General Synod Day 3 – Bishops Out of Touch?

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A momentous day has closed at the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia. In a key vote to affirm a Statement on Marriage as the union of a man and a woman a majority House of Bishops showed themselves to be in a very different place to the overwhelming majority of the rest of the Synod.

The national gathering, held on the Gold Coast of Queensland, considered a Statement [pdf] that sets out orthodox teaching on the nature of marriage and also that,

The solemnisation of a marriage between a same-sex couple is contrary to the teaching of Christ and the faith, ritual, ceremonial and/or discipline of this Church.

Any rite or ceremony that purports to bless a same-sex marriage is not in accordance with the teaching of Christ and the faith, ritual, ceremonial and/or discipline of this Church.

The background to the Statement is set out in an earlier report.

The expected outcome of the vote was signalled by the voting on a number of amendments the previous evening. Those that failed did so by similar margins each time, approximately 90-150. By a rough count well over 60% of Synod were supportive of the motion.

Speeches in opposition followed patterns familiar to many who have seen these debates; Jesus’ words in Matt 19 are about divorce and cannot be extrapolated to be a general statement on marriage, there were calls for more discussion from Archbishop Freier of Melbourne, complaints that the motion smuggled in a “dangerous” complementarian theology, that it would not provide the certainty it promised given the divided mind of synod etc.

In his closing comments the mover of the motion, Archbishop Kanishka Raffel of Sydney, laid out what he understood to be the pivotal moment that the synod had arrived at; what synod was being asked to affirm here is unremarkable and if it could not pass then “something is fundamentally awry”. He reminded the attentive hall that a failure to pass the motion would effectively be adopting a stance contrary to that which had been repeatedly affirmed by successive General Synods.

The vote was called and immediately there was a move to call the vote by houses. Synod voted as follows:


Despite an overwhelming majority (greater than that in favour of same-sex marriage amongst the general population in the recent plebiscite) the Bishops narrowly voted against. Archbishop Raffel asked for leave for a personal statement and reminded the synod that this was a tipping point issue in Provinces around the Communion, going so far as to suggest that if dioceses now proceeded to simply act on their own on this contentious matter there was, perhaps, little point in meeting together in this way in the future.

Following a request from Raffel we adjourned early for lunch.

The mood around the room was best described as sombre. There were tears and prayers amongst many of the orthodox. The common lament was that our bishops could so willingly abandon orthodoxy and in the face of such a clear majority amongst the church.

Returning after lunch notice was given of a motion with the strong language of asking the bishops to repent of their actions. Leave to give notice was granted but the motion itself not debated and set aside for later.

We debated the second statement affirming definitions of chastity and unchastity which passed narrowly in the house of bishops, only further outlining the confusion – how could the bishops vote for one but not another? The second statement affirmed the nature of marriage – something that the bishops had just rejected in the previous statement. Synod continued into the afternoon and evening dealing with necessary legislation and other motions but the sense of unfinished business prevailed. As Synod gathers for day 4 there will almost certainly be further responses.

But the question now remains for the Anglican Church of Australia – can the healing that the Primate called us all to possibly occur when so many of her bishops are so out of touch with the substantial majority of the church, let alone the historical orthodox catholic position of 2000 years?

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  1. Alan

    I could very well be wrong here David, but is the response by the Bishop’s an indication of particularly liberal appointments of Bishopric’s? If so, then I would say the result is one that should have been expected. Progressive orthodoxy holds that only a minority needs to hold power in cultural institutions, in order to influence direction of travel that the majority will eventually follow or have to accede to. Targeting the Church with progressive clergy at the priest level, would inevitably lead to charges of discrimination if not carried through to Bishop level and presumably one day, Primate. The consequences of this can now be seen. This isn’t about what is democratic, it is and has always been about changing the status quo. Church doctrine is just the latest sacrificial lamb to “being on the wrong side of history”.

    1. Howard

      Hi David – can we get a list of which bishops voted for and against?

