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The Line in the Sand: The Appellate Tribunal Opinion and the Future of the Anglican Church in Australia

I’ve contributed an essay to a recent publication called The Line in the Sand that will be of special interest to Australian Anglicans.

The book

The book is addressed to General Synod members, and speaks about a turning point in the history of the Anglican Church of Australia. In November 2020, the Appellate Tribunal released a Majority Opinion that effected a fundamental change in the nature of the Church’s doctrine. This threatens the Church’s unity at a deep level.

“The Reports of the Board of Assessors and the House of Bishops: A Commentary.” Pages 77–89 in The Line in the Sand: The Appellate Tribunal Opinion and the Future of the Anglican Church in Australia. Edited by Robert Tong, Claire Smith and Mike Leite. Camperdown, NSW, Australia: Australian Church Record/Anglican Church League, 2022.

The book, The Line in the Sand, is designed to help General Synod members to see the issues clearly and address them decisively in their upcoming session in May 2022.

My chapter

My chapter in the book is titled “The Reports of the Board of Assessors and the House of Bishops: A Commentary”. I was a member of the Board of Assessors, which is a body elected by the General Synod under the Church’s Constitution that the Appellate Tribunal is required to consult “in any matter involving doctrine upon which the members are not unanimous” (Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia s 58(1)). The members of the Appellate Tribunal were clearly not unanimous on central matters involving doctrine (including the definition of the word itself). Hence, they sought our opinion. I wrote this chapter to describe how the Appellate Tribunal treated our opinion, and that of the House of Bishops.

Summary

My summary is reproduced here (from page 89):

The Board of Assessors, along with the House of Bishops, is a key voice of the General Synod to the Appellate Tribunal on matters involving doctrine, especially in cases where members of the Tribunal are not unanimous. In the case of the Wangaratta References, the Tribunal was deeply divided, particularly on doctrinal matters, but the Board of Assessors and House of Bishops were both unanimous and in fundamental agreement. However, the Majority Opinion of the Appellate Tribunal engaged inadequately with the Assessors’ report.

On the question of the meaning and scope of ‘the Faith’, the Majority Opinion misconstrued and thereby summarily dismissed the Assessors’ argument. On the question of the meaning of Article VI, the Majority Opinion did not clearly lay out their own view of the connection between obedience and salvation, and did not seem to comprehend the Assessors’ exposition of this connection. On the question of persistence in sexual immorality precluding salvation, the Majority Opinion appeared to regard the Assessors’ answer as irrelevant, based on their view that there was no necessary connection between sexual intimacy and the Wangaratta blessing service. On the question of a pastoral response to a same-sex married couple seeking baptism for their children, the Majority Opinion did not engage with the substance of the Assessors’ response but rather, in one brief section, rhetorically marginalised the Assessors’ view.

By contrast, the Minority Opinion evidenced substantial engagement with the Assessors’ report and that of the House of Bishops, accepting the Assessors’ advice and using it to inform the conclusion that the Wangaratta Regulations ‘are inconsistent with the Fundamental Declarations’ and ‘Ruling Principles’ and ‘are not validly made under the Canon Concerning Services 1992’ (para 27).

Free download

The full book can be freely downloaded in PDF and EPUB format from the Australian Church Record website. My chapter begins on page 77.

There is also a series of interviews with various authors on the Anglican Church League website.

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