I said to my wife this evening that this was clearly a slow day for news when I saw that the big hook for “MSNBC Live with Dan Abrams” was a special report on Scott Peterson, noted uxoricide. Granted, there was Karl Rove’s departure; but for a few of us resignation is not nearly so satisfying as arrest might have been. In any case, it was clearly a slow day.
By the same token, it seems to be a slow day in the Anglican world. The best bit: it seems that today Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney, has banned that liberal lightening rod, John Shelby Spong from speaking in any of the Anglican Churches of Sydney.
Now, it is certainly within his purview to do that. I’m certain, too, that virtually anything said by Bishop Spong would be challenged by Archbishop Jensen, however factual, on the principle that Bishop Spong’s objectionable statements must solidly discredit any otherwise unobjectionable statements he might make.
At the same time, I haven’t seen in any news item that any Anglican Church in Sydney had in fact expressed any interest in having Bishop Spong speak. News reports have him attending a conference at a United Church, and speaking at a Unitarian Church; but no interest from Sydney Anglicans. And that, of course, is really not surprising, is it? He has been invited by Archbishop Phillip Aspinall to preach in Brisbane's cathedral; but surely that's no reflection on Sydney.
I have read several of Bishop Spong’s books. I have had the same experience with each of those I have read. He begins with is a thorough examination of a particular issue in Scripture, including both sides of the issue. Next there is the same sort of examination in the history of the Church. There is a look at contemporary scholarship on the Scriptural record, and a look at contemporary scholarship on Church History. Next there is a review, as appropriate to the issue, of current academic, social, and scientific scholarship, followed by a review of how all these are playing out in the life of the Church at the time he writes. With each book I have read, I have found the work to this point thorough, fair, and balanced (at the very least in stating a wide variety of points of view and taking seriously folks with whom he disagrees).
And then, with each book I have read, he starts to talk about policy. That’s where, in many cases, he and I have come to disagreement. His scholarship was really quite good, and quite fair. His thoughts about what to do next were, I thought, wrong. Perhaps that’s why I read a few books, and didn’t go on to read more.
In a way, I feel sorry for Archbishop Jensen (with whom I disagree on many issues). There’s almost no way Bishop Spong could have come to town without Archbishop Jensen being asked about it; and yet just about anything the Archbishop might have said would only result in more headlines for Bishop Spong. At the same time, why ban a man from Sydney churches, when none, apparently, was foolish enough to extend such an invitation? Granted, Archbishop Aspinall did invite Bishop Spong to speak in Brisbane; but surely that would change nothing in Sydney. Surely there was some way to leave the responsibility with Archbishop Aspinall to explain why he did invite Bishop Spong, rather than with Archbishop Jensen to explain why he did not.
Well, of course, this will pass. I expect my Australian cousins will soon learn to ignore Bishop Spong just as most Americans – even Episcopalians – even progressive Episcopalians – do. This will turn out before long to be pretty much a teapot-sized tempest; but, then, I guess it is a slow news day….