It takes courage to stand up for one’s faith… even when you’re the Archbishop of Sydney confronting an audience of unbelievers and a panel of atheists on ABC’s Q & A program.
It’s a forum that has the capacity to twist and distort argument, with unscripted questions from impassioned viewers or interjection from aggressive panelists unseating a measured debate.
Yet when the Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen appeared on Q&A on Monday 10th September, he remained thoughtful and calm as he gently explained the basis of faith values to the mainly secular audience.
Approximately 60 questions were asked of the five member panel also including Federal Minister for Immigration, Senator Chris Evans, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Journalist Anna Krien, and Comedian, Catherine Deveny.
Of those 60, twenty six were directed to the Archbishop. That’s nearly half, and results in a less than balanced panel discussion. He was regularly interrupted, spoken over, shouted down and insulted. Yet with every question or snide remark he responded with humility, grace and even a dash of humour.
The classic attack was from Catherine Deveny who labelled the Archbishop a dinosaur, a misogynist. Would she dare label a leading Muslim cleric or a Jewish Rabbi in the same manner?
The majority of the Twitter comments criticised the church, Jensen, Anglicans or faith.
This was not a reasonable panel debate. It was a continuation of the mainstream media’s unrelenting attack on the Christian faith.
Yet through it all, Archbishop Peter Jensen remained calm, welcoming of the criticism, grateful for the opportunity to understand and explain.
Or try to explain…
With his every response, Catherine Deveny would shriek hysterically in an attempt to deride both him and religion.
Chris Evans declared emphatically that he was not a Christian.
Journalist Anna Krien decided after considerable prompting that she was happy to retain the myth and the mysticism of the unknown.
Senator Concetta Fierravanti Wells however was willing to fly the flag for faith, supporting not only the institution of marriage but of Christianity. Not fearing the criticism of the voting public, instead she declared Christians the silent majority, weary of their faith values constantly challenged and questioned.
The Archbishop welcomed debate about refugees, encouraging warmth and inclusiveness, reminding Australians not to judge the new arrivals; highly skilled people who will build this nation’s future.
In discussing marriage and the submission between a man and a woman, Jensen declared he was submitting to Tony Jones as the host. It was a concept that Jones struggled to accept. No reference to the biblical idea of mutual submission was mentioned.
Yet the most wonderful moment, the defining moment of the show was when Jones declared a text from the Bible to be written in Hebrew.
Jensen, with utter humility, bowed slightly to his host, and prompted, “It was in fact written in Greek.”
It was the first time I’d seen Tony Jones even slightly flustered.
Jensen reminded his audience that marriage needed careful thought, that in the current era, marriage was threatened by a clash of world views between individualism, family and community, a clash of world views that would have drastic conversations.
He also remarked wryly that a church marriage was far from mandatory.
Deveny’s response was that marriage was a mistake that everyone had the right to make. She launched into a tirade of accusation against the Archbishop which Jones as the host made no attempt to quell – she thanked the Archbishop for “flying the misogynist colours of your religion,” and questioned who would want to “be married in a museum by a dinosaur?”
She compared religion to the tooth fairy, father Christmas and the Easter bunny. “If you look at the Bible, its social engineering, fairy tales and horror stories that most people haven’t read. After thousands and thousands of interpretations, the only thing that they can all agree on is homophobia, discrimination and division.”
Tony Jones shuffled in his seat, fiddled with his biro and tittered a little.
Thus the grilling of the Archbishop of Sydney continued unfettered – through HIV, gay issues, unaccompanied minors, youth suicide, women’s rights and equality. No other panelist received such a grueling questioning of their social and moral position.
Yet every challenge the Archbishop accepted without fluster, with grace and gave a measured response in the face of constant interruption and conjecture.
Tony Jones did pose the question why were there no miracles in the present day? Catherine Deveny chimed in, asking why hadn’t an arm or a head grown back as a sign from the Almighty, as if miracles were limited to limbs or grey matter.
Words will not give justice to describe the Archbishop’s response. Under the glare of television studio lights, with a hostile audience, on live television, he responded,
“Has God shown himself? Yes – in Jesus Christ. The big story is that Jesus Christ came into the world to save us. What more could we ask? It’s the most gracious act. In Jesus Christ we have equality, in Jesus Christ we have that salvation.”
For a precious moment, every panel member was silenced.
In his closing remarks the Archbishop declared that the love of Jesus was the only thing that could heal the world, that could forgive, that could perform miracles.
Now who would dare argue with that!
Dale Stephenson is Senior Pastor at Crossway Church, Melbourne