A speech to the Synod of Grafton Diocese on Sunday, 23 June 2019, when moving the following motion (shown in its final amended form):
That this Synod encourages the 2020 General Synod:
(i) to authorise Anglican clergy to participate in civil weddings;
(ii) to move towards providing optional provisions for the blessing of civil marriages; and
(iii) to move towards providing an optional liturgy for the solemnization of Holy Matrimony where the parties to the marriage are of the same gender.
Mr President, I am honoured to move the motion which stands in my name as item 24 on our business paper.
Synod members may be surprised to hear that I have hesitated to present this motion, due to a desire to avoid pointless conflict. However, I have been persuaded by other members of Synod who assisted in the drafting of this motion that, first of all, this motion needed to be presented for debate and secondly, that I should be the person who moves it.
I also share the hope expressed by David Hanger that we can engage in this debate with courtesy and respect. Perhaps at the end of the day we shall be even better friends than we are now, since each of is seeking to be true to Scripture and the call of God on our lives.
Our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer and intersex sisters and brothers continue to experience emotional and spiritual violence within the church as well as in other spheres of life.
While ever the letter of our church law excludes and discriminates that emotional and spiritual violence will persist.
Until and unless we open every aspect of church life to LGBTQI+ people, including the right to marry and to have their intimate relationships celebrated and blessed within the life of the church, this emotional and spiritual violence will continue.
In brief, that is why this motion is being brought to the Synod today.
As everybody will agree, I am sure, this is a question of our core values as people of faith.
To paraphrase — and respectfully misquote — our Lord, people were not made for marriage, but marriage was made for people.
Do people come first, or does a strict reading of the tradition prevail?
The New Testament provides ample evidence of the way both Jesus and Paul would answer such a question.
This motion is not seeking a protracted debate on the doctrine of marriage or the issues around same-sex relationships. All that has been canvassed extensively in recent years and especially during the debates leading up to the postal plebiscite in 2016.
Indeed, I note that the arrangements for General Synod next year have recently been modified to provide up to 3 days for an extensive discussion precisely on the theological and pastoral issues relating to human sexuality.
We do not need to have that debate here today.
It would interesting to glance back over the history of marriage within the life of the church, but the time available to me is too short for that.
However, I note that while marriage occasionally serves as a metaphor—among other metaphors—for the relationship between Christ and the church in Ephesians, it attracts little comment in the New Testament and certainly no mention in the creeds of the Catholic Church, and even in The Articles of Religion.
Further, until around 1200 CE there were no church laws relating to marriage.
For more than 1,000 years after Easter, marriage tended to be a private matter and required simply an exchange of vows between the two persons, without even the presence of any witnesses.
Around 1200 we see the Western church beginning to introduce canonical requirements to ban secret wedding vows, to require the presence of witnesses and in due course, to require a priest to be present and make a written record of the marriage.
Indeed, it was not until the Council of Trent in 1546 that marriage was defined as a sacrament of the church.
Our understanding of marriage has continued to change and evolve over time.
- It is no longer seen as the transfer of one vulnerable woman from the control of her father to the control of her husband.
- We no longer expect women to promise obedience to their husband.
- Married women can own property and pursue careers.
- We no longer understand marriage is primarily about procreation.
- We have come to appreciate marriage as a blessed relationship in which two people find deep companionship and create a home in which children may be born and raised, but also as a small community of love through which a much larger circle of people find blessing.
- We have come to terms with the reality of marriage breakdown and divorce. Despite the clear teaching of Scripture to the contrary, our church allows divorced persons to remarry and to do so with the blessing of the church.
Much has changed. But some important work remains to be done.
Around the Anglican world, many churches have begun to address the need to change our definition of marriage and provide for the blessing of same-sex relationships.
At last count, the Anglican provinces which have moved in this direction include the Church of England, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Church of Wales, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, the Episcopal Church USA, the Episcopal Church of Brazil, and the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. Other churches with which we have full or partial communion and who have moved in this direction include the Union of Utrecht (look it up) as well as a large number of Lutheran communities in Europe and North America.
For most Anglicans this is not a core issue of faith and order.
The motion before us is carefully drafted to focus on the advice which we might reasonably offer to the 2020 session of General Synod.
This is especially pertinent given the changes to that Synod’s schedule to allow extended discussion—in conference mode—of precisely these matters.
This motion does not commit our diocese to act unilaterally, nor does it ask the Bishop to approve the blessing of same-sex marriages or to issue a liturgy for the marriage of same-sex persons.
However, this motion does offer a way for our Synod to express our mind and to contribute intentionally to the ongoing national discussion of these matters within our church.
As I commend this motion to the Synod, I am conscious that not everybody here will agree with the proposal.
Indeed, there are some people here who should vote against this proposal.
Anyone who thinks that LGBTQI relationships are intrinsically sinful, disordered and evil should certainly vote against this motion. Their decision to do so will be respected.
Similarly, anyone who thinks that the literal text of the Bible must always be followed may well find that they need to vote against this motion. Again, their decision to do so will be respected.
On the other hand, all of us who voted to support motion 23 earlier in the session will be inclined to support this motion.
Those who believe that compassion trumps doctrine will want to vote for this motion.
Those who believe that it is essential that our church engages with issues of concern to our neighbours, to our friends, to our families including—our children and grandchildren—will want to support this motion.
Those of us who want to see an end to the long tradition of emotional and spiritual abuse of LGBTQI+ persons will, of course, support this motion.
This is the right thing to do, and now is the right time to do it.
Thank you, Mr President. I commend the motion to Synod.