Every year at about this time I am asked, “Why don’t you update what you believe – it doesn’t fit with modern Australia.” The subject lately has been same-sex marriage, but it has been a kaleidoscope of issues over the years.
When representatives of our churches meet at our annual Synod, we do so publicly. Our churches are open to all people in the suburbs of Sydney, the Illawarra and the Blue Mountains, so our governing body is public as well. We do not hide our beliefs, nor are we ashamed of them. People know what we believe and are free to comment on what we do and what we believe.
When I spoke this year about bishops as “guardians of the faith”, I was reflecting not only the doctrine of the Anglican Church, but also the ancient testimony of the early church right back to the time of the New Testament, when the apostle Paul charged his co-workers, Timothy and Titus, to “guard what was committed to your trust”.
Christian leaders, especially bishops, are called to teach this faith that was once for all entrusted to the people of God. I have sought to live my life according to the teaching of Jesus and his apostles. I do not always live up to these standards, but knowing that Christianity is a religion that is filled with grace, offering forgiveness of sins, then I am encouraged to repent when I have done wrong and seek God’s mercy, which he freely gives because of Jesus, who lived the life I could not live and died the death that I deserve.
Many in society think that I should “update the faith” rather than “guard the faith”. But that is not up to me or, may I say, up to any bishop of the church of God. The Bible tells us that Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith. We are not at liberty to change what he said, drop out bits that don’t suit us, or mould Jesus into what we would like him to be.
When Christians in the first century, who had the person of Jesus in living memory, first started to speak, they were met with a mixture of disbelief, suspicion and violent opposition. Yet they persevered, despite the pressure to reshape Jesus into a more appealing image.
The pressure continues in every generation. I’m grateful if the worst thing Christians in Australia encounter in this century is social media outrage, for I am reminded of George Orwell’s saying: “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.”
When I stated publicly that God defines marriage as an exclusive and permanent union between a man and a woman, I was merely restating what God has said and Jesus has affirmed. Everyone is free to believe what Jesus said or not. Everyone, that is, apart from me or any bishop because all bishops promise to teach nothing but what may be found in the Bible.
When I said “Please, leave us”, my words were directed at bishops of the church, and those who wish to change our doctrine, and I stand by those words. The words were not directed at members of our congregations, especially those who identify as gay, whether single or married.
It is regrettable that some have misrepresented my words, whether intentionally or unintentionally. In our churches, people are being nurtured in community. Some may have only recently come to know of Jesus or may be struggling, as we all do at times, in following his ways. We must be careful not to over-reach or under-value either Jesus’ compassion or his commands. Yet for we who wish to follow Christ, commit themselves to him in faith and obedience, then it is his teaching we must seek to follow.
This is why I stand where I stand.