I have been doing some further reflection, in recent days, on the decision about marriage made at the 15th Assembly, in July, and the ongoing discussions about this matter that have been taking place within the various Congregations and Presbyteries and Synods around the country.
There has been a lot of discussion that has taken place. There have certainly been some intense conversations about this, over the past few weeks.
I think it is important to note that the decision of the Assembly gave due weight and specifically honoured the position of those who hold to the traditional view that marriage is a relationship involving a male and a female.
The initial proposal to Assembly (which was widely circulated and discussed in the weeks prior to Assembly) specifically declared that “Uniting Church people faithfully hold strong and at times mutually exclusive convictions”. This clearly valued and honoured the traditional view of marriage.
In the end, the proposal which was accepted by majority decision of the Assembly affirmed that “within the Uniting Church there is a diversity of religious beliefs and ethical understandings, developed through continuing faithful discernment and held with integrity on matters relating to sexuality and marriage”.
This also provided a strongly supportive appreciation of the traditional view advocated by members of the Uniting Church across the country. And I think the shift in language, from “convictions” to “discernment”, is quite significant. For it is with the ongoing process of discernment that we have all been called to engage.
The decision by the Assembly demonstrates how the process of discernment leads us, collectively, to a new place of understanding and relationship with one another. What we have done is discern that there is a range of perspectives, a spectrum of theological positions, within our midst.
In particular, over successive Assemblies stretching back many years, we have discerned that there are different sexual identities that are integral to the created order—we are all made in the image of God—and so there are different ways by which we shape our life to value the personhood of each individual involved in our church.
So those who hold to the traditional view of marriage, Ministers and Celebrants alike, are free to determine that they will marry only heterosexual couples, and Church Councils which so decide are free to determine that the property under their beneficial stewardship may be used only for such marriages. Such is the clear outcome of the most recent Assembly decision.
This clearly affirms and appreciates the point of view that is held by many of my faithful colleagues in the Uniting Church across Australia. The Assembly has affirmed this “traditional view” (albeit, without using that precise terminology) as a faithful theological affirmation, which remains an integral part of who we are as a church.
And so I celebrate that we can affirm this, amidst our wide-ranging diversity.