Descending onto Melbourne yesterday wasn’t the gale force winds sweeping across from South Australia, but another tirade against Sydney Anglicans. I’m not sure why The Age even bothered to reproduce the article, given it has little relevance to Melbourne, but why should Sydney keep all the sensationalism to themselves?
It is always disappointing to read of anyone being misrepresented in the media. We all know it happens, and we know it ought not, but it does. It doesn’t matter who is being misrepresented, slander is slander regardless of who is in the firing line. In this case, it is the Anglican Diocese of Sydney.
Author and Columnist, Elizabeth Farrelly, is careful to paint a vivid portrait of Sydney Anglicans. The language is suitably chosen to support her thesis:
“skullduggery in the church”
“What if the Pharisees are back in charge?”
“It’s not just the ongoing nightmare of institutionalised child-sex abuse and the decades-long connivance that implies. Nor even the antediluvian opposition to women preachers and same-sex marriage. Exacerbating all that is an increasingly aggressive stamping out of dissent.”
“These are voices the church now works to destroy.”
“Sydney Anglicanism’s now “cultish” atmosphere”
And on it goes.
Everyone warms to Friar Tuck and the Vicar of Dibley, and we all like to boo Camerlengo Patrick McKenna, the Bishop of Hereford, and John Ballard. Elizabeth Farrelly wants to leave readers in no doubt as to which group of clergy the Diocese of Sydney belongs.
Farrelly’s language is selected carefully in order build a case of Pharisaism against Sydney Anglicans, and to portray Keith Mascord and others as victims who lay in their wake. It is of little consequence that the allegations are as thin as the slimmest slice of swiss cheese; cheese smells.
Especially worrying is the way Farrelly so easily draws in the issue of child abuse. With such an incredibly sensitive and serious matter, it is disingenuous and even dangerous to clump it with the topic she is primarily addressing. For example, to introduce the situation with child sexual abuses in the Newcastle Diocese as evidence of hypocrisy among Sydney Anglican is misleading and paramount to libel. Farrelly’s gotcha moment is a quote from Sydney pastor, Rev David Ould…except that his actual quote says the opposite of what she claims. He has subsequently written this response to the misquote.
It is also important to note this crucial factual error, which Farrelly’s case depend on: depends on for her chief criticism of the Diocese: contrary to what Farrelly writes, Keith Mascord was not delicensed as a priest last week. He has not been licensed since 2013. Not only that, he was recently offered a licence to minister in his local parish, but Keith declined as he was unwilling to follow his ordination vows.
When evidence is not to be found, Farrelly resorts to conjecture in order to further her case:
She says, “You might think an institution of diminishing influence would engage its internal questioners in eager debate. You might expect the church, having been built around a rocker-of-boats and tipper-of-apple carts, to know that comfortable words pattered out over tea are not the only ones to hear.”
Anyone who has studied at Moore College or attended Diocesan Synods will know that Sydney Anglicans are more willing to debate issues and have those difficult conversations than any other Christian denomination I know of in Australia. The issue is not whether the Diocese is open to serious debate, but that they have not landed in a place that Farrelly would approve of.
“The tellers of uncomfortable truths are those we most need. People whose truths come at significant cost to themselves, whose truths are wrenched from them; they’re the heroes, the soothsayers, the prophets. But these are voices the church now works to destroy.”
Farrelly doesn’t define what she means by truth; all we know is that the Sydney Diocese don’t have it, and the dissenting voices whom she supports do have it.
In the case of Keith Mascord, we are not seeing any example of Pharisaism, but of common sense. If a builder confessed that he no longer accepted the building code, and that he would proceed to break it at several points, it would be reasonable for his licence not be renewed. Similarly, when a Christian minister explains that he can no longer abide by the beliefs of the Denomination he is licensed to, it is appropriate that he not continue.
Are Sydney Anglicans perfect? Of course not, and I suspect nearly all Sydney Anglicans would gladly put up their hand in agreement. That’s what Christians do, we confess our sins.
I’m not a Sydney-sider nor am I an Anglican, but the impression I am left with is that Elizabeth Farrelly is no supporter of the Sydney Anglicans! I don’t think anyone is insisting that Elizabeth Farrelly like or approve of their teaching, but when it comes to reporting a story, readers deserve to be presented with the facts.
A Statement from the Sydney Diocese regarding Keith Mascord’s license can be read here