Australia

Uniting Church to hold same sex marriages

Updated with full text of the “proposal” (motion) passed by the Uniting Church in Australia’s National Assembly and Eternity readers comments

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The Uniting Church in Australia’s (UCA) National Assembly has voted to allow same sex couples to marry in the church. The  vote means the church will provide a choice of marriage services. A new marriage rite will be written for “two persons” to marry, and will sit alongside the UCA’s existing marriage service for men and women. This is often described as a “Two integrities” solution which attempts to allow two beliefs about marriage to co-exist in the one church structure.

Meeting in Box Hill, Melbourne, the 265-member Assembly which is the peak decision making body for the church, has debated the issue for several days this week moving into closed session a number of times. the final vote in favour of change was overwhelming.

“This decision follows many years of reflection, prayer and discernment, and I want to thank Assembly members for the way they have responded with grace to what is a difficult conversation for many people of faith,” said Uniting Church President Dr Deidre Palmer.

Dr Palmer acknowledged the ministry and struggle of LGBTIQ people in the Uniting Church over many years.

“I know that this conversation is painful and difficult for you,” said Dr Palmer, directly addressing LGBTIQ Church members.

“We also acknowledge those who for whatever reason have not been able to support this change – and your pain and difficulty in this space.”

“Please rest assured that your rights to follow your beliefs on marriage will be respected and protected.”

“I thank you all for modelling a loving Christian community, holding together and caring for each other, across our diversity of strongly and faithfully held views.”

The UCA uses a “consensus” decision making process, aimed at achieving decisions by consensus,  with a fall back to “consensus by agreement” if a small minority is prepared to lay aside their disagreement. If that fails the meeting may move to a formal vote. Eternity understands that evangelical Assembly members stood against consensus. The meeting’s key vote then occurred – a vote to decide whether to leave consensus behind and decide things by formal votes – which requires a super majority.

Readers responses:

Eternity asked for responses from readers. Here’s a selection.

We wanted responses by email from readers who are members of the UCA. (Of course we could not check on their membership). As I compile this, there are slightly more “against” than “for”. As we did not ask permission to name people, I have left the names off.

For

• Good decision flowing from a good decision making process.

• For inspiration, former Prime Minister and former prominent Roman Catholic of Ireland, facing the reality of having a gay son. Others need to go through the same reality check and fast if they wish to keep up with the Uniting Church of Australia: Link

• Like the vision of Peter in Acts 10, I see this as a reshaping of our church to be truly inclusive.

Against

• My Bible says …”we ought to obey God, rather than men”(Acts 29). God instituted marriage between one man and one woman..so sad that “ more churches” are ignoring His word …there are so many scriptures to reveal His written word…” clergy ,ministers, etc have become people pleasers and not God’s preachers..read and follow God’s written word called the Bible….the world is kicking Jesus out and letting Satan right in….eternity will be a long, long time….in whatever place you choose.

• A church divided cannot stand. The Uniting Church has shown herself to be unfaithful to the scriptures by such an act and therefore in my opinion is NO LONGER a Christian Church by upholding HERETICAL beliefs

• The Constitution of the Uniting Church in Australia has a provision for decisions like this to be challenged by the wider membership who believe the issue is of vital importance to the Church. There is a six month window of opportunity for that challenge to take place and it would require half the Synods (state bodies) or half the Presbyteries (regional bodies) to trigger a re-assessment of a decision like this. Given that there are thousands of UCA members who do not support this change to the official position on Marriage, this decision is not set in stone yet.

Some key leaders responses

Past president of the UCA National Assembly Andrew Dutney (who introduced the proposal).

“Uniting Church approves same-sex marriage.”

The headline conceals what actually happened in Melbourne this week. Without setting out to do so, the Uniting Church recovered its stated vocation of making visible unity in diversity.

Of course, the 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia did indeed make decisions that will allow ministers to conduct same-sex marriages. But it also reinforced the rights of ministers and congregations who remain committed to the traditional understanding of marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.

No minister will have to conduct same-sex marriages if it conflicts with their beliefs. No congregation will have to make its property available for same-sex weddings if they don’t believe gay marriage is valid for Christians. In fact it is very unlikely that many ministers and congregations will see any difference in the teaching and practices that they are used to. Link

Dutney also posted on his personal website

There are plenty of congregations, members and ministers in the Uniting Church who are disappointed by the Assembly’s recent decision on marriage – many have described the way they feel as “heartbroken”.

Personally, I think the Assembly has done its work properly and that, with God’s help, we can flourish with diversity in this matter. I’ve written about that. But I know others disagree with me. Link

(Dutney goes on to talk about the church experiencing resurrection quoting Calvin).

