It was the speed at which it happened. That’s what surprised most people.
For quite some time, when the talk over coffee drifted towards the O-debate, there was always someone who said, in a knowing voice, “And you know what the next thing’ll be?”
“What … you mean a home for depressed ministers …”.
“No, I mean homosexuality. That’ll be the next thing. When they’ve the got the women’s thing parcelled up, the next big fight will be over homosexuality.”
“No, really. The Yanks are doing it already. Mark my words—within
10 years, we’ll have an Australian chapter of MOG (Movement for the Ordination
And the conversation would proceed, with much incredulity being shown. Surely
not. Surely this doomsaying about homosexuality is nothing but scare-mongering.
We all know that Anglicans can be a bit woolly round the ears at times—but
ordaining homosexual clergy? Isn’t the Bible fairly clear on that one?
As I said, it was the speed which really surprised everyone. Within weeks of the Anglican General Synod having moved one step closer to the ordination of women, there were signs that the homosexual issue was already on the agenda.
First it was the ABC’s 7:30 Report, which ran a feature story on the sorry plight of homosexuals within the ‘hard-line’, ‘conservative’ Diocese of Sydney. Patricia Brennan, from MOW, made it quite clear that full equality for practising homosexuals (including the right to be ordained) was to be pursued for the same reasons that women’s ordination was pursued. In deriding the rigid stance of the Sydney Diocese on the matter, she told the reporter “… as the rest of the Church has moved increasingly to accepting women and not accepting particular verses in the Bible as for all time … the Sydney Diocese has actually strengthened its view …”. She went on to say, when questioned about the homosexual issue, “… Oh for Sydney it will be the next big issue. Um, they will use it exactly the same as they used the women’s issue. This will be the issue to test your faithfulness to Scripture. So gays are forced to be closeted. Those who are priests, if they are in Sydney, are forced to be celibate … that is the price…”.
Then, on August 20, the Archbishop of Perth, Peter Carnley, ordained the Reverend David McAuliffe in a private ceremony in the Archbishop’s personal chapel. In an interview with The Australian, Mr McAuliffe, a former priest in the Liberal Catholic Church, said that he was the first man who openly admitted his homosexuality to be ordained as a priest in the Australian Anglican Church. “It is a bit of a pioneering move”, he said. He went on to say that Archbishop Carnley and the bishops were aware of his sexuality when he was ordained, but that had not caused them to rethink. The Australian goes on: “He also said that his lifestyle did not contradict biblical teachings because the writers of the Bible talked about selfish homosexuality and not a loving monogamous relationship.” The implication is that Mr McAuliffe is currently in such a monogamous relationship, but the report does not confirm this.
The Perth Sunday Times also ran a story, of a rather more sensational nature, suggesting that Mr McAuliffe was on a crusade to see ‘holy unions’ between homosexuals recognized by the Church. Archbishop Carnley, speaking on ABC radio, dismissed the Sunday Times story as a ‘beat-up’. He pointed out that the views quoted in the story were taken from Mr McAuliffe in 1988 when he was setting up a branch of the gay Metropolitan Community Church and that he had been on a pilgrimage since then and had changed his views. However, he made no comment on the story in The Australian, and when asked if Mr McAuliffe still held that homosexuality was a valid Christian lifestyle, evaded the question.
It seems that as far as the Sunday Times is concerned, Mr McAuliffe and Dr Carnley have been victims of the same sort of media chicanery that evangelicals are growing accustomed to, such as taking quotes out of context and beating up a sensational story. This is to be deplored.
However, several questions remain unanswered. Why did this ordination take place in private, rather than in the glare of publicity that surrounded Dr Carnley’s ordination of 11 women earlier this year? Mr McAuliffe may no longer be agitating for ‘homosexual marriages’, but is his own unabashed homosexuality and advocacy of ‘loving monogamous’ homosexual relationships of no consequence? If Mr McAuliffe has moved in some way from his 1988 position, why has there not been a clarification of his current views and lifestyle, either by himself or Dr Carnley? Mr McAuliffe’s comments in The Australian amount to an endorsement of homosexuality as a valid Christian lifestyle. Is Dr Carnley also endorsing this? Is he saying that openly homosexual men can be ordained so long as they don’t require the Church to conduct ‘homosexual marriages’?
It may be that, in this instance, Dr Carnley is being motivated by his urgent need for clergy, rather than any desire to crusade for gay rights. Perhaps he has been willing merely to turn a blind eye to Mr McAuliffe’s public record of gay advocacy in order to gain another pastoral worker.
It is early days, but the first shots are already being fired. The next issue driven by the hermeneutic of sexual equality has been pencilled in on the agenda.