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UPDATE: 19 March 0138 GMT

A Pastoral Letter from the bishops of the Episcopal Church in the USA, who are meeting together this week in North Carolina.

Hallo again to all.

As the threat of war looms large, the world's news isn't about much else. There's hardly any mention that tomorrow is St Patrick's day. There's hardly any mention of weather or festivals or agriculture. The headlines mostly all presage war in Iraq. At times like this, the Anglican world seems overshadowed by the larger world, and the interplay between the two seems muted, dampened, ashy.

This war seems, to us, not to have religious conflict at its core. The stated purpose is to remove and disarm a despot and restore his country to freedom and prosperity. We are opposed to the war; we fear that its 'collateral damage' and consequences will be severe and long-lasting; it will kill too many innocent people.

Portrait of Elmer GantryThough this pending war is not to be fought about religious ideology, many people see it that way. It makes a certain kind of sense: numerous recent conflicts have been as much about religious ideology as about petroleum or power. News stories from Nigeria or Zimbabwe or East Timor depict years of bitter fighting among ethnic and religious groups. Everyone seems to be the loser.

The useless death that comes from religious wars, and the historical record of those wars' outcomes, set a context in which we have been dismayed to follow the continuing saga of the Diocese of Jensen in Australia. Perhaps better known as the Diocese of Sydney, its official name, the phenomenon that the Australian press has taken to calling 'Jensenism' prompts us to use that mocking sobriquet. (If you've not followed the rise of the Jensen family in Sydney, you can use our search engine to look for the word 'jensen'.)

Philip Jensen, the archbishop's brother, who was recently installed as the dean of Sydney's cathedral, asserted last week that religious tolerance has got out of hand and that other religions are just plain wrong. The preaching of intolerance by a representative of the church is, Portrait of Richard Hookeras we see it, a formula for sectarian thinking, divisive behaviour, and the justification of violence, surely things that the Anglican church has always shunned.

We find ourselves rather ashamed of the Jensens. They seem to be tarnishing the comprehensive, tolerant, and catholic nature of Anglicanism and pushing it to something far different, narrower, and more brittle. If we conclude that the Jensens and their supporters are darkening the Anglican name, they have often said that they believe the Anglican church gives them a bad name. Susurrations of schism hang in the air. We are sad that they should use the good Anglican name to preach their view of the world.

There are Anglican churches in Australia, even in Sydney, whose people are dismayed and embarrassed by the Jensen family antics. We pray for everyone involved in this little mess and wish our best to those parishes that are trying to live and preach peace whilst their diocesan leadership seems to favour intolerance and repression.

We rarely speak as forthrightly as we have today about diocesan leadership, but the articles and stories and reports we have read, week after week, have led to our cumulative dismay. Indeed we might be wrong in our perceptions; as always, time will tell. Whilst it passes, perhaps we should all listen even more closely for the voice of the Holy Spirit—in Sydney, in Washington, in London, and in Iraq.

See you next week.

Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 16 March 2003

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