News

NZ, South Pacific General Synod allows same-sex blessings but affirms marriage doctrine

Polynesians reject same-sex blessings but allow General Synod vote to proceed.

NZ Archbishop Philip Richardson said: "We have gay and lesbian members of our congregation who have committed themselves through civil marriage to a life of fidelity. There is now a provision where that can be blessed."

By Mark Brolly

May 9 2018The Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia has opened the way for the blessing of same-sex relationships, enabling individual bishops to permit such blessings while retaining the Church’s teaching to affirm marriage as being between a man and a woman.

General Synod, meeting in the North Island city of New Plymouth, adopted the report and recommendations of the Motion 29 working group charged with finding a way forward on the issue after the previous General Synod in 2016.

It recommended that any pastoral response – including the blessing of committed, monogamous, life-long same gender relationships – should be a matter for the Diocese, not General Synod, and further called for protections for clergy from disciplinary action for agreeing to bless such relationships or for refusing to do so.

Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia becomes the third province in the worldwide Anglican Communion to permit the blessing of same-sex relationships, after the US Episcopal Church and the Scottish Episcopal Church. But unlike those two provinces, the Church across the Tasman Sea has done so without changing its official doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The Church’s news service, Anglican Taonga, reported on 9 May that in contrast to the 2016 General Synod, when proposals by a previous working group were shelved, “the reaction to today's decision was, after a brief burst of applause, quite muted”.

“That quietness reflected sadness, perhaps, that despite the best efforts of the Motion 29 working group, some have said they can no longer stay in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia,” Anglican Taonga reported.

The three Primates of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia wrote to their counterparts in Oceania – including Archbishop Philip Freier of Australia – Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and the Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion, Nigerian Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, about the proposal before General Synod met (see http://tma.melbourneanglican.org.au/news/nz-anglicans-same-sex-blessings-030518).

Under its 1992 Constitution, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia provides for the three partners to order their affairs within their own cultural context. Within Aotearoa New Zealand, Tikanga Pakeha (for New Zealanders of European descent) comprises seven dioceses led by Archbishop Philip Richardson and Tikanga Maori comprises five Amorangi, the boundaries of which differ from those of the dioceses, led by the newly installed Archbishop Donald Tamihere. Tikanga Pasefika encompasses Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands, and is known as the Diocese of Polynesia, led by Archbishop Winston Halapua.

Australia’s Anglican bishops, at their annual meeting in March in Canberra, adopted a resolution declaring that they would work within the Constitution and laws of the Anglican Church of Australia if any change were to be made to allow same-sex marriage in Anglican churches and warned that the theological, pastoral and missional issues involved “resist simple solutions or courses of actions” (see TMA, May 2018).

The move will not apply to the Diocese of Polynesia – the province’s Tikanga Pasefika. In a separate motion, passed without dissent, the Synod said it was “deeply mindful of the deep interweaving of cultural and religious values at the core of our Pacific societies that place a profound respect, and reverence for the belief in God and the belief in the traditional understanding of marriage”.

It noted that the Pacific Island countries within the diocese – Samoa, Tonga and Fiji – did not recognise unions between people of the same gender; and said that a debate at the Polynesia diocesan synod had shown its members were opposed to the blessing of same-sex relationships.

The resolution noted the willingness of Tikanga Pasefika “not to be an obstacle in the journey of Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Pakeha towards the blessing of same gender relations in Aotearoa New Zealand” and urged the Polynesian wing of the Church to convene talanoa (conversations) on this issue “in its journey towards a greater understanding of the plight of minority groups in the Pacific region and to report back to General Synod of the outcomes of the talanoa series on this matter”.

Anglican Taonga reported: “This church's canons have an in-built mechanism to allow any one tikanga to veto a proposal before the house.

“The three tikanga caucused for some time, and decided among themselves as to whether they would assent to the motion being put to the vote.

“Each of the three tikanga assented to the vote being taken – and then by voices, the motion was carried.

“The Revd Al Drye from Christchurch then called for a show of hands, then for synod representatives to stand – and these visibly confirmed that the motion, by a big majority, had been passed.”

Stuff.co.nz reported that Archbishop Richardson acknowledged the hurt and sadness the decision would cause some delegates, but said the discussions leading up to the motion were “actually quite beautiful”.

“It's been really respectful and graceful,” Archbishop Richardson said. “There are some very differing views and they hold them deeply.”

He hadn't expected the decision on the contentious issue to reach this point because of irreconcilable views within the Church and its three tikanga over the past half-century.

“We have gay and lesbian members of our congregation who have committed themselves through civil marriage to a life of fidelity,” Archbishop Richardson said. “There is now a provision where that can be blessed.”

Fe'iloakitau Kahi Tevi, a member of the working group behind the proposal, said such a change would not be acceptable in the Pacific “but our children may have different views”.

He emphasised the strong desire for the Church to remain together even if there were different opinions.

Archbishop Tamihere said he was “absolutely” pleased “from a cultural and biblical point of view”.

“… I always thought that once people got to read the bible they'd understand what it's about,” he said. “There's space for everyone.” [with Anglican Taonga, ACNS]