ORIGINAL POST: A few days ago, an Anglican Church of Australia Appellate Tribunal published an opinion (this is the official term) on the matter of a blessing of same-sex marriages proposed by the Diocese of Wangaratta.
The opinion (more precisely, two: 5 for a majority opinion, 1 for a minority opinion) is published here. (Spoiler Alert: it is a lot of reading!)
This is Julia's summary of the decision:
"The issue was a legal one, fundamentally about where the authority lies to make a decision of the kind that would allow a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex couples married under Australian law. Who gets to decide – the individual dioceses, of which there are 23 in Australia – or the national church at its General Synod? The tribunal ruled it was the diocese, because this liturgy was “not inconsistent with the Fundamental Declarations and Ruling Principles” of the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia."
Dr Mark Thompson, Moore College, offers his "disappointed" response here. He writes,
"This opinion, if acted upon, may indeed have devastating consequences for the Anglican Church of Australia, as similar decisions have done elsewhere in the world, but it cannot change the revealed will of God. The opinion is deeply wrong because it opens the door for the blessing of behaviour which the Bible clearly says will exclude people from inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10). As the Board of Assessors and the House of Bishops made clear, the prohibition of this behaviour is not limited to an isolated passage in the New Testament but is consistent through the entire Bible. God does not change his mind. He does not need to. He has always known the end from the beginning.
Since its release, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, Archbishop Geoff Smith, has described the decision of the Tribunal as ‘an important contribution to the ongoing conversation within the church’. He clearly does not see it as the final word. It is important that only Scripture occupies that place."
There are some points of ecclesiastical frisson here.
For instance, on the matter of blessings, not that long ago the Australian Bishops (two of whom were on the Tribunal) unanimously ruled against blessings.
Further, the Australian General Synod when it met a couple of years back censured the Episcopal Church of Scotland for legislating for same-sex marriages.
That is, the opinion of the Tribunal that the Wangaratta decision is not inconsistent with the Constitution is itself not consistent with the Bishops nor with the General Synod.
In other words, as a matter of debate and decision-making for our Across the Tasman Anglican cousins, it looks very much like clarity needs to occur at the General Synod level. That is, clarity over whether or not the opinion about "not inconsistent" with the Constitution becomes canonical fact or not, as applied to the whole of ACA, not only to the Diocese of Wangaratta.
For Kiwi readers, it may be important to note that ACA is not the same as ACANZP constitutionally (for example the former’s constitution gives more power to each diocese than the latter’s constitution does).
My opinion on the formal opinion of the Appellate Tribunal:
1. The majority opinion works very hard, with admirable detail in analysis and reflection on changes through history, on how an Anglican church generally and how the Australian Anglican church specifically, can respond to changes in civil legislation concerning marriage.
2. The minority opinion works very clearly and carefully on a biblical theology of sex and marriage which yields the conclusion that changes to civil legislation on marriage does not overturn a universal ban on same-sex sexual relationships.
3. In important ways, both positions are "honourable." It is appropriate to follow the Bible - Romans 13 and all that - in making accommodation between church and state. It is also appropriate to follow the Bible - Revelation 13 and all that - in resisting the temptation to accommodate changing culture.
4. Thus an obvious challenge for ACA, as it has been for ACANZP, is whether and how both honourable positions might be held within the one church.
5. And, sadly, a salutary warning from the recent history of ACANZP with disaffiliations leading to the formation of CCAANZ, is that (4) may not have a straightforward resolution.
6. There is, nevertheless, a pastoral dimension to the Appellate Tribunal's reports, beyond questions of civil legislation and social change becoming a cultural tide washing over the church. When two Christians of the same sex determine that they wish to live their lives together in a bond of marriage, may the church formally permit freedom for its ministers to follow a pastoral instinct to pray for them?
7. The genius of the Anglican church has been that it has found many ways to permit freedom for its ministers to follow a pastoral instinct!
To all commenters: this post is NOT an opportunity to once again rehearse for/against arguments about homosexuality or same-sex blessings or same-sex marriages. I may not publish your comment if your comment offers such rehearsal. Comments should focus on matters relating to Anglicanism Down Under with special reference to the Anglican Church of Australia - its constitution, its polity, its decision-making, etc.
GAFCON Australia have published a first response to the Appellate opinion, here.
I think the challenging paragraph here is this:
"The teaching of Scripture is that while marriage is not necessary for salvation nor for the experience of life to the full, obedience to God’s Word is. The Lord brings about in us what he commands, whatever our marital status or sexuality. The gift of marriage, in accordance with the doctrine of Christ as it is clearly taught in Scripture and expressed in the Book of Common Prayer is ‘an honourable estate’ given for the union of one man to one woman for, among other purposes, the raising of children. Likewise, those who are not married, through their union with Christ, are holy and called to lives of chastity and fruitful, joyful service of the Lord."
A challenge is that this statement simply avoids tackling the otherwise "clear" (but seemingly difficult to actually follow) teaching of Scripture on divorce and remarriage (especially our Lord's own teaching).
Thus a further challenge is that this paragraph assumes that Scripture teaches "clearly" on matters that, in fact, churches find less than clear when it comes to engagement with the circumstances of real life.