Descending down the curve of City Road towards Newtown, just past the gates of St Paul’s College, a clean, modern sandstone edifice greets the eye. Turning the eyes across the road in St Paul’s direction, an austere red-brick, Gothic two-storey building stands next to a chapel. Here lies the epicentre of Australia’s conservative Anglicanism — Moore Theological College.
A bastion of conservative neo-Calvinism
Founded in 1856 as a byproduct of British colonialism by Thomas Moore, Moore is the primary seminary for the training of Anglican clergy in Sydney and the country. Among its notable figures include names like former Principal Thomas Hammond, who used to be the Grand Master of NSW’s Orange Lodge, which is a branch of the fundamentalist and sectarian ultra-loyalist organisation in Northern Ireland.
A unifying element between Moore’s preachers is that they all subscribe to a conservative, neo-Calvinist theology. To put it crudely, evangelical Calvinists rely solely on the Bible and a resolute belief in the idea that all future outcomes are divinely predetermined. This is in contrast to other Christian traditions such as Catholicism, which considers institutional traditions in addition to biblical exegesis.
Unlike Europe’s ancient universities, Australia’s oldest universities leave theological teaching out of their curriculums, giving birth to the arrangement of granting land to Christian denominations for the development of residential colleges. At some of these colleges, theological faculties were attached.
In the University of Sydney’s case, the colleges’ land allotment mirrors the major Christian denominations: Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican and Wesleyan. Standing on the Anglican allotment are St Paul’s College and Moore Theological College. This model is mirrored in Melbourne, with the sole difference that Trinity College’s theological faculty is situated in a secular student environment. In contrast, Moore’s theological faculty acts as the standard-bearer of Sydney Anglicanism.
Sydney Anglicans are, in progressive Anglican Muriel Porter’s words, a “hard line monolithic Evangelical centre” who wield vast influence in Australia and the Anglican congregation globally.
Moore wields a near-monopoly on the training of the archbishops of Sydney, with five of the six last archbishops either an alumnus or a senior manager of the College. Indeed, the incumbent title-holder and former USU Debates Director (1986), Kanishka Raffel, received theological training at Moore himself.
Moore is not shy about its connection to the Sydney Diocese, proudly advertising its devotion of “chief service to the Anglican Diocese of Sydney… the majority of whose clergy train at the College”.
The reason behind the Sydney Anglicans’ strong hand despite its size, as explained in Porter’s 192-page tome, is the fact that it is “the largest and until recently, the richest Anglican Diocese in Australia” before it was dwarfed by Melbourne in the last decade.
“Sydney’s previous wealth meant that it was not just envied, but feared and resented. Feared, because it had the resources to exert considerable influence on the rest of the Australian Church. Sydney Anglicans saw that influence as benign, as no doubt did beneficiaries in certain small rural dioceses,” writes Porter.
“Such assistance could however mean that recipients would be reluctant to oppose Sydney national initiatives or the introduction of Sydney-trained clergy, for instance.”
Another factor in the diocese’s vice-like grip on the General Synod is a long record of “branch stacking” that would not feel out of place in a mainstream political party. According to Porter’s calculations, the Sydney Anglicans alone command a mammoth 30 per cent of the Church’s influential General Synod.
Inextricable from the Diocese’s influence is the production of Sydney-trained clergy at Moore College, whose wealth is considerable despite enrolling just under 500 students. According to its latest annual report, its assets total $83.7 million. This figure dwarfs other institutions of a comparable size, being more than triple the assets of The National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) who was elevated to University College status by TEQSA last year.
A bulwark against women’s ordination, queer people and modernism
Peter Jensen, who received his undergraduate degree at the College and led Moore for over a decade between 1985 and 2001, eventually presided as the Archbishop of Sydney from 2001 until 2013. During that time, Jensen was noted for being a conservative firebrand who stood as a reactionary force against proposals for women’s ordination and queer people in the Anglican clergy.
As proposals for queer clergy emerged in the Anglican community in the early 2000s, Jensen railed against the queer community, condemning same-sex love. He also supported a letter calling for former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, considered a moderate Anglican, to reconsider his positions on the blessing of same-sex unions.
“My difficulty with Dr Williams is the position he has enunciated on his own views on the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination,” Jensen told the ABC in a 2003 interview in response to a preaching tour in England, as Williams was chosen to lead the Church of England.
