The new Religion Discrimination law has been passed – not in the Federal Parliament, but in a church parliament – the Sydney Synod of the Anglican Church. Or, more accurately, the Synod has adopted doctrine on the sensitive subject of transgender people, in order to fit the new law which Federal Parliament may start considering in its next session.
It is quite likely that the debate and negotiations about the new Religious Discrimination law will extend into next year. Meanwhile the Sydney Anglicans are ready – or nearly ready.
“Our legal advice is actually to quote the Bible.” – Peter Hayward, Anglican Bishop of Wollongong
The new Religious Discrimination law will require churches and other religious institutions which want their actions to be protected by the new law, to be able to show a link to doctrine.
Clause 10 (1) of the draft bill reads: “A religious body does not discriminate against a person under this Act by engaging, in good faith, in conduct that may reasonably be regarded as being in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of the religion in relation to which the religious body is conducted.”
In order for the schools and churches of the Sydney Diocese to have policies on transgender issues, it needs to have a publicly available doctrinal statement.
If the new law comes into force, similar statements will be required for other religious bodies, who may need to justify policies on gender identity.
“Our legal advice is actually to quote the Bible,” Peter Hayward, Bishop of Wollongong, told the Synod on Monday night, as he introduced the motion to adopt the doctrinal statement. This was based on a 70-page legal opinion delivered to the Sydney Anglican Standing Committee.
An emotional debate followed. An intersex member of Synod (as Eternity understood the speech) explained that intersex persons should not be dealt with in a footnote. In a powerful speech, Eternity columnist Michael Jensen called for the hope given by the gospel to be included in the doctrinal statement. These changes were made in a extensive overnight redrafting.
The Synod passed the doctrine statement and a set of pastoral guidelines for schools and organisations, but ran out of time to create a set of guidelines for local churches.
The doctrine statement asserts a traditional understanding of gender identity. “The Bible never endorses a divergence between biological sex and gender identity or expression.” It continues: “Our gender identity is not a social construct.” (One of the statements added in the redrafting process.)
Schools and other organisations are urged to show love by …. “rejecting all bullying, ridicule, mistreatment and abuse of gender non-conforming people.”
A typical statement in the pastoral guidelines reads: “While gender dysphoria may be a lifelong battle for for you, God’s word declares that all those who have faith in Christ are loved by God and belong to the body of Christ, and that nothing can separate them from the love of God in Jesus.”
Schools and other organisations are urged to show love by, among other actions, “rejecting all bullying, ridicule, mistreatment and abuse of gender non-conforming people.”
Although the parish guidelines were not adopted, a key change to them in the redraft was removing a suggestion that “ministry staff are to encourage the person who has already transitioned to consider de-transitioning if possible”.