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Anglicans’ same-sex blessings dispute deepens as Newcastle joins in

‘Alternative bishop’ idea raised by Sydney

Newcastle’s Anglicans are set to vote on holding blessings of same-sex marriages in their diocese (region) at their Synod (church parliament) in October. This follows a similar proposal passed by Wangaratta diocese in Victoria – with blessings on hold pending a ruling by the Anglicans’ Appellate Tribunal (church court).

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In another development, Sydney’s Archbishop Glenn Davies has suggested that Jay Behan, who will be installed as a bishop for 12 conservative New Zealand Anglican churches in October, could also look after dissident Anglicans in Australia. The Church of Confessing Anglicans Aotearoa/New Zealand has been formed by Anglicans who have left the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia over the adoption of same-sex blessings in May 2018.

A letter from Newcastle’s bishop Peter Stuart describes “A Bill for Blessing of Persons Married According to the Marriage Act Regulation 2019 which would provide for a form of service for the blessing of a marriage conducted in accordance with the Marriage Act. The Bill proposes that the Bishop would have to stipulate a date on which the Regulation would come into effect.” This would allow the diocese to wait until the Appellate Tribunal rules on the Wangaratta matter before offering blessings.

A second bill “would remove any disciplinary process for a member of the clergy who pronounces or declines to pronounce a blessing of a marriage in which the persons being married are of the same sex and would remove any disciplinary process for a member of the clergy who is married to a person of the same sex.”

“My basic approach is to assist people to listen to one another.” – Stephen Pickard

Stuart writes: “There is no doubt that these ‘Private Members’ Bills will cause anguish to some in the Diocesan community as well as being a cause of celebration for others. In a real way the debate that has [been] under way in the Anglican Communion for over 20 years, and is a very current debate in the Anglican Church of Australia, will be a live debate in the formal processes of our Diocese.”

Stuart believes that if the Newcastle Synod passes the motions on same-sex blessings, they too will be referred to the Tribunal. He has asked Bishop Stephen Pickard from Canberra to lead the same-sex blessing discussions.

“My basic approach is to assist people to listen to one another,” Pickard tells Eternity. “This is much harder than people think and we tend to avoid it like the plague.” He uses a list that helps people to locate themselves on a spectrum of Christian opinion on “an inherently contentious matter.”

“I believe we need to turn the usual sequence of debate, discussion and dialogue on its head and begin with dialogue, then discussion and finally debate,” he says. “When this happens it’s a miracle.”

“If you want to have same-sex marriage, go off and start your own church.” – Glenn Davies

Calling the progressive view “a virus on the Australian church,” Sydney’s Archbishop makes his opposition clear. “I have told the bishops on a number of occasions this will fracture the church,” Davies says in an interview with Dominic Steele, speaking of Wangaratta and pro same-sex marriage activity in the Anglican Church. “You have to know what you are doing.”

“The rupture has begun, unless they are brought to discipline. My view is this, if you want to have same- sex blessings, if you want to have same-sex marriage, go off and start your own church.”

Davies believes there will be parishes (local churches) that will no longer be comfortable identifying with their diocese. “It may well be that the Bishop of the Confessing Anglicans in Aetearoa New Zealand may well become the bishop of the dissenting Anglicans in Australia … that’s a great idea, don’t you think?”

“They [the progressives] have to realise this church is not going to change. And I will say ‘God bless you, and off you go.” – Glenn Davies

“The value of that is that we could stay as Sydney Diocese as part of  the Anglican Church, because it would have all sorts of problems if I was to exercise episcopal jurisdiction outside the diocese – and I understand those problems – but if Jay Behan comes up, he has no constraints, does he?”

In Davies’ view the national General Synod has reaffirmed traditional marriage on a number of occasions and is going to continue to do so. “They [the progressives] have to realise this church is not going to change. And I will say ‘God bless you, and off you go.”

Pickard, by contrast, says Christians who disagree on same-sex marriage should stay in the same church. In an essay on unity in a collection recently published by the Anglicans’ Doctrine Commission, he cites the US theologian Diana Butler Bass in arguing for a shared space – “the commons” – where Christians could “gather beyond their own silos of certainty and clarity”.

These radically different ideas of how the Anglican Church should respond to LGBT relationships will be tested at a special meeting of all the Anglican bishops called for November 20 by the Primate (national leader) Archbishop Philip Freier.

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