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AUSTRALIA: Bishop of Newcastle Defiantly Approves Same-Sex Blessings

AUSTRALIA: Bishop of Newcastle Defiantly Approves Same-Sex Blessings

By David W. Virtue, DD
August 10, 2021

On July 26, Australian Anglican Primate, the Most Rev. Geoffrey Smith ripped plans by GAFCON Australia to form a new diocese. He said it feels like the life of our church is being undermined from within.

Smith cited a passage from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians 4.1-16 on the unity of the Church and quoted John Stott's commentary as one of the two classic passages on Christian unity. The primate said he was struck by the contradiction he saw between the Ephesians passage and GAFCON'S statement.

"We need to be clear that the opinion of the Appellate Tribunal has not changed the doctrine of the Anglican Church of Australia. The Appellate Tribunal can't change the doctrine of anything. All the Appellate Tribunal can do in these matters is respond to questions concerning the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia and the Canons adopted by the General Synod."

He is followed by the Archbishop of Melbourne and former Primate Philip Freier who, in an ad clerum called the move "unnecessary" and possibly "an attempt to shed redress responsibilities "

Freier wrote; "I agree with the Primate's view that there is no need for this "new church entity" -- Anglican doctrine has not been changed by the recent Appellate Tribunal opinion or the effect of the Diocese of Wangaratta's application of the national churches "Canon Concerning Services". Undoubtedly, the proponents of this initiative think differently for the reasons they describe.

Freier's letter also contains a number of assertions or suggestions that may possibly aggravate current tensions by misrepresenting Gafcon's position.

Freier compares the proposed move to the Ordinariates set up by the Roman Catholic Church and speaks of "rebuilding parish ministries". He calls upon clergy "leaving" to "voluntarily relinquish their Anglican orders".


That was late July. Now on August 9, the Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Peter Stuart lifted that "restraint" and wrote a Pastoral Letter to his diocese signaling his approval of clergy conducting a blessing of couples married in a same-sex marriage.

Here is what he said; "Request -- It is my request to clergy that should they seek to lead a service of blessing for persons of the same gender who have been married according to the Marriage Act within a church building within a Parish that they ascertain, well prior to the service, that the Incumbent and Parish Council of the Parish have confirmed by resolution recorded in the Minutes of the Parish that they are willing for the church building to be used for that ministry."

Another report said unofficial "blessings" have occurred in the Perth diocese for some years.

It is the thin end of the wedge. In the American Episcopal Church, it was called 'local option'. Never mind that the Church had not yet officially approved of homosexuality and would ultimately approve homosexual marriage, dioceses flaunted their power, defying general convention resolutions. Of course, no one held them to account because the church hierarchy had also rolled over in their mind and church discipline was the last thing on their minds. Ditto for the Anglican Church of Canada.

This is basically what is going on in Australia. Dioceses will act unilaterally while paying lip service to the canons and constitution of the church. Sooner, rather than later, they will wear down the other side and homosexuality in all its myriad forms including LGBTQI+ will be accepted, proving that the emergence of a GAFCON diocese was entirely justified.

Furthermore, it is disingenuous of Archbishop Geoffrey Smith to quote John Stott on unity, when Stott fought for unity within an evangelical framework, that no longer exists in some dioceses in the Anglican Church of Australia.

Smith might want to reflect on what Stott wrote here: "What should the contemporary church do with heretics? Is that a harsh word? I think not. It is based on three convictions: there is such a thing as heresy, that is, a deviation from fundamental, revealed truth; heresy 'troubles' the church, while truth edifies it, and therefore if we love the truth and the church, we cannot fold our arms and do nothing. The purity of the church (ethical and doctrinal) is as much a proper Christian quest as its unity. Indeed, we should be seeking its unity and purity simultaneously."

The deeper question is can one church structure contain progressives who support the marriage or blessings of LGBTIQA persons in church and those who take the historic Christian view that we should not, wrote a blogger.

In his own diocese, Adelaide, the Trinity network of churches, now over double figures in church plants, is effectively semi-detached from the diocese. The Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, birthed out of the Sydney diocese has a former Anglican bishop, Al Stewart as national director.

So perhaps on both sides, some horses have bolted.

It will be interesting to see what the Primate and other diocesan bishops who have been openly critical of GAFCON will respond with equivalent language and tone about this unilateral move by the Newcastle diocese and its bishop.

