The Anglican Bishop of Newcastle, Peter Stuart, has today issued a Pastoral Letter that seeks to chart a course forward for the diocese on the vexed question of marriage.
In his letter, issued to leaders across the diocese, he draws attention to the current tensions in the Anglican Church of Australia over the debate, noting the following key points:
- That the position of many in the diocese is contrary to that established by the General Synod
- That “LGBTIQ+ people” have “shown restraint”
- That he found conversations at the recent Bishops’ meeting “deeply troubling”
He goes on to compare the current debate with that in the 1970s over the remarriage of divorcees.
In a frank observation he states:
Each year the bishops’ meeting seems to edge closer to the possibility of a deep breach in episcopal relationships within the Anglican Church of Australia.
Rather than seeking to work against such a breach, Stuart now appears to be prepared to accept the reality and even no longer avoid it. He asks “Can we find a way of accommodating this difference?” and then offers his suggested accomodation:
Within the law of the land and under the Constitution and applicable Canons of the Anglican Church of Australia, the Bishop together with the Synod and Diocesan Council is responsible for the good order and government of this Diocese. In our Diocese of Newcastle, we have many perspectives. My desire is that we find a loving way to express our shared life. It is of the Gospel that we continue to welcome and affirm LGBTIQ+ people as fellow members of the Body of Christ and welcome their use of their gifts for the service of God, his people and his cosmos. I have diminishing confidence that the national church is going to help us find a way forward. I have some confidence that together we might be able to find a ‘Newcastle Way’ which will incorporate living with strong difference in an open and Godly way.
Given that Bishop Stuart argued at the most recent General Synod that the doctrine of marriage was “not yet fixed” it is hard to not read this as a suggestion that he is open to approving liturgies for the blessing of same-sex relationships and even marriage and is now preparing for the Diocese of Newcastle to act on its own in this matter, independent of the national church.
At Bishop Peter’s own invitation we have asked him the following question:
You write that “the Bishop together with the Synod and Diocesan Council is responsible for the good order and government of this Diocese” and “I have some confidence that together we might be able to find a ‘Newcastle Way’ which will incorporate living with strong difference in an open and Godly way”,
1. Does the Diocese have the right and authority to act unilaterally in legislating for liturgy for the blessing of same-sex relationships or same-sex marriage even when such a position has repeatedly been rejected by the General Synod?
2. Are you willing to give your assent to such motions or legislation so that the “Newcastle Way” effectively means accomodating in “a loving way to express our shared life” such a move and the tensions it will bring?
Bishop Peter’s reply is as follows:
Q: Does the Diocese have the right and authority to act unilaterally in legislating for liturgy for the blessing of same-sex relationships or same-sex marriage even when such a position has repeatedly been rejected by the General Synod?
A: The legal situation in the Australian Church around liturgy and order is not clear. The Archbishop and Diocese of Sydney have set a significant precedent for unilateral action by authorising liturgies additional to the Book of Common Prayer, An Australian Prayer Book and A Prayer Book for Australia. Those liturgies not being authorised by the General Synod. They have also set significant precedent with the Archbishop unilaterally authorising Diaconal Administration of the Holy Communion. The latter not being authorised by the General Synod.
In this church, a resolution about doctrine by the General Synod is not determinative. Ultimately if doctrine is contested, the disagreement must be resolved by the Appellate Tribunal. That was the situation with the marriage of persons who have been previously married while their former spouse is still alive, the ordination of women and the order of the administration of the Holy Communion.
There were no proposals before the Newcastle Synod in 2018 of this kind. The Synod has shown a cautious but genuine desire to listen very attentively in the spirit of Lambeth 1:10.
Q: Are you willing to give your assent to such motions or legislation so that the “Newcastle Way” effectively means accomodating in “a loving way to express our shared life” such a move and the tensions (“strong difference”) it will bring?
A: In the Province of New South Wales the Bishop is not a member of the Synod meaning that a motion is an expression of the House of Clergy and the House of Laity as assembled at that time. The Bishop has no role in assenting to motions and motions do not bind the Bishop, unless moved in accordance with an Ordinance that has established such power.
In relation to legislation, the question significantly preempts any conversation or deliberation in which the Synod may engage. The Synod has heard my desire that the Diocese of Newcastle will be an expression of comprehensive Anglicanism. The next step for the Synod will include exploring how Christians who have theological differences live together. The work of the General Synod Doctrine Commission and the Diocesan Faith and Order Commission will be important parts of ensuring that the Synod and the Diocese continues to give prayerful, biblical and theological reflection to the life of the Diocese.
In relation to legislation, the role of the Diocesan Bishop is to listen to the Synod, the National Church and the Anglican Communion in exercising his or her mind around assent.
Here at davidould.net we would say that doesn’t really look like a “no” answer. Only time will tell.
The full letter is set out below: