Bishop John McIntyre of Gippsland has reiterated that he will welcome gay and lesbian people and include them in all aspects of the life of the Church.

In his Presidential Address to his Diocesan Synod in Sale on 18 May, Bishop McIntyre questioned whether Christians could read Biblical references to sexuality in the same way “now we know that it is simply a reality of some people’s lives to be same-sex attracted, and not a perverse choice made by them”, adding that it had taken the Church, “and me”, a long time to acknowledge this.

“It is a simple Biblical truth that has caused me to move to a new place in my understanding of the place of same-sex attracted people in the life of the church,” he said, quoting from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapter 7, verses 18 and 20).

“I have come to know and acknowledge that the fruit of their works makes clear that God has been and is at work in and through gay and lesbian people, who for years have been a part of our church, in both lay and ordained ministries.”

Bishop McIntyre said he wrote to clergy recently that it was a salutary experience to be reminded that at one and the same time no one was worthy and all were worthy for ministry.

“Only in light of reflection on God’s Word did I finally come to understand. Despite what I or others may believe is their worthiness, the fruit of the works of many gay and lesbian people has brought God’s blessing to me and to many other people, both in and beyond the church. That is the measure of their worthiness to minister in the name of Jesus Christ in the life of the church, and in the community in the name of the church. That indicates their place in the life of God’s people.”

He said the Church, in the name of orthodoxy, had treated gay and lesbian people “rather shabbily”, comparing their treatment to that meted out to Galileo over his finding that the Earth was round, not flat.

“Here lies an exegetical parallel for our present purpose… The Biblical writers had no concept of the possibility of a faithful, committed relationship of love between people who found themselves to be attracted to others of the same gender,” the bishop said. “They assumed that anyone who engaged in sexual activity with a person of the same gender was a heterosexual person acting outside their God-given nature. By definition, this was for them perverse activity.

“Now we know that it is simply a reality of some people’s lives to be same-sex attracted, and not a perverse choice made by them, how can the church ever read the Bible in the same way?

"Further to this, I have become convinced we will never come to a place of understanding on this matter unless we walk the path to understanding together. For too long we have asked same-sex attracted people to wait outside the church, or at most in its wings, while we decide the basis on which they can be a part of the church’s life. The thought seems to have been that when we have decided (and we certainly don’t seem to be in too much of a hurry to do this) we will invite gay and lesbian people into the church on our terms; that is, if they still want to be a part of us. I do not believe this is a particularly godly way in which to go.”

Bishop McIntyre assured synod that he was not demanding that all Anglicans agree with him, saying one of the beauties of Anglicanism was the capacity of people to stay together in Christ with strongly held differences.

“We can stay together in the unity of Christ with our differences, and in grace we can continue to learn from each other,” he said.

“I make this commitment to all of you, whether or not you agree with me on this one issue. All I do, and all I will seek to continue to do, in everything I do, is to seek the will of God. Accordingly, I will appoint to office in our diocese those whom I believe God is calling to minister among us, and I will continue to do so with a grateful heart to God for the gifts and skills they bring to us. Furthermore, I will do this within the context of the greater call of God on the whole church, which is to live by grace; to seek justice and to show compassion, in all we do and say. That is my commitment to God and to you, and I am willing to live with any consequences that may arise from remaining true to that commitment."

On the debate about changing the legal definition of marriage to allow gay and lesbian people to marry, Bishop McIntyre said that on the whole, the response from the churches had been an understandable recourse to the so-called “traditional” view of marriage.

“To be honest, I am not sure how well this works because I am not sure there is much agreement in the churches about the traditional view of marriage and I not sure there is a lot of acknowledgement that even the Christian view of marriage has changed over recent years,” he said, tracing the development of the Judaeo-Christian understanding of marriage.

“Is there not an argument that all people should have access to the institution of marriage, precisely in order to guarantee under law the ongoing protection of children; the good order of society and the rights of those who are in committed life-long relationships? And is it not perhaps unjust to deny the rights of any group of people to that access?

“Just as importantly, why would we not want all people to commit to the responsibilities enshrined in The Marriage Act? I have to admit the responsibilities of marriage have not been a highlight of the public debate. However, if one outcome of gay and lesbian people being able to marry was that, like any other people in committed sexual relationships, they too were held accountable under law for the protection of children in their care; for the good ordering of their sexual relationships within society, and for the rights of those in committed sexual relationships, would that not be a good thing?”

Bishop McIntyre said whatever the churches’ views on marriage, “we cannot expect those views to prevail in law just because that is what we believe”.

“I have no doubt we should participate in the public debate, and that we should do that on the basis of our faith and the values that arise from our faith. But I do not believe it is a value consistent with our faith to seek to impose on others what we believe, no matter how strongly we believe it.

“The way of the Gospel, in the end, is the way of persuasion by a godly life, and by godly words and actions. A godly life, and godly words and actions are marked by grace, and the truth on any matter will emerge as we live by the same grace with which we are met by God in Jesus Christ.”

Bishop McIntyre said the most significant issue confronting Gippsland Anglicans in the coming year within the life of their diocese was the development of a new five-year strategic plan for 2013-17.

Read the transcript of Bishop McIntyre’s address.
 

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