Anglicare faces internal ructions over Sydney diocese $1m no campaign donation
The $1m donation to the campaign against same-sex marriage from the Sydney Anglican diocese has infuriated sections of the church’s charity arm, who fear it will undermine the separation between the two bodies.
On Wednesday Anglicare Australia, which is made up of representatives from the charity’s state bodies, tweeted that it “hasn’t donated to the no campaign” and wasn’t “a party to the Sydney diocese’s decision to make a donation”.
“We completely understand why news of the Sydney Diocese donation has caused real and deep hurt and anger,” the agency tweeted. “Anglicare’s staff and volunteers work to help people. We hope those in need won’t be deterred from seeking help with an Anglicare agency.”
The statement came as a result of significant unrest within the various Anglicare bodies, who believe the donation and Sydney archbishop Glenn Davies’ subsequent comments risk undermining the charity’s mission.
While Anglicare is linked with the Anglican church, in most states it operates independently. The exception is in Sydney, where the church delivers services directly.
After the Sydney diocese’s donation sparked a backlash from within the church, it published a letter from Davies which directly linked the donation to Anglicare’s services, and questioned its ability to “operate on the basis of a Christian ethos” if same-sex marriage was legalised.
Davies wrote that participation in the no campaign was “not at the expense of our commitment to social justice, but because of it”.
“We believe that the best way for Anglicare and other Christian agencies to serve the social good is for them to be able to operate on the basis of a Christian ethos, and to recruit Christian staff and volunteers,” he wrote.
“A legal recognition of samesex marriage will significantly affect Anglican bodies who wish to maintain and promote a Christian understanding of marriage in opposition to the law of the land.”
Those comments have caused significant unrest within Anglicare.
Paul MacDonald, the chief executive of Anglicare Victoria, told Guardian Australia that while he did not “pass judgment” on the Sydney diocese’s support for the no campaign, he took exception to the suggestion that Anglicare would be “disadvantaged in the recruitment of staff and volunteers if the yes vote was to be successful”.
“Anglicare Victoria exists to create a more just society by expressing God’s love through service, education and advocacy,” he said.
“We believe in ending any discrimination that our clients experience and ensuring that they are treated equally and inclusively in our community. The promotion of equality and inclusion goes to the very heart of our work at Anglicare Victoria.”
He said the results of the voluntary postal survey “will not affect our ability to hire staff or volunteers as being suggested”.
“Nor does it affect any of the services we deliver to our clients,” he said. “Our appointments of staff, foster carers or volunteers are based on the sole criteria of the ability to deliver care, support and programs to our children young people and family clients at the high standards that we require.
“The issues of religious association or sexual preference are irrelevant in our decisions.”
The Sydney donation has been criticised by a broad section of the church, including those who would usually be associated with the no side.
Reverend Mike Paget from St Barnabas on Broadway in Sydney wrote in a lengthy Facebook post that while he was holds a “classically Christian view of marriage” he disagreed with the donation.
He wrote that the donation was “out of proportion with our commitments to other causes” and represented “poor financial stewardship” because he believed a legislative change to the definition of marriage was “inevitable”.
“We also gave about $1m to settle Syrian refugees in Australia, primarily through the archbishop’s appeal,” he said. “If our diocese were to allocate funds to the campaign, my preference would have been for a direct allocation of $1m to refugees and an appeal for those who wished to contribute financially to the no campaign.”
Paget also said the decision was “extremely hard to explain to congregations or the public”, and would “disproportionately affect churches with large numbers of young adults”.
“I do not think older Christians always understand the enormous pressure to renounce Jesus and his teaching that the young experience daily from their peers,” he wrote.
Peter Catt, the dean of St John’s Anglican cathedral in Brisbane and spokesman for Progressive Christian Voice, said he was “amazed” that the Sydney diocese had spent the money on “an ad campaign”.
Catt pointed to polling which has found a majority of Australian Christians support same-sex marriage and said opinions on the issue varied widely within the church.
“I would have thought we could have spent the money on an issue with much more agreement across the church,” he said.
“The church is pretty well in lockstep about the need to deal with domestic violence, homelessness, refugee rights. If you have $1m why not spend it on something you know can make a material difference?
“In terms of the priorities and perception of what the church does with its money, it’s not particularly helpful.”
Sydney Anglican archbishop Glenn Davies directly linked the anti-same-sex marriage donation to Anglicare’s services.