Australian church clash over same-sex marriage comes to a head

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Archbishop Geoffrey Smith addresses the opening session of General Synod. Photo: John Sandeman

Radically different views on same-sex marriage are being put forward at the General Synod (church parliament) of the Anglican Church of Australia meeting this week on the Gold Coast.

The contrasting views are set out in statements on same-sex marriage put forward by the progressive and conservative wings of the Church, which are included below.

The meeting began with an address by Geoffrey Smith, Archbishop of Adelaide who holds the title of “Primate” – which puts him in the chair.

He recounted the events that led up to the controversy surrounding the meeting.

Following moves in the Diocese of Wangaratta in NE Victoria to bless same-sex civil marriages (meaning church ceremonies held after a couple is married but not in a church), the matter was referred to the Church’s legal council, the Appellate Tribunal (AT).

The AT ruled that “doctrine” in the Church’s constitution only applies to matters concerning salvation, and so marriage was not included.

Smith quoted the tribunal: “It is not the tribunal’s role to settle … intractable doctrinal disputes.” The tribunal pointed to General Synod to settle the doctrinal questions.

The AT decision was generally welcomed by the progressive wing of the Church, but its narrowing of “doctrine” has been opposed by the conservatives.

As the meeting gathers in the grand ballroom of the Royal Pines Golf Resort, the greens lie peacefully under misty grey skies. But in the ballroom the socially distanced and mostly masked delegates are anxious.

Smith urged the GS members to a respectful debate. “We have the opportunity to model disagreeing well… to co-operate with God in the healing of all things.”

Commenting on the fact that 40 per cent of the synod members are here for the first time, he said that they may have heard bad things about the meeting.

“It is a scandal that meetings of General Synod have such a bad reputation,” he said.

“I’d urge us to pray a lot during General Synod. If we are to share in the ministry of Christ, we need our eyes open and prayer is essential for that.”

With their eyes wide open, the Synod members have serious questions to resolve.

In reading the key motions before the meeting, however, it is hard to see how a middle course can be found.