'Leave' call a signal for schism as mission

Those who claim scriptural authority to place limits on God's unconditional love are in error, writes Ray Cleary

By Ray Cleary

February 6 2020There has already been much said about the recent statement by Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies on human sexuality, marriage equality and Gafcon, both within the Anglican Church of Australia and in the wider community.

No doubt some in our church and community will welcome such strong statements. However, among the many people I mix with on a daily basis – both believers and non-believers, both catholic and evangelical in persuasion – there is shock, anger, disappointment, disbelief and frustration.

Devout and committed people feel they have been seduced and manipulated by their clergy and some leaders in the national Church hierarchy by them being told only part of the story relating to the issues, and using selective scriptural references. Some are considering how to respond to the Archbishop of Sydney’s call to leave the Church if you do not agree with his views. I suspect some will leave not because of their own sexual identity, but because they are sick and tired of being lectured to, patronised by and told untruths by their clergy and bishops. Many daily are called to try to justify the Church’s obsession, as they describe it, with sex, while the rich get richer and the poor poorer.

The recent statement by Church of England bishops, which said that sex belongs only within heterosexual marriage and that sex in gay or straight civil partnerships “falls short of God’s purpose for human beings”, has not helped either. The bishops’ views are receiving the same response from many clergy and laity, with many distancing themselves and rejecting their views on sex.

I wait with eager anticipation to hear our bishops speak publicly about the downsides of the current global economic system that creates unemployment, destroys families and contributes to the breakdown of social cohesion and community support. Will those who do not adhere to such calls of the Gospel to share wealth be asked to leave as well? Will those who fail to love their neighbours, wish to exclude asylum seekers and fail to offer them sanctuary also be asked to leave?

As I further reflected recently on the words of Archbishop Davies and the two decisions of our own most recent Melbourne synod – the first relating to the Diocese of Wangaratta and the second in welcoming the breakaway church forming a so-called new Anglican church – I began to understand more fully the real intention of these actions.

At heart, these words and decisions are preparing the way for schism and the formation of a new puritanical church.

We already see this occurring in a number of dioceses including Sydney, Tasmania and the North West, with their bishops disobeying their ordination vows that among other things require them to “firmly and sincerely believe in the Catholic faith”. If they were not able to honestly affirm such a statement at the time of their consecration, they have been dishonest and rather than call on others to leave should consider their own role in ecclesial leadership.

For other dioceses seeking to remain viable due to many factors, some internal and others external, financial assistance by Sydney comes with conditions.

This alongside church planting in other dioceses without authority, the lack of support for the ordination of women to the priesthood and the desire for lay presidency are further examples that suggest a strong hidden agenda.

The decision of the Standing Committee, dominated by the Diocese of Sydney and its supporters, to overturn a General Synod decision to hold a special Synod in 2020 is another example of their undue influence in the Anglican Church of Australia. I welcome some modification to this action by the bishops of our church.

While most of our bishops hold on to the call for unity, Sydney seems hell-bent on doing otherwise. The time has come for a governance structure in our Church that is effective and sets standards for accountability for all in Church leadership positions including the bishops.

The distressing part of this possible schism agenda is that more will leave our church, and increasingly Christian faith will be rejected by all Australians who believe in justice as central to God’s Kingdom now and in the days ahead.

Parish clergy and laity at the heart of the Church’s mission in the community are hindered, not helped, by pastorally insensitive statements that seek to restrict the unconditional love and grace of God.

The Revd Canon Dr Ray Cleary, a former CEO of Anglicare Victoria, has held a wide range of roles in the Anglican Church in Melbourne and nationally. He is Sambell Lecturer in Pastoral and Public Theology at Trinity College Theological School.