Moore is thus a byword for conservative Anglican politics and its educational ground zero.
It is perhaps unsurprising then that Moore’s conservatism extends beyond its theology, spreading its reaches into the private lives of its inhabitants. For instance, the College penalises “sexual activity outside marriage” in its 19th century residence, John Chapman House, and prohibits members of the opposite sex to mingle on the same floor after 9pm.
“In residential areas (including bedrooms and corridors) members of the opposite sex are restricted to 9:30am to 10pm,” reads John Chapman House’s Resident Handbook.
Given that Moore subscribes to the social doctrines espoused by the Sydney Anglicans, John Chapman House’s policy extends to restricting same-sex and cohabitating relationships by extension.
Today, the same dynamics are at play as the Anglican Church in Australia once again toils over supporting same-sex marriage. In its 2022 General Synod, the Archbishop of Sydney said that the Anglican congregation was “in a perilous position” despite the fact that the conservative diocese and factions have a monopoly over the administrative committees of the General Synod.
Indeed, the Sydney Anglicans worked hard to thwart a motion moved by progressive member Matthew Anstey, to recognise same-sex marriage five years on from Australia’s plesbicite. Although the conservatives got their desired outcome in May, the result (145 against, 95 for), the yielding of a significant minority of 40 per cent for progressives is a sign that activism within the Anglican Church remains strong despite resistance from the conservative Sydney Diocese.
USyd’s ties with Moore College
At present, Sydney University enjoys a cosy relationship with Moore, being in physical and theological proximity to the neighbouring St Paul’s College. Paul’s current warden is Dr Ed Loane, a Moore alumnus.
From the University’s point of view, Moore is wholly separate from its secular sandstone edifices. Indeed, when queried about the joint Red Energy contract between the University, its residential colleges and Moore, USyd chose to distance itself from the institution. A University spokesperson said that Moore “pays its own electricity costs” and that the arrangement aims to collectively lower the price paid by the University and the Colleges.
Yet this hides a more nuanced picture. Former USyd Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence, an ordained Anglican priest himself and alumnus of Oxford’s evangelical Anglican Wycliffe Hall, is one who embraces Moore’s conservatism. In a conversation with the Sydney Anglican-led Eternity News, Spence described modern Australia as “increasingly similar” to the persecution of first century Christians.
Spence’s philosophy thus reflects a pessimistic and ossified view of what it means to be Christian in a secular world, especially in regard to the majority status it enjoyed until last month, in an echo of Charles Taylor’s words in A Secular Age. In reality, Moore, Spence and their ideological colleagues are lamenting the loss of their dominance in Australian society, no longer enjoying the political support needed to comfortably pass their preferred policies and being subjected to scrutiny.
Moore also positions itself closely to USyd’s Evangelical Union to push its political agenda. According to Honi’s May 1971 edition, the College sent Rev Bruce Smith to debate against pro-choice advocates at USyd’s Wallace Lecture Theatre in response to NSW’s landmark R v Davidson case. Similarly, Moore’s conservative firebrands have a symbiotic relationship with Sydney University, with its figureheads often hailing from the University. This counts not just the current archbishop but also the conservatives in Peter Jensen, Marcus Loane and Broughton Knox.
Moore has since been elevated to the status of University College in 2021 — one step shy of becoming a fully-fledged university. This echoes the Seventh-Day Adventist Avondale University’s status as Australia’s newest university last year. One legacy of Scott Morrison’s term may well be a shift towards the United States where religious universities become a significant small player in higher education, marking a departure from Australia’s historically secular university sector.
In a world where over 40 per cent of the Australian Anglican leadership agrees with the statement that same-sex relationships are “a moral good and a gift to be celebrated”, the Sydney Anglicans’ threats of schism over blessing same-sex relationships may yet harden their hearts to the inherent goodness of others.
For a purportedly progressive, secular seat of higher learning such as USyd, the incongruence between the University’s professed distance from Moore makes for an uncomfortable reading of the institution’s progressive credentials. The seminary’s physical and ideological proximity by virtue of Spence, St Paul’s and USyd’s Evangelical Union, is a reminder that the Sydney Anglicans’ polarising politics remains deeply embedded in USyd’s cloisters of power.