Radically different views on same-sex marriage are being put forward at the General Synod (church parliament) of the Anglican Church of Australia meeting this week on the Gold Coast.
The contrasting views are set out in statements on same-sex marriage put forward by the progressive and conservative wings of the Church, which are included below.
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The meeting began with an address by Geoffrey Smith, Archbishop of Adelaide who holds the title of “Primate” – which puts him in the chair.
He recounted the events that led up to the controversy surrounding the meeting.
Following moves in the Diocese of Wangaratta in NE Victoria to bless same-sex civil marriages (meaning church ceremonies held after a couple is married but not in a church), the matter was referred to the Church’s legal council, the Appellate Tribunal (AT).
The AT ruled that “doctrine” in the Church’s constitution only applies to matters concerning salvation, and so marriage was not included.
Smith quoted the tribunal: “It is not the tribunal’s role to settle … intractable doctrinal disputes.” The tribunal pointed to General Synod to settle the doctrinal questions.
The AT decision was generally welcomed by the progressive wing of the Church, but its narrowing of “doctrine” has been opposed by the conservatives.
As the meeting gathers in the grand ballroom of the Royal Pines Golf Resort, the greens lie peacefully under misty grey skies. But in the ballroom the socially distanced and mostly masked delegates are anxious.
Smith urged the GS members to a respectful debate. “We have the opportunity to model disagreeing well… to co-operate with God in the healing of all things.”
Commenting on the fact that 40 per cent of the synod members are here for the first time, he said that they may have heard bad things about the meeting.
“It is a scandal that meetings of General Synod have such a bad reputation,” he said.
“I’d urge us to pray a lot during General Synod. If we are to share in the ministry of Christ, we need our eyes open and prayer is essential for that.”
With their eyes wide open, the Synod members have serious questions to resolve.
In reading the key motions before the meeting, however, it is hard to see how a middle course can be found.
A motion from the conservative evangelical Diocese of Sydney supports traditional marriage as the doctrine of the Anglican Church.
1. The faith, ritual, ceremonial and discipline of this Church reflect and uphold marriage as it was ordained from the beginning, being the exclusive union of one man and one woman arising from mutual promises of lifelong faithfulness, which is in accordance with the teaching of Christ that, “from the beginning the Creator made them male and female”, and in marriage, “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Matt 19:4-5).
2. The solemnisation of a marriage between a same-sex couple is contrary to the teaching of Christ and the faith, ritual, ceremonial and/or discipline of this Church.
3. Any rite or ceremony that purports to bless a same-sex marriage is not in accordance with the teaching of Christ and the faith, ritual, ceremonial and/or discipline of this Church.
An alternate motion affirms same-sex marriage.
“The General Synod
(a) welcomes the introduction of civil same-sex marriages in Australia as providing a state-based way of recognising faithfulness, love and commitment;
(b) gives thanks for the public witness of Christian same-sex couples;
(c) notes the diversity of theological and legal viewpoints published by the Doctrine Commission, Marriage, Same-Sex Marriage and the Anglican Church of Australia, and that this diversity of viewpoints is found among faithful, committed Anglicans who worship in all dioceses of the Anglican Church of Australia;
(d) affirms that marriage is not considered a matter pertaining to salvation in this Church, as noted by the Appellate Tribunal Wangaratta Reference : “at many points in time between 1662 and the present day, that doctrine [of marriage] was changed in response to different understandings of Scripture, changing perceptions about the respective roles of men and women, and the need to accommodate the law of the land …. These changes never signalled that the Church of England’s teachings expounded during the solemnisation rite were being proclaimed as matters going to salvation or part of the ‘faith’ of the Church”; and recognising that in heaven we shall neither marry nor be given in marriage (Mk 12:25);
(e) notes that at no point in the process of the General Synod’s passing of canons relating to holy matrimony (Solemnization of Matrimony Canon 1981, Marriage of Divorced Persons Canon 1981, Matrimony (Prohibited Relationships) Canon 1981) was reference made to constitutional impediments to such, as noted by the Appellate Tribunal Wangaratta Reference ;
(f) acknowledges the continual evolution within the Church, including the Anglican Church of Australia, of its position on moral issues – such as slavery, capital punishment, interracial marriage, contraception, the equality of men and women – and the concomitant absence of any such moral injunctions in the historic Creeds;
(g) considers same-sex marriage as a moral good and a gift to be celebrated, providing an enrichment of the Christian understanding of marriage and a witness to God’s grace and love, consistent with the testimony of Scripture and Anglican tradition as expressed in the historic Creeds.”
It is likely that there will be motions that show the relative voting strengths of the progressives and the conservatives. The synod can vote by ‘houses’ and will on contentious matters. The conservatives dominate the Houses of ‘Laity’ (unordained) and Clergy (ministers) but the House of Bishops will be decisive.