By Stephen Cauchi
16 October 2021
ANGLICAN factions have been called to engage in “meaningful dialogue with the hope of coming to a common mind on the difficult things that threaten to divide us” by synod representatives, against the backdrop of feared separation within the church.
The Australian branch of the Global Anglican Future Conference has threatened to start a separate diocese, prompted in part by the acceptance of same-sex marriage blessings within the church by Anglican appeal body the Appellate Tribunal.
The Reverend Dr Christopher Porter told The Melbourne Anglican that the Unity and Differences motion had to be amended before all parties could accept it. Dr Porter moved the amendment.
“The wording was settled upon only after considerable wrangling to make the motion amenable to members of GAFCON,” he told TMA.
The motion originally called for “continuing meaningful dialogue and respectful co-existence”. The amended motion added the phrase “and respectful living together on issues of secondary concern”.
Trinity College’s Reverend Canon Professor Dorothy Lee moved a motion about unity and difference at the 2021 synod, which was passed with a 94 per cent majority.
She did not name GAFCON in her speech, but made reference to the “Evangelical”, “Catholic” and “broad church” theologies in the church.
She also referred to “significant differences of opinions” and “currently held differences of viewpoint across theological and ethical issues in our church”.
But Professor Lee said church members should not approach each other in a spirit of dogmatism and domination.
She urged the factions in the church to approach one another in a spirit of openness and humility, ready to learn from one another, open to understand one another, motivated above all by love.
She added that all members of the Church were “struggling to interpret the Bible for our context today”.
“We don’t always agree on what the Bible means or on how it is to be interpreted for our very different context today,” Professor Lee said.
“In all sincerity and with real integrity we disagree on how we are to read it.”
Professor Lee said there also needed to be a distinction between which biblical truths were central to faith and life together, and what were of secondary or tertiary importance.
She said the central truths were the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, naming them as: God as Holy Trinity, the incarnation and atonement of Christ, his resurrection and future coming, and the life of the church in the power and love of Spirit, the message of God’s grace, freely given, and God’s liberating power.
Professor Lee urged the church’s factions to unite around these “great truths” and speak to one another in charity and respect about the points where they disagreed.
“Oneness and unity are not the same as uniformity, though some on both sides of the debate would like to make it so,” Professor Lee said.
The motion was seconded by the Reverend Canon Matthew Williams, vicar of St James Old Cathedral.
“I have become persuaded from church history that dividing the church is not an effective means of purifying it,” Mr Williams said.
“It doesn’t work, it hasn’t worked.”
Mr Williams said that purifying a church through division resulted in the “most impure thing of all” entering the new institution: “a loss of grace”.
He said members of the new institution would turn on each other because their culture was to deal with disagreement through abandonment.
Mr Williams said Jesus, by contrast, showed that Christians should patiently seek unity and truth together.
Put to 53rd synod of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne this week, the first part of the motion called for synod to:
“Recognise our unity in Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world through his incarnation, death and resurrection (and) give thanks for the diversity of charisms given to the church in its lay and ordained ministries.”
The second part of the motion stated:
“there are currently held differences of viewpoint across theological and ethical issues in our church, (Synod) commits to meaningful dialogue with the hope of coming to a common mind on the difficult things that threaten to divide us, and respectful living together on issues of secondary concern, in the Spirit of the Lord who calls us to be one.”