Bishop Michael Stead and Prof Michael Anstey

Jesus taught that marriage is a lifelong exclusive relationship between a man and a woman,” Kaniska Raffel, Archbishop of Sydney, told the Anglican General Synod (GS) meeting on the Gold Coast today.

Opening the debate between conservative and progressive forces, he said: “For Christians, the words of Jesus are trustworthy and good.”

Commenting on Matthew 19:4-6, he said: “Marriage is a complementary union between a man and a woman. Marriage is the first instance of neighbour love.”

The GS will vote on the statement tomorrow at 11am as the debate has run out of time. The outcome will determine whether an increasingly conservative presence in the Anglican Church can win over the General Synod.

Statement One declares that same-sex marriage is contrary to the teaching of Christ and opposes the church blessing of same-sex civil marriages.

Speaking of same-sex marriage, Raffel added, “We cannot bless what is contrary to God’s word on marriage.”

“We say to our gay friends, and neighbours what we say to ourselves … ‘take his yoke upon you and find rest unto your souls.’”

“We cannot bless what is contrary to God’s word on marriage.” – Kanishka Raffel

Seconding the motion, Natalie Rosner of Melbourne spoke of bringing humility to complicated questions with humility. Having wrestled with Scripture, she had come to the same conclusions as Raffel.

She pointed out that exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) require churches to set out doctrines and tenets for the exemption to apply. The Appellate Tribunal of the Anglican Church narrowed the use of “doctrine” to mean matters of salvation. This ruling had clouded the use of the SDA exemptions. Statement one supporting traditional marriage is needed to ensure the SDA exemption applies.

Bishop Jonathan Holland of Brisbane rose to contest the idea that same-sex marriage is contrary to the teaching of Jesus. He pointed out that the Matthew 19 passage is about divorce. He suggested that we should support all nurturing, permanent love because God is love. “Who are we to say they are not fulfilling the teaching of Jesus?” he asked.

He proposed an amendment to the motion to say that same-sex marriages are unlawful in the church, but same-sex blessings are not.

(The move by the Diocese of Wangaratta to bless same-sex civil marriages is the issue that initiated this debate in the Anglican Church. The Appellate Tribunal ruling that was not contrary to the church’s constitution.)

The amendment was lost by 91 votes to 152. Other amendments seeking to qualify the church’s doctrine as of marriage using the words “currently” or “traditionally” – implying that change could come” – were also lost.

Matthew Anstey, a strong progressive, spoke against the statement, opposing a reading of 1 Corinthians 6 that makes same-sex marriage a matter pertaining to salvation (contrary to what an evangelical would say). He said that marriage is not creedal – making a statement on marriage was not essential.

“We can proclaim the gospel of love by not passing this motion.” – Jeremy Greaves

Dorothy Lee opposed the statement, saying biblical scholars and faithful Christians disagree. She objected to Statement One because it said there was only one way to read certain texts in Scripture. She argued that dialogue should continue. “We are not clear about the Greek words in 1 Cor 6:9,” she said.

Bishop Jeremy Greaves of Brisbane argued against the statement for fear of harm to LGBT youth. “We can proclaim the gospel of love by not passing this motion,” he said.

Reuben Scott from North Queensland said all wanted the flourishing of LGBTI people whom we wish to enter the kingdom of God. Yet, in reading Scripture, he could not come to any other conclusion than that sex is intended to be within man-woman marriage. “We need to trust God’s wisdom as we go against the opinion of our community,” he said.

Fiona Mclean of Melbourne said it was not just a Sydney Statement. Responding to Matthew Anstey, she said that although the creeds do not mention marriage, Scripture is clear. “If you love me, keep my commandments,” Jesus said.

At this stage, it appears the statement has strong overall support. This sentiment is likely to result in a vote favouring traditional marriage and against blessing same-sex civil marriages in the Houses of Laity (unordained)and Clergy (ministry). However, the result in the House of Bishops will be close, possibly narrowly defeating Statement One.

Tomorrow will see the reaction to this vote.

In calmer waters, earlier in the day, the GS passed calls that
• Opposed gambling ads on TV during sports programs.
• Lamented the attention the church has given to evangelism and gospel preaching.

The results of a survey of intimate partner violence (IPV) – which showed the incidence of IPV was the same or higher among Anglicans compared to the general community – were presented to the GS. (The previous GS funded the report, which was released in 2021 – and reported by Eternity.

The Anglicans are the first denomination in Australia to research IPV in their churches. The Synod called on dioceses to respond by producing preventative strategies and pastoral responses to gendered violence.

“It is scandalous that some of our clergy diminished violence – ‘he did not leave a bruise’,” Tracey Lauersen, the Family Violence Working Group convenor, told the GS.

The Synod adopted a list of ten commitments to change church cultures and participate in community discussions on the topic. They were developed in consultation with survivors/victims. The GS set up a Families and Culture Commission “to embed the ten commitments in the church”.