Dr Robert Tong on the Appellate Tribunal Opinion

Dr Robert Tong AM, Chairman of the Anglican Church League, has written this response to the Opinion given by the Appellate Tribunal of the Anglican Church of Australia.

It’s very helpful in giving us context for what is happening, and is well worth reading in full.

_________________

 

The Appellate Tribunal of the Anglican Church of Australia

This afternoon the Primate (Archbishop Geoff Smith), released on the General Synod website the Opinions of the Appellate Tribunal on references made by him to the Tribunal for their Opinion on the validity or otherwise of legislation made by two dioceses of the Australian Church.

The Diocese of Wangaratta passed legislation to authorise a service to bless marriages which have been conducted in accordance with the Commonwealth Marriage Act.  However, there are some marriages, validly contracted under the law, which are not recognised by the church. These marriages could be blessed by use of the Wangaratta service.

The Diocese of Newcastle passed legislation in similar terms to the Wangaratta Diocese authorising the use of a blessing service. However, the Bishop did not provide his assent to the legislation within the required 30 days and, accordingly, the legislation lapsed.  There is nothing to prevent the legislation being reintroduced at a subsequent synod and, if assented to by the Bishop it will form part of the law of the diocese of Newcastle.  Secondly, that Newcastle Synod amended the jurisdiction of its diocesan tribunal.  The amendment removed from the jurisdiction of the diocesan tribunal, power to entertain complaints about clergy who had used the blessing service.

The Appellate Tribunal is created by the General Synod Constitution.  The Tribunal is the final forum in Australia for discipline appeals from a diocese.  The constitution also gives the Tribunal a function to provide advisory opinions on questions referred to it. Its membership consists of three diocesan bishops and four lawyers. Thus, it is a mixed body with training and skills in law and theology. Members of General Synod elect the members of the Tribunal and once elected they remain until retirement at 70.

On these references, the Tribunal invited written submissions from interested parties and then conducted their deliberations in private.  Under section 58 of the Constitution, where the Tribunal is not agreed on a question of doctrine, they can seek the opinion of the House of Bishops and the Board of Assessors. The Assessors are a panel of seven clergy elected by the General Synod. On the three questions asked, the House of Bishops provided a unanimous reply. The same questions to the Board of Assessors also resulted in a unanimous response. The theological thrust of the reports from the bishops and assessors was that the underlying theology in the blessing service was contrary to the Fundamental Declarations and Ruling Principles of the Anglican Church of Australia.

So much by way of background. The President of the Tribunal, the Hon Keith Mason AO QC was joined by the Hon Richard Refshauge, the Most Rev’d Dr Phillip Aspinall, Professor the Hon Clyde Croft AM SC and the Rt Rev’d Garry Weatherill, who formed the majority and gave one joint opinion.

There is a profound sense of disappointment in reading the lengthy majority opinion. In essence, the majority held that the meaning of ‘doctrine’ in the constitution is narrow. That is, in the constitution, doctrine is the teaching on the faith which is necessary to salvation. Thus, at paragraph 180:

In our view, the matters in the present reference do not involve issues of faith or doctrine properly so called any more than the dispute over female ordination. The contending views about “blessing” same-sex marriages are strongly held. But, with respect to some of the recent rhetoric, and the actions taken abroad by some bishops of this Church, the blessing of same-sex marriages does not [necessarily] involve denial of God or repudiation of the Creeds or rejection of the authority of Holy Scripture or apostasy on the part of bishops or synods prepared to support such measures.

Given that questions of doctrine were in play as well as answers from the House of Bishops and the Board of Assessors, it is disappointing that the majority have formulated an opinion which skirts around the theological position set out in the reports from the bishops and assessors.  And it is particularly curious that the two bishops on the Tribunal (who are also members of the House of Bishops) did not provide their own ‘theological’ addendum to the majority opinion. Especially so, when the majority opinion, of which they are part, opens the door for the blessing of behaviour which the Bible clearly says will exclude people from inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10).

