Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

Same-sex blessings on hold

General Synod tables 'A Way Forward' on same-sex blessings until the next meeting of synod in 2018.

Julanne Clarke-Morris  |  12 May 2016  |  16 Comments  

The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia has tabled the ‘A Way Forward’ report on blessings of same-sex couples until General Synod 2018, “with a firm expectation that a decision to move forward will be made” at that time.

Archbishop Brown Turei, Archbishop Philip Richardson and Archbishop Winston Halapua will appoint a working group to establish a structure that allows both those who can and cannot support the blessing of same-sex relationships to remain within the church with integrity.

“We are aware of the considerable pain that this decision will cause to those most affected,” said the three archbishops today.

“But we are confident that our determination to work together across our differences will bring us to a place of dignity and justice for everyone.”

Three days' work

On Wednesday night, after three days’ intense work on Motion 4 (the vehicle to receive and adopt ‘A Way Forward’), synod agreed in principle to back a new motion 29, which received the ‘A Way Forward’ report with thanksgiving and tabled it.

When motion 29 passed on Thursday morning, it meant the two proposed formularies (services of blessing) will not be considered now across the wider church on their first step towards entering canon law.

Tears were shed at tables across the house on Wednesday night as many synod members’ hopes for progress were dashed by the further delay in progress for their Anglican LGBTI sisters and brothers.

On Monday night, Tikanga Maori and Polynesia had already given their assent to take up the ‘A Way Forward’ recommendations.

Motion 29 gained traction only after Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Polynesia decided to change course on Wednesday, when it became clear that Tikanga Pakeha remained divided.

Where to turn?

Offering Te Pihopatanga’s assent to motion 29, Bishop Te Kitohi Pikaahu explained how Tikanga Maori had decided to move.

“In our caucus we didn’t know where to turn, so we looked to our Pihopa Mataamua to ask for his whakaaro (understanding) on how to proceed.”

“I feel for my brother, Archbishop Philip,” was Archbishop Brown’s reply.

Then he asked, “I wonder if this is a chance for Tikanga Maori to exercise aroha?”

As Bishop Kito presented Tikanga Maori’s assent to motion 29, he added his own clause:

“Please can you give us an assurance that a way forward will actually happen?

“Because in this case, I believe unity has trumped justice.”

'Huge generosity'

Assistant Bishop of Auckland Jim White was unhappy with the outcome.

“I am deeply disappointed by further delay on making our church fully inclusive,” he said.

 But he recognised the huge generosity offered by Tikanga Polynesia and Tikanga Maori.

“I am proud to be part of a three-tikanga church that has the strength of Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Polynesia,” Bishop Jim said.

“Without them, the Pakeha part of our church was in disarray with our disagreement.

“We were like a sheep cast in a ditch.”

Archdeacon Sepiuta Hala’api’api (Polynesia) had been willing to follow the AWF report’s recommendations because they gave space for Pasifika to continue their talanoa (intentional listening) without stepping outside their tradition.

“But our young people question: why we are spending so much time on this issue?

“They are more concerned about the environment and the problems we face in the Pacific.”

More talanoa needed

Rev Evelingi Langi (Polynesia) believes that more talanoa is needed in Tonga.

“We have talked about these issues at archdeaconry meetings, but on my island I am the only Anglican priest, so if I don’t come to a synod like this I’m not hearing about these issues at all.

“But that doesn’t mean gay people are not there. They’re there as a normal part of our families and our communities.”

As the final speaker on Wednesday night, Archbishop Philip hailed the gracious koha of more time given to Pakeha.

“To say I am humbled by your manaakitanga is not to say anywhere near enough,” he said.

Then he turned to address synod:

“Please, know that this position we are arriving at is not a victory of one side over the other.

“It is a victory for the unity of the three-tikanga church.

“But the cost of that unity is very high.

“We will not allow this to continue to drift on.

“We must find a decision, which in the end we are bound to, as we are bound to each other.”

Pakeha gratitude

Ruth Wildbore (Christchurch) spoke in support of motion 29 as a conservative Anglican.

“We are grateful for the time we now have to put structures in place,” she said.

“And we are grateful that you didn’t put us in a position where we felt we had to leave this General Synod.”

