The 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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand