Introduction and Definitions
The Task Group has helpfully set out the two major focal points of their endeavour, namely, (1) acknowledging "the centrality of the Scriptures" and (2) listening sensitively to what Uniting Church people are saying. The Interim Report will be judged by its readers on how successfully it has maintained these two foci. Some readers will, no doubt be more concerned about the integrity with which the Biblical witnesses are handled, while others will be looking to see whether their questions, their joys or their pain have been faithfully reflected.
What the Task Group has attempted is notoriously difficult. The question is whether in fact there are two legitimate foci or whether the second, arising from our experience of brokenness (and, realistically, we do have to reflect on that), can be and needs to be changed by the grace of God in Christ towards the centre-point of God's revealed purpose for human sexuality.
If we affirm "the centrality of the Scriptures", we have to allow them to be central. Otherwise, our Interim Report will be "eccentric" and the Church is in for a rather "rough ride"!
In earlier days, the Church (supported in fact by the contextual society) protected growing young men and women from sexual sin and perversion by custom (e.g. chaperones) and silence. The old protective customs have largely disappeared in our society. Further, society no longer gives tacit support to Christian faith and practice. Many in society have adopted a new freedom in sexual matters.
I am not at all convinced that what this new freedom offers is to be regarded as "life in all its fullness". Nor do I believe that we do well if we characterise the older strictness as "all bad". The new generation (and the older one) is much more likely to ask the question "why" today, and needs the assurance that the old "boundary-markers" are still in fact the true ones (even when the customs that sought to protect them are gone). The new generation of young people genuinely wants to be set free from the moral mess and uncertainty that societal pressures now lay upon it.
The Introduction foreshadows some of the emphases of the whole document. While hoping for "further creative dialogue in the Church", it is inferred that Jesus stands against the view that "discriminates against those who are not heterosexual" - though with a broader brief than the previous study, the homosexual question ends up being fairly key to the whole document. Not only is sexuality seen as "an integral part of the human person" (with which all would agree), but the term is given such wide dimensions as to become "part of our personal identity, our relationships with each other and with God". When the document later speaks of us as "sexual beings", the term almost embraces all that we are.
I disagree strongly with this basic view of sexuality and the human person and find myself at variance with the Definitions that are consequent on it. In common usage, rightly or wrongly, sexuality is understood more narrowly and relates to the whole range of activity that may (or may not) lead towards sexual intercourse. The average person is therefore confused, for example, by references which speak of celibate singles expressing themselves sexually (5.13). The problem of understanding stems from too broad a definition of sexuality. This is further confused by what is said about "erotic attraction" and "sexual orientation". What do we mean by talking about "what people find to be sexually arousing in a person"? Are we implying an excitement pointing or leading towards the thought or act of genital sex? What are we then implying about our definitions of "heterosexual", "bisexual" and "homosexual"? Somehow the definition of "sexuality" wants to be general and all-embracing, without specific reference to genital sex, but in fact the intrusion of the "erotic" changes all that. And if believed, this will become a factor in every conversation, every friendship, every relationship... On this basis, the Church has every reason to be worried about sexual abuse by ministers (whatever their orientation)! Eros in fact is seen to be an essential part of our passion to know God!
We certainly do not subscribe to the Catholic doctrine that "concupiscence" (sexual desire) is the essence of "original sin". The sexual dimension of our being was created "good". We do have to be aware, however, that the Fall has affected every part of our being - including our sexuality. Every orientation and activity by which sexuality has been twisted from its original purpose cannot be called "good". And that which continues to express the Creator's intention (heterosexually) is nevertheless still in need of redemptive grace.
Chapter 1: Changing Patterns in Society
1.1-2 At this point, the Interim Report speaks of "various changes that are perceived to have occurred..." There has certainly been rampant change in "the cultural norms and values of society", related to decline of faith and neglect of Biblical teaching. This has led to widespread social disillusionment and malaise.
1.3 It is assumed that "contemporary experience" forms a normative base for understanding and interpreting Scripture. It cannot, therefore, be said that such changes "genuinely arise out of the faith community and are not simply a result of secular pressures."
1.4 The "confusion and anxiety" arise directly where clear Biblical norms are rejected.
1.5 The impact of the media and the way in which people, particularly young people, acquire their values - this is a significant point.
1.6 Strongly among the pressures on youth is the demand for "instant gratification".
1.7 The need for adequate understanding of how we are made and of sexual matters and the fulfilment of our maleness/femaleness within marriage needs to be acknowledged. This is far more than "preparation for sexual relationships".
1.8 The fact of abusive and/or dysfunctional models of the marriage relationship is added to the sexual brokenness that all experience in differing degrees.
1.9 One would hope that, where the church has given information on sexual matters, that information has always included "reflection on the ethical side of relationships". Is this, however, to be read in the light of the later discussion of relationships? Schools certainly and many families probably feel themselves unable or unwilling to give such reflection.
1.10 Granted that there has been too little discussion about "sexuality and human relationships" in church programmes, one would hope that most, if not all, ministers in marriage preparation specifically discuss "love and respect... in the context of discussion about sexual activity" (I certainly do). I am not sure why "masturbation, eroticism, sexual response, infertility, homosexuality and menstruation" are seen to be so essential to the agenda, but, with sensitivity to the circumstances, most, if not all, of these subjects are regularly covered in my marriage preparation. The church needs to consider whether there need to be other types of family life programmes targeting other groups, including young people. Discussion and information needs to be appropriate to the group concerned. There needs to be a recognition, however, that some issues are properly private and/or intimate.
1.11 Changing roles of men and women in society as well as in marriage and the expectations to which this situation has led have been major factors in the increase of marriage breakdown. A decline of faith within the community must also be acknowledged, as noted above.
1.12 Agreed. This ought always to be part of marriage preparation.
1.13 Pre-marital and de facto relationships undoubtedly contribute strongly to marriage breakdown - statistics confirm this. Our loving care as a church, however, must reach out to all people, including the children of such relationships. In marriage counselling, I endeavour to alert people to the negative impact flowing from their relationship, to help them understand the difference between their relationship and marriage, and to point them towards healing in Christ.
1.14 There are some de facto relationships which express a deep practical life-long commitment. Such couples should be encouraged to publicly affirm their intention to live together for life in the covenant of marriage. Such de facto relationships should not be declared "covenant relationships" since no commitment has been made publicly before God or the state. In such relationships one partner usually wants the relationship to be permanent (i.e. wants marriage), while the other wants to retain the possibility of withdrawing. It is therefore dishonest and damaging to both parties. Further, the statistics have indicated that the level of domestic violence is considerably higher in de facto relationships (note further on 5.54).
1.15 How widespread was this struggle to re-define marriage?
1.16 This increase in sexual activity outside of and before marriage is quite real.
1.17 The need to take account of the changing roles of women in the family, in society and in the church is quite real, though it should not cause us to re-define just what marriage is.
1.18 Society has to make laws which protect the whole basis and fabric of society itself. Recently there has been debate on stricter gun laws - the issue is the well-being of society. Homosexual activity is not just a private matter between consenting individuals. It represents a radical departure from and attack on the nature of people, families and society itself. Society needs to make more adequate provisions for the counselling of such people with a view to helping them to sexual normality and to preventing the recruitment of others into this life-style. Society should not in any way approve homosexual relationships themselves, yet such "couples" should have the same access to financial and legal services as any other two persons may have jointly. Society should be discouraged from any changes to law which might have the effect of downgrading and devaluing the status and role of marriage as traditionally understood. Homosexual people (male and female) should be welcomed by the church on the same basis as the rest of us, i.e. repentance from sinful acts, faith in Christ's redemptive work and openness throughout life towards God's revealed ideal for human life. Progress towards leadership roles in the life of the church will be as dependent on progress towards permanent changes of attitude and orientation as ought to be the case for any other person.
1.19 What does the church say about the grace of God for both perpetrators and survivor/victims of abuse?
1.20 It is agreed that the church has a responsibility to care for women who have had abortions and their families. It may be questioned whether the issue of "power and control over women" is one of the basic issues in the discussion. To some extent, the increase in the demand for abortion has arisen from increased sexual promiscuity, together with the breakdown of marriage and family life.
1.21 Noted.
1.22 The reference to older people enjoying sexual expression - and to issues of sexuality for people with disabilities - should not be interpreted to infer that all people need to have sex.
1.23 The church should be promoting celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage, rather than be involved in community education programmes which promote "safe sex" outside traditional ethical parameters.
1.24 The church must continue to be open to the deep personal needs of HIV/AIDS sufferers.
1.25 It is agreed that prostitution and pornography "represent the misuse of sexuality and the separation of sexuality from truth in relationships". It is important that they also represent a departure God's revealed ideal for human relationships. They therefore involve sin - as do other departures from God's revealed ideal.
Chapter 2: The Bible in our Understanding of Sexuality and Sexual Relationships
2.1 This is basically a good statement. The first sentence, however, raises an important question of terminology which increases my concerns as the document proceeds. The human race has been created male and female. In the understanding promoted in this document, it is a distortion to call us "sexual beings". Our gender is an important dimension of who we are, but it does not define our identity. Each of us has a capacity for sexual response and activity, but we are not defined by our sexual response and activity.
2.2 The statement from the Basis of Union about Scripture is very strong. It says, not simply that the Church "hears the Word of God" in the Scriptures, but that by the Scriptures "its faith and obedience are nourished and regulated." In the light of 2.1 and 2.2 we should expect the Church to be ready to follow the clear teaching of Scripture.
2.3 The Scripture is further described as "the primary and indispensable resource for theological and ethical reflection". This is helpful as far as it goes. Scripture itself is also to be seen as divine revelation, not simply as the means by which we meet the living Christ. If this is the basis, it possible to agree with the principle of interpretation which is given in the last sentence.
2.4 The Basis par.11 speaks of "faithful and scholarly interpreters of Scripture" and "those who have reflected deeply upon, and acted trustingly in obedience to, his living Word." The reference to the need for faithful interpretation "arising from the complexities of the biblical witness itself and the distance in time and cultural assumptions between the biblical world and our own" appears to be an assumption added by the Task Group. It is an unwarranted and unhelpful addition. In the light of the later content of this document, it is not truthful to say that all members "hold in common a view of the centrality of Scripture in ethical decision-making."
2.5 This raises the question of how the Bible is to be understood and its authority applied. It is devious to suggest that there are the same kinds of legitimate differences of interpretation on this issue as there have been on the issues of ordination of women, bishops, baptism and church/state relations. This is a pure "red herring".
2.6 Objection should be taken to describing Jesus Christ, the Word of God, as "the central interpretative framework". Jesus was and is a person. He is Lord and calls us to obedience. Gwen Ince is driving a distinction that the Basis does not when she says that "The church recognises as authoritative only the Word of God [Jesus Christ], not the words of the Bible." The Basis in para. 5 says that "When the Church preaches Jesus Christ, her message is controlled by the Biblical witnesses." The term "Word of God" is inclusive of all God's self-disclosure which climaxed in the coming of Jesus as the Word. The saving Word is to be heard and known through Scripture. The words of the Bible are authoritative for us as Christians. The acceptance of Gwen Ince's hermeneutics is damaging to the whole document.
2.7 The key question is the extent to which the Scriptures themselves represent the revelation of the mind and purposes of God - the extent to which, as previous generations of Christians have affirmed, they are the Word of God. The practical question is whether we really wish to understand the mind of God - faithfully interpreted in our particular set of circumstances - or whether we seek to be "affirmed" in our departure from previously accepted ethical mores. Is our new "faithful interpretation" in harmony, or at variance, with "what is there"? The statement that "To read the Bible only for its literal sense can petrify its message in time and limit its capacity to speak afresh to each new age" totally bypasses the question of whether there are principles enunciated which are valid for all time. Such principles are not "petrified", but life-giving - and need to be both affirmed and interpreted afresh to each new age. To ignore such principles is life-denying, since we become separated from God himself who is the source of life.
2.8 In the Sermon on the mount we see Jesus taking the Law and interpreting it in a stricter manner - emphasising thoughts and motives as well as actions. The dispute over the sabbath laws are not a good example since centuries of rabbinical tradition had turned the sabbath law from being a blessing into a burden.
2.9 The suggestion that the Scriptures were written in "predominantly patriarchal structures" is another "red herring". The statement, "The Uniting Church believes that the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges assumptions and practices which produce or reinforce oppression, dehumanisation and lack of equality," is deliberately broad and dangerously open. We note the compassion of Jesus towards the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8) and hear him also saying to her, "Go and sin no more." The gospel of Jesus Christ is not "liberationist" in the modern sense. Rather, it calls all people to repentance and offers to all the possibility of redemption and forgiveness.
2.10 It is totally inadequate to argue from the perspective of "the historical distance between our times and biblical times" that "we cannot simply translate the writers' conclusions about sexuality into our own." It is hardly true to say that polygamy is protected by Mosaic law. The wives of polygamous relationships were protected, which is a different matter. It is helpful to note John Thompson's comments: "Marriage has two purposes: to provide companionship for the couple who complement each other, and to guarantee a secure environment for raising children. These purposes were spelled out in the book of Genesis, and they assume that each person will have only one partner. Polygamy soon emerged in Israelite society, however, beginning in the reprobate line of Cain's descendants when Lamech took two wives. Abraham had mistresses (or concubines) and secondary wives such as Hagar. Ancient inscriptions, notably Hammurabi's Code, indicate that the practice was widespread at the time. Bigamy is recognised as legal in the book of Deuteronomy, which sets down strict rules to prevent family feuds over property between children of rival mothers. However, it seems likely to have been more common among kings than ordinary people; the Wisdom books never mention it and the Prophets present a picture of a monogamous society... In the New Testament, Jesus looks back to God's original intention for strict monogamy, but does allow unfaithfulness as a reason for divorce..." (Handbook of Life in Bible Times, IVP, 1986, p.86).
It represents a huge jump to take the references to polygamy, purity laws regarding sexual behaviour, persons with deformed sexual organs... and then to move on the proscription against homosexual intercourse. We are told, "There is no doubt that the references to homosexuality are strongly disapproving." There is no indication that this is not just an isolated text in Deuteronomy, but a consistent understanding that carries over into the New Testament Church as well.
It is the height of arrogant presumption that we are in a superior position to the Biblical writers with our "different understandings or and extended information on sexual orientation." They didn't know that a change from homosexual orientation was both impossible and undesirable and in their ignorance witnessed that kind of transformation and celebrated it (1 Cor.6.9-11)! The witness of the Biblical writers is as relevant and true today as it ever was.
2.11 While it is true that "Scripture does not necessarily have direct answers to the questions we bring" and that "God requires that we use our own 'spiritual discernment and imagination in the search for its meaning'," it is imperative that we take careful note where Scripture gives a strong and consistent witness. There are passages of Scripture that are genuinely open to a variety of valid interpretations, but there are others - such as the references to homosexual acts - that do in fact come to us as having "one, fixed, precise meaning." Any other approach to these passages is lacking in both honesty and integrity.
2.12 There seems to be a tacit assumption that change is needed in our understanding of the Scriptures, rather than that change may be needed in what we regard as acceptable behaviour for Christians.
2.13 There is indeed diversity within the Scriptures themselves, yet in dealing with the issue of homosexuality there is unanimity! "There is, in fact, a "Biblical view of marriage" in spite of the various "forms of marriage" recorded in the Bible. (See my comments on 5.42 and following).
2.14 This is an unduly harsh interpretation of Paul. James Nelson's assertions of "sexist" and "spiritualistic dualism" can be strongly contested as being quite untrue (see my later comments).
2.15 The Report contrasts 1 Tim.2 with Gal.3. The issue in the letter to Timothy has to do with church order and certainly related to a particular situation of his time.
2.16 This comes to the point of the matter. It is very unhelpfully expressed, however. To this point in the document, there has already been a willingness to distort the text to make it say what we want it to say. The report constantly falls prey to the tyranny of trying to say what will please current social opinion - this is a tyranny of which the task group seems unaware and to which it is therefore highly vulnerable. The tyranny which they name appears to be an allusion to a willingness to apply the Scriptures more literally to sexual issues. To call this "tyranny" begs the whole question of interpretation and authority. Where God has made his will quite clear on a given issue such as sexuality, "our responsibility for living in faithful response to the gospel in our time and place" requires us to live in obedience to that revealed will. To do otherwise is to distort the gospel itself. Specifically, the gospel requires that we understand the nature of sin. Throughout the history of the human race there has been a tendency to re-define sin to our own convenience and the discomfit of others. In Christ, divine grace is offered to sinners. Our part is not to re-define sin, but to confess it, in order that we may be recipients of the grace of forgiveness and the transforming power of God's Spirit. This acknowledgment is not tyranny but release and freedom.
2.17 This is an important statement. Having re-defined our understanding of "the Word of God", what does it really mean? Having down-graded the authority of the words of Scripture, we are in very grave danger of "distortions produced by our own subjectivity". It is all too easy to claim the authority of the Holy Spirit for what is really the waywardness of our fallen human spirit. To "stand under" the Word of God, we need to be vulnerable to the action of the Holy Spirit in applying to our lives and situations the written word of Scripture.
2.18 There is certainly an element of subjectivity in Scripture reading. Some of this is a necessary and good part of our relationship to the living Lord Jesus Christ. It is hardly true to say that "the living words become the living Word, Jesus Christ, in our lives." But a mature reading of the Bible needs to recognise that there is the objective truth of divine revelation here - not just an immediate "word for me", but a "word for all time". There are a number of examples in this chapter where Scripture has been quoted with a particular "axe to grind" and where there seems to have been a failure and/or unwillingness to "stand under" the written word of Scripture. In 2.10 there is a very clear acknowledgment that "there is no doubt that the references to homosexuality are strongly disapproving." To have "consulted the entire canon of Scripture in its diversity" (as well as the Leviticus verse) would have confirmed the same conclusion. Yet the report (so presumably the "diverse and inclusive community" of the task group) goes on to try to find every possible reason why this conclusion should not be accepted. Clearly, the majority on the task group were unwilling to have their "values and assumptions" "challenged and illuminated by the Gospel" (as 2.17).
2.19 We have come right back to the question of Biblical authority - and to a statement that can only be taken as a clear indication that there is no intention to take the unambiguous statements of Scripture and the centuries of unanimous Christian scholarly opinion at face value. This has been a disappointing chapter which provides an unacceptably weak foundation for the whole report.
Chapter 3: God and the Person
3.1 This is an unacceptable paragraph and a flawed basis for the present chapter. Chris Budden's statement that "The affirmation of the biblical writers is not that people are trustworthy but that they are trusted by God, and God is always faithful" is a gross caricature of Biblical principle. A good deal of the Bible would not have been written if this had been true of Israel in the Old Testament or of the Church in the New. It is striking that the report quotes from Genesis 1 and proceeds as if there was no sin, no fracturing of the close relationship with God, no divine judgment on sin, no consequent damage to human personality and the creation... The knowledge of God and his will can only be on the basis of revelation and redemption. God has brought his revelation to us through particular people by the special operation of his Spirit. The gospel record indicates that Jesus himself did not trust people in an absolute sense because he knew what was in them (Jn 2.24). In the present discussion/debate, we need to acknowledge what God has entrusted to us. To neglect this sacred deposit is to step onto dangerous ground. It is to fail in "seeking to discern God's will for humankind".
3.2 This paragraph rightly attempts to ground "right relationships" within the relational nature of the triune God. I feel that some aspects of the paragraph are an inadequate reflection on the nature of the Trinity and seem to assume a three-god, rather than the Three-in-One and One-in-Three. This, of course, is part of the difficulty theologians have always had in expressing adequately what is meant by the three personae in one substantia. Surprisingly, there is no reference to God's nature of Love expressed within this "tri-unity". Certainly, in the incarnation we have the Son emptying himself of his divine prerogatives, becoming a human being, living a life of dependent obedience to the point of death on a cross... We note in the human life of the Son of God a commitment to say what the Father has given him to say and to do what the Father has given him to do. That God is Love and has created ("designed") us helps us realise why love is so important to us as human persons. The Love and unity as expressed within the Persons of the Three-in-One is the proper source and spring of true human love and desire for unity.
Human Sexuality.
The report wants to affirm "the God-given goodness of sexuality and relationship" and to ask "how does the way we accept and give expression to that sexuality show forth the good news about Jesus?" We want to agree that the possibility of the sexual relationship is part of God's creative design which he declared to be "good". We do not agree with the Catholic doctrine (nor the Victorian prudery) which tended to see sex as a necessary evil for the propagation of the human race. This does not mean, however, that all sexual relationships are good. The loving God has set boundaries. To transgress these boundaries is sin. To a greater or lesser extent all of us experience a measure of brokenness in this as in other aspects of our lives and relationships. As we repent and hear the word of divine forgiveness, we are to hear also the call to "go and sin no more".
3.3 There are elements of this paragraph that need to be affirmed, yet, overall, it is unsatisfactory. God is the Creator ("Designer") of our humanity - body, mind and spirit. In the incarnation, Jesus became "the second Adam" (1 Cor.15.42-49). He lived a fully human life - and yet was celibate. Our sexuality is not an essential part of our capacity to love and it is unhelpful to describe close human relationship as necessarily sexual in any sense. It is therefore unhelpful to describe human beings as essentially "sexual beings". That puts an undue emphasis on "sexuality" (and promotes the notion that sexual expression is necessary). It also gives a warped slant to the understanding of the incarnation - "Jesus, being fully human, was a sexual being who experienced the closeness of human relationship."
3.4 Our total personhood as body, mind and spirit is God's design. There is a hierarchy within our unity as persons. God has intended that our relationship with him at the spiritual level be central and determining of who we are as persons (cf. Jn 4.24). We need to grasp this priority within our personhood if we are to experience true integrity and wholeness as persons. The sexual act is intended to be much more than a physical union of two persons. But too many relationships today begin with the physical, and fail ever to achieve a deeper level with the union of mind and spirit. To talk of sexuality and spirituality, therefore, is highly misleading. It seems to imply priority of the sexual act from which a meeting with God may follow, rather than priority of our relationship with God and the work of his grace within us from which our sexual acts will derive wholeness, fulfilment and blessing.
3.5 I disagree with the way in which sexuality is given the key role in drawing us into relationships - as the "drive to unite ourselves with other people". We do celebrate sexual desire as a God-given drive and acknowledge that within marriage it does far more than "continue the species". But to say that "While our sexuality is part of all our relationships, the genital expression of our sexuality is a small, but important expression of our personality" almost implies that genital sexual activity is important for all persons. It belittles the celibacy which Jesus himself embraced and undercuts the Biblical principle that genital sexual activity be restricted to husbands and wives.
3.6 This is descriptive of sexual orientation with genital sexual activity as the probable end in view.
3.7 God has created us male and female. It is true that there are persons with genetic abnormalities leading to what may be called "mistaken identity". Such exceptions have nothing at all to do with the present issue. The way in which people come to identify and relate to their own gender and to the other gender is certainly complex. In spite of some misinformation still being published, there appears to be no sound evidence for genetic or hormonal origins of homosexuality or bisexuality. Available present evidence is that they are learned behaviours. In a male homosexual act, a man is seeking to have a male sexual orgasm with another male. In the strictest sense, he is not "a homosexual" but a man engaging in a homosexual act - perhaps habitually or by preference.
3.8 Again, it is unhelpful to use the word "sexual" in this broad sense.
3.9 The intimacy of close relationships is not necessarily "sexual" at all. The statement that "Intimate relationships are built on trust, on good communication and on the willingness to be vulnerable with each other" is reasonable enough - except when the discussion is on sexuality without defined parameters and boundaries. The Church has recently recognised the need to establish complaint and counselling procedures for cases of sexual abuse by clergy. To think of intimacy without reference to the Biblical understanding of right and wrong places people in situations where they may well feel strong erotic attraction leading toward genital sexuality with a person to whom they are not committed in marriage. (See my later comment on sexual abuse by ministers, 6.8.) There are degrees of intimacy, even within marriage. Because people have made a commitment to one another, there is in fact a regulation of intimacy and sexual activity within marriage - sex is not the means by which people seek to ensure the continuance of the relationship.
3.10 This is totally inadequate. Most sexual acts between consenting persons (i.e. excluding rape) involve some degree of intimacy. Many sexual acts lack commitment. God intends that life-long commitment (i.e. marriage) underpin the sexual act.
3.11 Again, as noted under 3.5, this seems to imply that genital sexual activity is important for all persons - not just those who are married.
3.12 It is hardly true to say that "masturbation is a natural sexual activity". On the contrary, masturbation is "an unnatural act of individual indulgence", as one writer has put it. There is no specific reference to it in Scripture. We do need, however, to take note of the warning of Jesus about lustful thoughts (Mt.5.27-30).
3.13 "Love is the central concept of Christianity as well as the most powerful of human impulses." This sentence links together agape and eros. In the English language the one word "love" serves to translate the two very different concepts from the Greek. This is therefore an unhelpful sentence, designed to introduce a distorted picture of "love". 3.14 In fact the word eros doesn't occur in the New Testament at all. In New Testament use agape-love is very different from eros.
3.15 The attempt to link erotic love (eros) with agape through the use of the latter in the Septuagint is unconvincing. The question is: what does the word mean in the New Testament? No New Testament example is given where it might mean erotic love.
3.16 Libido is in fact of Latin origin and roughly equivalent to eros. The four Greek and Latin words certainly point to the diversity within our English word "love". However, it is an abuse of linguistics so say, as James Nelson does, that "collectively they all point to the rich unity of love". In marriage preparation it is essential to assist couples to grasp this diversity, to see that the loves of ice cream, of favourite music or of a person are different qualities - not different aspects of the same quality.
3.17 We have a problem in the English language with only one word for "love". The Greeks (and Romans) didn't relate these words eros, libido and philia together because they were separate words. While they may well overlap from time to time, we do well to understand their distinctiveness, rather than try to combine them into a composite concept.
3.18 There can be no question that, in the New Testament, agape is a different kind of love. How it related to friendship, desire and passion is important. That it is different is significant. This paragraph does not stand up to close scrutiny.
3.19 We do not agree with the statement that "There is therefore a sexual and erotic dimension in our love for God". That there needs to be "passion and power" in our love of God none would dispute. But our love of God does not have a sexual dimension. It is an abuse of language to say so.
Christian Freedom and Responsibility
3.20 The key question not addressed here is whether the Creator has set boundaries to our freedom. It seems to be assumed either that he hasn't or that the question is irrelevant. We are to live "within the limits of community and relationship." Sin emerges "when we abuse the freedom and responsibility of being made in the image of God." When we abuse or neglect others, "we are in fact rejecting God." "Our sin is not the breaking of a law but the abuse of people." This is a flawed paragraph. There are boundaries set by God himself. To transgress those boundaries is sin. To call others who have transgressed those boundaries to repent of their sin and return to God is part of the prophetic task. To provide for the redemption of returning sinners is why Jesus came.
3.21 Yes, we have "possibilities and limits, desires and needs". Again, has the Creator himself set limits to acceptable behaviour irrespective of the new limits technology offers us?
3.22 Chris Budden's statement is quite inadequate. God has clearly disclosed some boundaries which are to be regarded as ethical absolutes.
3.23 This section flows from the previous one. It seeks to stress that the Hebrew commandments and laws "reflect God's liberating purpose at that time." Comment has already been made on the sabbath law in 2.8. Hygiene laws relating to menstruation are hardly relevant. We certainly do not call for the death penalty for adultery - nor for homosexual activity. Jesus reached out to all, calling sinners to repentance - and to go and sin no more. Paul's comment on women's dress in church is still usually heeded - not like Melbourne Cup day! No longer is a woman's uncovered head a sign that she is a prostitute. Regarding the cutting of a woman's hair, C.K. Barrett comments that "it does seem probable that horror of homosexualism is behind a good deal of Paul's argument in this paragraph." The parable of the unforgiving servant (Mt.18.21ff), says nothing about laws and regulations but is emphasising that all of us face God's judgment and need his mercy and grace and therefore must be merciful to others - a point he highlighted also in Mt.6.
3.24 This is basically a good statement, but it still avoids the question of whether there are absolute boundaries set by God for our human relationships. God is the standard and arbiter of right and wrong.
3.25 The argument takes a sudden turn to the community's treatment of the "marginalised". This term has the effect of blurring our vision to Biblical truth. We are certainly called to love and care for the poor, the sick, the widows, the orphans, the strangers... With more advanced diagnosis and treatment, even lepers can be part of society again. But once we use the broad term "marginalised", the question must be asked, "Why are these people marginalised?" With Jesus we see him reaching out in love to all people. Yet his dealing with tax-collectors and prostitutes was different from the way he related to the other categories just mentioned. There needed to be a change of attitude and a change of life - brought through their repentance and forgiveness. We do well to reflect on Mt.21.31. Does this verse mean that Jesus had a preference for the "marginalised" tax-collectors and prostitutes? Not at all! The tax-collectors and prostitutes were open to confess their sin and receive the divine grace of forgiveness, whereas the chief priests and elders weren't. The Kingdom of heaven is still open to all repentant sinners. But judgmental church members who refuse to repent - and homosexuals, adulterers and fornicators who refuse to repent - will likewise be excluded from the Kingdom. It is not just a matter of whether a person is marginalised or suffers discrimination. All persons are to be called to repent and to believe the gospel.
3.26 Physical violence against heterosexual or homosexual persons is inexcusable. It is important to question what is meant by psychological violence and what triggers it. If persons are insisting on church or community acceptance of a lifestyle which deviates from Biblical morality, they may well feel rejected or dehumanised. There is need, particularly within the church to understand, to love and to reach out "to seek and to save the lost".
3.27 Marriage itself and the family represent the base relationship on which society is built. It has a uniqueness not shared with other relationships. The Church needs to continue to affirm the firm foundations of marriage and family life. The principle that "marriage and family life need to be secure and loving" applies to non-sexual relationships as well. It needs, however, to be emphasised that de facto, homosexual, bisexual, adulterous and casual relationships have a destabilising effect on society.
Chapter 4: Living under Grace
Relation with God
4.1 This is a good statement.
4.2 The verse just quoted (Rom.5.8) states that the death of Christ for us is the powerful expression of God's love for all people. It is really stretching baptismal doctrine to replace the death of Christ with baptism - and therefore to say that "Christian identity is baptismal identity".
4.3 It is true that "right relations are loving relations", but so-called "loving" relations are not necessarily right relations, because we so often have self-serving agendas. God's "right relations" with the human race have included his corrections and judgments as well as his redemptive acts in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. God's faithfulness to the people of God has included severe judgments and punishment.
4.4 This is not really a helpful statement. See comments on 3.2.
4.5 The ideal is not just unity in relationship, but conformity to the will of God. There ought not to be misuse of power, abuse of trust, dishonesty and violence. But ill-feeling and acts of violence between people are not simply generated by the structures of society. This is part of the fallacy of liberation theology. The deep-seated problems of sin within individuals are basic and may well be focussed and intensified by particular structures of society.
Elements of Right Relations
4.6 In itself this is a fairly basic (though incomplete) list of elements to which broad agreement can be given. Regrettably, marriage is given only a small part in the list - in the last section on "Community Foundation". There should be strong reference to marriage under "Commitment". It is also desirable that consideration of the marriage commitment then be given under "Freedom." At this point one wonders whether marriage is really being recommended as the norm for relationships in which there is to be sexual activity. It is noteworthy that there are n o moral guidelines (in the traditional sense) which define "rightness". These elements are then wrongly applies as the measure of all kinds of relationships.
4.7 A range of different styles of sexual relationship seem to be regarded as "right", provided there is "a congruence between the nature of the sexual expression and the level of trust and intimacy of a relationship." This is highly objectionable in its present broad form in which the commitment of marriage is not in mind.
Forgiveness and Reconciliation
4.8 In principle the content of this section has much to commend it, except that it still hangs loose on the question of which relationships are implied. It would be appropriate to have a liturgical act for the healing of broken marriage relationships and of relationships between parents and children. Right and proper commitments that have been violated should be restored. As a Church we also have to stand alongside people hurting because improper or deviant relationships have broken down. With love and care we need to be able to counsel such people to forgive but to turn away from that lifestyle.
Abuse of Power
4.9 The Report is at this point making an unwarranted value judgment on responses the Task Group has received. Clearly many respondents have not experienced the role and/or abuse of power in relationships as a whole, though all would undoubtedly recognise that power is an issue in abusive relationships and would not condone such abuse of power. Deviant sexual (including all homosexual) relationships (even between consenting adults) should be included in this section.
4.10 Once again the report singles out "marriages" for special mention, though not suggesting that all marriages are abusive. Nevertheless, even at this point in the Report, one forms the very definite impression that the majority of members in the Task Group tend to be negative about marriage but positive about homosexual relationships. At a time when there is pressure in Australia to lower the age of consent, we as a Church need to be responsibly aware that the homosexual movement depends on recruitment. A recent major study in the U.K. (Stephen Green, The Sexual Dead-End, Broadview Books, 1992) quotes extensively from homosexual literature in that country which strongly emphasises that homosexual orientation is by choice, not by genetic predisposition. So that there can be effective recruitment, the Gay and Lesbian Lobby group, together with the Paedophile Information Exchange, are pressuring politicians in that country to lower the age of consent to ten. I strongly agree with the last sentence.
4.11 I strongly agree that sexual abuse by ministers in the pastoral relationship is a very serious offence. (Note my further comment on 6.8.) It is, therefore, imperative that the Church recognise that persons committed to the rightness of genital sexual acts by homosexual and bisexual persons cannot ever be entrusted to leadership within the Church.
4.12 "Right relationships are the essential ingredient on which community is built". We see here the inherent weakness of the use of the elements of "right relationships" (as described in 4.6) as the yard-stick by which community may be measured. They are certainly one essential ingredient on which community is built. Across the centuries right relationships have been regulated by accepted moral principles. The Christian conviction is that there are such moral principles and that they have objective force - i.e. they are true for all persons and communities whether Christian or not and are not simply a matter of convenience or common agreement. Once again the key role of marriage and family is (deliberately?) side-stepped.
4.13 Agreed, though again is it implied that "space for creativity" means that there are no moral absolutes? The community has a responsibility for teaching and encouraging moral absolutes. This is in fact for the health of the community and the individuals that comprise it.
Chapter 5. Living in Right Relationships
5.1 It may be better to speak of "gender identity" rather than "sexual awareness" at this point when talking about very young children.
5.2 It is unfortunately true that an earlier generation had trouble talking to their children about sex. I have been preparing people for marriage over the past thirty-two years. My observation is that, for more than half of that time, couples have come to marriage with a sound basic physiological understanding of sex and reproduction. There is now little hesitation in talking about what used to be called "the facts of life". The major question for today's generation is the communication of boundaries and values is relation to sex. This has been made more difficult for today's parents because of a widely-publicised break-down of moral standards in the community as a whole. There is a great deal of well-written helpful material which parents can use to this end. However, parents are commenting that the present Interim Report is having a confusing and negative effect and is notably unhelpful in enabling their children to "grow up with a positive attitude toward" the sexual dimension of their life. It is not simply that the Interim Report has questioned traditional values, but that it has left families with no adequate values.
5.3 This paragraph expresses some of these concerns.
5.4 The Church is to provide "a safe, accepting and honest environment" for our children. That, of course, is not the answer to the parents' query. The family will in fact be the primary environment where these healthy attitudes can develop. However, just what is meant by "safe, accepting and honest"? We teach leaders of children's and youth groups to be as "shock-proof" as possible. We teach children and young people that there is no personal issue, relational problem or activity which they are not free to raise, either in a group or in private counselling. We endeavour to indicate that they are always accepted and loved as people, even when their behaviour is unacceptable - and that is a general principle applying to all behaviours. Yes, we always have a concern, not only for their physical safety, but also "their psychological and spiritual safety" - whatever that means. But we are not dealing with them honestly if we fail to convey that there are moral absolutes, that sin is part of our (fallen) humanness, that we have to be honest to God about sin, that he wants to forgive us and help us to live his way. In the context of this Interim Report I am not at all sure this is what is meant by "safe, accepting and honest".
5.5 Adolescence is certainly a time of radical change - "physical, emotional and sexual." It is the period when the understanding of the sexual dimension of their being as they progress towards maturity is very important. It is, however, also important that sex not become an obsession at this stage. My observation in a large high school where we had team teaching and small group discussion with large numbers of young people was that there might be in a total group of 120 students only one student (usually male) for whom "language, jokes, friendships, all seem[ed] to take on a pervasive sexual flavour" - and he was strongly disapproved by his peers. Typically, the background to such behaviour was not "a normal part of growing up" but a sign of unhealthy and/or abusive relationships. The important point is that there is for all of us, to a greater or lesser extent, a degree of brokenness and sinfulness which affects us in the sexual and other dimensions of our lives. This is over and above our progress to maturity. The greatest problem arises where the Church has failed to "carry out its baptismal responsibilities" (as 5.4) by allowing and encouraging children to know the grace of God in cleansing and transforming their lives. As an adolescent he/she then faces emotional, hormonal and physical changes without the divinely offered help - and also, if we are to follow the Interim Report, without knowledge of the divinely delineated boundaries.
5.6 The first sentence is misleading and raises objection from many other young people. Numerically there are many young people (including some as early as 11 and 12 years) who are sexually active. The percentage of the youth population who are sexually active is more difficult to determine and some researchers presume an abnormally high figure. The first sentence seems to give the impression that "the majority" of young people are sexually active. Indeed, it states specifically that "many young people as early as 11 and 12 years" are sexually active - which may be a distortion of the facts. The reality that the research has sought to expose is an indictment on the Church (as well as the community itself) in our failure to teach our children and youth the boundaries relating to sexual behaviour.
5.7 This paragraph certainly expresses the struggle and confusion experienced by many young people. As a Church we make it far more difficult for them to make "faithful and wise decisions" when we remove any sense of absolute boundaries to human choice and behaviour.
5.8 This paragraph is confused and unhelpful. On the one hand, "To confront [young people] with a set of rules and regulations avoids responsibility, and often has the effect of rejecting them as persons." On the other we are told that "Straight answers and correct information are essential to young people." Clearly the majority of the Task Group do not believe there are any moral boundaries to our behaviour choices - provided we keep in mind "elements of right relations", widely divergent behaviour choices may in fact be regarded as "right". The knowledge that there are absolute boundaries which designate right and wrong behaviour ought to be part of giving "straight answers and correct information". Refusal to give such information is irresponsible on our part and makes it more difficult for them to make mature well-informed choices.
5.9 The reality that quite a number of young people have experienced sexual and other abuse as children needs to be carefully, sensitively and skilfully addressed in our pastoral care and counselling. This is also a factor in our ministry to adults for whom there may still be issues arising from unresolved sexual and other abuse as children.
5.10 The Church in which I have been nurtured and continue to minister has certainly been actively involved in promoting the sexual dimension as "a normal healthy aspect of being human". The key question for young people is whether there are boundaries. "Self-esteem, safety and knowledge about their sexual identity" depend on understanding those boundaries - and on understanding that, within the gospel, there is, on the one hand, provision for forgiveness where we transgress the boundaries, and on the other, divine enabling to live by God's standards - which are natural since they are how we were designed to live. Young people need adults who are committed to walk with them through this growing phase and to continue to be there for them and to love them no matter what. The final sentence is good if it is taken within the context of teaching and encouraging God's standards.
5.11 This paragraph betrays young people who are facing a world of changing values and peer pressure. The "elements of right relationships" are inadequate if no boundaries are taught. The young person who feels the arousal of sexual passion is not helped by encouragement about "self-giving love, justice and responsibility". He/she is not capable of making the assessment about what it means to "express their sexuality in proportion to the maturity and depth of commitment of their relationship". (Indeed, those who make a life-commitment to one another in marriage will discover over many years a maturing and deepening of their relationship to one another. But we would find it ridiculous to suggest that therefore married couples should "express their sexuality" more in the later years of their married life than at the beginning. The way an older married couple express their sexuality will certainly change, mature and deepen over the years of their married life together.) The final sentence seems to be deliberately vague. "The deferral of sexual intercourse" seems to be a concession and the reference to "such as marriage" makes the latter optional. Again, young people need to know that there are boundaries. It is not sufficient, in the heat of hormones/emotions, to try to assess one's "maturity".
