After this week’s debate at General Synod on marriage, we asked Archbishop Kanishka Raffel about the vote and its implications.
Can you explain what you meant, when you told the Synod the refusal of the House of Bishops to pass the statement on marriage leaves the church in a perilous position?
Archbishop Raffel: What we had at the session was a clear affirmation from the majority of people in the room that they continue to hold to the biblical and historically Anglican position on marriage. The houses of Laity and Clergy expressed that very strongly and by a small margin the House of Bishops failed to do it. That leaves us in a position where it is unclear that the leadership of the church is united around a common understanding of Scripture and Anglican formularies. That's perilous for a church. To have that kind of ambiguous picture of where its leadership is at, is the first sense in which it is perilous.
Secondly, what we've seen over the last 20 years or so, mostly in western churches, is that where people have lost confidence in the goodness and trustworthiness of God's word as it has been expressed in Anglican liturgy and practice for 500 years - where people have lost confidence in that- those churches have fractured. We don't want that. But that is what has happened in many countries. So that’s the second sense in which it is perilous.
Then, how likely is it that the church in Australia will fracture?
Anglicans like to say that we are synodically governed and episcopally led. So these kinds of decisions have in the past been made by the people of the church, the Synods. So it is impossible to predict what it would mean or what it would look like. But I think certainly there is a great deal of grief around the failure of the bishops to give the strong affirmation that was made by clergy and laity, a clear affirmation of Anglican doctrine.
Then, what about the unity of the Australian church?
Our Constitution has given us a loose national structure. It is already loose. The General Synod can pass legislation, and it's up to each diocese then to consider it and adopt it if they choose. So, it's been a very flexible structure and that has allowed us to continue, despite having a variety of views on a variety of subjects. But I think there is a sense that this particular matter is pretty fundamental. So, it is hard to imagine what even more loosening would look like. I don't know the answer to these questions. But I am very concerned because I think there is a great work being done by the Anglican Church nationally and I want to see that work united around a common proclamation of the lordship of Jesus and bringing to the Australian community nationally the good news of his grace and mercy. So it would be a very high price to pay for that to be weakened.
The point that I made in my speech was that in other jurisdictions in Canada, in America, in Brazil and Scotland, in New Zealand - this is the issue at which point Anglican Christians have found themselves saying - 'I can live with the diversity of views around a variety of matters. But I am convicted that there is clear teaching in the Bible that has been expressed consistently in Anglican liturgies and practice for hundreds of years, and if the church turns its back on that then I can't be associated with it anymore'. Some people have come to that conclusion, and so in those jurisdictions that I mentioned, new parallel Anglican churches have come into existence. They are genuinely Anglican churches because they are continuing to affirm the Anglican pattern and biblical teaching.
How will Sydney Diocese react?
There will be a great deal of feeling about this and a very great deal of disappointment with what is happened but we are very firmly committed to the constitutional understanding of the Anglican Church. You may have heard references to the fundamental declarations and the ruling principles. They define our understanding of Anglicanism and we are thoroughly committed to them. So we think it's other people who have departed.