The Spirit can move the church
My first Mardi Gras as Moderator! Would someone from the media contact me and ask what I thought? This was a particular concern given the media coverage of a “100 Revs” of various denominations who were proposing to sign an apology to the gay and lesbian community and to march in the parade.
What would be my responsibility as Moderator in the event that I was asked to comment? How would I be expected to exercise leadership?
I have never been to and have no desire to go to a Mardi Gras parade, let alone march in one. Yet the idea of an apology is not something to be dismissed.
No matter what our particular point of view on the issues of sexuality, we still have to grapple with the question of whether or not we have treated gay and lesbian people as Jesus would.
My purpose in sharing this with you is to reflect on the understanding of leadership within the Uniting Church.
In the Basis of Union, “The Uniting Church acknowledges that Christ alone is supreme in His Church, and that he may speak to it through any of its councils. It is the task of every council to wait upon God’s Word and obey God’s will in the matters allocated to its oversight.”
It is important to understand that the Moderator, when speaking on public issues, is speaking on behalf of the Synod. This means that the Moderator is articulating the view or position held by the Synod as it has listened for the Word of God and sought to express what it has heard through the resolutions it makes.
The Synod as a council exercises leadership. As the council deliberates, prays, searches the scriptures, consults the traditions of the Church and pays attention to modern scholarship and discoveries, opening itself to the supremacy of Christ, there will be individuals who exercise leadership.
I hear people around the church saying we need strong leadership. I hear people say that a council cannot give that leadership, that consensus decision-making processes are unable to deliver that leadership.
Do we not believe that the Spirit can move the church? Do we not believe that God can raise up leaders and prophets in the context of our councils.
I believe God can. I believe God does.
Yes, I believe sometimes our councils get it wrong, just as I know leaders of churches which value strong individual leadership have got it wrong.
I believe we get it wrong because people do not believe, are not willing to be humble enough to be one of many in a council, are not willing to come to the council with a deep sense of respect and a serious intent to fulfil their role as part of that corporate leadership.
I believe where we have got it wrong we have not listened enough, prayed enough, worshipped enough. Too often we see these things as mandatory but insignificant additions to a church council’s business, when actually they are at the heart, the core of and essential to any deliberation if we truly believe Christ is supreme.
My job as Moderator, as a leader in the church, when speaking on public issues is not to share my own ideas or opinions but to speak on behalf of the Synod and thereby to express the ways in which the Synod is providing leadership. In this sense, yes, in so far as one is true to that responsibility, a Moderator can speak for the church.
Yet, in that context, according to the Moderator’s job description: The focus of the Moderator’s new role is on the capacity to help the people of the Uniting Church within the New South Wales Synod to understand what it means to be the church during a time of rapid social and religious change … As well as being a pastor, the Moderator will challenge and lead the church into new and risky paths. The Moderator is called to engage in theological and biblical reflection, to be an agent of change and teller of the vision we should live by.
So, yes, I can encourage the church not to dismiss the idea of an apology, but, no, I cannot make such an apology on behalf of the church or, indeed, proclaim that such an apology is inappropriate. That is a decision for the Synod or other councils of the church.
Remember, Jesus Christ is supreme. He will not let us down!
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