Today’s General Synod passed a number of great motions, all aimed at protecting and reaching out to the most marginalised.
We agreed on a funding model to support the national church as it responds to the vitally important work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse. The resources required to cooperate fully are massive and pressing upon the smaller dioceses. The problem is exacerbated by an assumption from the Commission that the Anglican Church of Australia functions like the Roman Catholic Church, whereas we have a far greater degree of subsidiarity. Nevertheless, we committed to substantial sums to support this work, recognising how vital it was.
We also passed a comprehensive motion calling for a far more compassionate approach by the federal government and encouraging our churches to engage more actively with refugees and asylum seekers. Added to this was a motion affiirming the movement to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our Constitution and remove racial discrimination from it. All in all a wonderful accomplishment.
But at the same time we’re asking difficult questions about our embrace and welcome of each other. As our discussion groups get further and further into discussion there are growing levels of personal trust but also deeper engagement with matters that really cause pain. Our group is struggling not to shy away from the reality that there is more than one gospel amongst us, despite what some are keen to affirm. Moreover, we think very differently on key issues such as human sexuality. All of this leads to more difficult conversations and I can’t help thinking time and time again that no matter how genuine our concern is to stay in conversation, we’re going to come to the point where we realise we want very very different things.
To what extent can we embrace each other when each side feels, in their own way, marginalised? Are we struggling with our own particular xenophobia (heterophobia?)? Of course, if we cannot, in good conscience, reconcile our differences then what will happen to us?
The irony is that as we begin to contemplate strategic plans and restructuring – all necessary given the problems the national church faces – I am increasingly convinced it’s all in vain since the possibility of us really facing up to our deep differences seems further away than ever. The more able we are to speak about them, the more obvious our differences becomes. For some groups this means that they’re simply not talking about the real issues. At least our group are giving it as good a go as we can.
And at least we’ve done something (even if it is a small thing) for others who feel marginalised.