This week I’ve been a member of the 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia. For those of you for whom that sentence is somewhat meaningless, it means joining with over 250 others from various parts of the Uniting Church to explore a range of questions of national interest to the church (and on rare occasions to the wider community). Within the Uniting Church there are a series of “councils” each having different responsibilities – the Assembly being one of them.
There were a number of important (to us inside the church) issues to discuss and proposals to determine.
Perhaps the most controversial has been on the matter of same gender marriage. As a wider society we now accept that marriage is between two people, irrespective of gender. It’s been a question that the Uniting Church has been wondering about for quite a few years now. This Assembly meeting was the first opportunity since legislative change in Australia late in 2017 for the church to consider this issue again. I’m sure it comes as no surprise to say that this has been a controversial question within the church.
On the one hand there are those who hold that the traditional understanding of marriage is enshrined in the biblical text, the church’s traditions and reinforced in the experience of life for many years. There are a range of reasons why this view holds, and intelligent and articulate people whom I respect hold it.
On the other hand, are those who interpret the biblical text differently, and that such interpretation, together with the input of reason, experience and science helps them land in a different place. There are a range of reasons why this view holds, and intelligent and articulate people whom I respect hold it.
Then there are a range of views somewhere in between.
I don’t for a moment pretend to do justice (in my summary above) to any of the positions articulated – this is a very basic overview of a very complex issue.
The decision of the Assembly this week has been a genuine (in my view) attempt to honour the range of views on this topic – that are held earnestly, intelligently and theologically. While the process had its flaws, the outcome is one which is intended to allow ministers and congregations to hold to their own views, and practice marriage in accordance with those views. It will likely not be a popular, nor easily accepted decision across the whole breadth of the Church, and there will be those who argue that it’s the wrong decision – that we went too far, or not far enough – and they’ll argue those views passionately. The decision has come at quite a high cost for those present – emotionally and spiritually – and with full awareness of the potential cost that may yet be revealed for UCA people who find themselves unable to agree with it.
While I’m only too aware of some of these potential costs – and as I said above people who I respect deeply hold different views – personally I think we’ve probably landed in the right place for the right time. There were some other important decisions we made this week (some of which I don’t necessarily agree with), but we will save some of those for a future post.
One thing I will say is that I am glad to be part of a church that is willing to participate in these kinds of difficult conversations, and to wrestle both with the ancient and timeless traditions of the Christian faith and the ever-evolving experience of humanity (and the interplay between those two things).