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Shalom Archbishop

By Sarah Golsby-Smith - posted Thursday, 21 June 2012

Dear Archbishop Jensen,

Yesterday I sat in a church under your care, and listened to the most magnificent readings from the Scriptures. My little family and I attend an Anglican church in the city of Sydney, and its stained glass windows and worn sandstone aisles speak of generations upon generations of Christians, working out their faith in the midst of world wars, depressions, revolutions of all stripes.

The readings sketched that world that is the Kingdom of God, that eschatological world that, since I have had children, I have longed for with an immediacy I had not thought possible.


A world where "shalom" is at the core of every being and is between every being. A world where we greet each other with "peace" and really mean it. Where we are at peace with God, with each other, with the earth. This, after all, is the world that God promised Abraham and that Jesus in turn offered us.

As I read them, I could feel my soul and my body being renewed. Here they are:

Psalm 103: "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his desire for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us."

And as if that weren't enough:

James 2: 8-13 "If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, 'Love your neighbour as yourself,' you are doing right. But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it ... Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgement."

I sat there stilled. First God extends his Shalom to us unbidden. Unbidden. Unsolicited. He sought me. And then, since his Son bought the rights to the new pad, he gives me the new rules in the playground: Just as shalom has been extended to you, so you shall extend shalom to those around you. Don't practice selective literalism (that is, point out somebody else's faults, and yet laud my own sanctimony as theological rigour). Extend love, even if it hurts, because it sure as hell hurt the Son of God.


Last Sunday, though, was a peculiar day, because the your letter burned a hole in the back tables of most churches across the city, with the various denominations offering different versions. Yours seemed not unlike Cardinal Pell's exhortation, or the Greek orthodox resistance to what our parliament deemed it necessary to debate.

And before I had had a chance to let those passages wash over me, to bathe me in their vision for a better world that has no Syrian massacres, no Indigenous genocides and stolen generations, no homeless, no global warming, no pathological forgetfulness where it concerns people with disabilities, I heard an announcement that suggested I read the letter and act affirming its sentiments.

I am not sure what stunned me most: the failure to generate a conversation about such things (how is it that the current acrimonious parliament does a better job of debate than the Christian church?), the failure to write such censorious letters about the above matters that seem to me to be the Christian's right concerns, or the selective literalism that drove the letter in the first place.

If we take the Scriptures seriously, then why are these readings not literal? Why are they open to interpretation? Are we shutting gay men and women from our favour, as the Scriptures seem to be commanding us not to do? And if my interpretation is theologically weak, then please tell me how I choose which passages to read literally and which I read metaphorically?

What I know is this: this world needs love and the Scriptures tell me that this is what God gives us. God is love. You shall love your neighbour as yourself. I am at a loss to understand how such a letter fulfils the literal interpretations of such Scriptures.

May God give me the grace to let my anger with you and your letter pass, and to continue to love the gay men and women with whom I work. May Shalom come to this dry, tired earth and renew it with the quenching water that is Jesus, which He tells me will never run dry. Oh, that this literal truth will wash our city clean.

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About the Author

Sarah Golsby-Smith is a high school English teacher, with a PhD in English and a diploma in theology.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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