At the 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA), after several days of prayerful, honest and passionate conversations on Same Gender Marriage (SGM), the Assembly agreed to hold two equal and distinct views on marriage to honour the diversity of Christian belief among its members. The Assembly resolved to allow its ministers the freedom to conduct or to refuse to conduct same gender marriages.
Immediately after the decision the following heading was posted on social media by a local Uniting Church: THE UNITING CHURCH SAYS YES! I don’t believe this heading accurately reflects the decision of the 15th Assembly on SGM. At the 15th Assembly the Uniting Church said YES and NO to the Same Gender Marriage.
I know that this is difficult for some people to comprehend. How can we say YES and NO at the same time? And so, the UCA have been accused of being “wishy-washy”, “an indecisive church”, “a syncretic church”, “a church that compromised”. If one looks at the world or any matter purely from a ‘black and white’ lens or a ‘right or wrong’ lens, the decision of the 15th Assembly on SGM would be difficult to accept. Truth be told most of us dislike ambiguity.
Rob Bell, an American author, speaker and former pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, once said that: “The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God.”
As one would expect, the reactions to the 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia decision on SGM have been diverse, both within the church and outside the church. We should not be surprised. There are a great variety of theological perspectives and strongly held convictions on the issue. I know that some members have chosen to leave the Uniting Church because they felt that the Uniting Church has lost its way. At least seven families from one CALD congregation have left.
From the perspective of the wider church there have also been strong reactions.
One local Baptist pastor has said that they would welcome any orphan from the Uniting Church.
And the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Australia has posted (24th July) the following comments on the decision:
“It’s one thing to have Australian society approve of same-sex marriage, but when a church approves – it’s disturbing … and confusing. To be sure, not our church, but nevertheless a branch of the Christian church in Australia.
A week ago, the Uniting Church in Australia issued this statement: “To honour the diversity of Christian belief among our members, we will hold two equal and distinct statements of belief on marriage”:
- that marriage is between “a man and a woman”
- that marriage is between “two people”
And with that, for the first time in Australia, we see the introduction of same-sex wedding services within the Christian church. In announcing the decision of the UCA’s highest body (its national assembly) the expression “dual integrities” is used to explain and defend it: they see themselves as holding to dual integrities.”
I know a local Presbyterian congregation that has offered a CALD congregation space for worship if they decide to leave the Uniting Church.
The Body of Christ has always been diverse (Acts 2:1-13 & 1 Corinthians 12:12-31). The DNA of the Body of Christ is diversity. From the very beginning the Body of Christ had to deal with contentious issues that had the potential of fracturing the Body.
The scriptures do not hide the problems that existed back in NT times. One example is in Acts 6 where we are introduced to the first conflict in a local congregation. The widows of the congregation that had a Hellenistic background and spoke the Greek language were being neglected in the distribution of alms. The Hebrew speaking community were caring for their own widows but ignoring the needs of the vulnerable ones who spoke Greek.
There is another example in Galatians 2:11-21 where we read about a deep doctrinal dispute between the two heavyweights in the early church – Peter and Paul. Peter came on a trip to Antioch. This trip took place sometime after the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). It took place after the issue of Gentiles entering into the church had been settled. Perhaps this was one of the reasons that Peter came to Antioch — to encourage the believers at Antioch and to take part in their acceptance. During Peter’s visit to Antioch, Paul found it necessary to rebuke him. This was not an easy task. It would have been very easy for Paul to ignore Peter’s misconduct. But Paul did not do this. Instead, he confronted Peter face to face.
I am often surprised that whenever we disagree with one another on difficult issues in the church the default setting for some is, “I am leaving the church”. Most people seem to still operate at a primal level when they face any stressful or fearful situations – “Fight” or Flight”.
I have two elder brothers and three sisters. Believe me, we disagree over heaps of things, from mundane to serious but we have never considered leaving the family.
Post Assembly, the challenge for us as a Body of Christ within the Uniting Church is, ‘Can we live together whatever our theological persuasions on the SGM and act on Paul’s injunction: “Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15)?
Can we be happy with those who support SGM even if we don’t? And can we weep or be sad with those who we can’t support SGM and are struggling? Or must we continue to fracture the Body of Christ?
We are a multicultural church. Which means we are multi-cultures, multi-ethnic, and multi-lingual. We are also a multi-theologies church. It is a given!
Let me end with a quote from my friend and colleague, Rev Dr Ji Zhang on his Facebook page on 13 July 2018 when the Assembly made its decision on SGM:
“This is a moment when Uniting Church is in the making. According to the Chinese philosophy it takes two relational forces of Yin-Yang to shape the universe into being. The unity is to hold the dialectic tension between the two.”
In diversity, in Christ unity!