it because every man and woman…
CATHERINE DEVENY: I’m sorry, a white middle class man like you does have it. Try being disabled, try being an asylum seeker, try being gay, try being a woman, you’ll find it’s not there.
TONY JONES: Okay. All right, Catherine. No. No. No. No. Okay. All right. Sorry, I said we’d give him the last word. I didn’t mean…
CATHERINE DEVENY: Yeah, I think he said plenty of words.
PETER JENSEN: Well, the last word is that in Jesus Christ we have that equality and in Jesus Christ was have that salvation and all I can say is the most wonder that the love of God for everyone, no matter who they are, no matter how they’ve lived or whatever, is the greatest reality in the world.
Here are my tweets from during the show.