Archbishop’s Letter to churches
This is the text of the Archbishop's letter to churches, on October 11, 2017 - also read at Synod.
Dear brothers and sisters
On 16 August, I wrote to Sydney Anglicans to advise you that the Diocese of Sydney had committed to being a lead partner in the Coalition for Marriage, and encouraged you to consider helping this Coalition by signing up as a volunteer and providing financial support. Now that the campaign has reached the final phase, I am writing again to urge those who have not yet participated to become involved, and to correct some misperceptions about our involvement in the campaign.
The campaign was always going to be difficult for us as Christians, who always wish to engage graciously with the world, and yet at the same time should stand firmly for God’s good plan for marriage in a world that has increasingly abandoned that plan. This difficulty was exacerbated by the way in which the debate has been framed, implying that anyone who opposes a ‘yes’ vote is a hater and a homophobe.
This is not a debate of our choosing. I am sure that we would prefer to spend our energies telling people about God’s loving message of salvation through Jesus Christ, but in God’s providence, this is the point of engagement with our culture at this time.
Since 2011 the Synod, by resolutions on five separate occasions, has asked Sydney Anglicans to engage in respectful advocacy in the public square for the legal definition of marriage to remain unchanged. The decision to be a lead partner in the Coalition for Marriage, and the Standing Committee’s support for this, is an outworking of those resolutions.
Reflecting this consistently expressed view of our Synod, I said in my Presidential Address this week –
I therefore make no apology for encouraging all Australians, especially Anglicans, to vote ‘No’ in this postal survey. I believe that a change in the definition of marriage is unwarranted, not just because it is in opposition to the teaching of Scripture and our Lord himself in Matthew 19, but because I believe marriage, traditionally understood as a union of one man and one woman, is a positive good for our society, where marriage and the procreation of children are bound together as the foundational fabric of our society, notwithstanding the sad reality that not all married couples are able to conceive. Moreover, I consider the consequences of removing gender from the marriage construct will have irreparable consequences for our society, for our freedom of speech, our freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. It is disingenuous to think otherwise, given the evidence to the contrary in Canada, the US and the UK.
At its meeting on 18 September, the Standing Committee voted to support the diocesan involvement in the Coalition for Marriage by means of a million dollar contribution from the Diocesan Endowment. This contribution comes from the Synod’s own funds which it uses for the operation of the Diocese, and does not come from parishioners’ donations. The rationale for this financial contribution was provided to Synod members in the Supplementary Report from Standing Committee, and the contribution was announced in my Presidential Address.
Some have questioned whether the money would have been better spent on social justice issues (feeding the poor, Sydney’s homeless, refugees etc.). The reality is, however, that our participation in the Coalition for Marriage is not at the expense of our commitment to social justice, but because of it. We believe that the best way for Anglicare and other Christian agencies to serve the social good is for them to be able to operate on the basis of a Christian ethos, and to recruit Christian staff and volunteers. A legal recognition of same-sex marriage will significantly affect Anglican bodies who wish to maintain and promote a Christian understanding of marriage in opposition to the law of the land. Overseas experience indicates that same-sex marriage leads to government funding and recognition of charitable status being increasingly tied to “equality compliance”. Christian agencies overseas have been required by law to hire staff who do not support the Christian ethos of the organisation. Our Anglican bodies make a real difference to Australian lives, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Compare that with an investment of just one million dollars to help ensure that this vital work continues in the future.
I know that some of us take the view that same-sex marriage is inevitable and have questioned whether spending this amount of money was a waste of our resources. This is misguided on two counts. Firstly, because the result is by no means certain. The latest figures from the ABS indicate that only 62.5% of Australians have returned their postal surveys, meaning that 37.5% of people have not yet voted. The outcome literally hangs in the balance. Opinion polls have been notoriously inaccurate. Secondly, even if the ‘no’ vote does not prevail, the diocesan contribution came at a critical moment which allowed the ‘no’ campaign to raise awareness of the consequences of same-sex marriage for freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Both major political parties are now acknowledging the need for any proposed legislation to include protections for freedom of speech and freedom of religion. We are in a better position now to argue for robust protections, in the event of legislation being passed to enable same-sex marriage.
It is for these reasons that I encourage those who are already supporting the ‘no’ campaign to maintain their efforts to the very end of the postal survey period, and to encourage those who are not already involved to become so.
The voluntary postal survey has been called a referendum on religious freedom and freedom of speech, and it is very important we all make our voices heard. As Australians, we are not imposing our views on others, rather we are expressing our views as citizens of the country. As Christians, we are to follow our Lord’s instruction to be salt and light in the world. We should not be ashamed to stand up for our convictions, whatever the cost.
Grace and peace
Glenn N Davies
Archbishop of Sydney