Rev. Dr. Hedley Fihaki On behalf of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations (ACC) National Council(ACC represents conservative members of the UCA)

In our view, the UCA Assembly has removed itself from the faith and unity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
On behalf of the National Council of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations, we therefore say in the strongest terms possible, that we reject not only this decision, but the authority of the National Assembly and therefore stand aside from this Council of the Church. We continue to stand firmly in the ‘Assembly’ of Confessing Congregations as a ‘distinct’ Assembly through which we can continue to Confess our sole loyalty to Jesus Christ the living head of the Church and as a way of continuing to express our adherence to The Basis of Union. Link

Warren Talbot, National Secretary, Uniting Church LGBTIQ Network.

(In comments on Eternity’s story and also on twitter)

The Uniting Church has made one further step in the long journey of Gospel faithfulness of both welcoming and celebrating the lives of LGBTIQ people. I hope that the provision to permit clergy to also NOT marry same-sex couples is short-lived, as the journey continues.

Text of the Proposal passed by the UCA National Assembly

Resolution of the Fifteenth Assembly

Marriage and same-gender relationships

The Assembly resolved:

(a) To acknowledge:
(i) that within the Uniting Church there is a diversity of religious beliefs and ethical understandings, developed through continuing faithful discernment and held with integrity on matters relating to sexuality and marriage; and
(ii) that marriage is a gift God has given to humankind for the well-being of the whole human family.

(b) To determine that the Church is able to accept this diversity within its life and make the decisions necessary to enable its ministry and members to act with integrity in accordance with their beliefs.

(c) To vary its policy on marriage by recognising two statements of belief:

(i) the belief expressed in the 1997 statement on marriage as follows:
“Marriage for Christians is the freely given consent and commitment in public and before God of a man and a woman to live together for life. It is intended to be the faithful lifelong union of a woman and a man expressed in every part of their life together. In marriage, the man and the woman seek to encourage and enrich each other through love and companionship.

In the marriage service:
• The woman and man make a public covenant with each other and with God, in the company of family and friends;
• The couple affirm their trust in each other and in God;
• The Church affirms the sanctity of marriage and nurtures those who pledge themselves to each other in marriage and calls upon all people to support, uphold and nurture those who pledge themselves to each other in marriage.
Where sexual union takes place the partners seek to express mutual delight, pleasure and tenderness, thus strengthening the union of their lives together.
In marriage, children may be born and are to be brought up in love and security thus providing a firm foundation for society”.

(ii) the belief expressed in the following statement on marriage:
“Marriage for Christians is the freely given consent and commitment in public and before God of two people to live together for life. It is intended to be the faithful lifelong union of two people expressed in every part of their life together. In marriage, the two people seek to encourage and enrich each other through love and companionship.

In the marriage service:
• The two people make a public covenant with each other and with God, in the company of family and friends;
• The couple affirm their trust in each other and in God;
• The Church affirms the sanctity of marriage and nurtures those who pledge themselves to each other in marriage and calls upon all people to support, uphold and nurture those
who pledge themselves to each other in marriage.

Where sexual union takes place the partners seek to express mutual delight, pleasure and tenderness, thus strengthening the union of their lives together.
In marriage, children may be born and are to be brought up in love and security thus providing a firm foundation for society”.

(d) To affirm that Ministers and celebrants authorised by the Uniting Church in Australia may exercise freedom to decide whether the minister’s or celebrant’s religious beliefs allow the minister or celebrant to accept requests to celebrate marriages, as authorised under the Marriage Act and according to the rites of the Uniting Church in Australia.

(e) To request the Assembly Officers to arrange for the preparation of an additional authorised marriage liturgy which reflects the understanding of marriage as outlined in the marriage statement contained in (c)(ii) above for approval by the Standing Committee at its August 2018 meeting, for use according to the rites of the Uniting Church in Australia.

(f) To note that Church Councils:
(i) 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 the celebration of marriages, as authorised under the Marriage Act and according to the rites of the Uniting Church in Australia.
(ii) do not have the authority to require a Minister in placement in their Congregation or to prevent a Minister in their Congregation from celebrating marriages as authorised under the Marriage Act and according to the rites of the Uniting Church in Australia.
(g) To request the Standing Committee, taking account of advice from the Assembly Legal Reference Committee, to consider and take such action as it considers appropriate, including (if necessary) the making of additional Regulations, to enable Church Councils acting under Regulation 4.4.1 to make decisions regarding use of property for celebrating marriages, in conformity with one of the statements of belief mentioned in (c)(i) and (ii).

Note: The UCA website describes this an “unconfirmed minute”

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