Here are my reflections on the first two days of General Synod.
The Archbishop of Brisbane, Phillip Aspinall, is the Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, and so chairs the General Synod. He sent a very clear message in his opening Presidential Address.
According to the official media release, he “called for unity”, advocating “respect for diversity and the importance of continuing to belong together in a greater whole”.
But are there limits to diversity?
Archbishop Aspinall cleverly used lessons from the lives of two former Primates, who both died in 2009—Sir John Grindrod and the evangelical former Archbishop of Sydney, Sir Marcus Loane—to drive his case home.
He noted Sir Marcus was committed to the ideas of the Reformation and the evangelical movement. But in eulogizing his life, Archbishop Aspinall chose to stress his generosity of spirit and respect for those with whom he differed. Again, I understand this is true too.
But is it right to suggest the main lesson from Archbishop Loane’s legacy is “a clear vision of belonging together notwithstanding difference and diversity”? I suspect older heads who knew Sir Marcus would argue there is also a trumpet blast on biblical truth that should also be sounded.
Archbishop Aspinall acknowledged that Christian leaders might hold firm convictions. But he repeatedly rejected such things as “isolation and parallelism” and the “temptation to withdraw to our own corners and engage only with people who think the same way we do”.
His conclusion was that we should place a “high value on coherence, unity and belonging together”. He wants diversity not disunity.
No prizes for guessing the subtext was the Anglican divisions over the approval of same-sex relationships and the consecration of homosexual bishops, although he himself only alluded to it.
The thing that was missing in his address was any emphasis on truth. The one time I could remember he spoke of it was in terms of “discerning God’s truth”. But when God has spoken clearly on a matter in the Scriptures, as in this case, we should really speak of proclaiming God’s truth and obeying God’s truth.
There are limits to diversity and to quote Paul, sometimes “there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized”.
The rest of the first day of Synod was largely setting the mechanics of the meeting in train: procedural matters, notices of questions and motions, before a start on legislation and motions.
Day 2 on Sunday was full of legislation, since the Synod adjourned in the evening to the official church service at St Paul’s Cathedral, and priority is given to legislation over general motions during daylight hours. This is important but often technical and tedious.
One important issue that did receive attention yesterday was a report on ministry among and by the original Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. There were encouragements, for example, in the growth in Anglican schools welcoming indigenous students, but also challenges ahead. This issued in a new and updated Canon to oversee this ministry at a national level, which the NATSIAC leaders will now need to have the final say on before it commences.
This part of the day produced a very confusing moment for me, along with a highlight.
The confusing moment was when one speaker spoke approvingly (as far as I could tell) of a dance to invite the traditional and ancestral spirits to attend a meeting he was a part of, although he said worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ comes into it too, now that his people are Christians. I may well have misunderstood, but this sounded a lot like syncretism to me.
It’s not politically correct or polite to raise such concerns. But if it were a white Christian leader who spoke of summoning the spirits of the departed, I would be objecting strongly. So in a strange way it seems racist to me (in a paternalistic way) not to raise the same concern when an indigenous person appears to approve the same practice. But perhaps what was being said was poorly communicated or I did not listen carefully enough.
The day’s highlight was the Torres Strait Islander choir’s song of praise to Christ as Lord in their language, but finishing with a chorus of “Alleluia Amen” which the General Synod joined in with one voice (and much hand-clapping).
By the way I can’t tell you about the General Synod Service, since I chose not to attend due to reasons of conscience, mentioned in my previous post, given the preacher invited would be a woman.
Instead I had the joy of catching up with a former student minister and his wife, now ministering with AFES in Melbourne. It was a joy to hear of the ups and downs of his ministry. It also provided a second highlight for the day: the elemental joy of spoon-feeding my friends’ youngest daughter—baked beans and avocado, followed by yoghurt—all devoured with much grinning!