Single Adults
5.12 Agreed.
5.13 The term "express themselves sexually" is both unfortunate and misleading in the context of this report (here and elsewhere). People are male or female and that is part of their identity, affecting them in a whole series of ways. But the term in question distorts our view of who people are and how they behave. The choice to be celibate is "to be affirmed", but the document makes celibacy just a private choice which "many" would regard as "appropriate behaviour for all who are not married". The fact that the Bible (and the Church over twenty centuries) have so regarded it is not mentioned.
5.14 The sexual activity of single adults is considered to be acceptable, provided "the elements of right relations" are considered and "a personal ethic appropriate to the level of intimacy" is developed. This is unacceptable. The old Biblical word "fornication" expressed clearly the proscription against this kind of activity. Such is contrary to the divine purpose and is therefore sin. What is divinely proscribed cannot in any sense be a "right relation".
5.15 Once again, in the case of those widowed or divorced, "chastity is a response to be respected". There is no suggestion that chastity is to be taught and expected, while admitting the need for sensitive counselling of those who succumb to sexual temptation. The situation of the widowed should not be grouped with the divorced. The situation is quite different. Where a death is sudden and unexpected, there is the sudden cessation of sexual relations and the surviving partner is in a state of shock and not seeking sexual relations. Where there has been prolonged terminal illness, sexual relations have often ceased long before the point of death. Usually, in the case of divorce, sexual relations have ceased as part of the dysfunctionality of the marriage. Indeed, though no longer sought as part of divorce proceedings, sexual unfaithfulness is still a major cause of marriage breakdown. It could be suggested that this paragraph condones and encourages adultery. We do well to remember, not only that adultery is proscribed in the Ten Commandments, but that Jesus himself, when questioned on divorce, sided with the very strict view that was current in his time (Matthew 19.1-11). The Interim Report while claiming to accept the authority of "Jesus Christ, the Word of God", rather than "the words of the Bible" (2.6), gives no authority to the recorded words of Jesus either.
5.16 "The Task Group has... acknowledged the essential importance of intimate relationships and has referred to marriage as a means of satisfying this intimacy." Just what does the Task Group imply by this? In the broad and general sense, most would be willing to agree with this statement. However, in the context of a report on Sexuality a whole series of questions are raised. Having established the "essential importance of intimate relationships", it is a short step to legitimising all sorts of sexual activity - i.e., if something is essential, it must be fulfilled, not just because of urgent feelings of the individual, but because of the responsible compassion of the caring community. However, the Creator has not made sexual activity of "essential importance" for us, though the capacity for sexual intimacy is present with all of us and the divine purpose has been that this find expression within marriage. Put another way, we all need agape-love. We do not, however, in the same way "need" erotic love. Reports from a number of years ago suggested that in Sweden the universal "need" for sexual intimacy was propounded to the extent that call girls were sent into the country's prisons. I cannot verify the accuracy of that report, but as a Church we must distance ourselves from that kind of thinking.
5.17 Again the document is faulty in talking about "sexual needs" of older people. The sexual dimension of people's lives continues, though sexual attraction and desire may well change at different ages and stages of life. Recognition of this sexual dimension is important, but to call it "an essential aspect of their lives" (and therefore demanding fulfilment) goes beyond what many older people would want to affirm.
5.18 It is not clear what the Task Group means by this paragraph - whether in fact the Swedish situation mentioned under 5.16. Certainly, there are many cases where companionship develops which sometimes leads to a "very rich and satisfying" marriage. It is, however, misleading to interpret such friendship/companionship as having a sexual component outside marriage.
5.19 The same question needs to be asked with this paragraph. There seems to be the false assumption promoted by the Kinsey Institute that specific sexual activity is normal and necessary for every person at every stage of life. (For the Kinsey researchers this meant from babyhood and included experiments to bring a three-month-old boy and a twelve-month-old girl to "orgasm".) Such activity is not necessary to our human wholeness. The question usually raised about the marriage of disabled people has been when they have had a genetic condition that could be transmitted to their offspring. The same moral principles regarding sexual expression are true for people disabled, chronically ill or incapacitated.
People Living Together
5.20 It is true that "many couples live together either prior to or instead of marriage." The reasons for this are many and complex. In general terms, however, having counselled many such couples, I disagree strongly with the statement that "this trend is a reaction to the failure of traditional patterns of partner selection, courting, marriage and family." It is certainly part of the erosion of sexual mores in the community since the '60's. "Effective contraception" has certainly contributed to this "sexual revolution" as it has been called. Yes, there may be "some instances" where "this premarital living together has the status of betrothal." However, as a church we must be aware that this provides a poor foundation for long-term relationship (note my comments on domestic violence in de facto relationships in 5.54) and that statistically, apart from other considerations, the likelihood of marriage breakdown is considerably increased (doubled, I am told) where the couple has lived together beforehand. The expression that is often used is that "marriage spoils a good relationship." The reason I have perceived is the very fact that the sexual relationship has begun without any long-term commitment and is therefore not connected in thought, feeling and experience with such commitment. Often one partner (usually, but not always, the woman) wants a long-term commitment whereas the other does not, has reservations or wants to maintain a "way out." In some cases the woman has become pregnant in an effort to make the relationship permanent and to force the man to accept marriage. This means that the couple come to marriage in an uneven decision in which one partner has had a measure of reluctance and reserve in the decision to marry. The belief that you should "try before you buy" cannot apply to marriage and the results have long-term consequences. The principle from Genesis 2.24 which is quoted approvingly by Jesus and the New Testament writers is confirmed in practice (1 Cor.6.16 is particularly striking). The sexual act itself is seen to create a new and permanent entity and is therefore not to be undertaken casually, uncommittedly or promiscuously. I recall a phone call where the man at the other end asked, "Do you believe in trial marriages?" I replied, "No, I don't, but I believe in marriage. Do you wish to be married?" A minister of another denomination had refused to marry them because they had been "living together". Because they were willing to be frank and open, it was possible to help them move from the shaky beginning of their relationship to an understanding of what was involved in marriage. There are also, however, some couples who have lived together in a de facto relationship with a real and permanent commitment to one another. In my experience, they have not avoided but welcomed the opportunity to celebrate and publicly affirm that commitment in a service of marriage.
5.21 My comments on 5.20 have covered much that is in this paragraph also. Once again there is an attempt to assess "the quality of these relationships" without reference to whether they involve a life-long commitment. The statement that "Marriage is no guarantee of the presence [of the fruit of the Spirit], nor living together a sign of their absence" is partly true. The fruit of the Spirit is the result of the presence of the Holy Spirit. They represent criteria for assessing people (arising from their relationship with God) rather than their relationship to one another. Marriage represents, not so much an agreement to live together, but a commitment to work together. Marriages will, therefore, have their high and low points, but there is a commitment to work through to a resolution rather than walk out on a difficult patch in a relationship.
5.22 I agree entirely that the phrase "living in sin" should not be applied to persons in de facto relationships, though for quite different reasons from those in this paragraph. In the past, society has found a vicarious satisfaction in applying "sin" to others whose wrong actions has differed from society's acceptable norms - in this case to de facto marriage. From the Christian perspective, however, "sin" has to do with attitudes and behaviours which deviate from divine norms - and this leaves us all without excuse.
Engaging in Sexual Activity
5.23 The statement and question look good, but are very inadequate in the context of this document. John 14.15-31 makes a very close link between love and obedience. This document has rejected moral absolutes for sexual behaviour (except as those are embodied in "Elements of Right Relations"). The eight questions in 5.24 are intended to suggest issues to be considered in this "reflection". In fact there are moral absolutes and we cannot "reflect the love, faithfulness and grace of God" if we ignore them.
5.24 The parenthetical comment on the first question clearly suggests that these questions (apart from this first one) are directed exclusively towards decision-making for all the sexual relationships other than marriage. Although supposedly supplying a basis for reflecting "the love, faithfulness and grace of God" (5.23), there is no point at which we are pointed to specific Biblical principles which might guide the reader. The basic assumption is that, potentially, all sexual acts may be (in fact are) appropriate, provided the Elements of Right Relations are present. The questions are framed on that basis. Concerning sexual activity within marriage (as in the parenthesis), while the Biblical (and traditional Christian) view holds that (heterosexual) marriage is the only appropriate context for sexual relationships, this does not mean that such activity is a right to be demanded (the old term "conjugal rights" may have suggested this). Among the keys to sexual activity in marriage are mutual respect, restraint, understanding and glad response.
5.25 This paragraph expresses some welcome cautions to casual and youthful sexual activity. It is true that "[genital sex] is not something that is easily controlled once the process has begun." The difficulty is that, once specific sexual desire is aroused, it is too late to be asking these eight questions. And once a sexual relationship is established, desire is often more readily aroused. In reality, sexual restraint is more likely within marriage (though not necessarily automatic), since a commitment has been made and mutuality is more possible. The absence of sexual restraint within marriage will cause pain and problems.
Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People
5.26 The issue of homosexuality is not something that "threatens our traditional understanding" at all. The practice of homosexuality was not uncommon in the Roman Empire and was socially acceptable in some societies. It was seen by the early Church, however, as a sin for which repentance and change was expected - as Paul records in 1 Cor.6.9-11. Paul's reference to the malakoi and the arsenokoitai points quite specifically and unmistakably to what C.K. Barrett calls "the passive and active partners respectively in male homosexual relations" (A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, A & C Black, London, 1968, p. 140). There are no reasonable grounds for assuming that the practices engaged in were very different from today. It may be inferred from Rom.1.27 that their health was affected in a number of ways. (A local G.P. has described the dilemma he has in trying to keep his homosexual patients healthy while they keep engaging in acts that are inherently unhealthy). The fact, now as then, is that homosexuality is not a fixed orientation - there are many former homosexuals to testify today that change though difficult is possible, requiring long-term counselling and care. Practising homosexuals are not unified in talking about their life-style and those who long for change find that the vocal homosexual element (in society and Church) make it very difficult for them to be "open and honest". Parents of homosexuals likewise cannot speak with a unified voice. I have counselled two such couples in the past two months - in neither case do they support the outlook of this document.
5.27 In fact, 92.5% of respondents to the earlier study supported the traditional view of homosexuality - many with the strong conviction of willingness to minister to homosexuals in the belief that the gospel offers both forgiveness and change to all who have been involved in homosexual lifestyle. Though this figure was known and quoted at the time, it was not revealed in the Responses booklet and one of the conclusions of the Assembly Standing Committee was that there was need for more education on the issue in the life of the Church. The question of many at that time was, "Which group are they wanting to educate? Whose views are they trying to change?" For those whose views were not affirmed in the responses to Homosexuality and the Church (including those homosexuals who are not seeking grace for change) it has undoubtedly remained "an intensely painful issue." For those who continue to affirm the traditional view and who endeavour to view those caught up in the homosexual lifestyle in the light of Christian love and the Christian gospel, it is particularly painful that the Church appears not to have heard them, that they are subject to innuendo in the life of the Church - and even the suggestion at the end of the present document that they may be fighting against the new leading of the Spirit! The belief that homosexuals cannot change and should not be expected to change seems to underlie this paragraph. The late Rev. Les T. Vickery, M.A., L.Th., M.A.Ps.S., was President of the Queensland Methodist Conference in 1971. He studied psychology extensively and was for a number of years Chaplain to Wolston Park Special Hospital. He commented during his Presidential year that he had no doubt that homosexuality was not a fixed orientation, but that because of its nature there needed to be a willingness to change and an extended period of counselling and that he himself had helped a number of homosexuals to make that change. The situation today is that many homosexuals who desire to change are driven underground by the highly vocal "gay" lobby groups (in church as well as in society) and the ill-informed do-gooders who have accepted their propaganda and affirm them with "acceptance" but do not offer "salvation".
5.28-29 These two paragraphs about bisexuality are based very much on the flawed premises which underpin the whole document. That people at some time or another have felt or feel "sexually attracted to persons of either gender" is wrongly called a "potential" - inferring permanence of orientation. It would be helpful to readers to know the status of the two publications from the United Church of Canada - whether they represent an officially adopted position of that Church or are simply discussion and resource papers which lack official approval. I note that "their latest publications" are dated 1988 and 1995. One wonders whether Homosexuality and the Church (1985) and Interim Report on Sexuality (1996) are currently being quoted overseas as being the "latest publications" of the Uniting Church in Australia on sexuality as if they represent the official position of the Uniting Church in Australia! Anyone who has been involved in counselling sexually broken people is well aware of the complexity of factors which have led to abnormal "orientations".
5.30 We do well to ask why there should be "anger, pain and confusion which can arise when issues of homosexuality and bisexuality are discussed." There is no reasonable doubt that "the Bible sets out unequivocally its particular prohibition of homosexual activity". This is acknowledged in 5.37, though that paragraph does not probe the overwhelming strength of Biblical evidence in both Old and New Testaments, referring simply to "certain texts". Once again, those involved in counselling sexually broken people know that one of the biggest hurdles in helping people who experience homosexual and bisexual attraction is to help them understand that this is not their "very identity". Indeed, from the Biblical and Christian perspective, we need to grasp more firmly that our true identity is not even what may be called our "gender identity" - note Gal.3.28; Col.3.11. These passages do not minimise the importance of being "male and female", but they are emphasising that our true identity is who we are as new creatures in Christ. It is clear from the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt.5.27-30) that heterosexual lust is wrong (as well as the act of adultery). The faithful discipleship of male and female involves not just physical faithfulness in marriage but recognising before God the sinfulness of sexual thoughts and desires expressed outside the commitment of marriage - leading to a confession of sin and an openness to the grace of God in forgiveness and change. The faithful discipleship of males and females who have homosexual (or bisexual) thoughts and desires involves recognising that the loving purpose of our Creator is that sexual acts are only to be part of the marriage of male and female together with recognising before God of the sinfulness of sexual thoughts and desires towards persons of the same sex - leading to a confession of sin and an openness to the grace of God in forgiveness and change. It is not just a question of "fears for the integrity of the Church." Any Church that ceases to teach and practise this will cease to be Biblical and will cease to receive and minister the grace of God to all persons. It will in fact cease to be "Christian" in the truest sense of that word.
5.31 The issue of homosexuality and "the way we understand Scripture on this matter" is not about "very deep emotional fears". The view that Scripture throughout proscribes homosexual activity in no sense comes from a prejudiced reading of Scripture. The argument that tries to make Scripture support homosexual activity can only be described as totally groundless. The quote from Walter Wink's 1979 article, suggesting that for some homosexuality is "natural", flies in the face of scientific (as well as Biblical) realities. It is striking that one leading expert on homosexuality, Charles Socarides, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the USA, wrote in the "Journal of Psychiatry", "Homosexuality, the choice of a partner of the same sex for orgiastic satisfaction, is not innate. There is no connection between sexual instinct and the choice of sexual object. Such an object choice is learned, acquired behaviour: there is no inevitable genetically inborn propensity towards the choice of a partner of either the same or opposite sex" (quoted by Stephen Green, The Sexual Dead-End, 1992, p.154).
5.32 This sentence reveals the unnaturalness of the homosexual outlook. That persons are not personally attracted to marriage and heterosexual intercourse is one thing. However, to have a sense of "personal revulsion" at the only means by which the human race (including such a person) has been propagated reveals something seriously "unnatural" in these persons. The revulsion to which Wink alludes in 5.31 is quite different. Physiologically, the bodies of these people are not designed for their homosexual acts, quite apart from the clear statements of Biblical ethics.
5.33 It is true that there are a number of attitudes. What we should be seeking and teaching is the truly Biblical and Christian attitude. At this point it is not clear that this is the goal of the present document.
5.34 Category 1 should never be our attitude. However, militant homosexuals who do not believe they need the grace of God to be changed in orientation and lifestyle may well feel (and sometimes find) that the attitude of church people falls into this category. The church people are to blame for their wrong attitude, but the homosexuals have contributed very markedly to the attitude and are guilty before God for their refusal to come in humble penitent faith. In essence, our attitude should be Category 2, though it is described here in a biased way, possibly to encourage respondents to reject it. We have elders in our congregation with a homosexual son. He is not rejected as a person and is free to worship with his parents when visiting from inter-state. There are a whole range of unacceptable and sinful learned behaviours. (i) For any of these, rejection of the Church's ministry may lead to the person leaving the Church. I recall a particular instance where a person has been in and out of almost every denomination in our area - sometimes choosing to leave, often being asked to leave, usually with over a hundred condemnatory letters hand-delivered to the mail-boxes of ministers and members of the congregation. Nothing to do with sexuality in it - just finally an inability and refusal to receive ministry. (ii) Again the document wrongly assumes the "identity" question. There are, of course, matters that are rightly private and intimate (which, incidentally, is why the responses to the Year of Listening could not produce an accurate picture of the mind of Uniting Church people - the whole process of the Year of Listening was flawed from the start). There should, however, be an openness and counselling ability among those responsible in the life of the congregation, so that the homosexual can be encouraged to be open to confidential, caring and long-term counselling for change. (iii) Once again, note my comments on "identity" - and the comments at the end of the previous sub-section. Category 3 is quite unsatisfactory and exists only because of the misinformation being disseminated by militant homosexual lobby groups - in church and community. Overwhelmingly, there is no "given" homosexual orientation. However, the suggestion that there might just be a genetic connection persuades some that, as a matter of justice, "sexual expression" should also be acceptable. Certainly, the Bible does not speak directly about homosexual "orientation" though clearly condemning homosexual acts. While my own reading of recent literature on the subject has persuaded me that there is no genetic connection, I note that it has been suggested that there may be genetic reasons why some persons are predisposed to alcoholism. (It is, however, by behaviour that a person becomes an "alcoholic".) We have as a community accepted, however, that alcoholic behaviour is not healthy for the alcoholic (and his family) and not acceptable to society. Various groups within society work in a caring way to help reorient the alcoholic and to change his/her behaviour. Category 4 can have no place within a Church which professes to be Christian. None of us can be "whole persons" apart from the redemptive work of Christ. We note the dramatic words of Paul in 2 Cor.5.17 - (literally) "If any in Christ - new creation! See! the old has gone, the new has come!" The Christian life is based on what is already true "in Christ" and involves a positive progression towards the realisation of what is meant to be in our lives. In that sense, none of us will be "whole persons" this side of eternity. At any points where we refuse to acknowledge that we keep falling short of the divine ideal we place a blockage in the way of progressing towards becoming "whole persons". Specifically, "same sex relationships" are totally different from and cannot rightly be compared with (heterosexual) marriage.. It is quite erroneous to suggest that they "can reflect God's purpose in human relationships..." Such a belief represents a clear and deliberate rejection of what the Bible in both Testaments says about homosexual relationships. Therefore, to attribute it to God should be regarded as blasphemy. I realise that this statement is a serious one - I have made it with a heavy heart, convinced not only that this is the case, but that it forms part of the bewilderment of many of Uniting Church people at this time, though they, like me, would hesitate to put it in so many words. The "Elements of Right Relations" (4.6) cease to have relevance.
5.35 "Contemporary theological opinion" is very diverse to the extent that it is possible to find support somewhere for many contradictory ideas. As a Church, none of us should be seeking support from this or that theological opinion. According to the Basis of Union, the message of the Church is "controlled by the Scriptures" (para 5). This does not mean that there will necessarily uniformity in theological opinion in the Church. It is well recognised that the Scriptures are not set out in the form of systematic theology. Nevertheless, if our theology is "controlled by the Scriptures", it is important that the Uniting Church recognise that not all "contemporary theological opinion" is acceptable within the life of the Uniting Church.
5.36 This paragraph depends on the flawed reasoning of 2.6 and following. It assumes that Biblical ethical standards have no absolute or universal validity, that we must seek the Word for today, that law is irrelevant, that the only measuring-stick is love... Hence, "this is a question of justice, of love in action." This begs several questions and adds a nasty twist by inferring that any attitude refusing to endorse homosexual acts is unjust. If a medical doctor sees that I need radical surgery, what will his "love in action" lead him to do? If he cares about me as a patient, he will tell me the truth of my condition and urge me towards the action that will correct it, painful though it may be. The issue at stake is not the doctor's own feelings towards my condition, nor is it justice - even though these days, if he fails to tell me and to advise me, I might take him to court! There are two principal presumptions that the paragraph makes about homosexuality: (a) that the homosexual orientation is to be regarded as an unchangeable given, and (b) that homosexual behaviour is thereby validated. Even if (a) were provable (which it is not), (b) would not therefore follow. It is only with the acceptance of both (a) and (b) that the question of justice is raised. The reasoning is thus seriously flawed.
5.37 It is not adequate to say that "certain texts of the Bible clearly say that homosexual behaviour is a sin". This gives the impression that the proscription against homosexual acts is only found in a few isolated texts. The range of passages concerned is not indicated and there is no consideration of the relation of this proscription to the understanding of maleness and femaleness in the light of creation. In fact, the document goes on to raise questions (adduce reasons?) about whether these passages have any relevance to our own consideration of the issue of homosexual acts. If we are serious about being a Church whose teaching is "controlled by the Scriptures", our listening to the Scriptures has to take precedence over our listening to "what many today understand is the nature of homosexuality". The "many" turns out to be a small vocal minority of opinion. Nevertheless, as a Christian Church, our approach on such an issue can never be to hold an opinion poll of our membership or of society but to reflect deeply on the Biblical record and to be willing to reflect critically on the prevailing opinions in our society. The question about slavery and the submission of women is in no sense a parallel to the issue of homosexuality. We are familiar with Galatians 3.28 - "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (NIV). A number of writers have noted that Hebrew slavery differed from that in other lands in that, while there were different social roles, slave and master were regarded as equal before God. This is reflected in a number of the old laws. Today we rightly reflect on slavery in the light of Christ and New Testament teaching. In fact, by New Testament times, the humane provisions of the Old Testament had been replaced by harsh, repressive conditions and women in particular were exploited callously. While neither Jesus nor Paul made any pronouncements about the morality of slavery, there is a great deal on the implications of right relationships in the light of the gospel. The letter to Philemon indicates clearly that Onesimus is to be welcomed as a brother in Christ. The New Testament goes further in calling on all Christians to be submissive to one another. For instance, whoever wants to be great among you must be your slave (Matt.20.27). In this we are called to follow the example of Jesus - he humbled himself and took the form of a slave (Phil.2.7). And yes, as a Christian Church, we do have to take seriously the call to "mutual submission". We have been in great error in talking about the "submission of women" - but also in our lop-sided condemnation of the apostle Paul - whereas in fact we are all called to "mutual submission" (Eph.5.21). We live in a social context that doesn't believe in "submission" of any kind - especially not submission to God. Even as a Church we have recently tended to reflect this context instead of allowing our teaching to be "controlled by the Scriptures". This paragraph calls us to a very careless handling of Scripture. The final question makes no real sense since love does not mean approval. Rom.5.8, for instance, talks of God's love for us "while we were still sinners". But God's love was redemptive love, seeking forgiveness and reconciliation - "Christ died for us".
5.38 This paragraph begs the question. It is quite reasonable to want to look at the specific texts "in the context of their own time and in the framework of all Scripture." The real (and unanswered) question is whether in Scripture (anywhere) we have God revealing himself in his nature and in his expectations for the human race in a universal sense. The phrase "in the context of their own time" seems to be intended in a very limiting way. Rather than probing the immediate context in order to understand better the divine Word for our day, it is suggested in effect that the context be probed in order to avoid any authoritative Word for today. These presuppositions make the final three questions quite pointless. They can only be answered in terms of one's presuppositions. If we are a Church whose teaching is "controlled by the Scriptures", we will conclude from the relevant texts that sin (including all kinds of sexual sin) is an offence to the Triune God, meriting judgment, that Jesus Christ, God the Son, came into human history for the purpose of opening the possibility of life for sinners and that the God of Love calls sinners to repentance and faith so that they will be recipients of his grace in forgiveness and will experience a change of their life towards the original divine creative purpose.
5.39 This paragraph reveals how inadequate the "Elements of Right Relations" really are. When considering 4.6, I was willing to call them "a fairly basic (though incomplete) list of elements to which broad agreement can be given". But now they are being used as a yardstick by which to legitimise homosexual relationships per se and then as the "ethical standards" by which the nature of all kinds of relationships (heterosexual and homosexual) may be judged. The stated "Elements of Right Relations" are useful but limited. In no sense should they be elevated above explicit Biblical principles or used to denigrate the latter.
5.40 The term "full membership" is not a usual one in the Regulations of the Uniting Church. Assuming that "confirmed membership" is intended, we note that Reg. 1.1.9 requires that acceptable orders for confirmation provide that the candidates declare: "acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, determination to follow him in daily life, intention to participate actively in the fellowship of the Church and to support its work, and resolution to seek the extension of the reign of God in human society." That is the standard for acceptance of any person desiring confirmed membership of the Church. The same criteria are to be applied to persons who have engaged in a homosexual lifestyle as are applied to any other person. This, of course, has nothing at all to do with the question of "equal human rights" in society and it is quite erroneous to make such a link. In terms of membership, it should be asked whether there is an additional inference in the term "homosexual people" here - again promoting the concept of acceptable homosexual "orientation" and lifestyle. With all who seek confirmed membership there needs to be clear evidence of repentance, faith and a strong desire and commitment for personal change. This ought always to be seen as an integral part of acknowledging Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord and determining to follow him in daily life. A homosexual who wants his/her behaviour to be accepted as "normal" and who refuses grace and counsel towards change should not be accepted as a confirmed member, any more than an unrepentant wife-beater, gossip or person with a violent temper. Our areas of self-justification shut us out from the possibility of divine justification - and transformation.
5.41 This paragraph is very biased and totally unacceptable. Let it be said clearly that for the vast majority of our membership the blessing and celebration of homosexual relationships is quite anathema. It is quite erroneous to suggest simply that it is "a leap... which they find hard to make". In February 1992 I responded to a request from the General Secretary in late 1991 to reflect on "the theological, biblical and pastoral aspects involved in the Church recognising a relationship between two persons of the same sex making a commitment to each other in love and fidelity." I have done a considerable amount of further reading and reflection since that time. This has clarified my understanding of the origins and nature of the homosexual orientation. As a result I continue to affirm strongly the conclusions I made at the end of that response:
Such recognition is contrary to the clear mind of the Lord as expressed in the Biblical witnesses. We cannot approve such a service under our Basis of Union and such approval would make us cease to be a Christian Church in the truest sense. We cannot bless a relationship which God so clearly does not bless...
Such recognition, far from "celebrating God's grace in Jesus Christ transforming the lives of two women and recognising their commitment to each other in love" (as some members of Assembly Standing Committee thought), represents a denial of the grace of God in Jesus Christ to make such people whole.
Such recognition represents a withdrawal of the commitment to declare the redeeming grace of God in Christ to all sinners, to call all sinners to repentance and faith and to seek, through the enabling of the Holy Spirit, to bring all believers to wholeness of life in Christ.
Such recognition might otherwise make it more difficult for members to accept homosexuals as our brothers and sisters in Christ since they are declared free to practise that sin which is consequent on their brokenness, whereas the rest of us are called to holiness of life...
At that time the Assembly Standing Committee expressed concern that the service conducted between two lesbians in Sydney by a Minister of the Word was too much like the marriage order. There is only one acceptable conclusion to any "further discussion" - such relationships are not to be "recognised and affirmed". That conclusion should be abundantly clear from both the Word of God and the people of God at this time.