The minority opinion of Ms Gillian Davidson asserts that ‘doctrine’ should be given the meaning intended by the framers of the Constitution, as a standard of our unity and our coherence as a distinctly Anglican body of believers.   She accepts the theological position in the unanimous opinions of the House of Bishops and Board of Assessors, that same sex practice is contrary to the faith and practice of the Church; persistent, unrepentant sin precludes a person from God’s kingdom; and God cannot bless that which is named as sin. For my part, it is inconceivable that the leading synod members of the 1955 General Synod, some known to me, who adopted the Constitution, would in any way support the narrow interpretation of ‘doctrine’ as expressed by the majority Opinion.

On the Newcastle reference, the curtailing of the jurisdiction of the diocesan tribunal was the point at issue. The change is to preclude categories of conduct by clergy in that diocese from being the subject of a charge in the diocesan tribunal. The majority held that the amending legislation was a valid exercise of the constitutional power of the diocesan synod. Ms Davidson took the view that the synod’s power may only be exercised ‘for the order and good governance of this Church within the diocese’ and that the proposed ordinance of the synod harms good order and governance and therefore is inconsistent with the Constitution.

The Opinions on both references require considered reflection on the legal reasoning and the treatment of Scripture by Tribunal members. While that may take some time, the conclusion is clear and disturbing. A presenting question is: who can articulate ‘doctrine’ in the Anglican Church of Australia? A contest between General Synod and the Appellate Tribunal is inevitable.

What might flow from these Opinions? Anybody familiar with the long and tortured gestation of the Constitution, will recognise that the hard-won unity of the Church, as expressed in the opening sections of the Constitution is under threat. The ordination of women created a state of impaired communion putting pressure on unity. If same sex liturgical blessings become part of the life of a diocese the unity of the Anglican Church of Australia will be on paper only.

Participation in the Holy Communion is seen by many as the visible expression of unity. When some Primates, at a Primates Meeting, declined to join in Communion with Primates from provinces which did not uphold biblical sexual morality, that was the ultimate breach of unity. Could that happen at an Australian Bishops Conference or at General Synod?    

At ground level, some congregations in dioceses which adopt the innovation, may want episcopal oversight from another bishop. Others may see that diocese as ripe for church planting.

Looking more widely, do these Opinions mark the line in the sand which was crossed in New Zealand, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom?

Robert Tong

Remembrance Day 2020.

See also:

Preliminary thoughts on the Appellate Tribunal ruling – Dr. Mark Thompson, Principal of Moore Theological College, Sydney.

A Call to Change the Census — Phillip Jensen

At last, I was chosen to be in a sample! I always wonder about polls and samples; I know lots of people but so few of them are ever part of a sample. But this time the Australian Bureau of Statistics chose my suburb to test out the 2021 Census.

So dutifully on the 29th of October I and those in my household answered all the questions about those who were with us that night (namely ourselves). It was magnificently simple, easy to follow and all done on-line. It collected up the basic information of the community, which will help research and policy makers to understand the nature of the Australian community.

All of this except the question on religion – for whether it’s intended to or not, it will deceive by unjustifiably claiming to present information that it has not acquired. In other words; it’s a sham!

The question on religion gave multiple choice answers organised by ‘no religion’, denomination of choice and religion of choice. The top billing went to ‘no religion’ which was separated by a line before the denominations and religions were listed. The religions and denominations were listed in what seemed a random fashion, though I suspect it was a descending order of popularity from last census. So Catholic and Anglican were the top two and others like Hindus and Baptists were further down the list. With finally a box to indicate any other religion not on the random list.

At one level it can appear that it is a fair question. All the options are available plus an alternative to indicate another religion if they haven’t provided for your religion explicitly. But you don’t need a degree in research science to perceive the biases in the order of the listing. Nor do you need a degree in religious studies to see the inaccuracy of confusing denominations with religions.

