Deadlock in key vote as Anglican bishops block a conservative statement on marriage

Raffel says situation perilous

A motion to affirm traditional marriage has passed in two of the three houses at the Anglican General Synod (GS) being held on the Gold Coast, but has been blocked in the house of Bishops.

In the (Lower House) Laity – the vote was 63-47 and in clergy 70-39, but the motion failed in the House of Bishops 10-12.

Australian Anglican General Synod 2022

As the vote was announced, Kanishka Raffel, Archbishop of Sydney, said “I have had people approaching me saying they would leave the Synod. I have urged them not to do so.”

Raffel recounted moves by Canadian, US and NZ Anglicans to leave when same-sex blessings were approved in their churches.

“Failing to make these affirmations today has left us in a perilous situation,” he said.

The GS voted on whether to make a statement about same-sex marriage moved by Raffel. The statement says that one man-one woman marriage is the only form of marriage taught by Jesus and that blessing same-sex civil marriages is also contrary to the teaching of Christ. (The whole statement is at the foot of this story.)

The GS is responding to the actions of the Church’s Appellate Tribunal – its top legal body – which ruled last year that blessing same-sex civil marriages is not against the Church’s constitution, narrowing the constitution’s view of doctrine to matters pertaining to salvation.

In the debate, Archbishop of Melbourne Philip Freier wished there could have been a select panel to hammer out a compromise “that would receive an amen”.

Bishop Rod Chiswell (Armidale) recounted that he is being taken to court and that the exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act on which his case may rely require a statement of doctrine.

Archdeacon Tiffanny Sparkes (Grafton diocese) pointed to Eternity‘s report of yesterday’s debate to suggest that a complementarian theology lies behind the statement.

The statement will not prevent dioceses that wish to bless same-sex civil marriages from doing so.

Dean Peter Catt (Brisbane) reminded the GS that amendments suggesting that understanding of marriage has evolved, and used words like “currently” and “traditionally” to capture that thought, had been lost.

The statement will not prevent dioceses that wish to bless same-sex civil marriages from doing so. Same-sex marriage itself is not legal in the Anglican Church.

Bishop Mark Short (Canberra-Goulburn) “It is because I support that inclusion of women in every level of ordained ministry that I support this statement.”

Bishop Garry Weatherill (Ballarat) “The Ballarat Synod urged me, by a vote of 85 per cent, to take action on human sexuality. I declined to do so for the good of the Church. My episcopal office was kept ajar for discussion. I want to urge a similar leaving doors ajar in this difficult situation so that we can continue the discussion.”

“Since 2020, there have been two blessings of same-sex marriage in our Church. Not a tsunami.”

In reply, Archbishop Raffel (Sydney), said “the GS has made substantially the same statement, but in light of the change in the marriage act and the Appellate Tribunal decision, it needs to be made. If this statement does not pass in every house, there is something awry.”

The Statement

“Pursuant to the authority recognised in s.4 and s.26 of the constitution to make statements as to the faith, ritual, ceremonial or discipline of this Church, and in accordance with the procedures set out in Rule V, the General Synod hereby states:

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.   In 2004 (Resolutions 62/04, 63/04) General Synod did ‘not condone the liturgical blessing of same-sex relationships’ nor ‘the ordination of people in committed same-sex relationships’ recognising that both matters were subject to ‘ongoing debate in this Church and that we all have an obligation to listen to each other with respect.

3.   In 2017 the Commonwealth Parliament amended the definition of ‘marriage’ in the Marriage Act (1961) to mean ‘the union of 2 people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life, thereby making lawful the marriage of two persons of the same sex and presenting this Church with a profoundly altered missional and pastoral context.

4.   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.

5.   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. ”

In earlier discussions, the GS appreciated the funding for defence force chaplains but noted a shortage of Anglican ministers moving into these roles.