Archbishop Jensen on QandA last night–objective? No.

Archbishop Jensen and I are twins – well, both born in 1943 and there are a number of points at which we may well have almost met. I, you must recall, was myself a teenage Calvinist.

Last night the Archbishop expressed qualified accord with the asinine remarks of the voice of the Australian Christian Lobby. This is hardly surprising as underneath all the polish and politeness this is the bottom line of both of them.

1:22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 1:23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

1:24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: 1:25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

1:26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 1:27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

1:28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 1:29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 1:30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 1:31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 1:32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

2:1 Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. 2:2 But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.

That from Paul to the Romans. I am always intrigued by the fact that lesbian acts – or perhaps some kind of pagan sacred sex practice which would at least link to Paul’s argument rather more obviously – precedes what may or may not be an account of male homosexual acts. Notice I have avoided words like “homosexuality”, as that concept did not exist as such in Paul’s day. I am intrigued, of course, because in English-based law lesbianism was never illegal. There is a probably apocryphal story that Queen Victoria would not assent to outlawing it because she did not believe such a thing was possible.

For me the passage above is an interesting and by no means straightforward set of views by a first century Christian convert from Judaism – and the writer would not have considered himself to be composing sacred scripture valid for all ages. That was decided several centuries later in retrospect when the process of establishing which of many texts that were circulating were “canonical” occurred. That, if you like, is an objective view of the New Testament. Nothing new, I might add. 


I recently read Bart Ehrman’s Forged – Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (2011). To my mind Ehrman is much nearer objectivity than Peter Jensen ever is. Peter Jensen’s forte is special pleading – and that I guess is what he is paid for. You may see an extended example in his 2005 Boyer Lectures. I don’t propose to argue the toss on fundamentalism (Jensen wouldn’t subscribe to all the baggage that term comes with), evangelicalism and Biblical scholarship – whether committed (Jensen’s kind) or objective (Ehrman’s kind).

The authority of God’s word remains a key struggle for all Christians " even in places like Sydney with a strong biblical heritage " said Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen at CMS Summer School’s communion service on Sunday.

Dr Jensen, speaking in his capacity as CMS President on 2 Peter 2 and 3, warned the 2000-strong gathering of CMS members, supporters and missionaries against false gospels that promise elusive liberation.

"Freedom is not simply a multiplicity of choice,’ he said. "We are created as worshippers of the one true God.  You will reach your full human potential when, and only when, you are worshipping the Lord God. That’s where you will achieve your greatest freedom.’”…

While Romans is an authentic document, according to objective scholars, 2 Peter most definitely is not. But in either case given that God has never written any kind of book to cure our longing for certainty in a troubling world, this does not really matter.See also Let’s keep a sense of perspective here, right?

At the same time I wish that another of the panellists last night would really do her homework. Her account of the Bible was indeed crude and laughable, a point I found myself in agreement with Peter Jensen.  I am sure she is a good woman, as one would gather from having seen her in Go Back to Where You Came From on SBS, not to mention her profile:

Her extensive charity and community work includes Asylum Seeker’s Resource Centre, Homelessness and Broken Rites. She is a proud ambassador for Dying With Dignity Victoria, International Day of People with Disability and the Patron (along side Father Bob) of Griefline and was one of the founding members of Friends Of Public Housing and a Tafe Champion.

But subtlety is not her strong point.

Now the question: do GLBT people have lower life expectancy, and if so, why? The underlying point in both Jim Wallace and Peter Jensen, however they gloss it, is that they take a quite literal and authoritative take on Romans: men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. Not acting on same sex attraction at all was what in rather mealy-mouthed fashion Peter Jensen was advocating last night, abstinence and perpetual virginity, even if he also advocates listening to people and being non-judgemental.

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.

TONY JONES: All right, I’m just going to interrupt because there are several people with their hands up. We’ll take this gentleman here.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes, Peter, I’m 100% gay and I’m HIV negative and I’m not going to die any time sooner than anybody else.

PETER JENSEN: I’m glad to hear it.

I think it pretty well indisputable that the tradition, as continued by Peter Jensen and ACL, is utterly destructive for GLBT people. It certainly was for me. Perhaps we have moved on from the 1970s when a Wollongong Anglican person’s way of helping an also mentally ill colleague of mine was to counsel him that he was committing the sin against the Holy Spirit for which there is no forgiveness. Fortunately that same friend found rather more charity from a Catholic priest in Sydney, but not before, driven over the edge by that Wollongong Anglican, he had attempted to do away with himself. 

I could go on, but I have said enough for you to see that I believe Peter Jensen’s pose of objectivity is just that – a pose. His mind, as true believers always do, is already made up because the Infallible Book has told him what to think.

Contrast Shout Out Health.



And, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, it doesn’t matter whose Infallible Book (or tradition) we are talking about. The thing the world really needs is a sifting of the wheat from the chaff in ALL traditions, because they are all only too human. Not one of them is certain, not one of them is perfect. That’s the way it is, and it’s a shame we can’t get used to it.

See also my GLBT resources (last updated 2007).

And add to the mix: Healing the Gospel: Did Jesus Die to Save Us From God? by Derek Flood (Sojourners: God’s Politics).

Why did Jesus have to die? Was it to appease a wrathful God’s demand for punishment? Does that mean Jesus died to save us from God? How could someone ever truly love or trust a God like that? How can that ever be called "Good News?"…

When did the good news become bad news?

Behind all of this lies an understanding of the cross rooted in retributive justice known as penal substitution. Simply put: in this theory of the atonement Jesus is punished (penal) instead of us (substitution). Penal substitution is, without question, the most widespread theory of the atonement today. So much so, that many people do not think of it as a theory at all, but simply as "what the Bible says.”…

It wasn’t always that way of course. For the first thousand years, the work of Christ was understood primarily in terms of God’s act of healing people, and liberating them from the bonds of sin and death. This understanding of the atonement is known as Christus Victor. But gradually there was a shift towards a legal focus, and with it a focus on violent punishment.

The message was flipped on it’s head: instead of the crucifixion being seen as an act of grave injustice (as it is portrayed in all four Gospels), there was a shift towards the claim that God had demanded the death of Jesus to quench his anger. Not coincidentally, this coincided with increased violence perpetrated by the church, and it went downhill from there.

Here’s a simple rule of thumb: if your theory of the cross completely contradicts everything Jesus stood for and taught… it’s probably wrong. It’s sad that I need to say this, but the Gospel is rooted in love of enemies, not in retribution. Retribution is the opposite of forgiveness. So the idea that the entire work of Jesus was to fulfill the demands of retribution is simply absurd. It’s high time we went back to the focus of Jesus, which was not on violent demands for so-called justice, but on restoring broken lives, and showing enemy love. That’s what the cross is really about….

Next day

There have been responses in the press over what Archbishop Jensen had to say on Monday night: Sue Kelly on Heckler, for example. Several letters:

As an Anglican, I cannot sufficiently express my disappointment and indeed outrage at the theological arrogance displayed by Archbishop Jensen on Q&A (”Anglican archbishop backs Christian lobby’s gay views”, September 11).

The Archbishop does not speak for all Anglicans in Australia, and I would suggest many in his own diocese are appalled. Sydney Anglicanism is a form of propositional Christianity based on a belief the Scriptures are the word of God and must be interpreted literally. It does not represent the majority view of Anglicans throughout the world.

We all grapple with changing social issues, but it is unhelpful to attempt to reduce these to propositions based on a literal reading of texts written in a different social environment.

Jensen pretends that he wants a debate on the issues; in fact, he is convinced of the truthfulness of Biblical statements which, for example, require wives to ”submit” to their husbands, and he is merely seeking a platform to pursue that agenda. He was therefore unable to answer the simple question that if we are created in the likeness of God, and sexual orientation is part of our DNA, then how can we condemn same-sex orientation.

 Brian Abbott  Armidale

And this news story: ‘Unhealthy’ gay lifestyle claims tied to bad study.

A Sydney researcher who runs the Gay Community Periodic Surveys, Martin Holt, said Dr Jensen’s vague assertion that the lifespan of practising gays was significantly shorter than heterosexual men seemed to originate from discredited US research.

”The gist of the Camerons’ argument was that lesbians and gay men must die younger than their heterosexual peers because they appeared to be under-represented in studies of older people,” Dr Holt, from the University of NSW, said.

A Danish epidemiologist, Morten Frisch, said the research flaws were ”of such a grave nature that no decent peer-reviewed scientific journal should let it pass for publication”. Dr Frisch’s 2009 study found there was an increase in the mortality rate of same-sex couples in the first few years of marriage but this was likely due to pre-existing illness.

”Although further study is needed, the claims of drastically increased overall mortality in gay men and lesbians appear unjustified,” he concluded.

A public health researcher, Julie Mooney-Somers, of the University of Sydney, said a biennial survey on the health of lesbian and bisexual women had found some gay women had health issues – higher rates of smoking, mental illness and alcohol abuse – but there were no inherent health risks with being a practising lesbian. Such health issues were likely to be the result of higher rates of discrimination, she said.

While practising gay men were at risk of HIV infection, the disease was also a problem for heterosexual couples.

Having just finished From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (W W Norton 2010) by Canadian-born Darren Dochuk, I am keenly aware of just what a snake pit the world of US religion is,  that anyone can claim to be just about anything and call him/herself “an Institute” and give the appearance of scholarly integrity. Such, it seems, is the case with the grandly self-titled Family Research Institute. See Exposing Junk Science About Same-Sex Behavior.