Preaching the Gospel of Love

On Tuesday, Archbishop of Sydney Kanishka Raffel moved a statement that named marriage as the exclusive union of one man and one women. The statement said “any rite or ceremony that purports to bless a same-sex marriage is not in accordance with the teaching of Christ”.

Bishop Jeremy Greaves made this response:

I’m a little bewildered about why we are debating a motion such as this and rise to speak against it.

Around the time of the Marriage Equality plebicite psychologist, Paul Martin reflected on the impact of the public debate on one of his clients:

“A mother came in with her teenage son who she found just in time, as he had made an attempt on his life. He was an intelligent, caring much-loved son and was well regarded at school.

He said that when he was at school being a fag was the worst thing to be called… When he realized he was gay he struggled with depression due to fear of rejection and a sense that he was worthless and his future was without hope.

When he was about to come out to his parents, he saw the Prime Minister on TV saying that marriage is between a man and a woman and would not be supporting marriage equality… [It was the last straw and] at that moment he realised that everything he’d ever been taught about what it means to be gay was in fact true, and that he wouldn’t be able to live a good life with a long term partner and happy future. This was the tipping point where he chose to end his life.”

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That young man has thousands of counterparts across Australia, both within and outside the church. Passing this statement today will do nothing other than do them more harm.

The prayer book teaches that marriage in the Anglican Church is the union of a man and a woman in a lifelong partnership… and while many of us would like to see that understanding broadened… actually nothing has changed.

This remains the teaching of this church and neither the decision of the appellate tribunal nor the hopes of many people within the church has changed that.

And the whole world already knows where the Diocese of Sydney stands on this matter – when the Diocese of Sydney gave $1 million in support of the “No” campaign it was reported around the world…. and there was no mention in those reports of love or hope or fullness of life.

When the former Archbishop of Sydney said “Please leave us”, again, it was reported around the world. It was not reported as “good news” of new life in Christ, but as divisive and hurtful.

The 2017 McCrindle “Faith and Belief in Australia” report suggests that amongst those people who do not identify as Christian, one of the top reasons they would not even consider exploring religion is our perceived attitudes to homosexuality.

And yet, time and again the Diocese of Sydney and her allies double down…

Between 2017 and 2019 the average number of Anglicans attending church on Sunday in the Sydney Diocese fell by more than it had fallen in the previous 13 years – from around 53000 to 45000. It is hard to imagine that some of this decline cannot be as a result of these ongoing public declarations about marriage and about the LGBTIQ+ community, who continue to suffer from “Please Leave Us”-type language.

Passing this motion will be seen as yet another attack on an already marginalised group of people, yet another “statement about them, and without them” … and to what end?

Passing this statement changes nothing in the debate about marriage and sexuality, changes nothing about the teaching of this church, changes nothing about how we might live together with difference.

But it will compromise our mission, distort perceptions of who we are and cause further hurt to so many people.

My hope is that we can be a church where the Gospel of love, the Gospel proclaimed by Christ, is the one we talk about, the one we make statements about and the one we are known for.

We can do something different today. We can make a decision to proclaim the gospel of God’s love.

We can do that by not passing this motion. By not making this statement. By deciding that the message we wish to give to the people of Australia is one of welcome and acceptance, of hope and love, of the good news of a God who “demonstrates God’s own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The statement was defeated in the house of bishops.

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