As Lead Pastor at Glen Waverley Anglican Church I am providing the following statement which both details the formal position of GWAC leadership with respect to marriage and sexual behaviour as well as clarifying views and opinions of the leadership team at GWAC on matters relating to the proposed changes to the definition of marriage. In providing this information I express my appreciation for the thoughts, reflections and contributions of many who have corresponded with me over the past week; they have been most helpful and thought provoking and have assisted me in the provision of something that might help the wider populace of GWAC.
Irrespective of your ‘considered personal views’ (whatever they may be) as a church I encourage the people of GWAC to express your view or views, sensitively in conversation, and decisively in the upcoming postal survey. Simply opting out, or even worse, expressing the views of others rather than your own view is, respectfully discouraged.
It is recognised that there is a deep longing within most, if not all of us, to be recognised, loved and valued; Christians believe that fundamental to humanity created in the image of God, is our need for community with God and with each other. When such a longing is given expression within community, personal preferences are seen to emerge and relationships develop in the public eye, irrespective of cultural norms or traditional values and this presents the church with potential pastoral implications, especially when the personal preferences of an individual, or individuals, differ from the stance currently held and adhered to. This is the situation facing the Christian church within Australian society at present.
At a pastoral level, some people and church leaders (but not this writer) espoused that the church at large ought to respond in a loving way and allow those who desire to express their long-term love and commitment within the institution of marriage, to do so. For these people, it follows therefore that Christians ought to embrace the heartfelt desires of gay couples in love by supporting the move to have the term ‘marriage’ redefined so as to allow for ‘same gender’ marriage as this would be the respectful thing to do. A Face Book friend recently posted that unless you are ‘gay’ you are not going to be affected by the decision so you ought to say YES to the redefinition. Such a ‘post’ stems from the belief that those not directly affected (the heterosexual community) ought not stand in the way of happiness for the ‘gay’ community.
It is vital that we allow the pastoral and relational needs to inform us as we seek to live as followers of Jesus in this society; it is also vital that we allow the Biblical scriptures to authoritatively inform us too. Jesus teaches us about marriage and He does so in a way that recognises both the Jewish tradition of the day and the pastoral needs of the day.
When questioned about marriage, Jesus did two significant things; First, he restated with significant force, that the Creator ‘made them male and female, and said “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh”’ (Matthew 19:4-5). Second, Jesus ‘calls out’ their uncaring attitude toward women by denouncing the prevalent practice of arbitrarily divorcing a wife and leaving her destitute (Matthew 19:7-9). Of significance to the current debate about ‘same gender marriage’ is (1) Jesus affirms the creation of man and women as complimentary to each other, (2) Jesus affirms that marriage is between a man and a women, (3) Jesus affirms the biologically streamlined nature of male/female sexual union. Put more succinctly, Jesus affirms the long standing tradition that sexual intimacy is ideally found and expressed within the life long relationship between one man and one women to the exclusion of any and all others. This long standing institution is rightly called ‘marriage’. Biologically, the marriage relationship as traditionally expressed in the biblical scriptures, encourages procreation and the sustainability of the human race. Anatomically, the sexual union that comes from this marriage institution as described by Jesus, best expresses the way humans are created.
GWAC’s Current And Endorsed Code of Conduct
GWAC has a Code of Conduct which is ratified and signed by the Governance Board annually, and which all staff, ministry leaders and teams are commissioned under, on an annual basis. Within this code of conduct, is a clear statement of expectation regarding sexual morality, maintaining the current Anglican Church of Australia’s stance of “faithfulness within marriage and chastity outside marriage”. We maintain this ethical and behavior standard because we believe as a church, that such a position best describes the values and behavior as outlined in the Biblical scriptures. In holding this position, we do not maintain an expectation that all associated or connected with GWAC will necessarily hold or maintain the same view; indeed, we appreciate that there will be differing views within our faith community and individuals are at liberty to express such views. Our Code of Conduct (which can be found at the end of this post) clarifies the teaching and lifestyle that we expect from those who hold leadership roles and responsibilities in our Church.
