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Comment on the multicultural proposal – Synod 2005

Rev Woodley is responding to the article Sensitive Multicultural Conversation.

I have watched the debate about Resolution 84 of the 2003 Assembly over the past two plus years but have refrained from commenting publicly, apart from answering a question from a journalist some time ago which, at the time, prompted a clarification in Journey. However, I cannot let the report on page 10 of the October Journey stand without comment.

For most of my ministry, I have been a supporter of a multicultural church and have tried to be sensitive to people of churches from other parts of the world, but this does not include allowing statements which are plainly wrong to pass without protest.

I do not know how much of the report in Journey will constitute “asking the Assembly to adopt the process used by the Queensland Synod for listening to multicultural voices….”, but I trust the Assembly will not accept the content of the report in Journey, although I am sure it will listen. Being sensitive to others does not mean we should accept what they say if it is wrong. There are a number of statements in the Journey report which not only are wrong but which call into question the integrity of those who voted for resolution 84 at the 2003 Assembly and those who have supported the Resolution since.

The “rebuke of Assembly Resolution 84” includes the inference that supporters of the Resolution do not “stand firm on the doctrines and teachings of the one holy catholic and apostolic church”. This is nonsense and to simply assert this of a whole group of people of whom the speaker has no knowledge is insulting and unjust.

The report in Journey states that Rev Hedley Fihaki quoted from the constitution of the Methodist Church of Tonga, “When a sexual relationship is not of its natural state and therefore not Christian….” This is one of the most contentious issues in the whole debate about homosexuality and the reported statement in Journey is at best dubious and at worst just plain wrong. The consistent testimony of those Christians who are homosexual persons, some of whom I have known for many years, is that their sexuality and their spirituality are part of their essential nature. It is who they are. Their orientation as a homosexual person is not unnatural for them but is how God made them.

There is a further inference in the reported statement which reads: “…a sexual relationship…..whether that be committed between a man and man etc.” This assumes that homosexuality is about certain sexual acts. This is a gross misunderstanding of who homosexual persons are, for the following reasons:

1. Homosexual people are conscious of their identity as sexual persons apart from any expression of that identity in any physical act, just as heterosexual people are.

2. Homosexual people may or may not be in a relationship with another person and may or may not engage in sexual activity with that person.

3. There is no definition of “sexual relationship” in the statement. Does this mean that if two people of the same gender are living together the Methodist Church of Tonga assumes that it knows what they do in the privacy of their own home? Does the Church make the same assumption about its heterosexual members?

A further statement is attributed to Mr Senituli in which he claims that Resolution 84 constituted a “change” which was made by the Assembly without the “concurrence” of the members of the Uniting Church. I can only assume that Mr Senituli has been misled by the media or by someone else because Resolution 84 does not constitute a change in the policy or regulations of the Uniting Church.

As for the involvement of members and the Councils of the Uniting Church in the debate about homosexuality, there has been an exhaustive debate which has been going on for at least twenty years. Resolution 84 of the 2003 Assembly was no more than a restatement of the two, major, unreconciled positions in the debate and of the standard process which has been used since the formation of the Uniting Church for selecting candidates for ministry.

If one were to count the time and effort given to this issue by many sections of the Uniting Church (and other churches) with the relative unimportance of the issue in the Bible compared to, for example, the issue of economic injustice, then one must ask why there has been such an obsession with this one issue by so many?

However, the statement in Journey makes further assertions: There is the accusation that a minority group has “seized control of the avenues information and decision making in the church”. There is no evidence given for what is a very serious accusation and one which is both untrue and libellous. The same has to be said of the claim that the Uniting Church in Australia has “watered down its doctrines and theology because of fear and pressure from society to be an all inclusive church.”

There is one further comment in the Journey report which must be rejected categorically: It is the comment that the Uniting Church in Australia has, amongst other things, rejected the biblical view by “endorsing Resolution 84”. Here I can only speak for myself but I suspect that I reflect the view of many others. For fifty years I have been engaged in serious study of the Bible and the older I become the more important the Bible is to me. In any case, I deny the reason given, that I and others have rejected the biblical view because of pressure to be an all inclusive church. Indeed, the call to be an inclusive church is fundamental to the gospel and the New Testament.

My endorsement of Resolution 84 of the 2003 Assembly is because I have come to this view after serious study of the relevant Biblical passages and not because of any world view or the influence of “post modernity”. I also have counselled with Christians who are homosexual for the last eighteen years and listened to their pain as they remain faithful to their Lord despite being rejected by large sections of the Church.

There is, unfortunately, a discredited tactic sometimes used in debates, which seems to be prominent in this debate. It is the tactic of attributing those who do not agree with one’s own position, dubious beliefs and attitudes which enable the other to be more easily dismissed as heretical and of unsound character: Accusations that the other is outside the one, holy catholic and apostolic church; has watered down doctrine and theology and is unbiblical may be colourful but such accusations have no basis in fact.

I am appalled by the accusations levelled at my church and at the leaders and ordinary members of my church who voted by a significant majority for Resolution 84 at the 2003 Assembly. Whilst we should always listen to what other Christians say to us, especially when they have a different point of view, the obligation on all of us is to represent fairly what others say. The strategy of calling into question the integrity of those who disagree with us and of misrepresenting their position so that it can thereby be discounted more easily should not be used at all.

I do not understand how the Synod could pass a resolution based on the misrepresentation of the character and beliefs of so many members of our church?

I agree with the Moderator that we must respect the perspective brought to us by our brothers and sisters from other churches and it is important that the Synod was able to hear what they had to say. I wonder if some day we might also be able to hear the perspective of those Christian brothers and sisters who are homosexual persons? At present they believe that it would not be safe for them to tell their stories to the Queensland Synod.

Rev John Woodley

Caboolture Region, Uniting Church in Australia