The Diocese of Perth - A Test Case?
The Perth Diocesan Synod has twice debated (the same) motion that sought to affirm same sex partnerships as consistent with Christian discipleship. In 2012 and 2013 the motion was passed by a majority of Synod voting by houses but vetoed by Archbishop Roger Herft. On both occasions, the Synod debate was accompanied by media coverage before and/or after the Synod. On both occasions, Archbishop Herft made use of the full thirty days allowed to him under the statutes to prayerfully consider his decision. Under the statutes, the second use of the archiepiscopal veto required that the motion be voted upon by the Provincial Council. The Provincial Council unanimously rejected the motion, thereby endorsing the Archbishop’s veto.
The Archbishop’s reasons for veto included that:
a. the resolution ‘as worded’ was capable of being interpreted as contrary to the Fundamental Declarations and Ruling Principles of the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia which govern the Matrimony Canon 1981; and
b. the resolution gave a focus to sexuality that is ‘at variance with the doctrine of the human person’ as expressed in Lambeth Resolution 1.10/98’
Section 2 of The Fundamental Declarations affirms ‘all the canonical scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as being the ultimate rule and standard of faith given by inspiration of God and containing all things necessary for salvation’. Section 3 of The Fundamental Declarations commits ‘this church’ to ‘ever obey the commands of Christ, teach his doctrine...follow and uphold his discipline...’
The Australian Bishops Protocol 15 (March 2012) accepts as ‘expressing the mind of this Church on issues of human sexuality’ Lambeth Resolution 1.10/98 and General Synod Resolutions 33, 59, 61-64/2004. Lambeth Resolution 1.10 declares that the Lambeth Conference 1998 ‘upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and woman in lifelong union and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage’; ‘reject(s) homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture’; and ‘cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same sex unions’.
General Synod Resolution 62/04 states that the General Synod cannot condone the liturgical blessing of same sex relationships. General Synod Resolution 63/04 states that the General Synod cannot condone the ordination of people in open committed same sex relationships. General Synod Resolution 64/04 states that the General Synod welcomes the clarification by Federal Parliament that, at law, marriage is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others voluntarily entered in to for life.
Evangelicals in Perth are thankful for Archbishop Herft’s rejection of same-sex marriage on theological, legal and ecclesiological grounds which he has addressed not only in the formal reasons for his veto, but also in his Presidential Charge in both years. It is particularly disappointing that in light of the President’s Charge in successive years, and the publication of the Archbishop’s reasons for veto in 2012, the Synod vote in 2013 was overwhelmingly in favor of the motion. For evangelicals and others who understand Scripture to be both binding and clear in its rejection of same-sex activity, the question of the limits of ‘tolerable diversity’ is pressing.
In this context, the statements issued by the second Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) held in Nairobi last year, provide clear commitments to maintaining fellowship with, and assisting the ministry of, those who find themselves excluded by their own Dioceses.
The Nairobi Communique includes among its objectives:
Authorising and affirming faithful Anglicans who have been excluded by their diocese or province. The main thrust of work here would be devoted to discerning the need for new provinces, dioceses and churches — and then authenticating their ministries and orders as Anglican. (Item 3)
The Nairobi Commitment makes the following declarations:
We commit ourselves to defend essential truths of the biblical faith even when this defence threatens existing structures of human authority (Acts 5:29). For this reason, the bishops at GAFCON 2013 resolved ‘to affirm and endorse the position of the Primates’ Council in providing oversight in cases where provinces and dioceses compromise biblical faith, including the affirmation of a duly discerned call to ministry. This may involve ordination and consecration if the situation requires.’ (Section 4)
We commit ourselves to the support and defence of those who in standing for apostolic truth are marginalized or excluded from formal communion with other Anglicans in their dioceses. (Section 5)
These statements amount to a clear indication that the GAFCON Primates’ Council are prepared to intervene anywhere in the communion where Anglicans are excluded from their own Dioceses by decisions or actions inconsistent with ‘essential truths of the biblical faith’. The stated intention of such intervention would be to preserve faithful Anglican witness and to avoid mass departures of Anglicans. If the Anglican Church of Australia fails to protect the place of evangelical and other orthodox Anglicans, the global communion is willing to involve itself to assist. It would be preferable by far if a locally designed solution were to emerge. This might include the creation of alternative parallel denominational structures such as already exist in South Africa (where it has existed for more than a century), North America (ACNA: The Anglican Church in North America) and, in embryonic form, in the UK (AMiE: The Anglican Mission in England).
Why is the issue of same sex relationships the ‘catalyst’ for division when false teaching about the resurrection or the atonement or the uniqueness of Christ has not been? I think the answer to this is that the formularies of the church, adherence to Scripture, Creed and BCP have never changed even when individual church leaders have deviated from this orthodox foundation.
In the event that a Diocese formally affirms same sex practice the issue that arises is whether Anglicans of diverse view can continue to fellowship with one another. I am not persuaded that the character of the holy life is a matter upon which we can differ and still maintain godly unity with the truth of the apostles and the mutually indwelling life of the Father and Son (Jn 17:20-21).
The Anglican Future Conference 2015 to take place in Melbourne next year (March 24-27) and jointly hosted by EFAC and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans-Australia will be a key opportunity for evangelicals to address the challenges of mission in the contemporary context and to contend together for the maintenance of the ‘faith once delivered’ within our own Australian Anglican context.
In the meantime, remember the exhortations of Jude: Contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. Remember that the apostles foretold there would be scoffers who follow their own ungodly desires in the last days; build yourselves up in faith and prayer in the Holy Spirit so as to keep yourself in God’s love; save others by snatching them from the fire and show mercy to all. (Jude 3, 17-18, 20-23).