Sydney Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen made a truly revealing comment on ABC’s Q&A last night.
It wasn’t when he came out in support of Jim Wallace (and echoed the logic of Todd Akin), stating that a lot of people have told him that homosexuality is bad for your health, and that there’s a lot of literature to support the claim.
It wasn’t the spurious yet menacing statements implying that HIV positivity is the inevitable conclusion of a gay man’s lifestyle choice.
It wasn’t even the reduction of a woman’s worth to her husband’s rib, nor his attempt to make up a new definition for ‘submit’:
Submission comes with a range of meanings. If submission is in view, it’s because key promises [made by the husband] …
This is more about men that it is about women, because there is a concern about men not being men in the community. What men bring to marriage is what they bring to anything: that physical strength, a certain degree of arrogance, a certain determination to be bossy, etc etc etc.
No, the revealing comment that Archbishop Jensen uttered last night was this:
Interestingly, in the churches for years now, we have not been using this language [‘submit’] and we’ve gone down to thirty per cent of the market.
That’s right, market.
As if churches are now selling conservatism. Welcome to the new era of Christianity in the marketplace! You didn’t buy our old brand, the one that focused on compassion and community, and we can’t compete with all this shopping around for gay lifestyles, so we’re changing the language and the brand.
Jensen said we live in a time of ‘sexual identity and identity-finding activities’ – which is where the Anglican Church brand comes in: it resolves all those identity-fittings in the one sale.
Evangelicalism, and Christian faiths more generally, have long rejected the modern world and its ‘destructive individualism’. The modern world has many different forms but commonly manifests in abortion and/or gayness. No other issue, Amanda Lohrey wrote, from poverty to global warming, elicits as much concern or rhetoric from fundamentalist Christians as same-sex relations and abortion, because nothing else undermines the structure of the family and church – and the political beliefs that sustain them – to the extent that they do.
Market influence on religion means that a church can simultaneously oppose pluralism, while selling religion as an appealing and uncomplicated lifestyle alternative. The fact that the face of Christian religion in Australia is right-wing, ultra-conservative and bigoted – and now declaring war on modernity in the public sphere (the Age, Q&A, mainstream media) – is an embracement of the free market. And conservative Christianity has something unique to offer: home-cooked meals, submission and family.
At one point in the show last night, audience member Peter Keegan asked Jensen to condemn Jim Wallace’s statements about the health hazards of homosexuality:
As a Christian, I continually find that the ACL does not speak for me and does not represent the kind of faith I see in the teachings and ministries of Jesus. Archbishop will you say that the views held by the ACL hold a greater risk to the public discourse and the integrity of our faith than the presence of lifestyles or beliefs that may differ from our own?
No, I won’t say that. I generally support the ACL. [And this is an] opportunity to talk about something significant: namely health risks.
Later, Tony Jones tried to clarify Jensen’s position:
Are you seriously saying homosexuality is bad for your health?
To which, Jensen replied:
People tell me it is. And they produce literature on the subject. I can’t get a discussion [going] because it’s a forbidden subject.
He then changed tack:
I don’t want to see my friends dying. But I’ve seen my friends dying!
This nasty mortality-link – seemingly introduced by Wallace last week and furthered on Q&A by Jensen and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells (Shadow Minister for Mental Health and Ageing) – is old propaganda for conservative Christians. In the 1980s, Randall Balmer wrote of his encounter with Brother Schmul, a well-known evangelical orator, in Mine eyes have seen the glory:
‘One thing that is happening is good, even though it’s bad. I’m talking about AIDS,’ he said. Schmul dismissed the various education programs directed against the spread of AIDS. ‘The real answer is a change in the hearts of men,’ he said. ‘God’s way of all purity, of all chastity, is the way. God’s plan is the only way! Amen.’ The AIDS epidemic, Schmul suggested, was having a salutary effect. ‘Some people are backing up on this homosexual thing. Some of the gays that had to have sex the homosexual way are changing their minds after seeing their buddies drop off or fall like flies. When they’re sure a person who has AIDS is going to go down the tubes and go out into eternity – they’re really beginning to change their minds a little,’ he said with evident satisfaction.
According to Archbishop Jensen, the Christian representative invited to outline his homophobia on national television last night, ‘Censorship is alive and well in this country’. Yet all appearances suggest that what the Church is censoring are progressive and dissenting voices – and homosexuality within the church (the logical conclusion drawn from Jensen’s friends who have ‘lifelong committed themselves to no sexual relations’). Senator Fierravanti-Wells summarised it thus: The flock listens to the Anglican Church, not the other way around.
When asked what he thought about the correlation between HIV and homosexuality, Minister Chris Evans said, ‘I think this is wrong. The statistics these groups rely on are bogus.’
His eyes flicked to Jensen, and I don’t think I misread the contempt: ‘It’s a debate some people want to have … but I don’t think it was raised for the purpose of debate. I don’t think that was the purpose at all.’
So what was Jensen’s purpose? I suspect it was to let potential buyers know that the Anglican Church has gone back to the original flavour.