The Original Resolution of Assembly 2003 on Proposal 84 and Subsequent Amendment by the Assembly Standing Committee

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Extract from unconfirmed Minutes of the UCA Tenth Assembly, Melbourne, 17th July, 2003

84. MINISTRY AND MEMBERSHIP IN THE UNITING CHURCH (Facilitation Group)

The Assembly resolved:

1. To note the following extracts from Assembly minute 00.25.03:

(a) that the Church's faith is in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that the Church's work and unity are built upon the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ;
(b) the authority of the Scriptures as defined in the Basis of Union, acknowledging that within the Church there is a range of views on questions of Biblical interpretation on various matters of Christian faith and practice;
(c) we are bound together by Christ, and because we love the Uniting Church as part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church we will continue to work together in our diversity as servants of the living God.

2. Recognizing that:

(i) within the Church people of faith have wrestled with integrity to interpret Scripture in relation to the issue of Christian sexual ethics and have on some issues come to mutually exclusive positions;
(ii) there are members of the Church who have reached the conclusion that "celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage" is a faithful Christian standard for Christian sexual ethics;
(iii) there are members of the Church who have reached the conclusion that "right relationships" as outlined in Uniting Sexuality and Faith is a faithful Christian standard for Christian sexual ethics; and
(iv) membership of the Uniting Church is open to all persons subject only to the guidance of the Basis of Union, the Constitution, the Regulations and policies of the Assembly,
to call upon members of the Church to seek to live together in peace as people of faith, notwithstanding differing views in the matter of same sex relationships.

3. To remind Presbyteries that:

(a) in considering issues related to candidature, ordination or commissioning for specified ministries, and the placement of persons in specified ministries, decisions should only be taken on a case by case basis; and
(b) a decision on the suitability of an applicant or candidate depends upon a wide range of criteria and may include consideration of the manner in which the applicant's or candidate's sexuality is expressed.

4. To request the Standing Committee:

(a) to provide guidance for Congregations and Presbyteries on how to conduct discussions on contentious issues in ways that comply with the Church's policy on vilification and harassment;
(b) to seek advice for the Church on the legal implications of the relevant legislation, e.g. anti discrimination legislation, anti vilification legislation, etc.; and advise councils of the Church of this advice; and
(c) to amend, on the advice of the Legal Reference Committee, Regulation 2.7.16(l) to make more explicit the role of presbyteries in the placement of people in specified ministries.

Rationale [not part of the resolution, but reported by officers of the Assembly named below, with reference to the report which was before the Assembly.]

The report outlines the basis on which this proposal has been developed. The intention of this proposal is to make clear some matters that have been subject to uncertainty and dispute within the life of the Church.

The Church has had before it at the last two Assemblies proposals that sought to make a decision on the church's understanding of same sex relationships and the place of a person in the life of the Church. On neither occasion did the Assembly decide to make a decision that would be binding on the whole church. In the process the Assembly made some strong affirmations about human relationships not being exploitative and the foundations of the unity of the Church.

To press for an authoritative decision on the place of persons in same sex relationships in ministry at this Assembly is no more likely to lead to a decision. Once again there is the potential to embroil the Church in debilitating debate and continue the tensions and distractions of the last few years. The Church needs to find a way of living together with different but genuine and faithful views on the issue of same sex relationships in the Church.

The proposal makes statements on membership in the church, the way presbyteries are to exercise their functions in dealing with candidates and placements and provides room for individual conscience and action within a broad respectful community where divergent views are held.

The proposals when taken as a whole make some very important statements about us as a church. They say we are a church that can be humble enough to recognise when it does not have all the answers, is gracious enough to live in fellowship with people of faith who hold differing opinions, and which is hopeful in the power of the Spirit and the gospel to sustain unity in a diverse group of people who seek to move on in the fellowship of Christ.

