A proposal by the Archbishop of Sydney for an overlapping Anglican diocese or province to cater for Anglicans in New Zealand opposed to the blessing of same-sex marriage has been rejected by the leaders of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (ANZP). In May, the ANZP General Synod passed a “compromise” resolution on the blessing of same-sex civil marriages in a move that was designed to allow both theological conservatives and those campaigning for change to stay in the same church. But a number of Anglicans have responded to the vote by saying that they were seeking to leave the Church as a result of the decision.
The motion passed by the Anglican Church in ANZP 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 it went on to say that 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 followed years of debate and negotiation between Anglicans on different sides of the debate.
In August, the Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, put forward proposals for an alternative Anglican diocese or province, which would overlap with ANZP’s existing structures, for those Anglicans unable to accept the Synod’s decision. In proposing what he called “distinctive co-existence”, Archbishop Glenn said in a letter to the Church of ANZP that “while members of your General Synod may have thought that dissenting voices would acquiesce to the amended canons, this has proved not to be the case. Moreover, plenty of warning was given prior to the vote being taken. It is unrealistic to think that the stakes are not high on the matter of human sexuality, which of itself is not the root problem, but the interpretation of Scripture, the nature of the gospel and the appearance of accommodation to the surrounding culture.”
He added: “Of course, I recognise that both sides see the situation differently – and that is the problem. After twenty years of debate since Lambeth 1998, where Resolution I.10 was overwhelmingly affirmed by the majority of bishops, expressing the time-honoured view of the Church since apostolic times (and of Israel under the Old Testament), I do not think that either side is going to convince the other side of their view.
“The proposition that same-sex relationships are a legitimate expression of Christian discipleship is something that will never be accepted by a large number of Anglicans throughout the world. Moreover, the evidence from North America regrettably forces me to conclude that for those who advocate the new morality, there is no turning back. At the same time, those who wish to maintain the received tradition of sexual morality cannot compromise within an organisational structure that allows a divergence from what they believe to be the teaching of Scripture.”
Today, Archbishops Don Tamihere and Philip Richardson of the Anglican Church of ANZP have published their response to Archbishop Glenn’s proposal. They say that their response has been “carefully prepared in a respectful consideration of [the] proposal – and has been unanimously agreed to by the General Synod Standing Committee of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia”, according to Anglican Taonga.
In their letter, they express gratitude to Archbishop Glenn for presenting his proposal, and for listening to various groups in New Zealand before presenting them. “We acknowledge the care with which you listened to those gathered”, they said. “We also recognise that your detailed proposal was pre-prepared. And that there was no opportunity, before you presented your proposal to our meeting, for you to adjust what you had pre-prepared in the light of what you heard.
“However, there was time to take account of what was shared with you before the public release of your proposal for our Church. There were no substantive changes made to your document in the light of our meeting. It’s our view that had we been understood, there would have been changes.”
In their response, the archbishops outline the history of the Anglican Church in the islands of New Zealand and Polynesia, and point out that it is a Church built on a history of “colonised and coloniser.”
They say: “With respect, Anglicans in this province have grappled – with limited success – with what ‘distinctive coexistence’ means for more than 200 years. We have grappled with what it means to live with people who God made differently to us. A people who don’t see things as we do, nor share our understandings or experiences or values. Sadly, a lack of compassion by the settler church led it to being complicit in the marginalising of God’s people in their own country. We have sinned in ignorance, we have sinned in weakness, we have sinned through our own deliberate fault.
“Only in the later portion of that 200 years, after decades of struggle, have we arrived at a constitution which enshrines respectful ways of being church together.”
The constitution of the Church in ANZP sets out three tikangas, or cultural streams, with Pākehā (European cultural) dioceses overlapping with Māori hui amorangi on the islands of Aotearoa / New Zealand and the Diocese of Polynesia serving the more distant islands. Each tikanga is led by an Archbishop who is a Primate of equal status with the others.
“As a Church we continue to be challenged by enormous internal and external inequities: we are a reflection of our society”, the two archbishops said. “To be Anglican in this land requires that we, led by our Lord Jesus Christ, face into this shared history so that we can help shape a common future for all people based on peace and justice and righteousness.
“We are committed to meeting the challenges of the Gospel imperatives, to working out the consequences of our shared history and to honour our relationships. . .
“Our General Synod resolution on the blessing of same-sex civil marriages cannot be divorced from this shared history – it was a cross-tikanga resolution, decades in the making. Indeed, had it not been for the extraordinary generosity and patience extended by Tikanga Māori (and Tikanga Polynesia) on this very matter, this province would be in a far less healthy state than it is today.”
They add: “We cannot recognise a Church as Anglican which does not encapsulate this 200 years of relationship and history.
“Fundamentally, with respect and gratitude, it seems to us that your proposal has used our context and our story for wider purposes and does not understand or respect our history nor the consequences and responsibilities of our foundational and ongoing relationships.”