A Personal Pastoral Statement
Beyond a Code of Conduct however, I want, as the Lead Pastor of GWAC, to offer the following Pastoral Reflection concerning the way I, and the staff team working with me, will seek to respond to all people, regardless of gender, culture, sexual orientation or theological persuasion*.
I offer my assurance, and that of the staff team, for all who are same sex attracted that they are loved, valued and fully welcome in our church.
I acknowledge that in the church’s attempts to uphold the Bible’s teaching on marriage we have sometimes given the impression that same sex attracted people were themselves the problem. This is not the case and we apologise if we have given this impression.
I acknowledge that homophobia has been a sin in our church and we as a church repent of such an ungodly attitude.
I recognise that many of you in our faith community who hold to traditional views on marriage and sexuality, are feeling disparaged and maligned because of your faith convictions and I appreciate that you feel disenfranchised and discouraged; I commit myself to respectfully supporting and encouraging you as you take your stand in this current climate.
In upholding Biblical teaching on marriage we as a church acknowledge that it involves a costly call for those who are same-sex attracted.
I acknowledge that ‘same-sex marriage’ is an issue of significant pastoral tension for many in our community as they respond to members of their own families, work colleagues, and friends, and I commend all efforts to give active reflection to holistic pastoral responses that are compassionate and positive in supporting same-sex attracted people.
As a church we want to increasingly be a community that offers loving friendships for all people. We encourage all marriages and families to both welcome and include single people as part of their ongoing life.
I recognise that not all in our church community hold the same views on this matter and urge all of us to interact in a respectful and open manner. While we, as a church, uphold a traditional belief in marriage we will not exclude those who may have arrived at a different view on this matter.
As Christians living in a democracy it is important to uphold our right, along with all citizens to express our point of view and I urge all the people of GWAC to participate in this postal survey.
We encourage members to engage with friends, colleagues and family, respectfully, and with grace, modelling Christian engagement in the process.
I urge the Federal Government to release any proposed legislation as soon as possible so that we can be as informed as possible prior to participating in the survey. I urge those preparing any future legislation to uphold religious freedom and to enshrine appropriate protections for religious practitioners and those ministering under their oversight and leadership.
(* with grateful acknowledgement of the Pastoral Statement of Bishop Stephen Hale, as posted on St Hilary’s website, which has inspired some of the points of this pastoral reflection.)
‘Yes’ or ‘No’ ?
I recognise that as we move towards the upcoming postal survey on ‘same-sex marriage’, there is great risk of hurt and pain due to what is said and done, from both sides of the debate. As a church, we at GWAC hold firmly to the Code of Conduct as available through the link below, especially with respect to how we respectfully treat others who may hold a different view to that which is promoted by GWAC. Our commitment and expectation, that the people of GWAC will act corporately and individually “with respect, love, integrity and truthfulness towards all those with whom I associate without discrimination”, remains of prime importance in the current climate and debate, and we urge the people of GWAC to actively participate in the postal survey, giving due recognition to that which you hold to be of importance and valuable.
We are being asked to democratically express our personal view on this matter so I urge you, as a person associated with GWAC, to make your view known in this democratic way.
There are many helpful contributions to the current debate and most of you will have read most of them – and possibly read some that have been less helpful and edifying. I know there are many contributions within the media that reflect an alternate view to that endorsed by the leadership of our church and you will easily find them online. I would like to draw your attention to one online resource that reflects the endorsed traditional view of marriage as reflected in our Code of Conduct and invite you to read and prayerfully consider how you will respond to the upcoming survey – YES, lets redefine marriage to be more inclusive or NO, lets hold to the traditional view as currently expressed in Australian law and in the Biblical scriptures.
Lead Pastor - GWAC