Shock horror! Sydney Anglicans are committed to the marriage debate! (Robyn Whittaker: “Sydney’s male Anglican church leaders fear demise of their patriarchal power” 11 October 2017)
The claim is made that the Anglican Diocese of Sydney is a power-hungry beast that would rather prioritise giving a million dollars to a political campaign than the good of the most needy in our parishes.
The truth is very different. The Diocese of Sydney spends many millions of dollars every year on good and worthy causes, whether from central funds or through the direct generous giving of members. We’re putting good money into our work responding to domestic violence, last year Anglicare Sydney spent well over $38m on Community Services and so on. The list of what we do is enormous and growing by the month.
The reality is that this million dollar donation has had no effect on any, repeat any, of these important activities that it’s claimed have lost out. Nothing has been compromised at all, the Diocese just chose to spend a bit more out of it’s own funds.
But more fundamentally, why shouldn’t the Diocese donate money for an issue that they have been deeply committed to ever since the Anglican chaplain Richard Johnson set foot on this land when he arrived with the first fleet?
Early colonial Australia had a very low rate of marriage, lower even than our current rate in 2017. Anglican church leaders knew if marriage flourished, then the community would flourish. So Johnson and his successor, Samuel Marsden worked hard to make the timeless institution of marriage a part of Australian society. And they enjoyed great success. By working with Macquarie and subsequent governors, Anglicans oversaw a large increase in celebrants. They also successfully clarified marriage legislation so it was open to everybody, not just the English in the land. William Cowper, the first minister of St Phillips Church in the heart of Sydney, married thousands of couples and was unashamed in his support of marriage as something that would have a massive positive impact on the growing colony.
But the work of these clergy wasn’t the first “conservative” understanding of marriage that Australia has had.
Well before white settlement, the fabric of Australian kinship society had been centred around marriage. From the Eora of Sydney to the Bardi people of the West Kimberleys, Indigenous people have held marriage at the core of kinship. It creates belonging, and ensures the raising of children between a man and a woman.
Before any Anglican even arrived in what would become Sydney, the first people of this land had clear rules on marriage; it was appropriately managed, occurring outside kin groups but was diverse, bringing different groups of people together.
Anglicans brought with them the great news that this truth about marriage was affirmed by the words of Jesus in Matthew 19: “Haven’t you read? For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”.
So it was no surprise that the first inter-racial marriage in Australia was according to Anglican forms, and with the nodding approval of a most devout Governor. On January 26, 1824, the convict Robert Lock was married to Maria, the daughter of Yarramundi, ‘Chief of the Richmond Tribes’ from the Dharug people. You might also say there’s nothing more Australian than Sydney Anglicans performing inter-racial marriage on what would become Australia Day.
Marriage has been essential to the Australian story. And Sydney Anglicans have been in the middle of that, having a particularly strong influence upon New South Wales. That’s perhaps a major reason why marriage between black and white was never prohibited here, quite unlike the controls that existed in WA and Queensland.
When our standing committee made the decision last month to make a large donation to the “no” campaign they were acting in accordance with repeated statements from our own synod affirming the goodness of marriage between a man and a woman. Those statements themselves flow from a deep passionate commitment to marriage by Sydney Anglicans since the very first days of the colony matched by a clear track record of positive engagement.
Amidst the background noise of feigned horror at our actions or massively flawed claims about what we’re not spending money on, there should be no surprise that we’re still committed to those timeless truths about marriage, nor that we’re prepared to put our money where our mouth is to defend something we think is one of the most important institutions in Australia today.