Over the past week, I’ve been aware of a number of happenings that point to the continuing shifts within the Christian church relating to the matter of gender. Some of these events have been encouraging. Some have been disappointing. Some raise serious questions. Others offer occasion for great joy. Together, they point to the gender agenda, which continues to agitate the churches. It’s something that involves a multiplicity of matters.
This week has been Transgender Awareness Week. On Sunday evening, the Rainbow Christian Alliance met at Tuggeranong Uniting Church in Canberra. There was sharing, as there is always is, but with a particular focus at this meeting on the stories of transgender members of the group. It was a rich time, celebrating the way that people have been able to be “true to themselves” and express that inner reality in the ways that they dress, relate, and function within society—and, indeed, undertake the daunting process of hormone replacement therapy and even surgery to fully assume the actual gender identity as a manifestation of their inner, real person.
I have reflected on the week in my blog, at
On the same weekend, the Baptist Union of NSW and the ACT held one of their regular gathering of representatives from across the state and territory, at which the issue of gender was to the fore. Specifically, discussion was held and then a decision was made, that Baptist pastors and churches which were agreeable to marrying couples of the same gender would be asked to affirm “the traditional understanding of marriage”—that is, that marriage involves always a male and a female—or that they leave the association of Baptist churches.
There is a blog by one Baptist pastor who feels that he is unable to affirm that “traditional understanding of marriage”; he has described the experience of that all-day meeting as being akin to “a casual crucifixion”—a searingly potent, and deeply saddening, description.
There is also a fine article by Erin Martine Sessions, another member of the gathering, at https://www.abc.net.au/religion/have-baptists-just-sold-their-soul-over-same-sex-marriage/
The Baptists, sadly, have taken an approach to this particular issue of same-gender marriage that has recently led to a split in the United Methodist Church; see my reflections at
I have also written a series of blogs exploring how such an aggressive approach to the gender agenda has been prosecuted—unsuccessfully, fortunately—within the Uniting Church in Australia.
My posts on these various groups are at
It is sad to see the same divisive development taking place within the Baptist fellowship.
An event that took place during the week was the funeral of a Roman Catholic priest, Father Peter Maher. This was noteable for various reasons; for a start, there were three bishops and many priests in attendance. I’ve known Peter for five decades, and can attest to his valued ministry and important contribution to the consideration of the gender agenda within the Roman Catholic Church in Australia.
Peter was a strong advocate, throughout his ministry, for “the least and the lost”, and especially, in recent decades, for members of the LGBTIQA+ community. His weekly Mass for rainbow people, held at St Joseph’s Church in Newtown, attracted people and was the basis for the formation of a wonderfully extensive community of people of faith who identify with sexual or gender diversity.
Peter’s funeral signalled the lifetime of work devoted, in various ways, to the gender agenda—affirming, supporting, counselling, encouraging, and advocating for, the many people of faith (and of no faith) within the broad LGBTIQA+ community. There have been many tributes to Peter posted online, which I have canvassed in a blog post at
A fine tribute to Peter is at https://www.misacor.org.au/item/28929-rip-peter-maher-vigorous-priest-sydney-longtime-editor-of-the-swag
And then, on Friday night, a celebration of 30 years since the Anglican Church ordained women as priests was held in St John’s Anglican Cathedral in Brisbane. The issue of the ordination of women was a focus of intense debate and discussion throughout the Anglican Church for many years. Most dioceses throughout Australia came to a view that this was a most reasonable course of action; a few renegades, spurred on by the sectarian leadership in Sydney, dug their toes in and resisted at every step of the way.
But the truth of the Gospel shone through, and women were ordained in Goulburn—Canberra, Brisbane, and Perth Dioceses, in 1992, and the in many other places in the ensuing years. The celebration in Brisbane recognised an important step forward in addressing the gender agenda in the Anglican Church. An exhibition marking this step forward can be seen at
It would be tempting of me to end this review of recent events with a smug, self-satisfied comment about the ways that the Uniting Church in Australia (and, indeed, its three predecessor denominations) has been a trailblazer in many ways relating to the overarching gender agenda—ordaining women, female quotas to ensure diversity, ordaining gay and lesbian ministers, marrying same-gender couples, and so on.
However, just this past week, I was part of a conversation in which I observed that the particular Uniting Church Congregation, throughout the whole 45 years of its existence, had had a string of white male ministers in placement with them. In that conversation, I was told that before the current minister was called, one key person in leadership in that Congregation advised the Presbytery, “we won’t accept any minister other than a white male”.
So we, too, have work still to be done. The gender agenda remains a live concern. The gender question remains firmly on our agenda in the Uniting Church. There is still much work to be done.