Sydney Synod members 2018.jpg

Requiring board members of schools and other organisations to sign statements of faith with contentious clauses – such as on marriage – will be a thing of the past for Sydney Anglicans if a new governance policy is adopted. The new policy will return to the 2024 synod session after being approved in principle this year.

A key change in the draft governance policy replaces personal statements of faith with a “Statement of Personal Commitment to Organisational Faithfulness”. The driver for this change has been a reaction to school council members being asked to sign a personal statement of faith with a clause on same sex marriage. In 2019 the Synod added a clause 2d to the existing statement of faith for diocesan organisations “that this faith produces obedience in accordance with God’s word, including sexual faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman, and abstinence in all other circumstances.”

The “situation has become toxic,” Bishop Michael Stead told the Sydney Anglican synod during a debate. Reactions meant that the personal statements of faith policy passed in the previous Synod was “irritrevable.”

In response to a Sun Herald report that Sydney Anglicans were backing down, Stead said, “We are not backing down. We are doubling down.”

Stead said it had become impossible to find the right people for the school boards “because people are losing their jobs over it. So we are putting the onus on those appointing board members rather than a personal statement of faith by the board member.”

The new “governance policy requires “we want our governors to be of Christian faith and Character,” Mark Thompson, the principal of Moore College, told the Synod.

When the statement of faith system was introduced in 2019, there was no consultation – the policy was adopted on the “call over” protocol, which allows motions to pass synod without debate. One school principal told The Other Cheek that they had thought the motion would not get up, so they did not organise speakers – and were taken by surprise when it sailed through the Synod.

This time principals for key schools have been present at synod. “This is a good synod to discuss because of the presidential address [by Archbishop Kanishka Raffel] invitation to diocesan fellowship,” Tony George, the Head of Kings School, told the synod. Raffel’s address was indeed a call for the Sydney diocese, churches, schools and bodies such as Anglicare and Youthworks to operate joyfully together, respecting each other’s roles.

Noting the draft Governance policy report, the synod voted to confirm “the importance of churches, schools and organisations to which the policy is proposed to apply pursuing their individual charitable purpose(s) in a manner which is consistent with the doctrines, tenets and beliefs of the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Sydney.”

It is a complicated report, proposing a “tiered” structure of requirements depending on the size and type of organisation. For example, churches will have different requirements from schools. So the Synod voted to ask its members, churches, and schools to which the policy is proposed to apply to review the draft and provide feedback by December 23. The Governance Policy will be debated at the annual Synod meeting in 2024.

Another motion “encourged the Governance PolicyReview Committee to continue exploring the approach” of having board members commit to organisational faithfulness.

The intersection of church and society has been a repeated theme in the Synod, with Anglicare requesting support to avoid too close an entanglement with Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD), but not coming to a final decision because the NSW government guidelines have not been made available. The nuclear option of withdrawal from aged care was commented on, but the Synod commended “the decision by Anglicare Sydney to continue providing aged care services while adopting an approach that refuses to actively support euthanasia but complies with the Act, regulations and guidelines as far as a biblically informed conscience will allow.”

The apprehension of Anglicare over VAD, the vulnerabilities of school and other organisational boards and staff is matched by the Conversion Therapy bill being developed in NSW, which will affect churches. Discussion of the conversion therapy bill will be a centrepiece of the last day of Synod.

The Andrew Thorburn case, in which the former CEO of National Australia Bank, lasted little over a day as CEO of the Essendon Football Club because of his position as chair of the board of the evangelical City on A Hill Church, hung over all three questions. Thorburn left the Essendon job after the sermon archive of City on a Hill was researched by the Herald-Sun newspaper, with anti-Abortion and traditional Christian views on homosexuality highlighted in the paper.

Whether the new provisions that step around having board members sign a personal statement of faith would avoid a Thorburn situation is debateable. The difficulties for Thorburn started when the sermons from City On A Hill church were research – and statements of faith did not figure in the controversy. In the same way, it is possible that a school chapel sermon or a Christian studies lesson could trigger a similar public response. response.