The Dominion Post
Church has a big call to make
Society can move and change pretty swiftly. We’ve only just recently acknowledged and legitimised same-sex marriage and now we’re having to confront previously little-known concepts such as gender fluidity and non-binary sexuality.
Most of us simply raise an eyebrow of reflection: Where will this end, we ask ourselves; what does it all mean? Does it really matter?
If you’re struggling a little, spare a thought for the world’s churches, and the many millions of people they represent. While others have long suspected the sky won’t fall in over same-sex marriage, and have been pleased to find evidence largely supporting that view, many of the globe’s traditional religions have been wrestling with how to handle this societal seachange, and the potential impact on their very existence.
On one hand are the progressives, who believe their church must acknowledge the legitimacy of the movement and the basic human rights it promotes.
On the other hand are traditionalists who believe they are on the right side of history, supported by a book and a doctrine that is undermined by such seemingly radical change.
These two groups debated the issue in Christchurch at the weekend, during the regional synod of the city’s Anglican diocese.
Progressives appeared to win on the day, with 60 per cent voting for a proposal allowing the blessing of same-sex marriages.
The 63rd General Synod will discuss the church’s position on the issue in New Plymouth in May.
This is about relevance. Traditionalists believe marriage is between a man and a woman, and they offer the Bible, the word of their god, as evidence.
But polls suggest that more and more people are turning away from religion, especially that practised by traditional churches, so can the Anglican Church afford to place a stake in the shifting sands of societal change and potentially lose more of their parishioners?
And if they do change, does that also undermine the church’s relevance - what else might change in the name of expediency?
Just as some Americans struggle to understand the modern interpretation and relevance of a constitution written almost 250 years ago in very different times, and New Zealanders must wrestle with the ramifications of a treaty almost 180 years on, so too must the church reconcile a text possibly thousands of years old with the mores of 21st century society.
That creates very real and potentially uncomfortable challenges. Also, traditional churches face increasing competition from more modern counterparts, some of whom embrace more liberal views, some of whom are even more fundamental and resistant to compromise.
Anglicans in New Zealand have an advantage their secular neighbours did not enjoy on this issue: they have a vote and some control over the impact of this wave of change. Whichever way they go will create a large group of disaffected people. How the church handles the ramifications of that is likely to be even more important than the vote itself.
This feels like a seminal moment for an organisation that preaches inclusion. One that will require the wisdom of Solomon.
This issue is about relevance.