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Decision time on gay ordination

The question of whether openly gay and lesbian people can be ordained should be settled sooner rather than later, the General Synod Standing Committee has decided.

Taonga news  |  12 Jul 2011  |  8 Comments  

Should openly gay and lesbian people be ordained as Anglican priests?

A timetable for deciding that question has now been declared.

In the face of developments at home and abroad, the Anglican Church has decidedto set up a commission to summarise all aspects of the issue – and it expects that commission to complete its work and report a way forward to the 2014 General Synod/te Hinota Whanui.

At its meeting in Fiji last week the General Synod Standing Committee – the high-powered body that acts for General Synod between its biennial gatherings – considered a proposal from Bishop Philip Richardson to set up such a commission at the 2012 General Synod.

Standing Committee has said the commission should in fact start its work nine months earlier, in November this year.

A small working group has been set up to propose the names for such a commission by the end of next month.

Each episcopal unit will then be invited to comment on the names proposed – with the hope that the November meeting of Standing Committee will appoint a commission ready to go.

That commission will be asked “to report progress” to next July’s General Synod gathering in Fiji “but in any event to complete its work” and report to the 2014 General Synod.

Terms of reference

Spelling out the commission's terms of reference, Standing Committee says members do not have to be specialists – but rather “eminent people with ability, credibility, and a commitment to work in prayerful collegiality…” who can objectively wrap up all the work done for the members of the General Synod.

The commission is charged with presenting “a summary of the biblical and theological work done by our church on the issues surrounding Christian ethics, human sexuality and the blessing and ordination of people in same sex relationships, including missiological, doctrinal, canonical, cultural and pastoral issues…”

That’s not all.

Standing Committee is also asking that commission for recommendations to General Synod on “the principles of Anglican ecclesiology” and “in the light of our diversity, the ecclesial possibilities for ways forward for our three tikanga church…” (emphasis added).

While Standing Committee is not looking for a commission of specialists, it does want the commission members to be able to tap into the work of expert groups on specific questions, and it suggests who those expert groups will be.

Standing Committee's resolution proposes “that various bodies of this church… be available to offer the commission advice on specific matters of questions, including the Doctrinal Commission, the Judicial Committee, the Liturgical Commission, as well as the bench of bishops.

“The commission will be free to take such advice and any other advice that it deems appropriate and to receive submissions.”

Legal opinion sought

The original proposer of the commission, Bishop Philip Richardson, earlier triggered widespread discussion when he issued a public statementchallenging a petition that alleged bishops “discriminated” against gay and lesbian people who felt called to the priesthood.

The latest developments also follow advice from Judge Chris Harding, the chancellor of the Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki, in February this year.

Standing Committee had requested Judge Harding's legal opinion after the Auckland, Waiapu and Dunedin diocesan synods last year passed resolutions seeking clarification on the status of an Anglican Communion moratorium on the ordination of people in same-sex relationships.

Those diocesan synods also sought clarification as to whether each diocesan bishop has “ultimate responsibility” for deciding who gets ordained.

Judge Harding said there was, in fact, no formal legal moratorium. Rather, there was a “request and advice from the (Anglican Communion's) instruments of unity…which bishops are expected to take seriously in their decision-making.”

However, bishops “do not have infinite freedom as to who to ordain,” Judge Harding added.

The canons require people seeking ordination to be chaste – and as the canons now stand, chastity can only be understood as “either refraining from sexual relations with others, or having a sexual relationship only within the confines of marriage.”

Judge Harding continued: “Ordination of persons in same-sex relationships was never contemplated by our present canons. That is because the canons were not ever written to either provide or not provide for such a thing – it simply was not something which could or did historically arise.

“For these reasons, as present, bishops seeking to ordain those in same-sex relationships proceed at their peril (emphasis added), and could face formal challenge either by those of a traditional and more conservative view within the Church or by those concerned with the integrity of Church process, or both.” 

The bishops sought a subsequent opinion from Judge Harding, and on March 7 he spelled out the consequences if, in the face of his previous advice, a bishop chose to ‘go it alone’ and ordain a gay candidate to the diaconate or priesthood.

Such an ordination might now be appealed to a Title D tribunal, which would then pass judgement – and that, he wrote, would be “far from an ideal process for deciding an issue such as this.”

Such a judicial process wouldn’t have to involve all three houses; it would effectively mean the church was allowing three people “to determine a major issue” – and whatever they decided “would lack consensus.”

Judge Harding went on to say that such a judicial process would also have “potential to cause significant problems to those involved.”

Those consequences might include:

1. Putting the life of the would-be ordinand on hold for months;

2. Rendering the Bishop in question “powerless leading to diminution in authority, not only personally but for the office.”

