4 July 2022

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Future of same-sex marriages may be left to individual dioceses: Melbourne leaders 

Anglicans seek to unite over common ground and handle differences of opinion with grace following General Synod talks. Picture: iStock

By Kirralee Nicolle 

17 May 2022 

Individual dioceses may be left to discern the way ahead on same-sex marriage within the church after motions both for and against such unions were voted down at General Synod, leaders have predicted. 

Despite differences of opinion on whether same-sex marriage was “a moral good and a gift to be celebrated” within the Anglican Church, leaders agreed that listening to one another was a key aspect of moving forward. 

Two motions regarding same-sex marriage failed to pass at General Synod last week.  

The first was a statement by Sydney Archbishop Kanishka Raffel, which sought to define marriage in the Anglican Church as “the exclusive union of one man and one woman”. This was seconded by Reverend Natalie Rosner from the Diocese of Melbourne. 

The second sought to affirm same-sex marriage within the Church, and was presented by Associate Professor Reverend Matthew Anstey from Adelaide and seconded by Professor Peter Sherlock, of Melbourne. 

Professor Sherlock said he was interested to see how many delegates at General Synod supported the motion put forward by Associate Professor Anstey, and that he was curious as to what it would take for someone to change their mind on the topic. A total 95 delegates voted in favour of the motion, 145 against. 

Professor Sherlock spoke to the synod from personal experience as an Anglican living in a same-sex marriage. 

In his address, Professor Sherlock invited representatives to remember that God loved them.  

“And you know what? I love you too,” he said. 

Professor Sherlock said that it was imperative that members of the Diocese of Melbourne find time to discuss the issue further and that he believed those on both sides were open to this.  

Fellow Melbourne lay representative Fiona McLean said that she was encouraged by the respectful tone of the proceedings. 

Read more: So, what happened with the same-sex marriage debate on Thursday?

Mrs McLean seconded putting forward a petition that expressed regret at the vote by the House of Bishops to reject the statement put forward by Archbishop Raffel, which sought to define marriage as “the exclusive union of one man and one woman”. 

This motion was lost after it failed to pass in the House of Bishops, despite being supported in the houses of clergy and laity. 

Mrs McLean said that for her, being unified meant coming to one mind on how the Anglican Church regarded marriage and sexuality. 

Mrs McLean said she believed the opinion that marriage was the exclusive union of one man and one woman was widespread in the Church, rather than largely a focus of the Sydney Diocese as some believed. 

She said that while approximately 28 per cent of General Synod delegates were from the Diocese of Sydney, approximately 60 per cent of all the attendees voted “in a conservative way”. 

Mrs McLean said that she believed it would be difficult for Anglicans who did not support the affirming of same-sex marriage in those dioceses where the predominant view was that same-sex unions were to be affirmed.  

St Alfred’s in Blackburn North senior minister Reverend Peter MacPherson said that he believed it would be difficult for those on both sides of the conversation who found themselves holding the minority view within their diocese. 

Mr MacPherson said that he believed that the outcome of General Synod discussions had not been clear, and that those on both sides were trying to uphold what they believed to be true, but that attempting to reach a consensus was very hard. 

“With the best of intentions, those on both sides [were] trying to understand what the Bible does or does not allow,” Mr MacPherson said. 

Mr MacPherson said that he believed that the sanctioning of such unions within the Church was inconsistent with Scripture, along with those others who voted against the motion affirming same-sex marriage. 

Diocese of Wangaratta lay delegate Associate Professor Jane Freemantle said that the discussions last week set a precedent for further conversations on the topic of same-sex marriage. 

“We need to acknowledge that there are deeply held beliefs in this area, and we need to consider the role of the [individual] diocese in this matter,” Associate Professor Freemantle said. 

Associate Professor Freemantle also said that due to other “advances in scientific knowledge and biblical scholarship” within Anglican belief, this issue was not anything other than what had already been experienced in Australia. 

She said that while General Synod discussions highlighted the differing views within the Church on same-sex marriage, she agreed with the comment by Reverend Professor Canon Dorothy Lee that the Anglican Church of Australia were united on “95 per cent” of their theological views. 

Both Associate Professor Freemantle and Mrs McLean agreed that to move forward on the issue of same-sex marriage within the church, people needed to listen to everyone, including those they disagreed with. 

But Mrs McLean said the Church also needed to listen to God and recognise that His ways were good and life-affirming. 

Associate Professor Freemantle said that she was committed to holding the sense of Anglican community together. 

“We need to find that space where there is a generosity of spirit, and I think we as an Anglican church can do it,” Associate Professor Freemantle said. 

Professor Sherlock also said that in light of the Safe Churches apology presented to Synod by Sydney Bishop Peter Lin, he would like to see the Church implement a way to remember the apology, such as a yearly “Rainbow Sunday” commemoration. 

This motion of apology was seconded by Diocese of the Northern Territory Reverend Kate Beer.  

The statement read that the Anglican Church: 

Deplores and condemns any behaviour that is disrespectful, hurtful, 

intentionally insensitive, bullying or abusive, and recognises and 

rejoices in the image of God as reflected in every human being, 

regardless of race, social circumstances, creed or sexual identity, and 

apologises to and seeks forgiveness from lesbian, gay, bisexual, 

transgender or intersex (LGBTI) persons whom we have treated in this 

way. 

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