My mind and heart have been quite exercised in recent times as members of my church tribe (Churches of Christ in Australia) respond to the change in secular marriage laws that now accommodate same-sex union. The traditional discretion allowed to officiating ministers has been effectively withdrawn where same-gender applications for marriage are concerned as our “rites” will not allow it. To raise the matter in any of our forums is fraught with the risks of polarisation and disintegration. The Uniting Church in Australia, at last week’s 15th Assembly, adopted a position that allowed the existence side by side of a rite of marriage exclusive to a heterosexual relationship and a rite that allowed Ministers of the Word to officiate over same-sex unions.
On congratulating a Uniting Church minister yesterday on the step forward, the response was, “How ridiculous to hold two equal positions.” The pain and struggle of that communion’s 30-year debate are evident and will remain for some time to come.
However, the Uniting Church’s freshly articulated position, as liminal as it seems, is way ahead of my communion’s, where there is little opportunity to even raise the issue, let alone discuss it. Like the Uniting Church, we hold ‘unity in diversity” as one of our critical values. In holding “two equal views” on marriage, the Uniting Church is demonstrating that principle in a way that, in spite of looking ridiculous, models what it looks like.
Members of the Uniting Church now face the challenge of living with two opposite official views on marriage. How will they negotiate the space between these two views?
Cathie Lambert, a participant in last week’s assembly, offers this very thoughtful reflection on her blog at Deep Water Dwelling.
I would commend this reflection to our own communion, for I fear that much of the mainline church in this country is simply mirroring the cynical polarisation of our contemporary political scene as evidenced in the totally unnecessary and divisive plebiscite. Deep listening to our sacred text, collective lived experience of 2000 years and enlivening presence of Spirit is surely sufficient resourcing to counter such contemporary manipulations.