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What Happens Next Is Over To You
This is a follow-up to my previous post regarding the “affirming singleness” motion I moved at last week’s Anglican Church of Australia’s (ACA) General Synod (GS). You’ll want to have read that one first!
In this post, I thought I’d share a bit more about the motion's context, details, and implications. Specifically:
1. What was the background to the motion?
2. What exactly happened in the debate on the motion?
3. What does the motion mean in practice?
🤫 Pssst. If you are eager to just get to the “So what?” question, jump to the last part. Go on. Do it. Nobody will know ;)
What was the background?
Thanks to some Covid-related delays, this General Synod (GS) meeting was the first since Australia’s marriage law changed in late 2017. Some important internal Anglican developments about marriage/sexuality had also occurred in the intervening years (if you are interested in reading more on these developments, I highly recommend the two introductory chapters in this free pdf publication. In fact, all of them are excellent).
And so, last week’s GS was the first opportunity the national church had to discuss and (God-willing) reaffirm our commitment to a biblical understanding of marriage (as between one man and one woman for life) and sexuality (as either faithful monogamy in marriage or chaste abstinence in singleness).
As a result, a series of statements and motions on these topics were packaged together for discussion and debate at GS. One of these was the motion that I moved, and which Rhys Bezzant seconded. Rhys, pictured below with me at GS, is a senior lecturer at Ridley College in Melbourne and just an all-around great guy. Our motion urged Synod to heartily endorse chaste singleness as an honourable state for the single Christian, a dignified and valuable way for unmarried Christians (like Rhys and myself) to express our God-given sexuality.
So… what happened in the debate?
The first thing to know is that the proceedings of GS follow a very formal structure. Bear with me as I give you a brief overview.
A mover (me) presents the motion and gives a speech explaining the content and importance of the motion. The seconder (Rhys) then gives a shorter speech and commends the motion to the Synod. After that, any member of Synod (laity, clergy or a bishop from any of the 23 dioceses in Australia) can move an amendment to the motion—that is, suggest we change or delete some of the words and/or add some other ones in. They give a short speech about why they think the amendment is necessary. Then any other member of Synod can stand up and speak for or against the amendment. Once the president of the Synod has determined we’ve heard enough debate he puts the amendment to the vote. If more people vote against the amendment than for it, then the motion stands as it was initially moved. If not, the motion is changed to reflect the amendment.
Only once all proposed amendments have been presented and voted on does the Synod then debate the actual motion (as it now stands, possibly amended from its original form). Several individuals will get up to explain why they want Synod to either pass the motion or why they wish Synod to vote against the motion. And then finally, we get to the actual vote on the motion—though not before the mover (me) is given a right of reply (i.e. gets to make another short speech responding to the debate and encouraging people to vote yes)
Ok. Phew. That was boring, right? (Spare a thought for all of us who just sat through a whole week of it!)
So what happened with Rhys and my motion?
Well, there was an amendment moved (i.e., that we delete paragraphs 1 & 2 of the motion). And so we had a debate on that before we debated the actual motion itself. (The amendment did not pass). But because the amendment debate and the motion debate were basically about the same thing, I’ll bundle them together rather than discuss them separately.
Several individuals—some of who were themselves single—opposed the motion as it stood and encouraged the Synod to vote against it. Without wanting to over simply the debate too much, the argument was that the affirmation of singleness I had moved was too simplistic. I believe the words “monolithic” and “theologically threadbare” were used! 😲
If you read between the lines, the objectors were ultimately saying that they didn’t want Synod to (only) affirm chaste singleness (i.e. sexually celibate/abstinent singleness). Remember, same-sex marriage and same-sex sexuality were crucial matters in the background of all these discussions. And so several members who were supportive of same-sex sexual relationships opposed Rhys and my motion because they didn’t agree the Christian is called to embrace either monogamous marriage (biblically defined as being between a man and a woman for life) or sexually abstinent singleness. As a result, they suggested that the motion didn’t adequately address the concerns and context of LGBT Christians.
