Rev Alastair Macrae introduced the Doctrine Working Group’s The theology of marriage and same-gender relationships within the Uniting Church report to the Assembly, noting that the report is based on the 1997 resolution on marriage and the Uniting Church and the marriage liturgy found in Uniting in Worship 2.
He acknowledged that the theological framework of creation/fall was not the only theological framework in relation to marriage, but that there are few which are so broadly used across the Christian Church.
However, Mr Macrae was keen to point out that use of this material in the group’s report was not intended to single out any group for criticism.
“To attribute goodness to one sexual orientation and fallenness to another is not only destructive and alienating but also poor theology,” he said.
Mr Macrae encouraged the Assembly to carefully consider the proposal.
“The view of the working group is there is more work to be done and while in the short term legislative changes may place churches under a certain amount of pressure … our Church should take as long as necessary to discern the Spirit’s leading in this matter,” Mr Macrae said.
Rev Dennis Corowa spoke to the report on behalf of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC).
“Congress had a very open discussion about marriage in January,” he said.
“The National Committee met in March and once again had a frank conversation around these issues.”
Mr Corowa told the Assembly the National Committee opted to avoid making any comment on the issue, but to continue to be part of the conversation in private, for fear that “anything that is said would be used by one side or another to co-opt the whole of Congress into their camp”.
The Assembly’s discussion of the proposals on marriage took place over several days.
Rev Dr Jenny Byrnes from the Facilitation Group told the meeting that the reordered and amended proposal took into account two elements that are necessary when discussing marriage.
“The first is that the Uniting Church needs to exercise its own agency in the public space rather than being driven by the timelines or movements of federal politics.
“The second affirms that the Uniting Church’s understanding of marriage can only be considered by the full Assembly meeting and not by the Assembly Standing Committee.”
It was acknowledged that there is a spectrum of views within the Uniting Church.
The 14th Assembly resolved to engage with members of the LGBTIQ community and the wider church in discussions about marriage and same-gender relationships and to issue a pastoral letter affirming the Uniting Church as an inclusive church embracing those members who identify as LGBTIQ.
If a change to the Marriage Act is made between now and the next Assembly in 2018, the general secretary will issue a letter to all Uniting Church celebrants advising them of their freedoms and constraints under that legislation and in their church-authorised role.
Another proposal outlining procedures for respectful conversation with the multicultural bodies of the Church was referred to Assembly Standing Committee.
Finally, a proposal reaffirming the Uniting Church’s existing stance on marriage and reject any public celebration of a same-gender union was rejected by the Assembly.
After a period of discussion, the Assembly opted not to put it to a decision and the proposal lapsed.