Last week the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia met. Some sense of the big issues can be gained here and here (via the multiple links there). Has our neighbouring church come closer to a massive schism, or has it managed to find a way to not do so? I feel a little unclear about that!
Following debates, and ruminating on the particular shock to the Synod of the bishops not agreeing with the houses of clergy and laity on a statement about marriage, it has struck me that quite a lot depends in modern Anglicanism on what the word "clearly" means, whether we are agreed on what is "clear" and what is not, and whether we are minded to live together with those who are not as clear as we are on a matter or matters.
For what it is worth, I think the bishops got it right when the voted against a statement which said this:
"Marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Pursuant to the authority recognised in s.4 and s.26 of the Constitution to make statements as to the faith, ritual, ceremonial or discipline of this Church, and in accordance with the procedures set out in Rule V, the General Synod hereby states:
1. The faith, ritual, ceremonial and discipline of this Church reflect and uphold marriage as it was ordained from the beginning, being the exclusive union of one man and one woman arising from mutual promises of lifelong faithfulness, which is in accordance with the teaching of Christ that, “from the beginning the Creator made them male and female”, and in marriage, “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Matt 19:4-5).
2. The solemnisation of a marriage between a same-sex couple is contrary to the teaching of Christ and the faith, ritual, ceremonial and/or discipline of this Church.
3. Any rite or ceremony that purports to bless a same-sex marriage is not in accordance with the teaching of Christ and the faith, ritual, ceremonial and/or discipline of this Church. "
Why do I think that? Because (a) accepting (1) above is true when discussion concerns marriage between a man and a woman, does not entail that (2) and (3) are true without further reflection about the relationship between what Christ taught (as recorded in our Gospels) and what Christ did not teach (because no one asked a question of Christ about same-sex relationships, and certainly not in the context of modern states making civil provision for marriage between two people of the same sex). It is the case that "further reflection" in churches today both yields conclusions in which (2) and (3) above are held to be true (and thus the houses of clergy and laity voted in favour) and conclusions in which neither (2) and (3) are held to be true, or only (3) is not held to be true (and thus there were significant minorities against the statement).
And, thus, (b) the bishops got it right (I am interpreting their decision here), because they felt the ACA should be a church in which continuing exploration of two (or more views) on these matters is possible.*see further below
Or, more simply, those voting against the statement felt that things are not quite as clear as the statement's promoters and supporters make them out to be.
Incidentally, readers here, like me ignorant until last week of a specific requirement of the Diocese of Sydney, may be interested to know that the issue of commitment to marriage (in line with the statement proposed to the GS) in that Diocese is such that all new principals of Anglican schools there, along with new school board members, are required to sign a statement of support for marriage being only between a man and a woman.
Yet, let's be clear, it is also the case that clarity can be fervently held on the other side of this particular ledger. Over the weekend I noticed some discussion about an interview with Wesley Hill, a celibate, gay (wait for it) Episcopalian priest and theologian, who is interviewed here.
Wesley is a fascinating bloke, because a lot about his theological approach to being gay in the church would sit very satisfactorily inside ACNA. Yet he is coolly and calmly convinced that his place is in The Episcopal Church, promoting what he calls a "Side B" approach to being a gay Christian: commitment to being celibate while boldly being out.
But here's the thing.
If you follow the comments in this thread on Twitter, you get a lot of support for Wesley.
But if you follow the comments in this thread on Twitter, you get a lot of clarity that there is no place for Wesley and his views in The Episcopal Church.
Speaking personally, I would struggle to be part of either an ACA or a TEC which (finally) got to a position of shutting down all possibility of exploring aspects of human sexuality, respecting the fact that some lack of clarity attends the discussion.
Back to the General Synod across The Ditch.
There was also some controversy over a motion to celebrate 30 years of women in ordained ministry, that controversy reflecting the difference between dioceses in ACA over whether women may be priests or bishops.
If we put both controversies together, over marriage and over women being ordained to positions of authority such as priest or bishop, we highlight an arguably deeper question for Anglicans than one about clarity or lack of clarity, that question concerns whether anything in our understanding of Scripture may change as life changes.
Is that the great question for global Anglicanism in the 21st century? (Actually, it is the great question for global Christianity!)
But if it is the great question, then it is closely associated with the question whether global Anglicanism, and the Anglican provinces around the globe, can live with some answers to the great question being less than as clear as those of us who love clarity would like.
2. Case is made here (re who is or isn't Anglican in Australia) that the General Synod only narrowly avoided effectively determining that ACA is not a comprehensive church but "a narrow, even Calvinistic, confessional church".
3. On what the bishops' vote signifies, see this The Living Church article, and note this excerpt:
Archbishop Smith's statement/question, as expressed above, is pretty much aligned with my own position as a bishop in ACANZP: affirming marriage traditionally understood AND making room for exploration of what it means to be church in a changed society.