3. And if the ordination was “subsequently determined to be improper, the person ordained would be left in an invidious position, as would the Bishop.”

4. All this, wrote Judge Harding could lead to the church being “held up as being in considerable disarray…”

“For all of the above reasons,” wrote Judge Harding, “it is highly desirable that the Church moves forward in its conventional constitutional fashion on this issue.

“Decisions at General Synod, passed if necessary by votes by house, and by tikanga, leading to canonical change if required should be the way of advancing.”


moses cherrington

I view this discussion from the perspective of authority. Using the analogy of the authority dispensed by an Army' Leader.
1. The Chief Commander of His Army, dispenses absolute authority in order to accomplish His Purpose.
2. The Chief Commander gives it to His Son who then uses this authority to glorify His Father.
3. The Son, then dispenses this same authority to those who are authorised to receive it, and then, those who receive it change the rules of receiving/dispensing this same authority by adopting not the will of the father or the son, but a lifestyle or practices that erode the purity of this same sanctified authority.
4. As a result of this "change" the army under the sanctity and protection of the Chief Commander changes significantly its scope, its purpose and its tactics to suit what is fashionable or what it thinks, after much discussion, should be.
TO summarise - Chief Commander sanctifies the Son who sanctifies those He calls, who then become authorised to do the work of the Chief Commander- for His purpose, and His purpose only. What the Chief Commander does not authorise He does not protect.
Whatever the Ch...

rosemary Neave

Edward I think there was only one woman on the commission regarding the ordination of women. Joan Metge. Sadly in the records she was referred to as J Metge and it was often assumed she was a man.

Manu Caddie

"A small working group has been set up to propose the names for such a commission by the end of next month. Each episcopal unit will then be invited to comment on the names proposed..."

Reminds me of this:

Paddy Noble

I think the Church needs to ask itself not about if it should ordain gay or lesbian people, or even transgender peoples. The church should really be asking itself the whole story about how it seeks to work and a fully acceptable ministry for gay and lesbian people. This is the big question! Secondly I don't think Gay and Lesbian, Transgender people should be putting themselves through the justification of the Church!~We have suffered enough already! We should do our own theology away from the Anglican Churches oppressive theology! Yes there are many parts of the church that work to help and minister in a loving and accepting manner but the overall picture is still grim and less accepting. I also agree who gets has the authority to chose who should be on the commission.

John Marcon

The two related issues we discussed well and at length during Auckland's Synod with most viewpoints being well shared.
Perhaps the issues come down to a few related questions - the nature, interpretation and source of 'authority', the difficulty of separatiing personal revulsion at homosexual association by heterosexual people from theological beliefs and the perseption of homosexuality as fundamentally immoral and therefore wrong.
If we hold a positional belief in the literal authority of Scripture and a conservative interpretation of it with concepts of surrender, submission and obedience to 'the word of God' it is likely that opposition to homosexuality will be part of that package.
If we hold to a concept of divine empowering, liberty, and the primacy of loving relationships as a response to the all-encompassing love of God for all people we are more likely to be supportive of the minstry of all people based on personal quality, spiritual maturity and calling to ordination than their orientation recognising that the same standards of personal morality apply to all people. Orientation is perceived as morally neutral - akin to left-handedness perhaps - Jo...

Susan Stiles

In proclaiming God’s offer of redemption and transformation of souls, Church representatives must be clear about what this holy responsibility entails, not allowing themselves to be influenced by worldly trends. (Jude). CARE-not- CONfrontationally speaking, what part of “Thou shalt not lie with a man as with a woman” do practicing-gay Church leaders not understand?
There must be a clear delineation between orientation and practice, to avoid care and concern being misinterpreted or assumed as being homophobic.
We have the right and responsibility to assess behaviour/practice, and Scripture makes it plain that deliberate, unrepentant practice is outside of God's moral law and redemptive purpose for mankind. “Everyone who has this hope in him” – which Christian church leadership must have – “purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3). If we do not want to do this, we have no right to claim to be Christian, let alone to be in a position of authority in the Church, with the concomitant privilege of being able to influence others in important issues. I feel, sadly, that the above is not going to be popular, but it needs to be said loud and clear, n...

Jeremy Younger

I am interested in who is on the small group to proposing names for members of the commission. Is that public and where can we find this out? My experience (and concern) around issues of decision making is the amount of power that lies in the hands of those who are chosen to prepare reports etc.

Edward Prebble

I am so glad GSSC saw some urgency on this. It seems a big job, but I can't see why they shouldn't be ready to make recommendations by 2012.

One question: Will there be any "out" gay or lesbian peoople on the commission? I am sure that when comparable commissions were set up 30 years ago to discuss the ordination of women, they would certainly have included women in their membership. What would be the impediment to doing the same on this occasion?