One of Australia’s most senior Anglicans has declared the church is in a new “crisis” over same-sex marriage as Melbourne Archbishop Philip Freier tries to calm a week of frenzied debate over whether LGBTQI people are welcome in the faith.
Dr Freier, the Anglican Primate or head bishop, said crisis was “a strong word” and sought to downplay the question of sexuality and same-sex marriage as a “social issue” and a matter of conscience.
His statement came in response to comments from Sydney’s conservative archbishop Glenn Davies, who told The Sunday Age the Anglican church was “in a crisis” because some clergy wanted to alter its doctrine to become more accepting of same-sex unions.
It followed an incendiary speech to the Sydney diocese’s synod last week in which Dr Davies declared people who didn’t ascribe to the doctrine should “please leave” the church. He said later his remarks were directed at “the bishops” and clergy, not “the people in the pews”.
The remarks were in part triggered by a vote of the Wangaratta diocese and its bishop John Parkes to bless (but not solemnise) civil same-sex unions. Dr Freier has referred that matter to the church’s internal appellate tribunal.
The Sydney synod voted on Wednesday night to urge its administrators to seek legal advice on deferring its annual payment to the national church, worth about $566,000 next year.
Some have seen the move as a potential precursor to the notoriously conservative Sydney diocese splitting from the church entirely, tearing apart the communion of more than three million Australians.
Melbourne’s veteran Anglican scholar Muriel Porter described the Sydney diocese in 2011 as “a threat to global Anglicanism” that far outweighed its size and importance.
In an interview, Dr Davies sounded a stern warning to clergy in Victoria and elsewhere that he “will not abide” any attempts to alter the church’s doctrine on sexuality and marriage.
“I don’t have any doubt that in time to come people will breach the Rubicon. They’re testing the waters and my view is I don’t want to have a breach in the wall,” Dr Davies said.
“We’re in a crisis. The crisis is that there are people that want to change the doctrine of our church. I’m not going to let it happen in Australia – that’s why I stood up and spoke up.”