5.42 The consideration of marriage begins with this very negative paragraph which views marriage in Biblical times in terms of male domination of women. This extreme feminist view does not fit the facts. It is not true that "in biblical times marriage was seen as a legal covenant in which the man controlled his property, which included his wife." Further, the wording "marriage was seen as..." infers that this was the Biblical view of marriage, even though it is denied later that there is such a "view". That there were those who regarded marriage in that way is certainly true. That this was the case in a number of the countries surrounding Israel is also true. We recognise a progression and clarification in the way in which marriage is understood and taught in the Bible. It is striking that the earliest reference (Gen.2.24) represents a very high view of marriage. These words are quoted approvingly by Jesus (Mt.19.5 = Mk.10.7) and by Paul (1 Cor.6.16; Eph. 5.31). Consideration of the Genesis passage (in context) is essential for an understanding of the Biblical view of marriage. It is relevant here to quote again from my 1992 response to the General Secretary: "Our understanding of gender identity and of marriage itself begins with the Creation narratives. We are told, 'God created human beings, making them to be like himself. He created them male and female...' [We need to] note the complementary distinctiveness of male and female, so that male and female together express this imago Dei. Genesis 2 speaks of the loneliness of the Man [The term 'Man' does not imply gender distinction at this point]. The graphic picture of the creation of Woman from a rib has tended to raise a condescending smile. We have failed to grasp that the Man is now incomplete without the Woman and she is incomplete without the Man. 'That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united with his wife, and they become one.' The union referred to here is more than physical {sexual), even though physical union has the potential to produce independent beings who partake genetically of both mother and father. There is also a blending of minds, wills and spirits. It is a reaching for a completeness which is only possible to male and female together. The cure of Man's loneliness is not to be found in a 'suitable companion' but in the creation from Man of man and woman... It is this conviction about human differentiation and conjunction that underlies Biblical teaching about sexual relationships. The Levitical code proscribes a number of sexual practices that were evidently acceptable in Egyptian society from which the Israelites had come or in the land of Canaan to which they were going - but were not permitted among the Lord's people." The Old Testament shows considerable concern at a number of points that property not be aggregated by the wealthy, but that was not the only reason for having descendants. There was no equivalent of our modern "surname".
5.43 This quotation from Don Edgar is historically misleading and biblically irrelevant to the Church's discussion of sexuality. It is true that "Marriage has not always been understood in the way we view it today" - if we are referring to the legal requirements that the community expects of marriage celebrations. The institution of marriage (as distinct from laws, customs and rituals) is very old and there are common elements which societies with variant beliefs and customs would consider to constitute a true marriage.
5.44 Whatever the situation with inheritance laws, there was a strong emphasis on commitment and faithfulness. Marriage had to do primarily with "right relationship" rather than with property and inheritance (as in 5.42 and here).
5.45 The institution of marriage is constituted neither by religious rites nor by societal statutes. It is appropriate that there be recognition of God as part of committing parties to one another in marriage and that societies enact laws which protect the parties and their children. The wedding ceremony "with full participation by the priest" may be only four centuries old (relatively modern?). Other sources suggest that it may be much older than that. Paul Bohannan, for instance, writes, "Among the Romans and other ancient Western peoples, marriage was not a legal matter; it was established and carried out by contract between families. The Christian idea of an officially sanctioned marriage derived ultimately from an ancient Judaic notion that sex should be confined to marriage. To define and also to enforce sanctions against the sin of adultery, the church had first to determine that the accused married person was in fact married. The response was to ritualise marriage by converting it into a sacrament. Not until the Middle Ages, when much church usage was codified as canon law, did marriage become associated with legal codes in the Western world. During the Reformation, Martin Luther negated the papal notions about marriage as a sacrament but upheld its institutional connection with the law. In his view marriage was something that the secular government should control" (article "Marriage", Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, 1995). Certainly, whatever the social, ritual or legal practices, marriage has been celebrated with an expectation of permanence and stability.
5.46 I would affirm that the Church should never be "a marriage agent for the state." Over the past thirty-two years every ceremony I have conducted has been "in the Christian context". Whatever the faith stance of the couple, I talk to them quite frankly on the basis that I am there to conduct a Christian marriage and I have no hesitation in counselling them accordingly. At the present time the state recognises that what we do is "true marriage" (as far as the state's legal requirements are concerned). We therefore take legal responsibility in receiving a Notice of Intended Marriage and preparing Marriage Certificates. I do not regard this as being "a marriage agent for the state". This is preferable to the situation in some countries where the state marries and the church blesses the marriage.
5.47 It is striking that up to this point, the document has been willing to ignore what the Christian Church throughout history has said about fornication, de facto relationships, homosexual and bisexual behaviour - to the point of suggesting that these relationships should recognised, affirmed, celebrated - whereas it is now endeavouring to build up an argument against permanent, heterosexual marriage. These comments from an extended study I did just over thirty years ago are still valid: "[The sanctity of marriage] is implicit in the first creation narrative - 'And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply..." ' (Gen.1.28). It is also implicit in our Lord's teaching on the indissolubility of the marriage bond and in Paul's teaching which likens the marriage bond to that between Christ and the Church (Eph.5.31-32). However, there are two sections of teaching which demand consideration in this connection - Christ's teaching on eunuchs (Mt.19.10-12) and Paul's teaching in l Cor. 7. The strict teaching of Jesus on the subject of marriage evoked from his disciples the comment that 'it is better not to marry' (Mt.19.10). Jesus' reply did not endorse this comment, He enumerated three classes of people who are continent and therefore celibate - those born impotent, those made impotent by men and those who for the sake of the kingdom have chosen not to marry. It is those who have thus exercised their freedom of will to whom it is given to accept this. But it is by no means regarded that all would thus become eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom, nor that those 'to whom it is given' have received some superior vocation. There is no suggestion that marriage is a second-rate expedient for those who cannot attain to the highest virtue of celibacy. The teaching only deals with special instances in which the needs of the Kingdom would have to take precedence over the desire for marriage. The teaching of Paul in 1 Cor. 7 has also been taken by some to indicate that celibacy is to be commended and that marriage is basically for the weak. "Good" (kalon) in v.1 does not refer to moral goodness in the sense of what is commanded by the law of God (this is expressly clear in v.26), but to what is commendable under the circumstances. These circumstances are the imminence of the End, in view of which Paul had no interest in the continuance of the race, as is clear in vv.23-31. However, other circumstances also pertained in Corinth - notably the temptations to unchastity were particularly strong and had already received comment from the Apostle (6.12-20). In ch.7, he acknowledges that what he considers laudable in view of the imminent End is not expedient as a general rule, especially in Corinth. Because of temptations to immorality (v.2), the statement of v.1 cannot be taken as an absolute, universally valid rule, but is to be seen in terms of a gift of God (v.7). Again, in v.8, Paul cannot make his kalon a universal principle, for if not to marry involves one in consuming passions then it is better to marry (v.9). The question naturally arises whether Paul's view of marriage is not rather low, seeing its only purpose in preventing immorality. However, Paul is not here speaking of the purpose of marriage, but is rather dealing with the exigencies of a practical situation. Robertson and Plummer have the useful comment on v.2, 'The Apostle is not discussing the characteristics of the ideal married life; he is answering questions put to him by Christians who had to live in such a city as Corinth. In a society so full of temptations, he advises marriage, not as the lesser of two evils, but as a necessary safeguard against evil' (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 1914, loc.cit.)... Thus, these two sections of teaching do not remove the conclusion that marriage is not merely the lesser of two evils, but that, having been instituted in the goodness of the Creator, it is itself good and sacred. It is in fact the very sacredness of the bond which makes its perversion so reprehensible. On the other hand, these sections have emphasised that even the matter of marriage is to be subservient to the Kingdom, not that the married must live as ascetics, but that some few may be called in the purpose of God to remain unmarried and be given the grace to do so" (The New Testament Doctrine of Marriage and Divorce, unpublished paper, 1965, pp.2-5). I have done a great deal of reflection since I wrote those words and am more than ever convinced that we do grave disservice to the early Church (and the reformers) with the bald statements of this paragraph.
5.48 A marriage is not "Christian" on the basis of "how far it reflects God's intention of a just relationship." There are many "pagan" marriages - with no acknowledgment of God - that might well be seen to fulfil that criterion. A marriage is Christian if it is based on the reality and grace of God - not whether it is working well. It will involve people in being "kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each another, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Eph.4.32). No marriage is ever the coming together of two perfect people. Each partner brings to marriage not only love, commitment and good intentions, but their own areas of selfishness, brokenness and sin. Eph.5.21-32 is an important passage whose implications have too readily been dismissed because of Paul's reference to "submission". I do not find the term "co-humanity" helpful. It is inadequate in expressing what the Scriptures teach about the marriage relationship. "As 'one body', husband and wife are complementary and fulfil one another's needs, Thus, as each person has a strong instinct to preserve, care for and nourish his own body, so now this is to be the practical expression of his love towards his wife. The teaching of Paul concerning the differing roles of man and woman in marriage has sometimes been passed by as if he taught that women are to have an inferior status. The difference, however, is one of role rather than status. Paul had written that '... there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus' (Gal. 3.38), but this statement of women's equality with men in Christ Jesus is not to be taken as meaning that there are no differences of role within marriage. 'The body' implies that these roles are complementary and hence necessary to each other. While there are some cases which appear to be contrary, it would be true to say that the psychological differences between men and women seem to fit them for the roles that Paul sets out. The husband is the head to whom the wife is to be subject in everything; the husband, for his part, is obliged to nourish and cherish his wife. The husband's position is not to be seen primarily in terms of authority, but rather of responsibility. While the wife is to be subject en panti, the authority of the husband is subject to the obedience he owes to Christ and is to correspond to the relation of Christ and the Church. There is no question of domination but rather of the complete harmony of mutual love between those who are 'one flesh' " (ibid. p.8).
5.49 In marriage preparation, I spend a great deal of time focusing on the nature and quality that needs to find expression in the marriage relationship. But marriage should rightly be called a "divine institution" which is intended to be lived out under the reality and grace of God - God has not only "judgment" but "grace" for sinners! The final sentence is inadequate: Marriage is more than "a sacred symbol of the co-humanity..." "Marriage is a divine ordinance deriving its significance from the creative will of God 'from the beginning'. It is hence good and sacred in itself, though the desire for marriage is to be subservient to the Kingdom, within which some few may be called to remain unmarried and be given the grace to do so. In marriage, man and woman are joined together by God to form 'one flesh' this being ideally realised as a physical, personal and spiritual union. Within this relationship, the differences between the sexes inherent in creation complement one another, so that man and wife fulfil different roles though equal 'in Christ'. This 'one flesh' relationship is initiated and safeguarded by the marriage contract which involves a solemn covenant between man and woman that they will in fact enter this relationship exclusively and for life, It is, however, especially the physical consummation that constitutes this relationship. The bond is therefore real even where it does not find its deepest expression" (ibid. p.21).
5.50 Once again, marriage needs to be seen as much more than "a symbol of God's gift in creation..." I have already noted that "Jesus' teaching about the faithful, mutually permanent 'one flesh' union of male and female" is based on the Genesis creation narratives and is also taught by Paul in the New Testament.
5.51 Surely we would affirm that these items are true for "marriage", whether "in a Christian context" or not - even the "co-humanity..." part (whatever we mean by it). Nothing has been stated here which should not be seen as part of "marriage" in the broadest sense. "In the Christian context" these items are, of course, to be understood and practised. But we have not stated what is distinctively "Christian" about them.
5.52 It is quite true that "The Church upholds the centrality of marriage, but has never taught and does not teach that marriage is an essential prerequisite for faithful discipleship." Once again, the term "co-humanity" fails to express the distinctiveness of marriage and therefore clouds the important issues raised in the present paragraph. It seems here to be almost equivalent to "relationship" and therefore unrelated to the concepts of "one flesh/body". The clear desire to use the term to legitimise in any way same-sex relationships is to be totally rejected. Such relationships do not in any sense represent whatever we mean by "co-humanity".
5.53 It is puzzling that the question of the Church's relationship with persons who "live together for a period of time prior to entering the lifelong commitment of marriage" re-emerges here, rather than in the context of 5.20-5.22. This paragraph is in itself a reasonable statement. Regarding the marriage of such people, note my comments under 5.20. Regarding baptism of their children, any decisions need to be made on the basis outlined in the last sentence.
5.54 The opening sentence is one of the few references in the document to "sin and brokenness". Note my comments on 5.49. Tragically there may be, within marriage, "abuse, rape, exploitation and harassment". To affirm the "rightness" of genital sexual activity only within the context of marriage is in no way intended to suggest that all that happens within marriages is therefore "right". "Sin and brokenness" pervade our humanness in a variety of ways - which is why I have emphasised that we need to call on people to live together in marriage within the reality and grace of God. However, the question must be asked, Why is marriage singled out for mention when the various other relationships addressed seem to receive only commendation? The level of domestic violence is up to seven times higher in de facto relationships than in legally celebrated marriages. The likelihood of marriage breakdown is known to be much higher when a married couple has lived together before marriage. There is an inherent violence involved in the homosexual relationship, as well as a great deal of physical abuse among homosexuals. This whole section on marriage has some helpful statements, but the overall impression is that the centrality of marriage is affirmed on one hand, while on the other it is condemned as expressing the "elements of right relations" poorly in comparison to other styles of relating.
