|A reflection on the original
proposal, before the Assembly Standing Committee clarification.
To be homosexual in the
Uniting Church must be a hard thing. Apart from ever present local
prejudice there has been frequent disparagement from high profile
leadership in the church such as Fred Nile or
Gordon Moyes. There are organised lobby groups whose membership includes
many who are at best anti-homosexual and at worst unwaveringly homophobic.
This hatred extends to anyone who is not "normal" including gay,
lesbian, bisexual and transgender people (GBLT). In my synod this lead
even to proposals to exclude or expel clergy who supported ordination of
GBLT people. People who remain unmarried receive inappropriate scrutiny in
To be a GBLT minister or deacon must be terribly hard. We safely
heterosexual clergy can have little idea of the hatred tipped on these
people. They bring a precious gift to us. As Tiffany Winn said over a
decade ago at Synod, if the Uniting Church wants to know about standing in
solidarity with the oppressed, and to have diversity, these are the people
to show us how! For a GBLT person the a non-heterosexual minister can also
bring a special blessing as a symbol of the church's acceptance.
Whilst we have repeatedly stated at Synod and Assembly level that GBLT
people are welcome as church members, it is too rarely so in fact.
And it has been a very limited welcome, as parts of the church have
remained closed to GBLT people. Ordination has been and un-resolved issue,
despite the fact that GBLT ministries in the church have been extraordinarily
fruitful- I recall one GBLT minister being highly praised by an
anti-homosexual ordination minister who was unaware of their orientation.
One edition of annual mission prayer handbook published by the Assembly
years ago, largely written by Rev Dorothy McRae McMahon, remains a classic
still used by people as a devotional resource.
After long struggles at several Assemblies Proposal 84
has been passed by Assembly 2003. This is a triumph, and marvellous
witness to the church and community. In one sense nothing has
changed. As Dean Drayton says in his pastoral
letter, "The decision is not really new. It simply clarifies what
is Uniting Church practice." At another level the change is
enormous. For conservative elements in the Assembly thwarted the Uniting
Church consensus decision making process forcing the decisions in the area
to a formal vote. This meant, I understand that a 75% majority had to vote
for the proposal to be put. It then had to achieve 75% to pass. In
this climate, people said with full formality, we will respect that other people
have arrived at a different conclusion to us. We will respect that they
sincerely see a different way to act. And yet we will still work
with them as part of the church.
Indeed, some may have gone home from Assembly confident that they can crush
any GBLT candidates or ordinands in their local Presbytery. But many
more have said, "We will trust Christ as we find him in our sisters
and brothers and move forward together even though we
disagree." This is a core value of the Faith. It is a
'bi-partisanship' sorely needed by our society, and it is a triumph that
the members of Assembly have moved to model it.
Some people will leave the church because of misrepresentation of
the issue by hardline conservatives, or their own fears. People like
Fred Niles will resign. He claims a faithfulness to the
gospel. But I find it difficult to see little more than a
hardline conservatism here which will only love and respect others if it
gets its own way. For while GBLT people and their families and supporters
will allow the validity of his faith and conscience, despite the pain his
position causes them- he shows no such respect for them.
© Jan Thomas