I am writing to try and put in some sort of order, my thoughts and understanding of the Uniting Church decision regarding the definition of marriage, and how that affects me and how I think it affects our local congregation.
I am an elder in our congregation.
The decision and it's lead up, on 13th July 2018, has caused personal internal turmoil in me and many other members of the Uniting Church across Australia. It is a dividing issue.
Our congregation numbers between 20 to 50 on any given Sunday, we are mostly over 50 in age, with many above 70. Our young families are a minority.
A significant number in the congregation have family members who identify as homosexual. As far as I know, no one within our usual congregation identifies as homosexual.
The denominational and theological background of our congregation is diverse, some being in the church since Union occured in the 70s, others joining the congregation by default or through frindship and conversion.
As far as I know, our congregation has never experienced a revival, and we certainly experienced a significant division when item 84 was passed in 2003. (Allowing homosexual people to be ordained and hold positions of leadership in our denomination)
I was very close to leaving at that point in time, but my spiritual searching at the time led me and my wife to remain as active members, despite the fact that many close friends left the congregation.
On our front sign, at the bottom, there is the statement "We are a Bible based church". This is a remnant of the congregation pre-item-84-split, but I am glad it is there.
I myself was born Roman catholic, practicing as a child and teenager, later drifting from christian faith, but experiencing a heart felt return to christian faith through friends at University, via the Anglican movement "Evangelical Union". Later I was deeply influenced and theologically taught via a group called "New Creation Ministry" under the headship of Geoffrey Bingham. I hold to reformed theology, the centrality of the cross, salvation by grace alone, and the expectation of a bodily return of Christ and a bodily resurrection. I believe in heaven and hell.
As someone living often in rural areas, I was naturally drawn to Baptist churches, which is the denomination where I met my wife and where we were married. But on arriving to our current home of 25 years, it seemed the Baptsit Church had closed. It was actually on temporary recession at the time, it did close several years later, and some of that congregation joined the Uniting Church.
As a congregation, our theological level of understading remains in many ways, limited, it's not really a subject of conversation, being somewhat dependant on the leadership of a minister, and over all, very willing to abide by the decisions and direction of the Uniting Church as a body.
After the split we experienced in 2003, our congregation briefly considered joining the Assembly of Confessing Churches. The move was overwhelmingly defeated, and at the time, though sad, I was in no way surprised, and willing to continue on in my role at the church.
Now with the new Assembly decision to redifine marriage, I am personally no longer comfortable with the theological framework of our denomination.
My initial response was to speak out, whenever I had the opportunity, however, this has not been received well. I am now realizing that some in our congregation are strongly in favour of the decision to redefine marriage, others are willing to accept what seems to be a very reasonable approach by the Uniting Church, "allowing" Ministers to choose whether or not they wish to conduct same sex marriages themselves.
Many of those others do not wish to upset or offend members of the congregation who have homosexual loved ones.
I myself, do not wish to offend our congregation, but I do want to hold to my understanding of what Jesus teaches. Though I am willing to accept varying views on creation, the role of women in leadership, the many styles of communion, and many other more peripheral Christian teachings, to me, "marriage" is not on the list of peripheral, less important theology.
This is particularly beause of my understanding that human marriage is a gift, sign, and witness of thedeep and mysterious truth of Christ's own relationship with thewhole ofchriistendom, the Church representing the bride, and Jesus being the head and the groom.
Apart from all of this, the idea of becoming somewhat "rogue" (my own term), by joining a dissenting group, is not at all palatable to many in the congregation, particularly if therer is a threat to the ACC leaving the UCA.
And what of scripture?
To many in the congregation, the interpretation and application of the Bible passages is best left to those in authority, who are, by and large, trusted. It would not be considered a general need for individuals to know and understand the more detailed theology of Christianity, after all it can be a minefield, and a source of division, which is, of course, opposite to the goal of the"Uniting" church.
Harmony, compliance, and service would be more highly considered within our congregation than proclaimation and theological understanding.
Of course this leaves us vulnerable to false teaching, and more willing to accept dogma from the heads of the church than Catholics from the Pope. In an ideal world, our leaders would be theologically undefiled, and the risk to congregations such as ours, minimal.
But in saying this, I am not absolving our congregation from our obligation to search out and apply the Holy Scriptures for ourselves.
The decision of the general assembly to add a new definition of marriage, complying with Australia's "Yes vote" to same sex marriage, to many seems a moral victory.
To others, like me, shock has led to grief and confusion, as clearly, my understanding of the deep and mysterious purpose of marriage in the teachings of Jesus, appears defiled.
It feels like a cancer has taken root, one that will slowly invade and destroy the church.
Apostacy and false teaching are strong words, but, in my view, apply to the Uniting Churches understanding of sexuality in the context of Christian faith and expression.
But, my strong views can be taken as unnecessary scare mongering, and deliberate undermining of an otherwise loving and harmonious congregation.
It was with shock, that I heard the words said, that I am out to destroy our church.
After a sleepless night considering these words seriously, I know in my heart that that is furthest from my mind and heart. But, sadly, I sense that my days within our congregation are soon to close.
My prayer is that revival would occur, that many in our congregation would be stirred by God, the Holy Spirit, to a new understanding of what a great salvation we have received from our Lord Jesus, and that His Word, sweeter than honey and more precious than gold, would be honoured above all else.