Let me be clear, based on all the available evidence of what has happened over the past 25 plus years in The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, Wales and Scotland, the trajectory, once the genie is out of the bottle, the jig is up. Archbishop Smith will either resign on principle or fudge it with appropriate language. That lesson he can take right out of the Rowan Williams playbook. Stay tuned.


9 August 2021

Dear sisters and brothers,

Through my pastoral contact with you and as a result of some correspondence, I thought it was timely to write about our continued experience of being a church in which there are strong and opposing views on the blessing of people who have been civilly married and who are of the same gender.

You will be aware that it is my deep desire that we find a shared way as a diocese in which we continue to engage in the important work of proclaiming the gospel and engaging in practical mission despite of, but also enriched by, our engagement with difference. We engaged with this at the Synod in March. We know that there is immense goodwill between clergy and people in our Diocese which is revealed in so many ways. At times the tension is palpable, at other times our purpose for gathering and our conversation has a different focus.

Sometimes it is simply to be together to encourage one another in difficult time.
As we explore this shared way, we are mindful that throughout the history of the church there have been moments when individuals decide that they cannot remain in fellowship with other church members. With deep grief and after considerable prayer, they take a stand based on their conscience.

The scriptures and history of the early church witness to both disagreements of this kind and to the path for their resolution. We know that some disputes remain unresolved in our lifetimes.

Four decades ago, Australian Anglicans debated the marriage of people who had been divorced. This was a significant engagement around embodiment, scriptural teaching, pastoral care, and related issues. Many Australian Anglican clergy now would, on balance, officiate at the wedding of a person who has previously been divorced.

Three decades ago, Australian Anglicans wrestled with their understanding of the role of women in leadership, preaching and sacramental ministries. This was a season of significant tension as the General Synod, the Appellate Tribunal, Diocesan Synods, and parishes engaged in theological, scriptural and pastoral debate.

Some people left the Anglican Church of Australia at that time. Their actions included starting new churches.

In our time, we are contemplating the right way for this Church to respond to people who know themselves to be lesbian or gay and who seek a blessing on their relationship within the context of a liturgical service.

Alongside this, we have wanted to explore how we respond to members of the clergy who identify as lesbian or gay and who understand themselves to be called to a form of intimate relationship. The Appellate Tribunal has answered some of the questions emerging in this Church; doing so within the Constitutional limitations that guide its work. The other and various arms of decision-making in this Church will engage in ongoing deliberation.

As this goes on, there are some members of this Church, who have significant conscience questions. Some are looking to the Uniting Church which they see as having a more inclusive stance while others are looking at the Catholic and Presbyterian Churches which they see as having a more traditional stance. Some are open to the proposal from GAFCON which suggests that an Anglican identity can be maintained but this will be as a separate organisation which is not part of the Anglican Church of Australia.

With a great deal of care, Anglicans in this Diocese have been thoughtful in seeking to maintain respectful dialogue with people with whom they disagree. We are seeking as a Diocese to identify a shared way in which people with divergent views can be engaged in Christ's mission together. This is, without doubt, a demanding way.

Clergy and lay representatives to the Synod will be aware that my view, formed after wide engagement with others, is that, despite some commentary to the opposite, the legal and pastoral fact is that a member of the clergy of this Diocese, at this time, is not prohibited from using the 'Wangaratta service' or a similar service.

No member of the clergy is required to use it. The Appellate Tribunal has ruled that the use of the 'Wangaratta service' would not be inconsistent with the Fundamental Declarations or the Ruling Principles, provided that use is in a diocese in which the Canon Concerning Services 1992 is in force and the service is not contrary to any regulation of the Synod of that diocese. Accordingly, I understand from my wide engagement with others, that it would be unlawful for me to seek to direct a member of the clergy not to exercise this ministry if they choose to do so.

You observe closely that I, like all clergy and all officers of the Diocese, are bound by the canons and ordinances in force in the Diocese. That is our Anglican way. It is up to our Synod, or the Diocesan Council as its delegate (when it has the proper authority), to change ordinances or change which canons are in force. I know that some people lament that Synod is the forum for this work but in our Anglican way, it is the forum that is created to exercise these exact responsibilities. My responsibility as the Bishop of the Diocese is to attend carefully to such deliberations and form my own, and independent, mind.

