Just one week after the divisions in the Anglican Church over gay
clergy and related issues made the headlines, the Uniting Church today
begins a triennial Synod in Brisbane that might end up with a church
that’s anything but uniting or united.

And the issues are much the same as those dividing the
Anglican Church worldwide. The only difference is that the Uniting Church divisions appear to be more confined to
Australia at this
stage.

The Uniting Church at its last Synod decided to allow
its regional decision-making bodies – presbyteries – to decide whether or not
ministers who lead an openly gay life could be appointed to
congregations.

The conservative members of the Uniting Church have been campaigning against the
decision ever since, resulting in some very nasty disputes within both
presbyteries and congregations.

The conservatives are pushing for the decision to be
reversed at the Synod so any decision would be made at the national
level.

If they don’t succeed, a formal split is likely to occur
as early as next week, with a public meeting already being planned to air
contingency plans.

The Uniting Church, like its Anglican counterpart, has
been suffering a decline in membership in recent years. And while the rebels
claim the s-xuality issue is the cause, the reality is that Anglican and Uniting
congregations are ageing rapidly, and, have lost ground to more charismatic,
fundamentalist and well resourced churches in the last couple of decades.

The issue is clearly worrying the New South Wales
Uniting Church. It took out very expensive half
page ads in the Sunday newspapers under the rather ironic headline – “Uniting on
a Full Range of Issues”.

The ad detailed the work of the church in aged care, work in indigenous communities, helping people in need
and building communities of peace… and “Valuing Difference” where the issues
of “homos-xual people in our church” is mentioned.

There is one fascinating similarity in the approach of
the fundamentalists in the Anglican and Uniting Churches – any split won’t be trumpeted as
being principally over the gay clergy issue…..but more the alleged “departure”
of the church leadership from “biblical teaching”.

But there is one major difference – the Uniting
fundamentalists are much more upfront than their Anglican confreres in the
timing and planning of any split.

Peter Fray

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