So, on May 25 we met at St. John's Roslyn to discuss marriage. The catalyst for the gathering had, of course been the issue of the ordination of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people and the related issue of the marriage of people in same gender relationships. The request for our hui had come from Synod 2012, and was made well before the recent law allowing for such marriages was passed by parliament. At synod a motion requesting us to sanction the ordination of people in same gender relationships had led to a ragged, divisive discussion during the course of which it was realised by everyone that the issue was complex and that requesting people to vote yes or no to a proposition was simply unhelpful. For me, the wider issue of marriage had been niggling me for years. It is obvious that the ways in which people meet, commit themselves and begin a life together had undergone a radical revolution in the last couple of decades and what did the concept of Christian marriage mean in that changed social milieu?
Of course, in the lead up to the hui I was subject to a lot of advice, most of it from people at one end of the spectrum of debate or other asking that the church in general and I in particular exercise a bit of leadership on the matter. My own aim was a not quite so clear cut, but I suspect it was one shared by many of those present. I recognise that all those in our diocese who have strong views on matters of sexuality, gender and marriage are quite genuinely seeking the best. They have thought, discussed and prayed. They have read the relevant scriptural passages, often in exhaustive detail.. Further, they are all seeking to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the good of humankind. And yet they are often coming from very different places and reaching wildly different and mutually exclusive conclusions.
And these conclusions really are irreconcilable. So, we could duke it out and see if one side could persuade the other to either change or do the decent thing, admit their heresy and leave. Or we could try and find a way in which we might recognise each other as sisters and brothers in Christ despite our differing opinions. This latter position is the one I want to arrive at. I believe it is possible to do this, because it is in effect what we have been doing for ten years or more in the Diocese of Dunedin. As Jim White pointed out in the last Hermeneutics hui in Auckland, pacifists and soldiers exist side by side in the same church without demur, despite the issue of pacifism being perhaps closer to the heart of the Gospel than is the issue of sexuality.
In the end, the day went well. Sue Burns from St. John's College facilitated the process with the gentle firmness and clear grasp of group dynamics which were the reasons I had asked her to do it. Gillian Townsley led us in a study which was not so much a Bible study as a reminder of hermeneutical principles and an application of scripture to various real life scenarios of moral ambiguity. Group discussion was engaged, vigorous and intelligent. I was impressed by the respectfulness with which we spoke to one another.
At the end of the day no-ones opinions were much changed. But the great triumph was that we stayed together, we talked and we began to feel our way towards that sense of God's presence which enables us to be the body of Christ. We have a long way to go, but I am very optimistic.