A meeting in Brisbane
today of Uniting
Church conservatives and
evangelicals is likely to mark the beginning of a nationwide division within the church.

The Church’s national synod yesterday refused to change
a 2003 decision that allows local groups of congregations – presbyteries – to
decide whether or not they will allow gay clergy to lead their
congregations.

As predicted, the conservatives are threatening
everything from civil disobedience (whatever that means) to an exodus from the
Church. The position may be clearer by the end of the week.

Suggestions from the church hierarchy of a “two tiered”
church, a bit like what has been proposed for the Anglican Church, do not
appear to have placated the conservatives, and almost certainly were never going
to.

The Uniting Church has been suffering a decline in
membership and church attendances in recent years, but it is not alone among
mainstream churches in that regard. But it is better placed than the Anglicans
and Catholics when it comes to clergy numbers.

Just how significant any breakaway would be is doubtful,
but it might prove divisive in some larger congregations.

Unlike the Anglicans, the emerging division within the
Uniting
Church is a single issue. For that reason alone, an “exodus” is not likely to be a mass one… but
given the decline in church numbers generally among the mainstream churches, it
will bring into question the viability of some congregations even if the
majority remain with the church.

Peter Fray

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