The Uniting Church and Marriage

On Monday the 30th April, the Uniting Church Assembly Standing Committee released reports and proposals for the upcoming Assembly in July this year. The Assembly is the national body of the Uniting Church with voting members from across Australia, and the standing committee 'stands' in between triennial meetings to bring reports and proposals to the national gatherings.

This year, the Assembly will discuss and vote on the Uniting Church's definition of marriage and the options Ministers and Congregations have if requested to host/conduct a same-gender marriage ceremony. The 60 page report put out on Monday by the standing committee outlines 4 options with one recommended. In short, the recommendation is that the Uniting Church definition of marriage change to being between two people (previously one man and one woman) and that Minister's continue to be able to exercise freedom of choice in whether or not to conduct same gender weddings.

First and foremost, we as a church must grieve with our brothers and sisters in Christ over the mistreatment of many same gender attracted people in the history of the church. We have not always loved our neighbours well and for that we ask God's forgiveness.

Secondly, we recognise the diversity of views in the church and that many times, this is an intensely personal issue. Many of us know same gender attracted people, some of whom wrestle deeply with faith and belonging to the body of Christ. 

However, as a congregation we adhere to the Uniting Church's current view of marriage, that it is between one man and one woman. This is the view of 'PNUEMA' churches, a network of Uniting Churches in WA who hold to an 'evangelical' Christian belief and reading of the scriptures. A national body of evangelical Uniting Churches called the 'Assembly of Confessing Congregations' have released some initial responses to the report on marriage which I encourage you to read here

Over the coming months, I ask you to pray that each member of the Uniting Church Assembly will listen closely to the voice of the Holy Spirit. A change to our position on marriage has significant implications for ecumenical relationships and the life of our movement. I pray that in this time, we would confidently proclaim both grace and truth.

A discussion forum to consider the implications of potential Assembly decisions on congregations like our is planned for 7.30pm on Sunday 24th June. Please read the executive summary and proposals of this report if you plan to attend this forum.

Brief Presentation by Revd. Luke Williams
(The following short reflection was presented by Luke at a Uniting Church discussion forum in late May. It is by no means meant to be a comprehensive consideration of the same gender marriage conversation, but a simple statement on Luke's view of marriage in response to the two questions below.)

The first question:
Where do I stand on same gender marriage?
I believe marriage is intended by God to be between a man and a woman
The second question: 
How is my position grounded in my understanding of the Bible, Christian theology and tradition as understood in the Basis of Union.
I have no idea how to answer that question in 5 minutes so I’ll just touch on a few points:
Christian theology and tradition is and always will be varied. And, as long as we’re human we’ll tend to highlight the theology and tradition that backs our position, which we’ve formed partly from emotion and experience. So, the challenge is to put aside the filters through which we see things, the ‘biases’ we hold, and allow God to speak. I, nor any one of us claim to do that perfectly, but we try.
My personal view, having tried to do this as best I can, is that the majority of Christian theology and that which has been most fruitful in the history of the church, is based on a reading of scripture that says this: marriage is rooted in God’s revealed nature as Father, who’s Son pursues his bride, a covenant relationship that is only ever said to be reflected by husband and wife, husband loving and serving his wife as Christ loves the church. That’s my understanding based on my study, my discernment with others, my view of God’s nature, God’s mission, etc.
I don’t base my position on a verse from Leviticus or a verse from Romans – I believe statements in those and other writings simply fit with the revealed intention of God in creating man and woman for each other who, in marriage, display an imperfect but holy image of Christ and his church.
But with regards to the basis of Union, I would highlight one thing. I was reminded yesterday that it lays out a biblical picture of "The Church" the whole body of Christ, and then how we, the Uniting Church are a part of that who seek to grow in unity with "THE Church", with other churches, denominations etc. It spells out how, as we do that, we seek to correct that which is erroneous in our life.
So it would seem to me that in our consideration of marriage, we (the Uniting Church) would want to take that journey with the wider body and seek to be in unity with them along the way. That doesn’t mean we can’t hold different views and ‘pioneer’ certain steps forward as the body of Christ, but we are to journey with and learn from each other.
ALL of the pastors I meet with from at least 10 different denominations in this local area every Wednesday morning... their denominations are (for the most part) nowhere near changing their stance on marriage: Anglican, Baptist, Church of Christ, SDA, Brethren, Australian Christian Churches, Foursquare, Calvary Chapel, independent south african, Nigerian, south east asian....
What I fear is happening in the Uniting Church is an attitude that because we have broken new ground in some areas, leading the way in reconciliation with first peoples for example, we seek to do the same as ‘pioneers’, ‘ground breakers’, but not in unity with others... more like “if you don't wish to join us, too bad".
We may relate with denominations locally and globally who we consider our ecumenical partners but that's "easy ecumenism", bonding with those who think like us. What we're not doing, is what the basis of union guides us to do: seek unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ – full stop. And if we did that, I firmly believe that we'd have to think twice about the direction we're going in with regards to marriage, because the Spirit speaks to us through THE body, not just to ‘our body’. We have much to offer the wider body, and they have much to offer us.
All in all, I don’t believe the Holy Spirit plays tricks, saying one thing to some Christians and another thing to others just to mess with us… so, I’m trying to listen as closely as I can and go from there.