Opinion: An explainer, in nine easy steps

Opinion: An explainer, in nine easy steps

Here’s my explainer of the current situation in the Uniting Church in Australia regarding marriage, set out in nine easy steps.

I’m posting because I seem to be writing the same kind of thing to various people asking “what’s going on?”, and it might be helpful for us all to have a common understanding of the situation. As the Uniting Church is governed by a series of inter-related councils, it can be a little difficult to understand the complexities at times.

This is just how I understand things, but I thought it might be helpful.

An Explainer

  1. On 13 July 2018, the 15th Assembly decided that Uniting Church ministers are able to conduct the weddings of people of the same gender. Assembly did have a proposal before it at that time, declaring that changing our understanding of marriage was a matter that was “vital to the life of the church”. This drew on a provision in the Constitution in Clause 39 (a), which provides that On matters which, by a two thirds majority vote, the Assembly deems to be vital to the life of the Church, the Assembly shall seek the concurrence of Synods and/or Presbyteries and/or Congregations as the Assembly may determine. Assembly decided that the matter was not “vital to the life of the church”.
  2. Since July, Presbyteries have been considering the matter. Some Presbyteries have considered that the decision of the Assembly did include “a matter vital to the life of the church”, which requires the Assembly to suspend the decision and undertake further consultation.
  3. This in accordance with Clause 39(b) of the Constitution, which states:
    (i) If within six months of a decision of the Assembly, or its Standing Committee, at least half the Presbyteries within the bounds of each of at least half the Synods, or at least half the Synods, notify the President that they have determined that in their opinion:

    –  a decision includes a matter vital to the life of the Church; and
    –  there was inadequate consultation prior to the decision

    The President shall notify the Church that the decision is suspended until the Assembly has undertaken further consultation.

  4. So this is where we are at: once half the Synods, or half the presbyteries in half the Synods, write to the President stating that they believe there has been inadequate consultation, the decision is to be suspended. There are six months for this to be activated, so this runs until 13 January 2019.
  5. There are six Synods. No Synod has asked that the clause 39 process of seeking concurrence be invoked.
  6. The number of Presbyteries varies in each Synod. In one Synod, the threshold has been met: one of two Presbyteries in the Northern Synod has invoked clause 39.
  7. Three Presbyteries in Queensland have invoked clause 39. One is still to meet. There are eight Presbyteries in Queensland, so if one more invokes Clause 39, that will reach the threshold of half of the Presbyteries in that Synod.
  8. The Presbytery in WA and many of the Presbyteries in Victoria-Tasmania and New South Wales and the ACT have not considered that this is a matter which needs to be reconsidered. So there will not be one half of the Presbyteries in any of these Synods asking for a process of consultation.
  9. South Australia just has one Presbytery. It meets in the middle of November and will likely consider this matter.
  10. At this stage, if one more Queensland Presbytery and the SA Presbytery invoke clause 39 before the middle of January 2019, then the President of Assembly will issue a notice that same gender marriages must be suspended, while Assembly undertakes further consultation.

That is the basis for the letter from the General Secretary of Assembly which was sent on 18 October 2018 to all Uniting Church Ministers and Celebrants.

John Squires is the Principal of Perth Theological Hall. This is an edited version of a blog entry, which first appeared here


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