Recently, a member of a group to which I belonged sent me some information about the latest Synod of the diocese of Sydney.There are some motions about the kinds of activities, which are allowed on Anglican Church property in the Diocese. The motions are structured within a framework of the doctrine of the Church which is briefly outlined, and then the implications of this policy are drawn out as examples of how the policy might work. So the doctrine section says “There is only one way of salvation, which comes through faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. The gospel calls us to turn from sin and abandon our idolatrous or syncretistic worship, and to worship the true God, through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit.
- Church property must therefore not be used for the worship of other gods, or to profess and promote a different doctrine of salvation. “ (p.125ff, Book 3)
Some of the consequences for the use of church property are that the use of Church property by other religions, or Christian denominations that do not follow this doctrine. Smoking ceremonies (presumably by indigenous peoples) are also forbidden.
Next, Under the heading of the doctrine of the human person is forbidden (a) abortion advocacy;
(b) Undertaking or making referrals for medical and/or surgical elective abortions;
(c) Production of abortifacient or abortifacient-like contraceptives;
(d) Undertaking stem cell research involving the destruction of embryos;
(e) Advocacy for, or assistance with, euthanasia;
(f) Manufacture of armaments or other weapons of war;
(g) Activities that incite racial hatred;
(h) Advocacy of or activities that incite discrimination against the disabled;
Advocacy for transgender ideology (e.g., gender-fluidity)
Under the doctrine of marriage and sexuality is forbidden
(a) Production or distribution of pornography;
(b) Commercialisation of sexual services (e.
g., a brothel);
(c) Solemnisation or blessing of a same-sex wedding;
(d) A reception venue for a same-sex wedding;
(e) Advocacy for expressions of human sexuality contrary to our doctrine of marriage.
I have great difficulty with the way that these prohibitions are set out.
First, I have a problem with the reduction of the Christian faith to doctrine. For me, the Gospel is not first an foremost about believing certain things, but is about participation in a process of becoming made one with Christ. This mostly happens through the Eucharist. As Queen Elizabeth 1 was reported to have said “I do not want a window to peer into men’s souls’. She did not want to tie down the doctrine of the Eucharist too much. It was enough that people could participate in it, and let the Eucharist do its own work.
I think that it is better to say that the Gospel, as an entity is more like a liturgy to take part in, than a doctrine to be assented to.
Second, I think that the way that this document is set out, does not take into account the primacy of love in Christian life. I have known of Churches that have invited their Muslim neighbours to use their halls when the local mosque was attacked.
Third, I think that the way this document puts together different types of activity, some of which is not controversial, alongside very contested activities is not ‘playing fair.’
For example the idea of gender fluidity is currently a matter of debate. A person can be a perfectly faithful Christian, and think that a person’s gender is not fixed into binary categories of simply ‘male and female’. It is becoming clear that there are many people who are beginning to find their voice who are saying ‘My experience is not that of the majority, that fits into the two categories on male and female’. It is wrong I think to forbid even discussing such issues on Church property, or to forbid people who want to speak for such ways of being from doing so on Church property.
The same is true for the list about sexuality. I do think that the law of love is contravened by commercialising the relations between men and women. But using the Church for same sex weddings, or the advocacy of ideas of human sexuality that differ from this doctrine seems to me to be increasing the amount of love and fidelity that there is, not making it more difficult.
This way of proceeding just trikes me as so very different form the picture of Jesus we get in the gospels.
There I see a man full of joy, full of open engagement with everyone. He was very hard on hypocrisy, true, but found room in his heart for so much love. It was for his wide embrace that he was killed. Not his orthodoxy.
While some guidelines about behaviour are necessary, they come after forming loving relationships. This is the kind of Christian I want to be.