The other day, my son related to me a discussion on Radio National about potential schisms in the Anglican Church concerning LGBTI+ marriage.
Several listeners called in and applauded the position of the Sydney Diocese which, resolutely maintaining the traditional view of marriage, refuses to recognise LGBTI+ marriage.
One of the callers caricatured the progressive position as being akin to a jellyfish, i.e. no backbone, just flip-flopping with every passing current.
While my son disagrees with the Sydney Anglican view, he admired the callers’ clarity and forthrightness.
I find the jellyfish image demeaning, but I am intrigued by my son’s respect for forthrightness.
Let me elaborate:
A demeaning image: I don’t believe the jellyfish image is in any way applicable to the deliberations of the Uniting Church about LGBTI+ marriage. On the contrary, the UCA has displayed a lot of backbone in wrestling with this divisive issue over several years.
Changing doctrines is not necessarily a sign of weakness. (It is doggedly maintaining outdated doctrine in the face of new insights and evidence that can signify a lack of backbone.)
Resisting all change is ultimately unnatural and destructive.
Change has been an ongoing feature of the church’s deliberations throughout the centuries. Jesus, himself, was a change agent, his ministry premised on the breaking in of God’s kingdom, ‘it’s just around the corner; change your perspective; join in.’
The Anglican Church was born from change, breaking away from the Catholic Church during the Reformation, and fundamentally altering traditional doctrine.
It takes courage to change. We’re not jellyfish.
To my son’s comment about forthrightness: we, who inhabit a progressive worldview, often discern that resistance to change originates with leaders and those in positions of influence who have much to lose.
In opposing their views, we seek never to emulate their strategies of intolerance, of exclusivity, and of ridiculing those with whom they disagree.
On the contrary, we want to be careful and inclusive.
However, the results of this strategy can appear to others as a lack of clarity and forthrightness
It is doubtless difficult for the church to practise compassion while being passionate and forthright about the need for change.
At the same time, I believe that the UCA could have been more bold and forthright regarding LGBTI+ marriage.
The UCA accepts two definitions of marriage, the traditional view and an inclusive view, a marriage between two people.
Although born of much discussion and painful wrestling, this conclusion is not clear to those outside the church.
I can only imagine the anxiety of a gay or lesbian couple approaching a UCA church wondering if they will agree to celebrate their marriage.
When we embrace change, let’s do so boldly.