Outrage over dean’s hostility to other faiths

Sydney Morning Herald, Mar. 11, 2003
By Kelly Burke, Religious Affairs Writer

The new Anglican Dean of Sydney has been accused of insensitivity, provocation and offensive intolerance after his strident defence of evangelical Christianity.

Religious organisations across the community yesterday railed against the Reverend Phillip Jensen’s provocative comments, which included saying that Australia had stretched the idea of tolerance to the point of stupidity.

He told the congregation at his installation in St Andrew’s cathedral on Friday that “some or all” religions were wrong and if wrong were “the monstrous lies and deceits of Satan devised to destroy the life of the believers”.

Critics believe that his views were clearly aimed at all religions other than his own.

The Catholic Church’s Sister Marianne Dacy, who is the national secretary of the Australian Council of Christians and Jews, said the dean’s comments were anathema to interfaith dialogue.

“He is totally out of tune in today’s era of reconciliation between different religions,” she said. “It is quite upsetting to hear a view like that expressed by such a prominent churchman.”

Keysar Trad, spokesman for the Lebanese Muslim Association, said he received several messages from prominent Christian leaders yesterday, distancing themselves from Mr Jensen’s comments.

Senior Sydney rabbi Raymond Apple described the dean’s comments as singularly unhelpful.

“The last thing we need at this stage is someone inflaming passions against any religious group,” he said.

“Obviously he is entitled to his view that his particular brand of religion is the correct one. But in the same way he would wish the rest of Australia to respect his convictions he should reciprocate by recognising and respecting the genuine conscience and convictions of others.”

The dean has argued he was not using the St Andrew’s pulpit to attack other religions, but merely to point out that different faiths were mutually incompatible.

The Anglican bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth, came out in his defence, arguing that although the mode of speech may have been confronting, the message was hardly new.

“What he said was what I understand to be the way in which the New Testament sees other religions: that outside of Christ people are enslaved to sin or to spiritual forces,” he said.

“If all people have a terrible disease and you believe that God has provided a particular cure for everybody that worked – but others were hawking cures that didn’t work – you can’t just say it doesn’t matter. It’s false and its dangerously false in a spiritual sense.”

But not all Anglicans agree with the dean and his bishop.

Michael Horsburgh, a member of the diocese’s synod, described the dean’s sermon as superficial.

“The first sermon of a new dean is an opportunity to address the city, but this was written to impress the insiders – to convince the people who put him there and those who support him, that he is strong and uncompromising.”

Mr Horsburgh said the dean’s assertion in his sermon that the Sydney diocese was inclusive and uncensored was laughable.

It is understood the Anglican Primate of Australia, Archbishop Peter Carnley, was taken aback by Mr Jensen’s comments, but he preferred not to comment.

The dean’s brother, Sydney archbishop Peter Jensen, was uncontactable.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday March 14, 2003.
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