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Uniting Church report suggests accepting same-sex marriage

Church to decide at July Assembly

A Uniting Church committee has recommended that the church adopt same-sex marriage. If accepted, the Uniting Church will become the first major Christian denomination in Australia to accept same-sex marriage.

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The Working Group on Doctrine (WGD), tasked by the UCA Assembly (the church’s peak body) to prepare a report on marriage has recorded its view that the church should change its doctrine. At present the UCA marriage rite is restricted to man-woman marriage.

“Noting the diverse range of views on this matter throughout the Church, and as a result of the study, prayer and consultation behind this Report, the WGD recommends that the Uniting Church adopt Option 4: Offer the rites of marriage to opposite-gender and same-gender couples, while allowing Ministers and Uniting Church authorised celebrants freedom of conscience to perform marriages or not.”

The other three options rejected by the working group were:

1. Offer the rites of marriage only to opposite-gender relationships, while allowing Ministers and Uniting Church authorised celebrants to conduct, or to decline to conduct, “blessings” of same-gender relationships as long as such ceremonies “do not resemble marriage” without any officially approved rites for such services.

2. Offer the rites of marriage only to opposite-gender relationships, while allowing Ministers and Uniting Church authorised celebrants to conduct, or to decline to conduct, “blessings” of same-gender, covenantal relationships according to officially approved rites for such services.

3. Offer the rites of marriage only to opposite-gender relationships, and forbid Ministers and Uniting Church authorised celebrants to conduct blessings of same-gender covenantal relationships.

The Uniting Church (UCA) National Assembly will meet July 8–14 in Melbourne, where the church will make a decision whether or not to change its marriage doctrine. The Church contains groups both passionately in favour of change and passionately opposed to change.

The WGD was widely expected to suggest a change, given the make-up of the group. It would be fair to say that it has a number of progressive voices on it. UCA insiders are not surprised by the report.

The WGD describes its approach to the Bible this way: “In reading his own scriptures (the books of the Old Testament) Jesus gave first priority to love for God and neighbour, and challenged Biblical laws when they were used to exclude people from worship and community life. The Church can learn from Jesus to read the scriptures in this same way, giving priority to love of God and neighbour in the way we read and teach. When we read scripture this way it is harder to say that Bible verses like Leviticus 18- 20 and Romans 1: 27 give us rules to follow.”

The report cites as reasons for change its view that sexual orientation is determined at birth, injustice suffered by the LGBT community and the experience of having LGBT people in UCA congregations .

The WGD is at pains to reject the idea that it is capitulating to the spirit of the age. It also recognises that even if the marriage doctrine is changed the UCA will remain divided.

“No particular viewpoint in this debate can claim a monopoly on faithfully wrestling with Scripture or on probing the complexities and possibilities of faithful obedience to Jesus Christ. Every point of view encountered in the Uniting Church can be articulated with varying degrees of sophistication and integrity. ”

The National Assembly in July will be asked to decide whether to accept a proposal that will:

  1. “Affirm that Ministers and celebrants authorised by the Uniting Church in Australia may exercise freedom of conscience with regards to accepting requests to celebrate marriages, including same-gender marriages, according to the rites of the Uniting Church in Australia.”
  2. “To request the Assembly Officers to direct the appropriate Assembly body to prepare an authorised Marriage Liturgy suitable for opposite-gender and same-gender couples for approval by the Standing Committee at its August 2018 meeting,
  3. “Note that Church Councils: have the authority under Regulation 4.4.1 to permit or refuse the use of any property held for the use of the Congregation for same-gender weddings;  do not have the authority to require a Minister in placement in their Congregation to, or prevent a Minister in their Congregation from, celebrating same-gender marriages.”

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