Archdeacon Tim Mora (Nelson) had also opposed the recommendations in ‘A Way Forward.’

“For conservatives the ‘A Way Forward’ report left us feeling unprotected in our theological position,” he said.

“The new working group needs to constantly come back to the conservatives, to be sure that the recommendations are acceptable to them, before they bring it back to the next General Synod.

“It is important that the working group is prepared to explore all the options, including the ones presented by the Ma Whea Commission.

“But there is a definite will from the conservatives to look for a way that will protect our integrity and allow us to stay together.”

Rev Richard Bonifant (Auckland) found the decision hard to take.

“We called this motion ‘A Way Forward,’ but I have come to think of it as something more like the ‘Land of Promise.’

“But once more, we find we cannot go into that land.

“This time in the wilderness comes at great cost to us.

“In our Anglican liturgy we say, ‘This is the time of salvation.’”

“I will find it very hard to say that over the next two years.”

'Tremendous grief'

As Bishop Andrew Hedge moved the motion, he acknowledged the hard work done by synod over the last three days.

“There has been a lot of hard thinking, difficult conversations and expressions of tremendous grief.

“We have raised more questions than we have been able to answer here.

“But we are grateful for the grace of God that is in the manaakitanga (radical hospitality) we have present in this house.”

MOTION 29 (as passed)

Mover: Bishop Andrew Hedge

Seconder: Rev Dr Andrew Burgess

1. That this GSTHW receives with thanksgiving the report of the “A Way Forward – He Anga Whakamua  – Ni Sala Ki Liu” Working Group.

2. Resolves that the report and its recommendations do lie on the table until GSTHW, with a firm expectation that a decision to move forward will be made.

3. Establishes and commits to pray for a working group to be appointed by the Primates to consider possible structural arrangements within our Three-Tikanga Church to safeguard both theological convictions concerning the blessing of same gender relationships.

4. That this working group report by 1 July 2017.


Leo Te Kira

The Māori elders who raised me in Wellington use to muse "E kore te paru e piri ki te rino: Soil never lasts on steel (lit: insincereity can never co-exist alongside sincerity)"

I'm sure everyone who left General Synod will be pondering 'Now what was steel and what was mere soil'.

Mark Murphy

Hi Glenn. This is precisely why we need a space in the church where LGBTI people can be fully welcomed and cherished. The other alternative - the one you sketch out here - is psychological and spiritual abuse of the most insidious kind. For to say on the one hand, you are welcome, we love you, to offer the promise of friendship and community, salvation even, and then to say on the other hand, in all manner of implicit and explicit ways, what you call love we call sin, what you call being true we call being disordered, and that the only decent alternative is to live a secretive or a profoundly lonely life, this sort of mixed message is truly soul-warping, crazy-making.

Glenn Peoples

It's disappointing to me that so much language coming out of this general Synod is about acknowledging the sorrow of those who wait, as though pre-emptively saying that the change for which they wait is both right and inevitable.

A way forward is for the Church to defer to its own declaration that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and acknowledge that this particular way forward cannot be reconciled with this declaration.

Glenn Peoples

I think it is terribly unhelpful and unkind that some people, in spite of all the discussion that has transpired, still choose to describe the actions of conservatives as fearing gay people, as not welcoming gay people, of not loving gay people etc.

That is immensely unfair.

For "conservatives," that is, people who in my view uphold the historic and biblical position on marriage, the issue is not at all whether or not we love people who are attracted to members of the same sex. You insult and belittle us, fellow Christians, when you describe us that way. The issue for us here is that we uphold the stance of our Church that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and we do not believe that this "two integrities" model really respects this affirmation at all. It would enable churches to bless a union and treat it the same way we treat marriage, all the while saying - in word only - that we affirm marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

These recommendations are effectively a way of getting around what the church has decided about the meaning of marriage.

It's disappointing to me that so mu...

Mark Murphy

Hi Bob. I appreciate you are very much living with both sides of this issue and the inner tension this brings. I respect your struggle and integrity. Whatever 'way forward' is eventually ennacted in the Anglican Church, I wouldn't want to see you feel compelled to change your beliefs in any way. At the same time I was so excited and hopeful that the church might find space to respect and allow another "integrity", those who see the Spirit clearly present in two people of the same sex who genuinely love and care for each other, who are devoted to each other, whose lives are immeaurably better because they have found one another, and who give thanks to God for that.

