SYDNEY, Australia – The Rt. Rev. Peter Jensen, the Anglican archbishop of Sydney, has given an order to prohibit a liberal U.S. Episcopal priest from stepping into the pulpit of any of the churches in the diocese over a new book that one reviewer said "defaced the only portrait of Jesus that makes any real sense."
Bishop John Shelby Spong, a retired priest and long-time supporter of female and gay priests, was reportedly being snubbed by Anglicans in Sydney who have accused him of "gutting" the Christian faith in his latest book, entitled "Jesus for the Non-Religious."
The bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth, told The Australian newspaper it was a mistake for Australia's Anglican primate, Phillip Aspinall of Brisbane, to invite Spong to promote his book.
"The judgment of the primate (chief bishop) is, in our view, ill-advised," Forsyth said. "It is a mistake. It is the wrong thing to do."
In a review of Spong's latest book, Mark Thompson, president of the conservative Anglican Church League in Sydney, wrote that despite all Spong's "grandiose" claims in the book, it "is really little more than the rehash of long-discarded critical theories and doubts which scholars resolved years ago."
"Far from providing a program for the future, this book simply rehashes the unbelief of the past that has done nothing but diminish the impact of Christian witness in the West," he wrote in Sydneyanglicans.net.
The local divisive episode, which is relatively small on the international scale, magnifies the unease and indignation among conservatives within the Anglican Communion who say their liberal U.S. counterparts are bringing the Church into disrepute.
The consecration of V. Gene Robinson as The Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop placed the U.S. arm of Anglicanism at odds with the majority of the worldwide Anglican Communion which now seeks an unequivocal pledge from The Episcopal Church not to consecrate another openly homosexual bishop or authorize official prayers for same-sex couples.
While the majority of the Anglican Communion is demanding "true repentance" from The Episcopal Church for its recent actions, Episcopal leaders, however, have so far expressed that they will not be moving "backward" from their previous decisions.
The Episcopal Church's final response to the requests made earlier this year by Anglican leaders from the Global South is expected before a Sept. 30 deadline.