You have set my feet in a broad place – Psalm 31:8
The people of Australia recently voted (in a non-binding referendum) overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality in their country. As in many other places, there was heated rhetoric and inflamed passions on display in the run-up to the vote. Across the Tasman Sea in New Zealand, marriage equality has been the law of the land for several years now. In both places, the Anglican churches have been home to those in favor and those opposed and continue to struggle with how to respond in unity, constancy, and peace.
For those who see this change of heart as the work of the Holy Spirit, the intransigence of the church in this area is maddening and frustrating. For those who fail to allow God space to open hearts and minds in new ways, the changes feel like an inrushing tsunami. So it isn’t surprising, though it is dispiriting, that the unity in Christ has not been more evident.
In the wake of last week’s vote, the very conservative diocese of Sydney, which had donated $1 million Australian dollars to the “NO” campaign, issued a statement revealing an effort to switch from advocacy to one that protects their ability to espouse their traditionalist beliefs. Archbishop Glenn Davies, did not dispute the vote itself, but did declare that marriage equality is still wrong, in his eyes.
“That doesn’t mean I will change my views. I will still continue to teach that marriage is, in God’s plan, between a man and a woman. But I acknowledge that once the parliament passes those laws, that will no longer be the law of the land.
The consequences then are – what happens to people who want to hold to that truth. It is one thing to say, for example, we don’t have laws against adultery in this country, but I still want to say adultery is wrong – it is immoral. I want to be able to uphold that teaching without the law saying to me – no, it is not illegal, so you can’t say that. At the moment that’s not the case, but the way in which we have seen in other Western Democracies, the coercive effect of changing the definition of marriage has been to restrict people’s ability to hold a different point of view. And one of the outstanding points of democracy and human dignity – is the freedom of speech, the freedom of faith and the freedom of conscience. Therefore what the parliament needs to do now, in legislating for same-sex marriage, is to do so in a way which protects people’s liberties.”
In New Zealand, despite marriage equality being introduced four years ago in civil law, the Anglican church appears no closer to resolving the issue internally. Despite much internal dialogue and study there and abroad, those opposed still claim that “the theology still needs to be done,” and threatening to quit the church if any signs of acceptance at all are approved.
Many are expecting that next year’s General Synod will find a way forward to allow space for both advocates and opponents to stay together in a way similar to what the Church of England has adopted around the issue of women’s ordination, with alternate bishops and other such programs.
Noted New Zealand Anglican blogger, Bosco Peters, has said that Anglicanism has exhibited an unhealthy fixation on issues of sex and has obsessed over the ethics of sam-sex relationships while conveniently ignoring the moral and ethical implications of changes in heterosexual relationships, even when they relate to the same doctrine of marriage.
“Theologians talk about the ‘marks’ of the Church. The ‘mark’ of the Anglican Church is… an obsessions with sex. Same-sex to be clear and precise. We have been debating this decade upon decade upon decade.”
In a submission to the church in New Zealand, Peters writes;
“The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia has been debating homosexuality for decades (with commissions, hui, groups, papers, books, General Synod Te Hinota Whanui debates, and meetings, including special diocesan synod and Inter-Diocesan Conference meetings), all without a single step forward.
Anglicanism allows for a wide breadth of opinions and positions on everything from the Eucharist through to the ethics of abortion and euthanasia. When, for example, was the last time you heard any issue being made of blessing a hospital in which abortions are carried out?
With so much in our country and in our world that should be the focus of our attention, we should be gravely concerned about the energy expended on controversy about blessing committed same-sex couples. The best estimate for the number of same-sex couples that might seek the Church’s blessing in my diocese, the second largest in New Zealand, is four a year. To be clear: we should not ignore minorities because they are small – quite the opposite. The teaching of Jesus, the Bible, and Christian tradition call, instead, for a preferential option in their favour. But can we be honest with ourselves, in the face of immense problems and an aging Church with rapidly-declining statistics, that this is distracting, misdirecting, and even scapegoating?”
Peters’ submission is worth a read to those who are interested in following the debate there. Peters’ seems to suggest that the church should acknowledge and welcome fully LGBT+ people without reservation and move on with its mission. In his conclusion he writes;
“In a world rapidly moving away from binary oversimplification about gender and sexuality, the Church is seen as focusing on yesterday’s questions rather than today’s. In a world of increasing ethical complexity, the Church’s focus on homosexuality is not providing moral paradigms that can easily translate to these third-millennium debates. In a global village that needs, more than ever, to have models for how to live together with significant difference, Anglicanism models how not to – all the way to the inability of our primates to pray together, let alone share communion together. My fear is that my submission adds further air to the overemphasising of this debate, but I do so on the advocating by and with the encouragement of others more vulnerable than I am in this regard. It comes with my prayers.”
Another New Zealand blogger, Peter Carrell, also offers an analysis and commentary around the question of the church’s response to LGBT+ persons. Though a self-professed conservative, Carrell has come to a similar place as Peters. Though from the opposite direction.
“And yet, some recent experience has left me wondering why we cannot be a church which is accommodating re SSB[Same sex blessing]? Recently I met an Anglican woman and discovered we both had something in common: both of us have wives! I also discovered a bit about her parish church, which welcomes and celebrates the lives of gay and lesbian persons. It got me thinking about the (potential) capacity of Anglican churches to incorporate breadth of theology, liturgy and experience. Incorporation in Anglican life does not require validation or endorsement but it does mean there is tolerance, space and willingness to exist together in a large enough room for conversation to continue.”
The lengthy comments generated by the post are an interesting read on the various positions in play in the debate in New Zealand.
Despite GAFCON’s assertion that western secularists are behind an effort to push a “gay agenda,” it is more than abundantly clear that LGBT+ persons are and always have been a part of the fabric of human life and culture as well as a part of the life of the church. It is well past time to accept this reality, as we see more and more people across the world accept and celebrate the variety of human sexuality. The change in the marriage canon by the Episcopal Church in 2015 did not materially affect the growth or decline of the church. This move shouldn’t be seen or attacked as a mere ploy, but as the discernment of the Holy Spirit in the life of the people of God.
image: Backers of the “Yes”vote gather in Australia – (AAP: Carol Cho)