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Strong line against gay ministers confirmed as official Australian Anglican Church policy

NEWS | John Sandeman & Joshua Maule

Wednesday, 11 April 201, 8.50am

A “protocol” passed by the Australian Anglican Bishops reaffirms policies against gay priests and bishops passed by earlier Anglican meetings.

The “protocol” is written in a form that the ordinary reader will find hard to follow, referring to a decade and a half of discussions in the Anglican world.

“The undertaking in this protocol specifically relates to standards of behaviour required of persons being considered for ministry” a spokesperson for Phillip Aspinall, the Primate (head Bishop) told Eternity. “In effect it is an undertaking not to ordain, license, authorise or appoint persons whom the bishop knows to be in a sexual relationship outside of marriage.”

Eternity has been unable to find any official summary of the protocol, so we have gone back to the original documents to describe what it means. The protocol text is at the foot of this article.

The Bishops say they “accept the weight” of the “1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10” which “reject[ed] homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture”.

The 1998 resolution also said it “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions”. The Lambeth Conference is a once a decade meeting of Anglican Church Bishops.

The Bishops also affirmed the General Synod’s 2004 motions that it could not condone “the liturgical blessing of same sex relationships” and “the ordination of people in open committed same sex Relationships”. The General Synod is Australia’s Anglican Church Parliament.

Another General Synod motion reaffirmed by the Bishops welcomed “the initiative of the Federal Parliament in clarifying that marriage, at law in this country, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”

The Sydney Anglican website ran the text of the protocol and added the comment that: “In comparison with other Bishops meetings, especially those associated with the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States, the Australian agreement is being seen as a conservative stance.”

“It is heartening that the Australian bishops remain unified on this issue by once again reaffirming the Lambeth resolution on human sexuality,” Bishop Stuart Robinson of Canberra Goulburn told Eternity.

“The most accurate way of looking at this development is that it is business as usual for the Australian Anglican Church. There is no change. Along with the other Dioceses, the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn will continue to uphold faithfulness in marriage and celibacy in singleness for its priests and deacons.”

David Ould, a Sydney blogger who first broke this story describes the protocol as a “major loss for the liberals in the church”. Ould also broke a story about gay priest, David Head being licensed (appointed to a local Church) by the Bishop of Gippsland, John McIntyre.

This protocol is seen by Ould as a response to the controversy about David Head. (See his coverage here)

Bishop McIntyre responded to Eternity’s request to get his side of the story:

“The bishops’ protocols are consensual agreements arrived at in bishops’ meetings and raised each year to ensure ongoing consensus. In that sense, they are not public documents and any discussion of them is appropriately confined only to the bishops’ annual meeting. It is my understanding that they are made public for the purposes of information, not discussion. Out of respect for my episcopal colleagues, I am not prepared to discuss the protocols outside the bishops’ meeting.”

More Liberal Anglicans may point out the protocol leaves the door open for continued conversation about same sex marriage and gay clergy.

In addition, the formula “As bishops …we” has provided wiggle room in the past in Anglican circles. An example of Anglican leaders who have accepted a motion as expressing the mind of a meeting and have gone on to behave differently is Presiding Bishop Griswold of the (American) Episcopal Church who took part in a 2003 meeting of the Anglican Primates (lead bishops of each national church) that reaffirmed the 1998 Lambeth motions. He went home and led the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson, the world’s first openly gay Anglican archbishop. He said the motion expressed the mind of the meeting as a whole rather than each participant.

The Protocol text:

“As bishops in the Australian Church we accept the weight of 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 and the 2004 General Synod resolutions 33, 59 and 61-64        (attached to this protocol) as expressing the mind of this Church on issues of human sexuality. 

We undertake to uphold the position of our Church in regard to human sexuality as we ordain, license, authorise or appoint toministries within our dioceses.

We understand that issues of sexuality are subject to ongoing conversation within our Church and we undertake to support these conversations, while seeking to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

The full 1998 resolution can be found here.

The General Synod Motions (33, 59 and 61-64) can be viewed here.

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