Released on the authority of Geoffrey Grinton (Business Manager) and Wendie Wilkie (Associate General Secretary)

For information on recent Assembly Standing Committee decisions related to "Membership, Ministry and Sexuality" please visit the link below:
http://nat.uca.org.au/ASC/membershipministrynsexuality.htm

A Letter from the President reporting actions of the Assembly Standing Committee

Ministers, Members
and Councils of the Church
August 25 2003

Dear colleagues in ministry,

Over the last six weeks I have shared with you in ministering to a church experiencing confusion, anger and pain. It has not been easy. Last weekend the Assembly Standing Committee, with Moderators and Synod Secretaries, heard and were in touch with the feelings of the Church. I believe that the Assembly Standing Committee has made some decisions that evidence a deep listening and concern for the Church, and will be of great assistance to us all.

In the attached document are the decisions of the Standing Committee. It commences with some affirmations of our shared faith and a statement of apology and regret. The second component to the decisions is a clarification of Proposal 84. There are three areas where the need for clarification was seen as urgent.

Re 84.2 - questions have been asked about whether the Uniting Church adopted "Right Relationships" and "Celibacy in Singleness and Faithfulness in Marriage", and what the standards are for ministers in this area. Part three of the enclosed ASC decision states strongly that neither has ever been endorsed by the Assembly. Part 3 (b) draws the attention of the Church to the very high standards that have been set by the Assembly in this area of Christian behaviour.

Re 84.3 - it has been asked whether the requirement to consider candidates for ministry and placements on a case by case basis prevents a congregation, presbytery or synod from having a stated position about sexual ethics. Congregations and Councils who wish to state a sexual ethic may do so after prayerful consideration and study of the Scriptures. Also there have been many claims that the 10th Assembly did a new thing. Standing Committee draws the attention of the Church to the fact that in part three of Proposal 84 the reminder to presbyteries is based on specific decisions of previous Assemblies.

It is apparent that the meaning of the Assembly resolution was not effectively communicated by the wording of Proposal 84. The Standing Committee has responsibility to make clear the meaning of Assembly decisions and it has powers under the Constitution and Regulations to do so. The Standing Committee in fulfilling this responsibility has determined to vary the wording of Proposal 84 and the text of that wording is provided. The varied wording of proposal 84 is the version upon which discussion in the Church must be based from this time. I stress that the purpose of the variation is to clarify the meaning according to the rationale of the original Assembly resolution. The meaning of the varied Proposal 84 is entirely consistent with the meaning of Proposal 84 that has been communicated by the Assembly Officers since the 10th Assembly.

I trust that this clarification from the Assembly Standing Committee will remove the confusion that has existed in the Church since the 10th Assembly. The Uniting Church has very high ethical standards for its ministers, and certainly does not hold two mutually exclusive standards. We are a church within which there are differing opinions on same gender relationships and where councils, ministers and members are able to give voice to those different opinions and make decisions about what that means for ministry in their place. We work together through a series of inter related Councils that since the time the Uniting Church was established has given significant responsibilities to congregations and presbyteries - and those responsibilities continue to this day.

As partners in the service of the Gospel I am thankful to be united with you through our common faith in the reconciling work of Jesus Christ. I rejoice in the gifts that you bring to the service of the Church, and pray that we will know the peace of Christ and the unity of the Spirit made possible through our common faith in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

PS: extracts from various key documents can be accessed through nat.uca.org.au/home

ASC DECISIONS ON MEMBERSHIP, MINISTRY AND SEXUALITY
(in light of concerns expressed on Assembly proposal 84)

The Assembly Standing Committee joyfully acknowledges that:
"The Church as the fellowship of the Holy Spirit confesses Jesus as Lord over its own life; it also confesses that Jesus is Head over all things, the beginning of a new creation, of a new humanity." (Basis of Union, para 3)

We further gratefully acknowledge that:
"in his own strange way Christ constitutes, rules and renews [us] as his Church." (Basis of Union, para 4)

Having prayerfully met in retreat from 22 to 24 August 2003, seeking God's will and believing this to be God's guidance, we resolved that the Assembly Standing Committee:

STATEMENT OF APOLOGY AND REGRET

1. Acknowledges with regret that proposal 84 and the way it was reported has evoked depths of shared suffering among members of the Church, leading to many members experiencing pain, hurt confusion and anger.

2. Apologises to members and ministers that more was not done to make them aware in advance of the Tenth Assembly that matters of membership, ministry and sexuality would be considered by the Assembly.

CLARIFYING PROPOSAL 84

3. (a) Notes that "Celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage" and "Right relationships" referred to in parts 2(ii) and (iii) of proposal 84 were intended to illustrate some differing views held by church members and have never been endorsed or approved by the Assembly or its Standing Committee.

(b) Celebrates that in the Uniting Church we have already agreed on and affirmed important matters regarding marriage, marriage preparation, marriage counseling, divorce, re-marriage, sexuality and sexual ethics (Assembly minutes 97.31.5-97.31.13) and we have adopted the Code of Ethics and Ministry Practice which gives clear guidance about the appropriate conduct and accountability of ministers.

4. In order to clarify the meaning of proposal 84 in accordance with the rationale presented to the Assembly, determines to act under its powers stated in Constitution clause 47 and Regulation 3.6.26 to vary proposal 84 as attached.

5. Informs the Church that congregations and councils of the Church who wish to state a sexual ethic may elect to do so after prayerful consideration and study of the Scriptures providing that there is respect for and acknowledgment of those who hold a different view; such statements do not prevent the consideration on a case-by-case basis of individuals related to candidature, ordination or commissioning, and placement, according to proposal 84.3.
--------------------------------------------
(see page 2 [following] for the varied proposal 84)

MINISTRY AND MEMBERSHIP IN THE UNITING CHURCH
(Proposal 84 as varied by the Assembly Standing Committee, 24 August 2003)
This wording of Proposal 84 is to be used in all future discussions on this matter.

"The Assembly Standing Committee, acting with the powers of the Assembly, resolved:

To note the following extracts from Assembly minute 00.25.03:

(a) we celebrate that the Church's faith is in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that the Church's work and unity are built upon the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ;
(b) we affirm the authority of the Scriptures as defined in the Basis of Union, acknowledging that within the Church there is a range of views on questions of Biblical interpretation on various matters of Christian faith and practice;
(c) we affirm we are bound together by Christ, and because we love the Uniting Church as part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church we will continue to work together in our diversity as servants of the living God.

Noting that:

(i) within the Church people of faith have wrestled with integrity to interpret Scripture in relation to the issue of Christian sexual ethics and have on some issues come to mutually exclusive positions;
(ii) membership of the Uniting Church is open to all persons subject only to the guidance of the Basis of Union, the Constitution, the Regulations and policies of the Assembly,
call upon members of the Church to seek to live together in peace as people of faith, notwithstanding differing views in the matter of same gender relationships.

To remind Presbyteries of the decisions of previous Assemblies that:
(a) in considering issues related to candidature, ordination or commissioning for specified ministries, and the placement of persons in specified ministries, decisions should only be taken on a case by case basis; and
(b) a decision on the suitability of an applicant or candidate depends upon a wide range of criteria and may include consideration of the manner in which the applicant's or candidate's sexuality is expressed.

To request the Standing Committee:
(a) to provide guidance for Congregations and Presbyteries on how to conduct discussions on contentious issues in ways that comply with the Church's policy on vilification and harassment;
(b) to seek advice for the Church on the legal implications of the relevant legislation, eg anti discrimination legislation, anti vilification legislation, etc; and advise councils of the Church of this advice; and
(c) to amend, on the advice of the Legal Reference Committee, Regulation 2.7.16(l) to make more explicit the role of presbyteries in the placement of people in specified ministries."

Notes of the variations made by the Standing Committee to Proposal 84
in part 1(a) the words "We celebrate" have been added, in order to be fully consistent with the resolution of the Ninth Assembly;
in parts 1(b) and (c) the words "we affirm" have been added, in order to be fully consistent with the resolution of the Ninth Assembly;
in part 2 line 1 "Recognising" has been replaced by "Noting";
in part 2 clauses (ii) and (iii) have been deleted;
in part 2 clause (iv) has been renumbered as clause (ii);
in part 2 last line "same sex" has been replaced by "same gender";
in part 3 line 1 the words "of the decisions of previous Assemblies" have been added.

Terence Corkin, Assembly General Secretary
24 August 2003