By Robyn Douglass
The Australian General Synod was due to meet in 2020, but COVID has postponed that — twice. It’s now scheduled for May 8-13 on the Gold Coast in Queensland — bang in the center of the region that suffered catastrophic floods at the end of February. Arks ahoy.
While the vexed question of the church’s blessing of same-sex unions has not gone away, the pause may have taken some heat out of the discussions.
TLC spoke to Bishop Richard Condie in Tasmania recently. Tasmania is Australia’s smallest state — an island south of the mainland, about the same size as Ireland. The Anglican church there is an extra-provincial diocese, outside the five metropolitan archdioceses.
Condie is also chairman of GAFCON Australia, a conservative Anglican movement, having held that position since before being elected to Tasmania. In July 2021, GAFCON Australia set up a legal entity, the Diocese of the Southern Cross. Condie describes it as a lifeboat, prepared before the ship goes down.
“A parish or a church could join it as an affiliate. Right now nobody has, but it’s there in case they need it,” he said.
The flight to GAFCON’s alternative structure is one solution in case the Australian church hits the rocks. We’ve been in stormy waters before — breakaway Anglican churches arose when women were ordained to the priesthood in the 1990s.
Condie is careful when he explains why this issue is a deal-breaker for some, in the way that ordination of women or remarriage of divorced people was not.
For conservative Anglicans, not just evangelicals, he said, it is a matter of salvation.
“1 Corinthians 6 has a very disturbing list of the sins which exclude you from the kingdom of God, and so to bless a sin that the Bible teaches excludes you from the kingdom of God makes this issue one of primary salvation importance,” he said.
“There’s a complementarity in marriage which is lost in same-sex marriage. It’s not just picking one verse, there’s an overarching biblical theology of marriage, which assumes and relies on complementarity; otherwise the marriage of Christ and his bride in Revelation doesn’t make any sense.”
In contrast, Condie said, the ordination of women and remarriage after divorce were not salvation issues, although “many of us live with the tensions of those two matters in the church with different views; we live with that.”
Should the church agree to bless same-sex unions, Anglicans “of tender conscience” will be unable to receive the ministry of their diocese or their bishop, Condie said, and GAFCON’s aim is to stand with them.
In August 2019, the Diocese of Wangaratta’s synod approved a liturgy for blessing same-sex couples. It was challenged in the Appellate Tribunal, the Australian church’s highest court.
In 2020 the tribunal ruled 5-1 that the blessing service was consistent with the church’s ruling principles, stressing that the liturgy does not “involve the solemnization of matrimony.”
Condie said a split would not be of GAFCON’s making, and said he is pleading for some kind of “amicable arrangement in Australia to care for these faithful, faithful Anglicans who really feel that what the church is doing is undermining salvation.”
He added: “I would love for the General Synod to be debating its own solution to the care of these Anglicans. That would be great. But every time I suggest that, people say it’s too hard. It is really hard, but I think that would be the best solution. In the absence of that solution, we are proposing this.”
Condie is also frank about the pastoral dimension of the issue, on both sides.
“While I have a conservative reading of what the Scriptures say about it, we are dealing with people who we love.
“My heart yearns for same-sex-attracted Christians. I know many that are trying to live according to the biblical standards of celibacy in their same-sex attraction and they are trying to do that faithfully, and they, along with same-sex-attracted Christians who believe that the Scriptures allow them freedom in their sexuality, these are all people who God loves, these are all people made in God’s image.
“The debate about doctrine on same-sex marriage can’t be divorced from the people, and that makes it extremely painful.
“I am reluctant to speak about it, yet my convictions are we are going to put people in serious spiritual danger if we don’t.”
COVID has brought few blessings, but Condie says it may have been a gift to the Anglican Church of Australia. While he still expects “robust conversation” in May, synod has had extra time to consider, and pray, for the church’s future.