Personally, I find census information very useful and I’m glad our nation in its research and policy decision making has reliable and trustworthy information about our changing population. As a person deeply involved in religion, I’m particularly interested in religious statistics, as I’m sure are other ‘religious practitioners’. The decline of the old European denominations of Christianity is important to measure, not just for the political joy of atheists, but for the real understanding of anybody interested in religion or Australia. It may disappoint people to see their community declining but accurate accounting of reality is far more important than feelings of disappointment.

However, half a story is worse than no story – especially when the half that is given comes with the authority and apparent thoroughness of the government bureau of statistics. It leads to falsehood in journalistic writing (fairly common in the area of religion), bad decisions in policy and wrong actions amongst religious communities. Everybody loses when the facts are misrepresented by sloppy collection of data.

The question of religion is not so much which denomination you belong to as to which religion: Buddhist, Christian, Hindu or Islam. To only ask about Christian denominations, ignores the possibly more important distinctions between Sunni and Shia in the Muslim community. Within Australia there is a growing number of active Christians who have no denominational connection or interest. 

With 30% identifying as ‘no religion’ in 2016 it is important to clarify the meaning of the term. Some today claim they are ‘spiritual’ but not religious, others that they are agnostic or disinterested and still others are atheists. To lump them together while differentiating Christians down to denominations of less than 1% gives a very distorted view of our society and its recent developments.

A complaint without an alternative is easy to make but not particularly helpful. So, let me recommend to the Bureau the following:

1 That all options, including ‘no religion’ be presented alphabetically.

2 That the basic question be divided between

a Buddhist

b Christian

c Hindu

d Islam

e Judaism

f No religion

g Other

3 That denominations (including Islamic denominations) and no-religion alternatives (atheist, agnostic, no interest, spiritual) be made into sub-questions flowing from these main religious groupings.

It is important in Census work that the stability of the questions enable comparisons from one census to the next, especially to be able to see trends. What I am suggesting would enable those comparisons to be made. But it is more important that we are comparing realistic snapshots of society.  Furthermore, when society changes, as religion in a now multicultural society inevitably has, that the questions seek out the new reality rather than archaically repeating yesterday’s concerns.

As a Christian, I am concerned for the truth. Of course, I would like to see Christianity growing in Australia. But that has to be a reality not a wish or a distorted Census report. Reality is what the Census should provide. But at the moment, if the Bureau continues with its sample census, we will not have reality but half-truths and distortions that are impossible to usefully evaluate.

– Phillip Jensen.

Down to the Brass Tacks

“Now that Election Day has passed, your Curmudgeon feels free to comment on the current mess, since all the usual suspects have shown their cards and taken their predictable stances on the very predictable result of the Presidential race. …”

– A. S. Haley, “the Anglican Curmudgeon” (and a Christian lawyer) comments of the current state of the U.S. Presidential election.

While he does share his own opinions, it may be of help to Australian readers to understand the constitutional issues involved. (And a matter for prayer.)

Related:

Albert Mohler addresses the election fallout in his The Briefing for Monday 9th November 2020.

Albert Mohler on US Election Day

In his daily “The Briefing”, Albert Mohler shares his analysis for US Election Day, Tuesday 3rd November 2020.

See also:

Three Ways to be a Christian on Election DayFor the Church.

Christians, Conscience, and the Looming 2020 Election

“We know who Donald Trump and Joe Biden are, how they behave, the manner of their self-presentation, and the substance of their policies. The act of voting is before us, and for many of us is already done. What do Christians make of all this?”

– In his latest article, Dr. Albert Mohler lays out the choices he sees facing American voters at next week’s Presidential election.

See also this interview with Dr Mohler by John Anderson.

Update:

Beyond John Piper, more Christian ‘how to’ votesEternity News.

