Australians agree to disagree

After two years of work and study, the Doctrine Panel of the Anglican Church of Australia reported in Faithfulness in fellowship: reflections on homosexuality and the church (2001) that it had to agree to disagree.

As people of Christian faith, who acknowledge ourselves as marvellously made, we have a responsibility to use our bodies in godly ways and to engage in relationships that reflect the substance of the covenant of love and mutual respect into which we enter at our baptism. At the heart of the current discussion are the questions of whether and how a homosexual person can fulfil this responsibility. [. . .]

As a panel, we represent different experiences and viewpoints; this is as it should be in a Church that also represents a diversity of experience and perspective. [. . .]

We have certainly found areas in which we differ – sometimes strongly. But there are also points of agreement on which to build [. . .]

We are convinced that the issues of human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular are important ones for the Church to engage and that the extraordinary complexity of the topics demands that they are approached with seriousness of purpose, discerning minds, and pastoral sensitivity.

We affirm the witness and authority of Scripture, which must be acknowledged. It is clear, however, that while specific texts do settle the questions for some, they do not settle the questions for the whole Church, since opinions on the clarity of Scripture vary. Texts must be considered in light of the whole message of the Gospel and, like all texts, need to be interpreted. The Church may need to acknowledge and wrestle with an increasing diversity of viewpoints.

We recognise that our own cultural contexts and personal experiences condition the way we approach the complex web of questions around homosexuality and therefore qualify our ability to come to a common resolution as to the mind of God. [. . .]

With regard to the blessing of same-sex unions [. . .] we believe the diversity of opinion on this issue amongst members of the Panel very likely reflects the diversity of opinion in the Church at large. [. . .]

The matter of the ordination of gay and lesbian people is rather different. [. . .] As a Panel, we have not reached one mind on this matter. We are agreed that resolute faithfulness in human relationships reflects something of the character of God. Our convictions stemming from the implications of that observation vary widely. [. . .]

It will be obvious by now that the single greatest point of divergence of opinion in addressing these questions is the use and interpretation of Scripture. None of us wishes to undermine the authority of Scripture for the Church or for individual Christians. All of us believe that the Scriptures have a crucial role to play in the way we make our moral and ethical decisions. It is plain to us that the fundamentally different ways in which we approach the texts, and the way we assign degrees of importance to particular passages are what generally control the different conclusions we reach. We have not yet discovered a way to draw our different approaches together in a unified understanding. At times we have had to agree to disagree. And we have been forced to wonder how much diversity the Church can tolerate in this regard. [. . .]

Whatever word the Church speaks on this issue must finally be a word of hope and promise. We believe that as a Church we can only reach that stage after a great deal more study, discussion and prayer that includes a broad segment of the Church and of society. (pp.196-201)

The General Synod commended the Doctrine Commission’s report but did not wait for any further study, deciding at once to “not condone” same-sex blessings or the ordination of people in same-sex relationships.