Door open to ordain gays and lesbians

Uniting Church in Australia Distils

Principles for Ordination

By Paul Titus 

The Uniting Church in Australia was the focus of some rare media attention after its July Assembly in Melbourne. The press on both sides of the Tasman reported that the Uniting Church resolved to ordain gay and lesbian people.

The new president of Australia's Uniting Churches Rev Dr Dean Drayton says the Assembly did not decide to ordain homosexual people. Rather, at the instigation of its evangelical wing, the church sought to clarify the current basis on which ordination takes place.

Assembly made clear that each presbytery (of which there are about 50 throughout Australia) has the right and responsibility to ordain and choose people for ministry "on a case by case basis".

While it was not a decision to give blanket approval for the ordination of homosexual ministers, it does open the door for some homosexuals to be ordained.

Dean says there are two mutually exclusive perspectives on sexuality within the Uniting Church. One holds to the principle of celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage. This limits proper sexual relations to those within heterosexual marriage.

The other view focuses on, right relationships'.  A right relationship is based on honesty, faithfulness, equality, and trust and is free of exploitation. This could encompass homosexual relationships.

"Assembly has endorsed neither of these principles.  Rather it has said - in a decision that was passed by more than 85% - it is up to presbyteries to discern who is called by God into the ministry.  It also said sexuality may be discussed when a presbytery approaches this question and a person's sexual expression may be part of its decision.

"While someone ordained by one presbytery has ordination to the Uniting Church as a whole, part of the understanding of our call system is that no congregation will receive a call to ministry of someone whose sexuality is counter to the understanding of that congregation," Dean says.

If a congregation believes it could not develop a healthy and creative relationship with a gay or lesbian minister it can say so, and no such minister will be forced upon it.

The Uniting Church also made clear that this decision does not endorse same-sex marriage. The church reiterated that marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman.

Uniting Church leaders encouraged members to keep talking, carry out this conversation with respect for others, and recognize the faith and integrity of those with whom they disagree.

Dean says he was pleased that following this decision the primate of the Anglican Church in Australia stated that he did not believe it would disrupt the process the Uniting and Anglican Churches have embarked upon to achieve full organic union.

The tWo churches are currently entering the second stage in a four-stage move toward union. The first stage was a statement of agreement on the essential elements of faith and ministry.

The second stage focuses on mutual communion and is a covenant of association and mutual Eucharistical hospitality.

The third stage is a commitment to unimpeded ,interchange of members and ordained ministers, and the final stage is full organic union.

The Anglican primate has suggested full organic union could be achieved within five years. Dean says there are a number of stages along the way where the process could be derailed and he believes it will take longer than that.