Anglican synod angst

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Archishop Kanishka Raffel. PHOTO: Supplied
Archishop Kanishka Raffel. PHOTO: Supplied

Traditional marriage has pitted Australia’s Anglican laity against their bishops

The unity of the Anglican church in Australia has suffered a severe blow after the Anglican Bishops knocked back a motion affirming traditional marriage 12-10 at the 2022 General Synod, held on the Gold Coast between 9-13 May.

The motion was put up on Tuesday 10 May by the evangelical Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Kanishka Raffel, and successfully passed two of the three tiers of the Anglicans’ parliamentary-style synodal structure, the houses of the Laity and Clergy.

It was defeated by the House of Bishops, eliciting a strong rebuke from Archbishop Raffel, who in his statement in reply said “the breach in fellowship experienced across the Anglican Communion has now entered the life of the Anglican Church of Australia” and called on the bishops to “repent of their decision”.

“We ought to stop wasting each other’s time by gathering this way and supporting these structures,” Archbishop Raffel said.

A petition was also submitted by the majority of the synod calling on the bishops to reaffirm the church’s traditional teaching on marriage.

An attempt by the Archbishop of Melbourne, Philip Freier, to refer the matter to a select committee did not succeed.

After the conclusion of the synod, Archbishop Raffel described the situation as “perilous”, adding that even though Anglicanism has a “loose” church structure “it is hard to imagine what even more loosening would look like”.

“a petition was also submitted by the majority of the synod, calling on the bishops to reaffirm the church’s traditional teaching on marriage”.

In other Anglican jurisdictions parallel “non-territorial” dioceses have been established by evangelical conservatives in response to similar situations, a possibility contemplated here in Australia for some years.

In his post-synod statement Archbishop Raffel affirmed the breakaway dioceses as “genuinely Anglican churches because they are continuing to affirm the Anglican pattern and biblical teaching”.

“So we think it’s other people who have departed,” Archbishop Raffel added.

The Bishop of Tasmania, Richard Condie, chair of the evangelical grouping GAFCON Australia, said in his own statement that, “A number of the orthodox bishops are concerned about the implications for our common life and work in the days ahead”.

Despite the gravity of the situation and a mood described by some as “sombre”, the synod debate was conducted in good grace, said Margaret Naylon, Executive Officer for the Brisbane Roman Catholic Commission for Ecumenism and Inter-religious Relations.

Mrs Naylon was an observer at the Anglican synod “in view of the synod on synodality” and described the processes as “eye-opening”.

She was impressed by “the very strong involvement of laity and clergy in decision-making processes”.

While she did not wish to comment on the substantive issues of the synod, she thought the Catholic Church could learn from the robust involvement of both clergy and laity, and the “much greater representation” on show.

“While there were strong views on either side, there was very respectful conversation and discussion. Everyone listened to everyone,” Mrs Naylon said.

“It was all done quite calmly and clearly. On the floor particularly – everyone was given an opportunity to have their say, and it was all done with great dignity and respect.”