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Anglican Church in New Zealand opens the door to blessing same-sex relationships

Posted on: May 9, 2018 1:21 PM
Archbishop Philip Richardson puts “Motion 29” to the vote at the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia
Photo Credit: Anglican Taonga
Related Categories: New Zealand, sexuality, Synod

The Synod of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia passed a resolution today which would allow churches in New Zealand to bless same sex relationships. Dubbed “Motion 29”, the resolution explicitly states that there should be no change to “the Church’s teaching on the nature of marriage [which] is to affirm marriage as between a man and a woman”; but says that individual bishops should be free to use provisions already within the province’s canons for “a non-formulary service” to allow for the blessing of same-sex relationships. The resolution also calls for changes to the canons so that no member of the clergy can face disciplinary action either for agreeing to bless such relationships, or for refusing to do so.

The decision follows lengthy discussion in this year’s session of the Synod and in the previous two Synods, in 2014 and 2016; although Anglican Taonga, the news service of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, said that there had been “earnest debate” in the province for 50 years.

In more recent years, the 2014 Synod called for proposals for the blessing of same-sex relationships. The province established the “Way Forward” group which came up with proposals at the 2016 Synod for new rites of blessing as “additional formularies” rather than doctrinal changes. But instead, the Synod voted to let the motion lie on the table “with a firm expectation that a decision to move forward will be made” at the 2018 Synod. Following the 2016 meeting, the province established a working group to explore “structural arrangements” that would allow people who hold differing convictions about same-sex relationships to remain together in the Church. It was the recommendations of that committee, that the Synod agreed today.

The motion passed today was to accept the recommendations in the report and “endorse in principle, for consideration, the proposed changes to the Constitution/Te Pouhere and Canons of the Church set out in the report, and in Bills 20-24.” Further procedures will take place to give effect to the changes.

The three Tikanga – or cultural streams – of the Church gave their assent to the motion; which was then put to a general vote by voices, before a request for a standing vote. This “visibly confirmed that the motion, by a big majority, had been passed,” Anglican Taonga said.

“By contrast to General Synod 2016, when the Way Forward report and its recommendations were shelved, the reaction to today’s decision was, after a brief burst of applause, quite muted,” Anglican Taonga reported. “Sadness, perhaps, though, that despite the best efforts of the Motion 29 working group, some have said they can no longer stay in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.”

The move will not apply to the Diocese of Polynesia – the province’s Tikanga Pasifika. In a separate motion, passed without dissent , the Synod said that it was “deeply mindful of the deep interweaving of cultural and religious values at the core of our Pacific societies that place a profound respect, and reverence for the belief in God and the belief in the traditional understanding of marriage.”

The motion said that noted that the Pacific Island countries within the diocese – Samoa, Tonga and Fiji – do not recognise unions between people of the same gender; and said that a debate at the Polynesia diocesan synod had shown its members were opposed to the blessing of same-sex relationships.

Despite opposition from the Diocese of Polynesia, the motion noted “with appreciation” that its members did “not to be an obstacle in the journey of Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Pakeha [New Zealanders of European descent] towards the blessing of same gender relations in Aotearoa New Zealand.”

“The Anglican Communion is a family of autonomous but interdependent Churches,” the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, said in response to the Synod’s vote. “It is the formal view in the Communion that marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman and I am heartened that this resolution means there is no change in the central teaching on marriage in the province of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

“There has been a long, prayerful process in the province in reaching this point with deeply-held convictions on both sides of the debate. I hope and believe that this resolution recognised that difference without division is possible.”

  • Note: The three tikanga in the Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia – Tikanga Pasifika, Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Pakeha – are cultural streams within the Province. The Church is unique in the Anglican Communion in having three equal-status Primates serving the whole church, but each with special responsibility for an individual tikanga. Within Aotearoa/New Zealand, the Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Pakeha overlap, with seven dioceses in Tikanga Pakeha, and five hui amorangi for Tikanga Maori. The boundaries of the hui amorangi differ from those of the dioceses. The Tikangas are cultural and membership is not based on race – individuals can join churches in whichever Tikanga they choose.

This story was updated on 10 May to include a response from the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, and a footnote to explain the three-Tikanga structure of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.