After the debate, but before the final vote, I was invited to give my right of reply speech. Most of it was given as a spontaneous reply to the critical points of the debate (i.e., I winged it!) But there was one part that I had prepared earlier. Here is what I said:
My ministry amongst single Christian means that I’m very much aware of how important this motion is to our brothers and sisters in Christ who experience attraction to members of their own sex, and indeed how important they are to this motion.
I have numerous friends from whom this is their story. One of them is my friend Rachel. In fact, Rachel is a good friend to both Rhys and myself. Rachel lives in America. She grew up as an atheist and, in her early adulthood, had a number of romantic and sexual relationships with women. One day, she picked up a copy of CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity at university. Reading it, she found herself overawed by a newfound conviction that there was a God and that he loved her deeply. Rachel became a Christian and decided that continuing in relationships with other women was inconsistent with her newfound identity in Christ.
In her excellent book, Born Again This Way, Rachel addresses other same-sex attracted Christians. She writes:
"You are not alone […] God sees you and calls you in your singleness. With that in mind, what do you need to thrive as a single, same-sex attracted person in a predominantly married opposite-sex attracted church? At least three things: a thick relationship with Jesus, life-giving companions, and a realistic, hopeful view of singleness."
Members of Synod, holding out a hopeful view of singleness is an essential way for us to love our LGBT brothers and sisters. This motion is intended to do just that. I urge you to enthusiastically support it.
The motion was put to the vote by voices. The number of loud “ayes” in the room overwhelmed the number of “no’s”.
And with that, it was carried. The Anglican Church of Australia affirmed singleness as an honourable state.
What does this mean in practice?
Ok. But so what? What does all of this mean in practice? What does it change? What does it actually achieve?
Well, in one sense, not a lot. I mean, it’s a formal motion made at a once-every-four-years Synod amongst 250 or so Aussie Anglicans. Not only that, GS motions aren’t “binding” on every Aussie Anglican diocese any way. Each diocese has to decide what it will and won’t enact in its own place and how it will and won’t enact it. There won’t be any grandiose formal outcomes of Rhys and my motion. Lots of people will probably just ignore it.
But in another sense, its potential significance is endless. You see, Rhys and I weren’t primarily interested in getting enough votes to win a motion.
We were interested in capturing people’s hearts and minds with a Christ-honouring vision of singleness. We wanted to encourage those listening to consider singleness from a new perspective. We wanted the members of General Synod to go home committed to understanding, loving and honouring the single members of their churches anew.
And friends, that is already happening!
Rhys and I were overwhelmed with how many people came up to thank us for our contribution at GS. I honestly could not walk from the synod auditorium to the elevators without being stopped by multiple Synod members who wanted to say how significant they had found the motion. Most of these men and women are married. Many of them are pastors. Some of them were bishops—one of whom told me he had spontaneously cried as he listened to Rhys and I call him, and everyone else there, to a renewed love and honour of single Christians.
Not only that, but this little motion has already moved outside the walls of that conference room. My speech (in the last post) has been read and “liked” by people from all over the world. Just last night I received an email from a church pastor (who wasn’t at General Synod but had heard about what had transpired). He wrote this to me:
I just wanted to thank you for your contribution to General Synod to my growing understanding of a theology of singleness. I've a long way to go thinking this through but I'm aware that I need to be intentional in including single people as whole, complete persons in the church.
Now I know that the last two paragraphs could very easily sound rather self-aggrandising. “Look at me! Look at what Rhys and I did! Go us!”. But that’s far from my point.
My point is that this motion at the ACA’s GS is just one more spoke in the wheel of us, Jesus-loving, God-honouring, Spirit-filled, Bible-believing Christian people having a meaningful and long-overdue conversation about genuinely good, God-glorifying, eternity witnessing, chaste Christian singleness. Rhys and I simply wanted to do what we could to keep moving this conversation forward. God was kind enough to give us this particular opportunity.
And so let me finish with some questions for you.
What role are YOU going to play in this conversation?
How are you going to take up the responsibility of moving it forward?
How will you take up the baton and seek to honour your single brothers and sisters in Christ as they seek to honour Him?
How are you going to affirm singleness?
What happens next is over to you.
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