An avalanche of sexual abuse allegations against clergy and church workers in recent years has led to increasing scrutiny of applicants to the Anglican priesthood. As a result of such scrutiny, churches face a dilemma of increasing intensity.
Dishonesty about sexual orientation has no doubt occurred among those who wish to worship in church or serve in the ministerial ranks. In any case, a number of Australian Anglican dioceses have parishes with gay priests, some living in monogamous relationships. Attempts to accept such situations have encountered vehement opposition from those who take Bible teaching at face value and who resist any smudging of the marriage vows to include anything other than monogamous, heterosexual contracts.
The recent election of Peter Jensen as archbishop of the conservative Sydney diocese becomes particularly important as he will be seen as the acknowledged defender of biblical truth, representing a complete rejection of any softening of church teaching about homosexuality. Homosexuality has become a defining issue, with the ordination of homosexuals and the treatment of homosexually orientated church members the ultimate dilemma. Jensen's hardline views are already known and the pronounced theological differences between the Anglican primate of Australia, Peter Carnley, and the Sydney conservative view, as represented by Peter Jensen, will dominate debates.
The primate, Carnley, rejects same-sex marriages but believes lifelong gay relationships and commitments are better understood as friendships that could receive church blessings. Jensen, a forensic biblical scholar, insists that Bible teaching rejects all homosexual practice, even if within an apparently lifelong commitment. He also thinks that holding to this absolute position-no sex outside marriage-is what postmodern culture needs from the church.
For him, "postmodern culture is sexually obsessed in physically, emotionally and spiritually unhealthy ways." He argues that any move to recognize same-sex marriages, even deeply affective relationships, confuses the church's important witness to the proper value of sex within the conventional bonds of marriage. It also "devalues the quiet but heroic commitment of the many Christians who, for the sake of Christ and in the midst of overwhelming temptation, have remained celibate."
The ordination of known homosexuals within the Anglican Church, as long as they are celibate, is theoretically accepted by the conservatives. In practice, however, homosexual honesty would probably preclude ordination. The conservative Sydney line argues it is possible to defeat and even change the homosexual disposition.
Unmarried candidates are unlikely to find encouragement.
The debates at the synod to be held in Brisbane later this year will be watched with interest, and perhaps apprehension, by many in the Australian Anglican community.
Source: The Weekend Australian, June 2-3, 2001.