The Anglican diocese of Sydney is in danger of acting more like a cult than a church in its attempts to suppress dissent and diversity, says one of its ministers.
The Reverend Keith Mascord, acting minister for the South Sydney parish, has urged reform and an immediate change of direction for the church in an unprecedented open letter to the diocese’s clergy and lay people.
His letter reveals concern about a speech to ordination candidates given by the Dean of Sydney, Dr Phillip Jensen, in which he was said to have declared it sinful for women to preach to men. The dean, an opponent of women becoming priests, was also said to have declared it sinful for men to allow women to preach.
The letter calls for seven changes, including a new way to deal with grievances and a relaxation of restrictions on non-Sydney ministers coming into the diocese. It will be considered by the diocese’s policymaking body on Monday.
Dr Mascord said there was an emerging culture of fear and a trend towards “censorship of thought” within the diocese when it should be motivated by love, humility and openness.
“People are increasingly afraid to voice alternative views, to argue a different case than the dominant line, for fear of being verbally abused and/or socially isolated,” Dr Mascord wrote.
“People are afraid to go public through fear of being crushed. This is appalling, more characteristic of a cult than a church.”
The Bishop of South Sydney, Rob Forsyth, said there was no suppression of dissent.
“There are strongly held views in the diocese and I will admit that it sometimes takes courage to disagree with them. This has been true of the diocese for the past 100 years.”
The bishop did not share the dean’s position that God did not wish women to preach in church.
“Phillip’s view is held by a good number of people in diocese but it is not an official view because there are genuine differences about what the scriptures mean. The Archbishop of Sydney licenses women to preach in mixed audiences. No one’s been refused ordination because they have a different view on women.”
Dr Mascord said his intention was not to burn bridges but to encourage a more “Christlike” diocese that lived out the values of the gospels and was a place of lively and respectful debate. He understood going public carried some risk but he felt the issue was too important to remain silent.
Dr Mascord said his concerns were distilled from “countless conversations” with people in the diocese, including many who “feel voiceless and powerless”. He had received more than 100 letters of support.
Criticism of the church’s uncompromising theology is not new but has been mainly limited to progressives from outside the diocese opposed to its position on women and homosexuality. Rarely has such internal criticism surfaced publicly.
James McPherson, the president of Anglicans Together, said Dr Mascord’s overall thesis “all rings true”.
Original title: Diocese like cult: minister