God may be at work in a mysterious way. Again. According to a letter Uniting Church marriage celebrants received on Friday 19 October, it is plausible that Assembly members will be required by Presbyteries and Synods to reconsider our decision on the two definitions of marriage.
I went to Assembly convinced that God was calling us to embrace an open definition of marriage, which would include same sex attracted, and intersex people. So did many others. After days of discussion, I accepted that perhaps we should instead pass a resolution affirming where the church was currently, rather than where we thought it should be. And so we made it possible for some ministers and churches to continues to discriminate, and others not to. Andrew Dutney and others made an apparently persuasive case that this reflected our commitment, and practice, of unity in diversity.
By the end I was satisfied that we got the best outcome we could have hoped for, given the way things are. As did many who would have preferred we stick with one, exclusive definition. This was despite, for me, the clear hypocrisy of churches refusing to marry gay people, but being happy to marry divorced people, despite Jesus’ teachings and millennia of church tradition on that subject (I write this as a divorced person).
Clearly, some in the church are not satisfied to be allowed to discriminate, they demand that we all be forced to.
But if they force the Assembly to reconsider, I believe that there is at least as likely a chance that we will, instead of retreating into discrimination, actually become braver, more hopeful, more faithful. That what seemed to me the majority of members, who wanted inclusion but decided to tolerate prejudice so that we could stay together, may instead lead the church to be where we should be, instead of where we are. That we will decide on a single definition of marriage, which includes and transcends heterosexual couples.
The only hypocrisy-free alternative is to prohibit both the marriage of divorcees (except perhaps in cases of sexual infidelity), as well as gay, lesbian and intersex people.
Decades ago, the Uniting Church could have decided to enact regulations which reflected where the church was, by allowing those churches who wanted to broaden the definition of ordination to include women to do so, and those who wanted to continue to discriminate to do that. They didn’t. The regulations led the church to be where God was calling it, instead of where all its members and congregations currently were, despite solid biblical, traditional and ecumenical barriers.
It looks like presbyteries, unwittingly, are likely to give the Assembly the opportunity to do the same again.
I grieve the money and time we will lose, which we could spend addressing the violence within our homes, and the violence we are doing to the planet’s atmosphere, but if the end result is a braver decision, maybe it’s a price worth paying.
Rev. Dr Jason John