In relation to all variations in authorised services and all forms of services for which there is no provision in our prayer books, where questions are referred to me, in accordance with the Canon Concerning Services 1992, about their reverence, edifying form, and doctrine, I will continue to exercise the responsibility to determine those questions. That is the lawful requirement of me and one which I take very seriously.

In my view, it is unlikely that continued theological debate will result in any quick change to people's perspectives. However, we should continue to read, reflect, pray, and engage as we search for the truth which God is seeking to reveal to us. This quest is fashioned by our regular engagement with word and sacrament as the church gathers week by week.

There are two great resources for helping people survey the breadth of thinking on the topic of human sexuality from an Anglican perspective. I commend them again to you:
x [Anglican Church of Australia] https://anglican.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/MarriageDoctrine-Essays-Final.pdf
x [Church of England] LLF Web Version Full Final.pdf (churchofengland.org)
At the Diocesan Leaders Conference, in a few weeks time, the clergy will be engaging in the program developed by the Archbishop of Canterbury's Reconciling Leaders Network called Difference which promotes three habits --

These are critical habits for our church in the vast array of missional engagements to which we are called.

Many of you will be familiar with the Anglican doctrine of reception. It was put before the Anglican Communion again in 1988, prior to the Lambeth Conference, as the church deliberated on the ministry of women and the episcopate. The 'Grindrod Report' made the following observations --

Beyond the official responses ... lies a continuing process of reception by the Church. Moreover, in this process what is affirmed in words has to be embodied in the life of the Church if reception is to be credible.

'Reception' is a long and spiritual process involving both official responses by the synods and councils of the Church 'at the highest level if authority'. It also involves a longer and more widespread process of reception. Conciliar or synodical decisions, themselves emerging from widespread consultation and episcopal guidance, have to be received. If in the course of time the
Church as a whole receives a synodical decision this would be an additional or final sign that it may be judged to be in accordance with God's will for the Church. The people of God, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, have to be involved in forming the mind of the Church in matters affecting the faith of the Church. Within this process, the authority of those exercising leadership, individually, and corporately, is not a formal or imposed one. It is an authority supported and accepted by the involvement of the whole fellowship.

Whenever a matter is tested by the Church there is necessarily an openness about the question.

The continuing communion of Christians with one another in faith and worship maintains the underlying unity of the Church while the reception process is at work. The openness needs to be recognised and accepted by those on both sides of the debate. There needs to be openness to the possibility of the new thing being accepted by the Church or rejected by the Church. It also entails a willingness to live with diversity throughout the 'reception' process. 'Reception is a long range and far-reaching process in which the whole Church seeks to recognise and affirm confidently the one faith ... and confidently to lay hold of the new which that faith promises' (WCC).

The reception process cannot be hurried: it demands patience and listening by both sides and calls for generosity of spirit. Sensitivity and mutual caring is even more called for when what is in question is matters of faith embodied in the ministry of women and men. The ideal of unity and the quest for truth may both be pursued and upheld as the process of reception is worked out.

I think it is prudent as we order our life together to make a pastoral statement and make two pastoral requests.

Statement -- The law of this church in the Diocese provides that no minister is obliged to officiate at services other than those which are in the authorised prayer books of this church. Consequently, it is lawful for any minister of this church to decline to lead a service of blessing for persons of the same gender who have been married according to the Marriage Act.

Request -- It is my request to clergy that should they seek to lead a service of blessing for persons of the same gender who have been married according to the Marriage Act within a church building within a Parish that they ascertain, well prior to the service, that the Incumbent and Parish Council of the Parish have confirmed by resolution recorded in the Minutes of the Parish that they are willing for the church building to be used for that ministry.

Request -- It is my request that any member of the clergy seeking to exercise this ministry have a pastoral conversation with me about doing so prior to each occasion they may exercise this ministry.

Friends, may we be strong in our common bond of faith as devoted ourselves to Christ's mission and pray that his kingdom will come. As with disciples since the resurrection we have great confidence knowing that because of God's great love and mercy for us, we have been made alive with Christ even when we were dead because of our human nature. By grace we have been saved.

With every blessing,

The Rt Rev Dr Peter Stuart
Bishop of Newcastle

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