A message from the Anglican Bishop of Gippsland, the Right Reverend Dr Richard Treloar, as published in the Gippsland Anglican.
Religious freedoms: freedom from, or freedom for?
Anglicanism is a ‘church-in-society’ tradition. That is, we take our place as a church in the rough and tumble of the culture around us. Ours is an incarnational ecclesiology – a way of being present to the world that can no more avoid the ‘sandal of particularity’ than could the Word made flesh. Jesus was born at a particular time, in a particular place, and had to work out his proclamation of the kingdom of God in the rapidly shifting context of a first century Judaism that was as broad and diverse as our own Anglican communion of churches is today. Whilst the Gospel is not captive to culture – ours or any other – it is always enculturated; indeed, we have four examples of that within the canon of Scripture itself.
The current debate over religious freedoms, following recent and widely supported changes to the Marriage Act, brings this into sharp relief. What freedoms from existing antidiscrimination legislation ought the state provide for those who – with reference to their religious beliefs – uphold a more conservative view of marriage, and of gendered identity, including in the determination of admission and employment policies for denominational schools and other faith-based organisations?
Having met recently with the two Principals of our Anglican schools in this Diocese to discuss this issue, I can assure our community that no prospective or current student or staff member would be excluded or in any other way discriminated against on the basis of their sexuality, gender identity, or marital status.
Gippsland Grammar and St Pauls rightly require their staff to support the school’s ethos, and our Principals and other Anglican employers clearly need to be free to exercise some discretion in this regard. A capacity to uphold the kingdom values we expect children in Anglican schools to engage with and to see modelled, however, is not a function of sexual orientation, or of any other identity marker used reductively.
Nor do we serve the best interests – intellectual or spiritual – of the children in our care by seeking to create educational communities that screen out diversity, or repress both the challenges and the enrichment of difference.
As well as being a church-in-society tradition, Anglicanism is a ‘non-confessional’ one, which means our doctrine is grounded in the faith once delivered to the saints, and is reflected in our authorised liturgies, as distinct from being collected in a single foundational text.
‘The’ Anglican doctrine of marriage, therefore, cannot simply be read off a page, as is evidenced by the fact that several Anglican Provinces around the world now have authorised forms in use for the celebration and/or blessing of same-sex marriages.
Here in Australia we have long since adapted our pastoral and liturgical practice with respect to the prayer book’s teaching of marriage as ‘a lifelong partnership uniting a man and a woman’ (APBA) to enable the remarriage of divorced persons – an example not of a liberal ‘concession’ to some moral failing, but of the need to constantly interpret our polity in the light of the interplay between Scripture, reason, and tradition, and under the guidance of Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth.
Jesus’ table, in each of our four distinct accounts of it, was a site of congregation rather than segregation, where companions (literally, those who share bread) were connected by a common hunger for grace, and a letting go of entitlement, religious or otherwise. May our tables in this Diocese – in our schools, churches, Anglican institutions, and households – be of such a kind of mutual belonging, secure in our common and primary identity in him who is Guest and Host at them all.