Phillip Jensen on Reputation and Criticism

August 22, 2007

Last Friday I came across this article from Phillip Jensen, the Dean of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, which talks about the visit of Hugh Palmer, the Rector of All Soul’s Langham Place in London. Having read through the article a few times, I can see some insights that I agree with strongly, including the suggestion that being overly nostalgic can lead to an inappropriately formulaic approach to ministry. As a representative of the Emerging Church, I couldn’t agree more. However, it was this comment that caught my attention most dramatically:

“Some reputations are never deserved. Much of the negative reputation of the Sydney Diocese, St Andrews Cathedral and Moore College has come from the slander of the enemies of the gospel.”

My concerns with this comment should be immediately apparent, but I’ll spell them out for good measure:

  1. Writing off “much of” (precisely how much is never made clear) negative reputation as mere slander serves as an effective means by which to ignore criticism.
  2. Suggesting that many critics of the institutions Dean Jensen mentions are “enemies of the gospel” serves to label and demonise people with legitimate questions, disempowering them and further reinforcing their alienation from the Sydney Diocese.
  3. Using the label “enemies of the gospel” for one’s critics serves to create the impression that one is being persecuted, thus convincing oneself of really doing God’s work regardless of whether this is true or not.
  4. Placing most of the responsibility for one’s reputation upon other parties effectively prevents one from engaging in an honest critique of one’s own behaviour and accordingly prevents systemic problems from being rectified.  

Perhaps the most notable observation one may make about Dean Jensen’s “enemies of the gospel” remark is that it is essentially an ad hominem attack. Even if critics were indeed enemies of the gospel and do criticise out of impure motives, this doesn’t instantly invalidate their comments. It is the criticisms themselves which must be analysed, not the people who make these criticisms. If Dean Jensen continues to ignore this elementary rule of logical discourse, he will do so at his own risk and to his own detriment – and to the detriment of the Sydney Diocese, St. Andrew’s Cathedral and Moore College.  

A Quick Apology

August 22, 2007

Around 11 o’clock last night I got an email message saying that there was a comment at SAW awaiting my approval. This came as a surprise to me because I definitely did not request that comments on this blog be pre-approved. As it turns out, it is a default option to approve first-time posters and to require all posters to give their name and email address. I must admit that I’m new to WordPress (my private blog is at blogspot) and I’m still getting used to the program. However, rest assured that I’ve turned off all of these settings and you should be able to post freely now. Again, apologies for all those that wished to post before and couldn’t or those who were otherwise turned off by the prospect of posting comments that needed approval. If there are any problems in future, please don’t hesitate to contact me at SAW headquarters at

Spong Banned from Speaking in Sydney Anglican Churches

August 21, 2007

Old news perhaps, but completely relevant to the idea of open discussion and debate is the recent story of Peter Jensen deciding to ban John Shelby Spong from speaking in Sydney Anglican Churches, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald and in The Australian. This seems to have created somewhat of a stir all over the world, with commentators divided over the issue. It has received some publicity at UK-based site Ship of Fools, as well as by evangelical commentator Al Mohler. Domestically, John Dickson has also reported on the issue.

Let me be the first person (or perhaps not, as the case may be) to say that I’m no real fan of Spong. A few months ago I found “Why Christianity Must Change or Die” in a second-hand bookshop and thought I might read it just so that I could know what all the fuss was about. Having read the book, I must admit that while he occasionally made interesting observations, I was largely unconvinced by his arguments. Still, as a (now retired) bishop in the Anglican Communion with some degree of standing, was the ban justified? Should rogue bishops be prevented from speaking and if so, on what basis? And if it is right to ban someone speaking on theological grounds, where does one draw the line? Should one be banned from speaking if they believe in women’s ordination? If they are pre-millenial? If they are not Calvinist? Where does it stop? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Welcome to Sydney Anglican Watch

August 20, 2007

Inspired by the good people at Signposts, I have decided to start up Sydney Anglican Watch. In short, Sydney Anglican Watch is a site dedicated towards opening up the critical issues in the Sydney Diocese for discussion and debate without moderation. Indeed, it is almost with a sense of sadness and reluctance that I open up this blog – I would have hoped that such a course of action was unnecessary. However, events over the last few months have demonstrated to me that it is a step that must be taken to combat the general tenor of censorship within the Diocese. I hope to give a voice to the voiceless, to the disowned, the disenfranchised and the disillusioned.

Although I will make some commentary on the issues myself, most of the impetus for my posts will come from primary sources – media releases through Anglican Media Sydney, the Briefing and Southern Cross as well as articles from St Andrew’s Cathedral. Occasionally, I will refer to secondary sources – sermons, forum postings and prominent Sydney Anglican blogs, though I will be careful to indicate when comments are made by official bodies of the Sydney Diocese, when they are made by ordained members of the Diocese and when they are simply made by individuals in their private capacity. Most of these sources are already freely available on the internet. The only difference is that there will be a lot more latitude for people to air their thoughts about the subject at hand. I should also mention that I sincerely hope that I will have positive as well as negative things to say about the Diocese. Indeed, this as been my practice in the past, a fact to which I hope my post “Giving Credit Where Credit is Due” testifies.

It is my intention for my moderation policy to be as open as possible. There are only two types of comments that I will moderate. The first of these are comments that could prove to be legally actionable, that is comments that are potentially libellous. The second are “comments” that deliberately aim to undermine the pursuit of open discussion, that is, spam or intentionally and wildly off-topic comments. I say this because in my private blog someone took advantage of my liberal editorial policy by posting 50 pages cut and pasted from a medical journal. Suffice to say, this was not the issue we were discussing.

My final words in this introductory post are to cordially invite would-be Sydney Anglican apologists into the fray. Your perspectives are as valuable as those of anyone else and it would be hypocritical of me to suggest that they are not welcome. As iron sharpens iron, your comments could well prove to provide a new perspective on a certain matter and SAW would be poorer without them.