        1. Howard

          Given your understanding of the debate and where the bishops stand, could you speculate on which bishops voted for and against?

  2. Charles

    It must be quite distressing for laity and clergy who are in dioceses where their bishop has departed from and not upheld orthodoxy.
    Is it possible to know which bishops have not supported the motion and are out of touch with their people?
    Do you think arrangements will be made for those who can no feel supported and receive their ministry? Is there now scope for accepting alternative episcopal oversight where bishops have departed from the teachings of Christ and the church ?
    I imagine if I were they kind of bishop and had integrity – I would resign .

  3. David Palmer

    Maybe rather, the Bishops are ‘more in touch’ in the sense that as leaders they have far more interaction with the elites of the wider Australian society and therefore have succumbed to prevailing views on ssm, sadly departing to their eternal shame from the clear teaching of the Bible and the testimony of human history that marriage is between man and woman, and not otherwise.

  4. Peter Baker

    “If man’s sickly understanding would not set plain truth at defiance, but humbly submit this common infirmity to the tonic of wholesome doctrine until, by filial trust in God’s help, it regained its strength, those who think and express their thoughts in well chosen speech would have o need to correct the errors of their baseless assumption. Unfortunately, there prevails a major and malignant malady of fools, the victims of which mistake their irrational impulses for truth and reason, even when confronted with as much evidence as any man has a right to expect from another. I may be an excess of blindness that prevents them from seeing the most glaring facts, or a perverse obstinacy which prevents them from accepting the facts when seen. This compels me to present more diffusely, not for their closed eyes to see, but, so to speak, for their hands to touch and feel the more obvious points.” Augustine of Hippo – City of God – Book 2. It seems that the major and malignant malady continues to prevail now as it did in Augustine’s time.

  5. Peter Carroll

    Should not our church leaders, the ones supporting state legislation that directly contravenes God’s explicit laws, take heed of Christ’s dire warning, in Luke 17; 1-3?
    How can any ordained person ask for God’s blessing, on something he has very clearly said is, “detestable”?

  6. Paul Nolan

    With a margin of two votes against, I wouldn’t be worrying about how the Bishops voted.

    What the Synod must be implacable on, & that which the Lay & Clerical margins strongly reinforce, is the onus is now on the twelve dissenting Bishops & every supporting minister they can muster to declare themselves a new denomination, they cannot be Anglicans any more.

    As a reader of this blog wrote yesterday, ‘shake the dust off your feet & move on.’
    Paul Nolan

  7. Jamie Murray

    Paul , would that they would. Rather it seems ‘progressives’ expect the onus to be on the orthodox faithful Anglicans to forsake their buildings and assets to begin again from scratch. in some cases this could be a good thing of course, but not all!

    1. Paul Nolan

      You’ve got it Jamie, indeed that’s what the ‘progressive’ Bishops have wanted from the day Parliament changed the Marriage Act to define Australian civil marriage as ‘the union of 2 people’ – well if that’s what the law says why can’t we bless their civil marriages in church (we’ll write a new liturgy to facilitate it) & once that’s settled down we’ll go the whole hog & allow those ministers in our thrall to marry same-sex couples in a combined religious & civil marriage service, aka Holy Matrimony. Of course we’ll get away with still calling ourselves Anglicans – our opponents are so weak! What’s the bet THEY leave US & breakaway under the auspices of Gafcon?

      C’mon General Synod, show some backbone for Heaven’s sake!
      Paul Nolan

  8. Murray Harris

    It seems to me that it is not accurate to call those dissenting “progressives ” as they have regressed into the values of society whereas Christians are called out of the standards of society to be “holy”.

  9. The passing of the statement on unchastity is absolutely hilarious, since you point out how it defines marriage as one man and one woman. I had to check the minutes myself to see if it really was that obvious, and it clearly is. 10/10 chess move right there; I wonder if any traditionalists will attempt to pull that unchastity motion out as proof the Anglican Church of Australia officially affirms traditional marriage? Tho I know “progressives” could point out how it “technically” doesn’t say so with not much effort.

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