Divorce and Remarriage
5.55 It is true that "the reasons for marriage breakdown are very complex."
5.56 Although this document has not reflected with depth and clarity on "the theological understanding of the nature of marriage", the general tenor of this paragraph needs to be affirmed. The reflection on the emotions associated with divorce is accurate to the experience of many of those involved. However, the use of the imprecise term "co-humanity" in the previous section leads to a very weakened understanding of divorce and there is no attempt to address the difficult and hard words of Jesus on the subject. "The Mosaic law is stated as having 'permitted' divorce 'because of your hardness of heart' and seeking by the 'certificate of divorce' to protect the woman from her former husband (Mt. 5.31; 19.7-8; Mk. 10.4-5). Marriage, however, is not to be understood in terms of a permissive legislation but in terms of the will of the Creator in the beginning (Mt. 19.8; Mk. 10.6). Jesus in his teaching was concerned with the various sins which violate the ordinance of marriage. The sin which is especially accounted for in the Mosaic law is 'hardness of heart' (in LXX usage it corresponds to "uncircumcision of heart", Dt. 10.16; Jer. 4.4), especially the hardheartedness of the husband who in any case was taking the divorce. The woman did not have any particular rights in the matter and could not herself initiate a divorce. Vincent Taylor has rightly stated, 'The implication is that the words express a merciful concession for the woman's sake'. However, this hardheartedness which pursues divorce is itself sinful. Its cruelty was somewhat mitigated by provisions which protected the woman. The teaching of Jesus on divorce, therefore, is not a condemnation of the Mosaic legislation, but of the hardheartedness which necessitated it. This legislation could thus not be taken as the ideal since its aim was to prevent a worse sin. However, against the sin of hardheartedness which led to divorce must be seen the sin of adultery which followed it on the remarriage of either of the partners... Apart from these [Matthean exceptive] clauses, the teaching of the gospels states quite clearly that remarriage after divorce involves adultery, the responsibility for which may be seen in several aspects: the man who divorces his wife makes her commit adultery (Mt. 5.32); the man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against his wife (Mk. 10.11; Mt. 19.9; Lk. 16.18); the woman who divorces her husband and marries another (as was allowed under Roman but not under Jewish law) commits adultery (Mk. 10.12); the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Mt. 5.32; Lk. 16.18). The clear implication is that, serious though the repudiation of the marriage vows surely is, the formal divorce does not dissolve the essential marriage union. The sexual relations entered into within the second marriage are thus an infringement of the bond of the first marriage which, in fact, still exists - hence, they involve adultery. E.P. Gould has written, 'Any formal sundering of the tie leaves it really whole; the union being of this natural, physical kind, not accomplished by any formal procedure, but in the sexual act uniting man and woman, no formal procedure can break it, but simply leaves it as it was' (The Gospel According to St. Mark, 1896, on Mk.10.11). The second marriage is thus a mere formality which makes no real difference to the fact that 'the deepest and holiest element in the physical life of man' is thus desecrated (T.H. Robinson, The Gospel of Matthew, 1928, on 5.31-32). Divorce is wrong, because it seeks to dissolve a bond established by God himself (Mt. 19.6; Mk. 10.9) and because it sanctions adultery on the false assumption that the marriage bond has been so dissolved" (The New Testament Doctrine of Marriage and Divorce, pp.11-12). Too often as a Church we have not given serious consideration to the words of Jesus about marriage and divorce. He clearly regarded it as a important matter and his views were stricter than those current in Jewish society. The teaching of Paul in 1 Cor.7 is also relevant to our consideration of these issues.
5.57 The document is careful not to enunciate the circumstances in which divorce and remarriage are "morally justifiable and consistent with God's will", stating merely that "at times divorce is the only creative and life-giving direction to take." The teaching of Jesus and of Paul would have been a helpful starting-point. There are certainly a number of situations in which a marriage relationship is broken through abuse, adultery, sexual molestation of children... The Church should not expect the aggrieved partner (usually the wife) to remain in that situation. From the teaching of Jesus, however, the issue is that the break of the relationship is not necessarily the break of the marriage bond. We still face all the contingencies of human "hardheartedness". Reflecting further on these matters in the light of the teaching of Jesus and of Paul, "Since marriage is far more than a legal contract, it cannot be dissolved by a legal agreement. While under Mosaic law, a certificate of divorce was permitted to protect the rights of women whose husbands were insistent on divorce, this permissive legislation was not to be taken as indicating the divine ideal. Basically, divorce is wrong, since it seeks to dissolve a bond established by God himself and since it sanctions adultery on the false assumption that the marriage bond has been so dissolved. Marriage is dissolved by death, after which the remaining partner is free to remarry. But otherwise, and especially in the case of Christians who are to exemplify the divine ideal, the parties should either be reconciled or remain in singleness. This is partly in view of the imminence of the End, in view of which Christians should not be distracted by outside worries. For this reason, Christians are not obliged to resist pagan partners who want divorce - though it is not clear whether the Christian could remarry if he so desired. While marriage cannot be dissolved by legal agreement, adultery is the one sin which by its very nature violates the 'one flesh' relationship. It need not lead to divorce, but may be followed by repentance and reconciliation. However, the man divorcing his wife for adultery is not guilty of causing her to commit adultery since that sin is already present. But further, the break in the marriage bond through adultery is such that, unless reconciliation follows, divorce is not the sundering of what God has joined but the acknowledgment of what human sinfulness has already broken. The innocent party may thus be seen to be free to remarry. Nowhere more than in marriage and divorce is it more truly seen that human laws are regulated to the exigencies of human sinfulness. The ultimate truth is not that divorce is good in this or that case. Even where it may be 'just' or 'warranted' it is never 'good'. The divine ethic must be seen in terms of the divine gospel which makes provision for that 'hardness of heart' which so tragically makes divorce seem necessary. The ultimate truth is not merely that marriage can be exclusive, permanent and monogamous, but that within the creative will of God it can be the means of the highest and best, enriching and ennobling man and woman alike" (ibid. p.22).
5.58 This paragraph is helpful. Whatever the cause of marriage breakdown, the Church needs to stand alongside people.
5.59 It is possible to agree with much in this paragraph. While agreeing that a "moralistic approach" is unhelpful, we need to help people face realistically "the sinfulness of the human condition" - including their own. The present divorce procedures look to the reality of "irretrievable breakdown" without allocating blame. When there has been a marriage failure, people often have a deep sense of personal failure. If we do not help them face the question of guilt (real or imagined) and anger (justified or otherwise), we are setting up the conditions for later problems, especially when people remarry. It is a time when they need to know the reality of divine grace in forgiveness - and the ability to forgive the other partner and themselves.
5.60 I do not believe it necessary or helpful to have "liturgies for people undergoing divorce". Yes, there is a grieving process. However, it is not like a funeral where we are committing the person who has died into the loving care of the Creator God and seeking divine comfort for those who face the breaking of their marriage/parental relationship through death. With a divorce, the other person is still alive - it is only the relationship that is broken. In a funeral, we acknowledge the reality of death, but are celebrating a life - and the promise of life beyond death. In a divorce, the persons usually need sensitive and caring counsel to understand the whole situation, including the extent to which they may have been participants and/or victims.
Chapter 6. The Church and its Ministry
6.1 The emphasis on grace and on the person and work of Christ in this paragraph is commendable. However, it follows too narrowly the principles of "liberation theology" in presenting the picture of Jesus. He came "to save his people from their sins" (Mt.1.21). He said he "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk.10.45). He described himself as having come "to seek and to save what was lost" (Lk.19.10). Throughout his ministry we see him humbly living out his life as Saviour and Redeemer. After telling the parable of the two sons, we hear Jesus saying, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him." This does not mean that Jesus had a preference for "tax collectors and prostitutes". That is not what Jesus is saying at all. John was calling people to repentance - and on that basis to baptism. Jesus is saying, "you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him". The tax collectors and prostitutes were in a relationship with him because they had repented and believed, not because they were "excluded". Paul tells the Corinthian Christians to "think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth." Certainly, we see in Jesus wide, compassionate, redeeming love towards all people. He grieved over Jerusalem (Mt.23.37) because in fact so many (including all the "important" people) had refused to respond to his message.
6.2 There is no doubt that "Jesus brought in a radically new understanding of the Kingdom of God". In so many ways it turns upside down the values of all societies. However, the description once again follows too narrowly the principles of "liberation theology". God is accorded no place within this Kingdom, except as supplier of "grace and love". Jesus is not seen to "bring in the Kingdom", but to "bring in a new understanding of the Kingdom". He is viewed as an example of Kingdom living. There is therefore an inadequate understanding of the person and work of Jesus in its present and future dimension. Despite sundry references, this is essentially a non-trinitarian document.
6.3 The foundation that Paul builds on is the person and work of Christ whom he understands to be God the Son and Saviour. € He is the one who, by the Holy Spirit, has given the gifts that create the Church as his Body, responsive to his leadership and empowered for his will. We are not a "headless" body. The gifts are given, not to be celebrated, but to be exercised in his service for building up the Body and for fulfilling the mission that the Head has given the Body to do (note especially Rom.12.3-8; 1 Cor.12.12-31; Eph.1.22-23; 4.1-16; 1 Pet.2.4-10). € "All of you are one in Christ Jesus" cannot be taken casually. It assumes that by repentance and faith we are "in Christ Jesus". In that relationship there is complete equality. (It is curious here, incidentally, that the NRSV properly renders the Greek "male and female", rather than "or"). The Church will, of course, be aware of people's ethnicity and their work situation, and likewise their gender, but in a sense that acknowledges that all are equal in Christ. € All are sinners and can only be justified by his grace (instrumental dative) as a gift. Paul, throughout Romans makes it quite clear that justifying grace is to be received "by faith" (as 5.1). It is clear from the words of Jesus himself that not all will be saved, even though his redemptive work is for all. In its role as a faithful minister of God's grace, the Church does have to make "judgments". In his own ministry, Jesus himself made judgments (as in Mt.21.28-22.14). If we truly declare the whole counsel of God, we must make clear the nature of sin as well as the divine offer of pardon. In its discipline of those who are ministers and members, the Church, through its appropriate councils, must also be able to make judgments. € Servanthood is to characterise the Church, its ministers and members. € Yes, we are to build each other up in love. What I miss in this summary is an indication of the mission of the Church beyond its walls. The outlook of the Church was to be essentially outward - "go" (Mt.28.18-20; Acts 1.8; 1 Pet.2.9). If Christ is truly the Head, we would expect that his Body would continue to "seek and to save the lost".
6.4 Certainly, the early church seemed not to have any of the kinds of fixed structures (organisational or physical) that we consider essential (and debate at length) in the modern-day church. What is meant here by "signs of the Reign" of God? the qualities of 6.3? What was the key to the unity of the early church? Paul's answer in Eph.4.3-5 (before he writes about diversity of gifts) focuses on the nature of the triune God.
6.5 The paragraph raises many questions. What is meant by "as they [young, single, gay men, lesbian women] struggle to live as sexual people"? Is it implying that these people are involved in relationships (short- or long-term) involving genital sexual contact? Do they experience the church as "judging, rejecting and conditional in its acceptance" because the people expect their members to live according to Biblical ethical standards? Are they offered the grace of God in forgiveness and change? or do they feel rejected because they don't want (or don't believe they need) forgiveness and change? Do the "separated, divorced,... single parents" feel alienation because of what they have gone through? or because they are now seeking a new sexual relationship? Have the "women who have had abortions" been open to and received counselling within the church (typically, it is not adequately offered in abortion clinics)? and do they have feelings of remorse and/or regret for their abortion (it is the taking of a life and often has emotional consequences over a number of years)? Have "those living in committed relationships though not married" been encouraged to take the step of marriage? and do they have feelings of guilt about their own indecisiveness/choice? The church has to be authentically and Biblically Christian. The gospel is for all. The doors are open to all. But the church ought not to be "inclusive" in the sense of failing to call for repentance and to anticipate and expect change of behaviour. We cannot live within the Reign of God is we refuse to pursue holiness. So what of the compassion and graciousness that these people have not experienced? We cannot answer that without knowing the congregations concerned. Over the years of my ministry we have had, at one stage or another, people fitting most of these categories. In no case did these people express feelings of alienation, but then they were not trying to justify their un-Biblical behaviour.
6.6 Whenever the Church causes pain and exclusion to people for any cause other than the integrity of the gospel, the Church should repent of that pain and exclusion. Where people have wilfully persisted in behaviour that is un-Biblical and have insisted on justifying themselves, they must themselves repent of their sinful attitudes and actions and the pain that they have caused to the people of the congregations within which they have sought a place. The Church needs to look at the whole of Jesus' ministry and life. We need to hear him saying to the woman caught in adultery, "Neither do I condemn you" including his words, "Go your way, and from now on do not sin again" (Jn 8.11). We need to hear his very stern words about divorce. Above all, we need to picture him dying on a cross and saying to the dying criminal, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Lk.23.43). We need the attitude of Paul in 1 Tim.2.15, "The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the foremost". No one - not even this Task Group - can depart from God's revealed standards of right and wrong in sexual morality without needing to repent of this sin of rejection of God. We need to learn how to apply and accept the divine absolutes and the offered divine grace in a caring and compassionate way. And wherever and whenever we have failed in that caring, compassionate love, we need as a Church and as individuals to come to God in genuine repentance, desire to change and openness to his transforming grace. But God's standards are non-negotiable, and to declare those standards - together with the offer of divine grace in forgiveness and change - is not and cannot be "the unjust treatment of people and their devaluation as... persons". (Please note that the term "sexual-spiritual persons" is both unhelpful and objectionable). In 5.39, I questioned the status and authority of documents from the United Church of Canada. I do the same with this document from the Presbyterian Church (USA) - of which I understand that the church overwhelmingly rejected the majority report and endorsed only the minority report. This in fact raises questions about all the publications listed in Appendix III. Together with quite a number of others, I am seriously wondering whether Task Groups like ours around the world are generating data in reports which are rejected by their respective churches but are then quoted authoritatively by those persons and groups around the world who are currently lobbying the churches heavily on the subject of homosexual rights and ordination.
