THE Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen, has finally ended speculation and announced, “with regret”, that neither he nor the five Sydney regional bishops will attend the Lambeth Conference this summer.
The decision has been criticised by the Primate of Australia, Dr Phillip Aspinall, Archbishop of Brisbane, who apparently learnt of it from media reports.
In a brief statement at the conclusion of an ordination service in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, on Saturday, Dr Jensen announced that the Sydney bishops had decided not to go because they sensed that “attending the Conference at this time will not heal its divisions.” They remained “fully committed to the Anglican Communion, to which they continue to belong”.
Dr Jensen declined this week to speak directly about his decision, but, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday (extract), he declared that the Anglican Communion could never go back “to being the Communion which we once were”. There had been permanent change, such was the fallout from the North American “defiance” of the 1998 Lambeth resolution on homosexuality and “the teaching of the Bible”.
In the article, Dr Jensen criticised some American Anglicans for being “as committed to their new sexual ethics as to the gospel itself”. They intended to “act as missionaries for this faith, wishing to persuade the rest of us”.
The Americans had irreparably damaged the standing of the Lambeth Conference by their “direct defiance” of the previous Conference. Many, including bishops in England, had questioned whether Lambeth could deal adequately with these urgent issues, he said.
Dr Jensen, together with the Most Revd Peter Akinola, Primate of Nigeria, is one of the leaders of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) to be held in Jerusalem in the lead-up to the Lambeth Conference (News, 18 January; Comment, 25 January).
Dr Aspinall said that he found it difficult to understand the view that the Lambeth Conference was not a proper place to deal with issues facing the Anglican Communion.
“I think the only way we can really address issues of deep difference in the life of the Church is to come together, pray together, study the scriptures, and speak openly with each other,” Dr Aspinall said. “That some bishops seem willing to forgo this important opportunity is disappointing.”
Two NSW rural bishops have also defended the Lambeth Conference, including a traditional Sydney ally, the Bishop of Armidale, Dr Peter Brain. He is reported as saying that he did not think boycotting Lambeth would help.
The Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Brian Farran, who has previously criticised GAFCON, has said that, to be faithful to the last Lambeth Conference, the Church should be listening to the experience of gay and lesbian Christians. Deciding not to go to Lambeth was “signalling to these people that we are not in the business of listening to them”.