Euthanasia in a time of COVID

“I recently heard a man express the view that he would rather vote for a communist dog catcher than for someone who did not respect life. I am not sure about a communist dog catcher but I am sure that a vote for someone who will not defend the sanctity of human life is a vote for a very uncertain future.

Pre-election desire to introduce euthanasia into Queensland by Annastacia Palaszczuk is conspicuous in its timing. While ‘voluntary’, it has to be said that such a commitment to death during the COVID-19 pandemic is very confusing. …”

– Bishop of Armidale, Rick Lewers, discusses the sobering announcement from the Premier of Queensland.

Why we should say Yes to Sydney and Anglican!

“Twenty-five years into formal Anglican ministry in the Diocese of Sydney, I am still here because I want to be an Anglican clergyman.

Sure, I’d be equally content serving the Lord Jesus in a different type of work, but there is something marvellously compelling about wearing the badge that says both Sydney and Anglican.

I have identified five distinctive elements that have shaped both me and the church I serve that make it both something to be thankful for and a ministry worth unashamedly embracing for a lifetime. …”

– Nigel Fortescue writes at The Australian Church Record. First published in the ACR’s Winter Journal.

(Image: Christ Church St. Ives.)

Transgender and Sport

“I am not sure that the women I know are looking forward to being unrepresented at an elite level in the sports of their choice. For all those men who are not fans of women’s sport (their loss), you may be able to rejoice that women’s sport will soon be the domain of men. That sounds confusing, and it is, because it is confusing. …”

– Rick Lewers, Bishop of Armidale, shares some engaging thoughts in his latest column.

John Anderson on Fatherhood and other matters

Former Leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson has been posting interviews and reflections on his website.

Most recently, he read on camera two op-eds on fatherhood which had been published in The Australian and Quadrant.

Related:

Christians in a Fragile Democracy: An Interview with John Anderson – from the Gospel Coalition Australia.

The benefits of a long-term ministry

“I was ordained in 1971 and retired in 2012, and I spent 33 of those years as the vicar of St John’s Felbridge, a small Surrey village which is effectively part of East Grinstead, a town in West Sussex. It is a long time to spend in one place, and in my retirement I have been reflecting on the positive and negative aspects of ministry of that sort of length. …

Staying in one parish for 33 years would be disaster without a commitment to expository preaching. Over the years I have benefited enormously from the ministry of the Proclamation Trust, which encouraged me to keep working at opening up the Scriptures.”

– In this article from Church Society’s Crossway archives, Stephen Bowen looks at the challenges and advantages of staying in one church long term.

Masks

“I don’t understand why people would have a problem being asked to wear a mask. It might not be popular to say it out loud, but we all put on masks.

So what’s the problem? Long before COVID came along we were masked and long after it will disappear we will continue to be masked. So what’s the problem?…”

A gospel slant on masks from the Bishop of Armidale, Rick Lewers.

Hagia Sophia and the Signs of the Times

“The Byzantine Cathedral Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) was built in 537AD by Emperor Justinian and remains one of the world’s most recognised and beautiful buildings. It is deservedly a Unesco World Heritage site: a museum of immense beauty and historical significance.

Although I have never had a chance to visit Istanbul and to walk inside this magnificent building, I have long dreamed of wandering along its marble floors, admiring the mosaics and being entranced by the dome above.

But this museum is no more. …

What is happening in Turkey should serve as a reminder for churches not to take for granted the time we have to live and serve and to preach Jesus Christ as Lord. …”

– Murray Campbell sees an important lesson for churches in current events.

Loving the Liturgy

“Churches returning to physical services after the pandemic lock-down are having to be creative and adaptable under the present restrictions.

With singing not allowed, many are re-discovering the benefits of using liturgy in our corporate worship.

Is this something to be regretted, a backward step, or something to be grateful for?…”

– At Church Society’s blog, Andrew Cinnamond shares some reasons this can be a very good thing.

Next Page →