Bob Boardman

I don't know Mark. I am finding it a very great struggle. My wife, whom I love very much, sees things similar as you and I have a close family member who I also love very much who is apparently gay. On the other hand I have a very real revelation of God via the Bible and because I love God more than anything I want to be true to His revelation unless He shows me something different. This does not mean that I don’t accept the possibility that I, a fallible person, may be wrong. It’s is something I pray a lot about I assure you. Ultimately, it boils down to where we source our truth and authority. Pro-LGBTI people say that human Reason (eg. the UN Charter on human rights) justifies same-sex marriage but then I say that it defies Reason to interpret the Bible to mean the opposite to what it clearly says. Can we play the same game by different rules? In my experience of relationships it is very difficult.

Mark Murphy

Hi Bob. What is happening between you and me is the story of our church at present. We both feel very strongly about this and can't be convinced otherwise. You say we are being motivated by an external gay rights agenda that has nothing to do with the Christian faith, whereas we feel moved by the Spirit, by grace, justice, and love. We feel you are acting out of a perverse obsessiveness over matters of sexuality that is severly out of proportion to the Gospel, and a fear-based clinging to rules and views that works to diminish the power of love and hurts people's lives and families, whereas you feel that you cannot just go changing the truth of Christ as it has been understood and practiced for centuries, and that would set such an awful precedent for goodness knows what. Our "integrities" cannot be "reconciled". What do we do when we have such different, impassioned experiences of the Spirit? Walk away? Can you and I live in a church that allows both of our testimonies to coexist - and do we want that?

Bob Boardman

Mark, regarding that blog, those 12 scriptures are pretty clear in both testaments and when one adds to them numerous mentions about marriage, including Jesus' own understanding of marriage being between a man and a woman (eg. Mark 10:6-9) I find it very hard to see how I can reasonably have a different perspective from what I have already expressed.

Mark Murphy

Bob, let's get this into perspective...

Richard Milne

Three days' debate, to delay a decision again? The church fiddles while the planet burns. Let's get on with addressing the major issues of poverty, injustice and survival of the human race and the biosphere, before we become totally irrelevant.

Bob Boardman

I am sorry - this is a conflict I personally have never wanted but I now see some sort of Church split as inevitable. To gay people and supporters this is about gay rights but I think the Church is being hi-jacked by their apparently just agenda in a manner that will cause fatal collateral damage to the Church. To me the deeper issue is all about the integrity of the Bible as the basis for Church authority and Christian life. I am not a Biblical literalist but even so, in my view the only two ways that I can see that the Bible can be interpreted to support same-sex marriage in the Church (OR the "blessing" of such) is by the pruning and twisting of scripture, or if God writes a third testament!

Mark Murphy

Kia ora Paddy. Mauri ora! The living spirit blows where it pleases...and often outside of the church!

Leo Te Kira

An article choosing to use particularly abysmal quotes and particularly abysmal photos to announce a particularly abysmal decision.

Paddy Noble

Hi Mark I totally agree with you. But in saying this I'm not surprised by the responses by the conservatives. Sometimes these things can end up being a word war on the smallest of details where the bigger picture doesn't get seen and yet its right in their faces. I don't understand why many of us still hang on to our oppressive structures that shape our faith. I'm still trying to let go and find my own faith in God in life itself. Away from from the walls of oppression and in justice.

Mark Murphy

Two more years? Really? After a national commission and a working group, Tikanga Pakeha still need more time? Can someone please explain why conservatives in Tikanga Pakeha feel so "unprotected" (wow, thats rich) when conservatives in Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Pasifika have agreed to A Way Forward?

Ronnie Smith

“We are aware of the considerable pain that this decision will cause to those most affected.
“But we are confident that our determination to work together across our differences will bring us to a place of dignity and justice for everyone.” - Archbishops -

Justice delayed is Justice denied. I hope this will not cause gay people to leave the Church. Another sign of our Church's inability to combat institutional fear of homosexuals.