An Aussie diocese chooses apostasy. How to react? - with Kanishka Raffel
Wangaratta Defies National Church
(first published in the Australian Church Record Spring Quarterly)
by Kanishka Raffel
At its meeting on 31 August, the Synod of the Diocese of Wangaratta passed a regulation for the blessing of ‘people married according to the Marriage Act’ which, since 2017, includes people of the same sex. The decision of the Synod, encouraged and supported by Bishop John Parkes, is deeply dismaying. It not only stands in opposition to the teaching of the bible on human sexuality and marriage, but treats the national church and our ongoing engagement with this subject with scant regard.
In 2018, the Australian bishops agreed to a protocol that would govern their approach to this difficult conversation. Amongst other things, they agreed ‘to act within the framework of the Constitution and Canons of this Church’ and ‘to working together to manifest and maintain unity, as we together discern the truth.’ Striking a rather different tone this month, Bishop Parkes told The Melbourne Anglican that if his views put him ‘out of sorts with some part of the Anglican Communion, so be it.’
Following the decision of the Wangaratta Synod, the Primate, Philip Freier, Archbishop of Melbourne, has indicated that he will refer the matter to the Appellate Tribunal. As one might expect, in his Presidential Address, Bishop Parkes stated his belief that the regulation does not breach ‘the Constitution and Canons of our Church.’ This is the question that the Appellate Tribunal will have to consider. Both Bishop Parkes and the Chancellor of the Diocese of Wangaratta, his Honour Justice Clyde Croft, are members of the Appellate Tribunal. They should, naturally, recuse themselves. Bishop Parkes’ claim, also made in his Presidential Address, that Justice Croft’s absence from the Synod puts him at arms’ length to the matter, is irrelevant.
The Primate has also called on Bishop Parkes not to allow the newly approved regulation to be used until after the Appellate Tribunal has issued its opinion. While the Primate does not have the authority to issue an order to that effect, Bishop Parkes’ response to the Primate’s request will further demonstrate the seriousness of his commitment to the fellowship of the national church and to the bishops’ undertaking to ‘work … together to maintain and manifest unity.’
In light of these circumstances, it is regrettable that the Ordinary Session of General Synod that was planned for May 2020 has been postponed, and may not take place until 2023. Ostensibly, this was to create the opportunity for a non-legislative and less combative ‘conference’ to take place. It was intended that this conference would allow the General Synod Doctrine Commission’s book on human sexuality to be considered in a less formal setting. The virtue of such a conference is deeply undermined by the precipitate and schismatic actions of the Wangaratta Synod. Article XX of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion states that ‘it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.’ The seriousness of the tear in the fabric of the communion of the Australian Church that has occurred as a result of the Wangaratta decision should not be underestimated.
A disturbing aspect of Bishop Parkes’ Presidential Address, which effectively set the theological framework for the Synod debate, was his juxtaposition of Christlikeness and biblical faithfulness: ‘the ultimate test is not whether a particular action is biblical but whether it is Christlike.’ This dichotomy is both false and misleading. It is Christ himself who appointed, instructed and inspired the apostles and authors of Scripture. Indeed, we know Jesus truly only because of their testimony. In and through their Spirit-breathed words, we hear Jesus’ words. For, as Jesus promised them, ‘the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you’ (John 14:26). Moreover, the words of Jesus are the words of the Father: ‘These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me’ (John 14:24). In short, there is no such thing as biblically unfaithful Christlikeness. To dismiss Scripture is to disown Christ.
Jesus’ teaching about the nature of Christian discipleship is plain: ‘if you love me, you will keep my commands’ (John 14:15). It is precisely because our Church believes that these commands are preserved for us in Scripture that we also believe that it is ‘not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written.’