Australian Church Rejects Homosexual Ordination

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Australia's Anglican (Episcopalian) Church has voted not to condone the blessing of same-sex relationships or to ordain people in such relationships.

Participants at a general synod - the church's "national parliament" - held in Western Australia also passed a motion opposing sex outside of marriage for heterosexuals - and congratulated Australia's federal government for outlawing same-sex "marriage."

The decisions come shortly before the titular leader of the world's Anglicans, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, is to announce the findings of commission established after the U.S. appointed the world's first openly homosexual Episcopal bishop.

Due to be released on Oct. 18, the report will provide the church's response both to Gene Robinson's appointment as bishop of New Hampshire and to the Canadian church's blessing of same-sex couples.

As elsewhere in the Anglican Communion in the West, the church in Australia has been divided between evangelicals who base their view on Scripture and a "progressive" wing which says biblical teachings are open to interpretation and should be placed in cultural and historical context.

After an emotive debate, the general synod late last week passed a motion saying that it "does not condone the liturgical blessing of same-sex relationships" and another saying it "does not condone the ordination of people in open, committed, same-sex relationships."

Both resolutions also stressed that "this is a matter of ongoing debate and conversation in this church and ... we all have an obligation to listen to each other with respect."

A third resolution welcomed legislation passed by federal parliament last August stipulating that marriage is "the union of a man and a women to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life."

A leading conservative from Sydney, the Rev. Bruce Ballantine-Jones, asserted that the church had for 2,000 years held the position that "any sex outside marriage is sinful and that includes heterosexual and homosexual activity."

"Just because in the latter part of the 20th century sociological forces have given rise to the gay movement, which has impacted in the church, is no reason for the church to turn its back on the clear teaching," he said.

Traditionalists faced arguments like that voiced by the Rev. Jill Varcoe of Canberra: "Every time we say something negative, we become complicit in the physical and emotional violence done to gay and lesbian people."

Varcoe also said there was a contradiction in saying to people "you can only have sex in marriage, but [in the case of homosexuals] we are not permitting you to marry."

The gathering's general secretary, the Rev. Bruce Kaye, said the subject "draws to the surface differences of theological conviction about which we feel very strongly."

The Anglican Church is the third-largest in Australia, after the Roman Catholic Church and the fast-growing Pentecostal movement. Many Anglicans are concerned about the church's evident failure to attract young people: 75 percent of Anglicans are over 40 years of age.

In Britain, the church leadership is preparing to release the findings of the Lambeth Commission, which will make recommendations on how the worldwide church can maintain the highest degree of unity possible in the light of the developments in the U.S. and Canada.

Opposition to the ordination of homosexuals is strongest in Africa, where about half of the around 77 million Anglicans live.

There are also strong conservative movements within the denomination in many Western countries. Some parishes in the U.S. have threatened to leave the Episcopal Church's hierarchy and come under the leadership of conservative bishops.

Illustrating the depth of feeling, bishops and church leaders in Africa, Asia and Latin America sent a letter to the commission last month, saying if the North American churches involved in the disputes were not disciplined, "then plainly we have reached the end of the Anglican Communion in its present form."

But liberal Anglican leaders in Britain have warned of "civil war" in the church if the American bishops were disciplined.

The commission comprises a group of bishops and theologians, under the chairmanship of Irish Archbishop Robin Eames.

See earlier stories:
Same-Sex 'Marriage' Banned in Australia (Aug. 13, 2004)
Asian Anglicans Dismayed at Election of Homosexual Bishop (Aug. 07, 2003)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow