UCA's 16th Assembly wrap-up

Diverse voices, renewal of Covenant with First Nations Peoples and plans to prevent harm to LGBTIQA+ people

The Uniting Church of Australia (UCA) reconvened their 16th Assembly meeting earlier this month (6-9 May 2022), taking the theme ‘Dwelling in Love’. The triennial gathering was held on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

“Across the meeting the many diverse languages of God’s people were heard. At the beginning of each day members acknowledged the lands they were on in the language of the Gubbi Gubbi people. The Northern Synod led singing in Kriol and Yolŋu Matha. As part of the Bible Studies led by students at Nungalinya College, the Bible was read in 11 First Nations languages. Prayers were offered at other times in Fijian, Dinka, Korean and Tongan,”  the wrap-up published by the UCA reports.

The Assembly continued the business the members began when they were forced to meet online in July last year, due to Covid. A number of important resolutions were passed, mostly focused on extending love for society’s vulnerable and exploring new opportunities for discernment and renewal within the denomination.

“One of the most significant moments of the meeting was a historic renewal of the Covenant between the Uniting Church in Australia and the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress which took place in worship on Friday night. Second Peoples taking part in worship were invited to kneel for an act of confession in a gesture of deep humility, and together we recommitted ourselves to the practices of reconciliation and to journey in solidarity seeking God’s kingdom of justice and peace in this land,” the UCA reports.

A resolution on climate justice was also passed at the gathering. It “commits the Church to take seriously the voices and wisdom of First Peoples on climate change and care of creation and calls on the Councils and agencies of the Church to join with the Assembly in committing to net zero emissions by 2040.”

One of the most significant moments of the meeting was a historic renewal of the Covenant between the Uniting Church in Australia and the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress

The Assembly agreed to prioritise ageing and aged care advocacy to ensure the dignity and care of older Australians, and to establish a new annual day on the Church’s calendar to recognise the contribution of older people.

And another decision that may be especially of interest to Christians of other denominations, was the UCA Assembly’s adoption of a proposal that invites the church to “listen anew for words of continuing witnesses from recent and contemporary contexts” through engagement with three documents from other churches, to challenge, renew and strengthen the faith of the Uniting Church”. This will involve looking at three ecumenical documents, including Pope Francis’ influential encyclical Laudato Si’.

The Assembly also “acknowledged the harm that practices of so-called ‘conversion therapy’ have caused to the mental health and wellbeing of the LGBTIQA+ rainbow community who are beloved and made in the image of God.”

“We commit to educating ourselves, developing resources for our Church and actively working to prevent this harm so we might create spaces of inclusion and celebration where all children of God feel fully welcome, safe and free to be themselves,” the UCA said on their Facebook page on Tuesday.

“Conversion therapy” has been banned in Victoria, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory. The Queensland bill defines conversion therapy as “a treatment or other practice that attempts to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” Exactly what that does and does not include differs in each of the bills (See here for a detailed response from the Commissioner for LGBTIQ+ Communities, within Victoria’s Department of Premier and Cabinet to questions raised by Eternity).

During the debate leading up to Victoria’s bill being passed, some Christians expressed concern that banning conversion practices was a potential threat to the religious freedom of Christians. In contrast, the UCA expressed support for legal efforts to curb the practice. The acknowledgement made at their National Assembly is, therefore, a logical next step.

For context, the UCA is the only mainstream Australian denomination to affirm Christians in same-sex relationships, although there are also some smaller denominations including Metropolitan Community Church and New City Church. The UCA allows ministers to choose between two marriage rites that reflect “two equal and distinct views on marriage” so as to “honour the diversity of Christian belief among its members”.