By The Revd Dr Andrew Burgess, Bishopdale College, Nelson
I am not a Bishop, or a Vicar General, nor an Archdeacon. I’m not even a member of Standing Committee. I’m just ‘Burge’ … but I want to offer my thoughts as someone who ‘represented’ Nelson Diocese at the General Synod.
The General Synod or Te Hinota Whanui of the Anglican Church in these islands voted to adopt the recommendations of what we have been calling Motion 29 report. (The actual motion at the 2018 meeting we just had was Motion 7, just to confuse things, but it adopted the Motion 29 recommendations, with some minor changes.)
I don’t want to try and go into detail on the report – for many people reading this the key issue is straight-forward, and that is the acceptance of blessings for same-sex couples in a civil union or marriage. The church, as a whole, agreed to allow Bishops to choose to have some sort of service or part of a service written, and for those Bishops to allow an ordained Anglican minister to use that material for a blessing of a civil union or civil marriage, regardless of the gender of the couple, and so on.
In doing that, the outcome includes these things:
The reason is simple: I don’t agree, because I am clear that Holy Scripture describes same-sex sexual relationships as outside of God’s purpose and call for humans. I do not agree at all with the claim that the relevant passages are about something else. In addition to those individual passages I see a wider picture of human creation and redemption toward our final fulfilment in union with Christ, and I see an emphasis on female and male together, even though some of us are called to be unmarried now and all of us will be unmarried in the resurrection.
The gospel is for every person and welcome, love and compassion are key – I want to bless every person, because God is like that. More than that, I am very well aware that I am a sinner, and that God blesses me. Within that, Holy Scripture also speaks directly about the importance of sexual behaviour and obedience, with great importance placed on what the Church holds up as fitting. So, I cannot bless same-sex sexual relationships and thus declare them ‘fitting’.
I am utterly clear that this Motion 29 decision is the decision of a Church acting unfaithfully. I am deeply disappointed. At the same time, I am at least as unhappy about our failure to obey God in mission and evangelism.
Why then am I not leaving?
Although I see myself connected to a Church that is unfaithful in this way, I see myself committed to working hard for the future of that Church, and to do so ‘on the inside’. I have many good friends who are looking to leave. Some of you reading this are in that place and although I cannot tell you what you should do, I do appeal to you: ‘Please consider whether staying is the call of God for you also.’
What about Nelson Diocese and BTC? Our stance remains and is clear: these blessings will not happen here and cannot while we hold to our Diocesan policy on human sexuality. Equally the call to love and share Christ with everyone remains absolute, regardless of every circumstance.
Finally: Someone at the General Synod asked, ‘Are you leaving then?’ My reply was grumpy but honest: ‘No, I’m not leaving – it’s my Church!’ Actually, I was wrong of course. It is Jesus Christ’s Church, and He can still work in it. Always.