The church is a community where people of different perspectives and varied commitments gather together in fellowship. It has always been the case, and it is especially evident in the present time, that the church is marked by diversity—a range of cultures, a range of skills, a range of theologies, a range of understandings.
This diversity is in focus in a particular way, in the life of the Uniting Church in Australia. The decision of the recent Assembly, to acknowledge two distinct understandings of marriage, reflects this diversity. The range of views across this diversity has led to some challenges.
The Presbytery of which I am a member reflected on this recently. We committed ourselves to listen to the various and complex struggles that are taking place within a number of the Congregations in the Presbytery. We acknowledged that decisions and conversations related to the Assembly decision on marriage continue to be challenging and painful for some congregations, church councils and ministry agents. And we determined to support a process which will offer assistance to ministry agents, congregations and church councils in navigating decisions related to the Assembly decision on marriage.
All of this is important work, essential to the calling that we have as the church. Our Basis of Union declares that we are to be a fellowship of reconciliation, and that in the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ … calls people into the fellowship of his sufferings. The Basis also affirms a commitment, across the Uniting Church to have God’s loving care known among people. How we talk with each other and work with each other is critical, in the light of this commitment.
The present time is one of sharing together in sufferings, as different opinions and beliefs are strongly articulated. It is a time for seeking of reconciliation between people of widely diverging views, as together we seek to make known God’s loving care.
We all are invited to commit to honest engagement in the struggle that surrounds this decision. Assembly has recognised that people across the church do hold different beliefs, equally shaped by biblical study and theological reflection, equally held with passion and integrity.
The decision has been challenging and painful for people in every Presbytery across Australia. We are all grappling with how we hold, with integrity and with passion, to the beliefs we have about marriage. We most certainly do need to support each other in this struggle.
Alongside the pain of those who feel aggrieved at the decision, is also evident that, for some time, for many years in many cases, such pain and anguish has been felt by people who identify as same-gender attracted. This pain has, at times, been inflicted by the church, by people within the church, by attitudes and actions of other church members. That’s been the reality for them, over years, even decades.
Such people are in many, if not all, Congregations; we probably know such people, even though we may not specifically know this about them. Indeed, some of those people were in the room, as my Presbytery discussed this matter recently.
The decision of Assembly has brought some release, some assuaging of that pain, to such people. It has not removed that has been embedded in their psyches over the years.
So as we recognise the reality of the pain and challenge for people struggling with the recent decision of the Assembly, I believe we also need to hold in our minds and our prayers those who identify as same-gender attracted, and who have a similar, and longstanding, sense of pain and challenge from their engagement with the church.
And we are able, in humility, to rejoice that we belong to a community of faith, within which we value honesty and integrity, where we value passion and understanding and tenacity, where we recognise the pain we bear, offer prayers for the healing of our hurts, and work together for reconciliation.