6.7 The question of the acceptability of any behaviour within the membership of the Church is not a question of justice. If by "lesbian women and gay men" the document is referring to people who practise homosexual acts and believe such behaviour to be "normal", there is and will continue to be a barrier to their "full acceptance" within the Church. The Biblical witness is quite clear in the matter, and such behaviour has been clearly acknowledged in the Church throughout history and ecumenically as sin. Sin of any kind is a serious offence to God. The just and loving God has provided that repentant sinners can be forgiven - that is at the heart of the gospel. Forgiveness is costly, and Christ has died for sinners. The essence of the situation has nothing whatever to do with some being "different" and others feeling "uncomfortable". A principle of Christian morality is involved rather than justice (as suggested here and in 6.6). Where people feel an erotic attraction towards persons of the same sex but do not engage in homosexual acts, the situation is quite different. Such people are often open to counselling and ministry within the Church. We need to understand that all of us in the life of the Church have areas of our personality and behaviour which need to change. That is part of being a Christian. Confession of sin is not (and should not be) a liturgical formality. It should include a desire to change and an openness to divine grace and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Whenever any person refuses to be open to change through this grace and ministry, the Church cannot with integrity be wholehearted in its acceptance.
6.8 The question of the ordination of homosexuals cannot in any sense be compared with the ordination of women. The latter had nothing to do with moral principles. Acceptance of Biblical morality ought to be an essential ingredient in assessing fitness for ministry. The Church needs to know that a person who has homosexual feelings is sexually celibate, has accepted counselling and progressing towards sexual normalcy. It is simply not true that there is no evidence that "a homosexual minister damages the credibility of ministry any more than anyone else". A recent situation in British Methodism indicates to the contrary. The phrase "any more than anyone else" tries to cover the situation with a comparison that is hard to establish since we have so little experience of homosexuals "out in the open" in ministry. To say that there are heterosexual ministers guilty of sexual abuse and exploitation is a smokescreen. It is sad but true that the Church has needed the sexual complaints procedures. (We are aware that in one other major denomination many complaints have had to do with homosexual and paedophilic acts). It is, however, quite staggering that there should, in the present climate, have been produced a document such as this. I am concerned for the future of the Church if we really believe the definitions of sexuality which this document is propagating. On the one hand, we say that a "heterosexual" "has an erotic attraction to and a preference for members of the opposite sex" and then we blame him/her for sexual abuse. Are we being unjust? How ever we could contemplate ordaining a "bisexual" defined as having "an erotic attraction to members of both sexes"! Even if married, isn't there a likelihood of sexual abuse of members of both sexes? It may be, of course, that approval of "elements of right relations" (4.6) should lead to their becoming the sole basis on which sexual abuse complaints are determined! Seriously - moral infringement is a matter for stern discipline by the Church. Unwillingness to admit moral guilt and to be open to change totally disqualifies a person from ministry. For reasons already stated, this is not "a rejection of [the homosexuals'] personhood".
6.9 Once again we are faced with the inadequacy of the "elements of right relations". To what extent does a given relationship reflect the purposes of God revealed in Scripture? To what extent is it open to the grace of God made available through Jesus Christ? No relationship which is immoral can be "worthy of the Church's recognition and blessing". However, the recognition and blessing of marriage does not imply that there is no need for the continual support and encouragement of married people especially since the bearing and raising of children has a very big impact on the relationship.
6.10 While it is true that "at present there are no prescriptive categories with regard to marital status for Uniting Church membership and leadership", it is important that the Church reflect deeply on issues that arise. The divorce and remarriage of Ministers of the Word is currently handled in a way that is often hurtful to the parish concerned. Where adultery has been involved, the question of discipline needs to be addressed. With an applicant for membership or specified ministry, it is hardly adequate simply to take into account "the way in which the person's sexuality and relationships are integrated into the total context of a responsible Christian lifestyle". If this is to be understood in the light of what this document propounds, it is totally inadequate. As a Church we have to learn to give responsible Christian leadership.
6.11 The statement "celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage" succinctly and clearly sets out what is Biblically expected of God's people. Therefore, as a Church whose teaching and practice are to be "controlled by the Scriptures", it should be the expectation of the Uniting Church. All repentant sinners are welcome at the Lord's table on the basis of divine grace, not because our behaviour is acceptable. We come because we need that grace in forgiveness, restoration and change. The Biblical standard of "celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage" needs to be clearly set before our members - with the awareness that God who knows our sinfulness also knows that his plan for our life is possible by his grace and enabled by his Holy Spirit. (We properly speak of the Holy Spirit whose principal function in our life is to make us "holy". There is too much glib talk about "the Spirit" these days - with no relation at all to holiness.) The standard thus expected of members needs to be exemplified by Ministers, Elders, and all in leadership positions in the life of the Church. It is helpful to reflect on the situation regarding polygamy in the early Church. "The question of what was to be done where people polygamously married became believers was bound to arise at some stage, as indeed it does today in a missionary situation. There is no clear direction that marriage relations with all but the first wife are to be ceased, although it might be inferred that the succeeding relationships would be adulterous. However, the situation is not a simple one, for the marriage relationship might have been regarded as sacred and permanent, though not monogamous. Further, if such action was to be taken, there would be grave economic and social complications for the women concerned, with the additional problem of forcing them into further adultery should they be desiring to remarry. Of course, if some wives did not become believers and sought freedom, the principle of 1 Cor. 7.12 would apply, though it should be noted that the other complications of the case still remain. There is no indication in the New Testament that a clear-cut solution was ever given. However, it was clear that those in authority in the Church should exemplify the Christian ideal of monogamy - this was a rule by the time the Pastorals were written (1 Tim. 3.2,12; Tit. 1.6)" (Marriage and Divorce, p.10).
6.12 As noted above, the statement summarises well the Biblical position - what the Lord of the Church expects of his people. "Human sexuality" is not in fact more complex than in Biblical times. All the forms of sexual brokenness that are evident today were present then. The struggles of people who were involved in sexual perversions then were as great as today. The grace of God for these people is as efficacious today as it was then. Traditional morality is currently under attack on a wide scale by those who want sexual promiscuity and homosexual activity accepted as "normal". The early Church faced similar forces within Roman and Greek culture and were prepared to stand out against them as a sign of the Reign of God. There is nothing "legalistic" about declaring what God intends our life to be - it is the springboard for declaring the Good News. The Task Group has in fact elevated their definition of "right and just relationships" as the only "criterion for discerning fitness for ministry." In fact, our recent rules regarding sexual abuse by ministers indicates that matters of "genital sexual activity" are quirt pertinent to consideration of a person's fitness for ministry. More broadly, we face the question whether a candidate intends to live under the discipline of the Reign of God.
6.13 Agreed.
6.14 Agreed.
6.15 This is the important question before us in the current issue.
6.16 This paragraph is very commendable on the surface. However, it shares the Biblically weak foundations of this document, assuming that there are no moral absolutes in relation to sexual activity except the "elements of right relations".
6.17 This paragraph reflects on some of the tough questions raised in the Year of Listening. They point to the need for the Church to come to a clear position. The terms of reference (as in Appendix I) state that "it is recognised that consensus is probably not possible and may not be desirable". I agree with the Assembly Standing Committee that in the present climate of debate consensus is not possible. But the Assembly can and should express leadership. The Uniting Church has already lost a great deal of credibility (in the community as well as in the membership) by refusing to re-affirm what have been the accepted standards of the Christian Church for the past 2000 years. (True, we have attracted some prime media attention and there are those in society who are fighting for a change of sexual moral standards. But this is beside the point.) The Assembly (and ASC) has been holding out to a vocal homosexual lobby group the possible hope that it can deny its Biblical and Christian roots (and its roots within the three denominations that formed the Uniting Church in Australia on 22nd June 1977) and embrace homosexuality and homosexual acts as "normal". Once Assembly states clearly and finally that it cannot and will not change from the Christian stance, many of these issues will be resolved and we will once more be in a position to minister caringly and compassionately to all who are sexually broken.
6.18 The Assembly (or ASC) will have to make a prescriptive statement. It is quite evident that the ASC put the question in the "too hard" basket with its 1982 resolution (p.49), putting the responsibility for decision back on the Presbytery. As I understand it, no Presbyteries have accepted homosexual candidates for the ministry. It is well understood that such action would have serious ramifications for the Church. The Assembly should be willing to set the standard for the Church. Following the lead of the Pastoral Epistles in the New Testament, there should be a prescriptive category for leadership in the Church which exemplifies the standards expected of its members.
6.19 It is true that "ministers, leaders, teachers and care-givers" need to be responsible role models. However, "responsible and just relationships" must be judged against Biblical and Christian moral principles. To have self-avowed practising homosexual leaders and ministers is just not an option open to a Church whose teaching and practice is "controlled by the Scriptures". The Task Group and the Assembly need to understand that the adoption of the general approach to sexuality advocated in this document would be a departure from the understanding of sexuality within the Christian Church historically and ecumenically; that it would also represent a departure from the understanding of sexuality within the three churches which formed the Uniting Church in Australia on 22nd June 1977; and that it would therefore be schismatic within the life of the Uniting Church in Australia. We have not been at all kind to homosexuals even to suggest that this position might be negotiable.
The Way Ahead
The Task Group have obviously listened to "those who are hurting from abusive relationships, those who have suffered discrimination and those who are unsure of the changes and potential changes that we are experiencing". The Task Group has not sought Biblical solutions and divine grace for such people and has therefore been unfaithful to the Basis of Union.
We thank the Task Group for challenging us as the church community in our ministry to the sexually broken. We come from reading the Interim Report on Sexuality deeply disagreeing with its presuppositions and conclusions, and convinced more than ever that the Christian gospel offers real hope for personal change, whereas the Interim Report has held out the prospect that the Church might change its mind.
The Jewish Sanhedrin had engineered the crucifixion of Jesus. They had rejected Jesus as the Messiah and were embarrassed and offended with the apostles' preaching (supported by a miraculous healing). It wasn't just "a new movement of God's Spirit in the preaching of Peter and John". Here was the fulfilment of the Messianic hope of the Jewish people, the fulfilment of the prophecies in their Scriptures, the act of God in human history... The main direction of the present document appears to have been € to avoid the clear teaching of Scripture and Church history on sexual morality, € to persuade the Church to turn away from Scriptural teaching as their controlling guide, € to refuse the grace of God in forgiveness and change to those who seek it, € to offer instead "acceptance" instead of "salvation", € to make role models of those who fail to pass the most elementary Biblical standards of sexual morality... To accept the recommendations of this document is, contrary to what is being inferred at this point, to be "found fighting against God." This present push for change, far from being a "new move of the Spirit", is part of the old immorality that stands condemned before God - but on account of which the Son of God gave his life to bring redemption and healing. Once again, I must plead with the Task Group to stop fighting against God in this matter. We are still in the age of grace. I entreat you on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God.
Our identity as persons is not in our "sexuality" but in our relationship to God in Jesus Christ. We find our identity as children of God, and learn in that relationship how to express every dimension of our life (including our sexuality). On the basis of being thoroughly committed to teaching what is "controlled by the Scriptures", there will be mutual benefit and spiritual growth in our fellowship with one another. Jesus said, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you" (Jn.16.13-14, NRSV). Also known to us as the Holy Spirit, he will lead us all towards "the holiness without which no one will see the Lord" (Heb.12.14, NRSV).
When the Church shows a disposition to set aside the Biblical witnesses on a subject such as this, there is a serious question whether the councils of the Church are in a position to be "led by God's Spirit". Decisions so plainly contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture would place us all in a position of being unable to trust the Church, because it would be evident that the Church had chosen to follow the world, rather than to trust in the Spirit. There are many areas of genuine difference between Christians, but we cannot properly ignore the written Word and then claim the endorsement of the Spirit. It is not a matter of "lovingly suspending judgment", for such decisions themselves represent a breach of fellowship and would be schismatic in the Uniting Church as we know it.
The framers of the Basis of Union recognised that there would be diversity of interpretation, doctrine and practice within the Uniting Church. They recognised that a Church whose teaching and practice is "controlled by the Scriptures" rightly needs and welcomes the gift of the Holy Spirit "in order that we may not lose our way". But to the extent that we reject the written Word - as this document proposes - we cannot expect "God's leading on these matters". Our dependence on the Spirit is not to be divorced from submission to the Word. None of us has all the truth. But God is Truth. The Holy Spirit takes the givenness of what God has said to and done for his people throughout history and especially in the Word-made-flesh, applying it to us in our day.
The Basis reminds us that "On the way Christ feeds [the Church] with Word and Sacraments, and she has the gift of the Spirit in order that she may not lose the way" (par.3) and concludes, "The Uniting Church affirms that she belongs to the people of God on the way to the promised end. She prays God that, through the gift of the Spirit, he will constantly correct that which is erroneous in her life, will bring her into deeper unity with other Churches, and will use her worship, witness and service to his eternal glory through Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen" (par.18).

© Peter J Blackburn 1996
This response to the Interim Report on Sexuality (May 1996) was forwarded to the General Secretary of the Uniting Church Assembly in November 1996.
Following responses to this report, the Assembly Sexuality Task Group produced their final report,
Uniting Sexuality and Faith, whose principal resolutions regarding homosexual practice and ordination were not affirmed by Assembly in Perth in July 1997.