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Sydney Synod—October 2917

by Lyn Bannerman, Lay representative for Christ Church St Laurence

The first session of the 51st Synod met for five days: 9–17 October, commencing with a Communion Service in the Cathedral. The Secretariat's comprehensive report of Synod, Synod Proceedings, is available online. There is the Presidential Address; answers to all formal Questions asked in the House; all Resolutions made; Canons/Ordinances adopted and all relevant papers for items debated. Again, the Secretariat did a magnificent job managing the whole show. The Archbishop, as chair, is gracious, humorous and inclusive. Four topics are highlighted here.

Lyn Bannerman

Domestic Abuse Policy

(Paper: page 368 of Synod Proceedings)

In Synod 2013, a resolution was passed calling for the education of clergy in handling domestic abuse, after a number of harrowing stories. Shockingly, some clergy were counselling partners to stay in the marriage, despite severe abuse. How to reconcile the theology of marriage (for life) with this appalling problem? This draft policy addressed the theological issues as well as providing a practical guide to clergy and parish workers on how to respond. It is a well-researched, sensitive and caring document full of excellent advice. Resolution (16/17 page 80) requires that the policy be implemented now but also be refined and brought back to Synod for our blessing next year.

Feedback from any interested person is welcome—write to the Standing Committee by 30 April 2018.

Please read the material if you have expertise or experience that could contribute to further refinement.

I spoke at Synod about the problem of the word 'submission' which has been adopted in this Diocese, as part of the Complementarian Theology. This theology, in summary, is key to keeping women out of priestly leadership roles in the Sydney Anglican Diocese and is also expressed in the 'complementary roles of man and wife'—sacrificial leader husband/submissive wife.

I focussed on the incongruity between the excellent policy, which covers both emotional and physical abuse, and the retention of the word 'submission' in the context of marriage. I pointed out that current day definitions of 'submission' equate to abuse. I argued that, if one adheres to complementarianism, then nevertheless the essence of such a marriage is still 'love', promised before God, one for each other, not control. I drew attention to the offensiveness of this policy. A copy of the speech is in the Anglicans Together Journal.

I did not want to derail this critical domestic abuse policy by side tracking debate onto all complementarian theology. The policy drafters were very supportive; the Archbishop was very gracious in thanking me for the speech. Contrary to comment in the press, I did not feel ignored. The applause was strong and quite a number of grateful people spoke to me later. I look forward to seeing any developments next Synod.

Synod issued a formal statement of 'Grief and Apology' in regards to domestic abuse and how it has been handled in the past. (Resolution 17/17 page 80).

Sydney Synod 2017

Diocese of Sydney Synod 2017 (photo: Sydney Anglicans, used with permission)

Gender Identity: Initial Principles of Engagement

(Paper: page 173 of Synod Proceedings)

A lengthy report on Gender Identity was brought to Synod, and concluded with a recommendation advising church workers on how to respond pastorally in this complex area, taking into account Scriptural teachings, medical and legal considerations. This advice is the 'Initial [first cut, in a sense] Principles of Engagement'. One may strongly disagree (as I do) with the theological interpretation which, in blunt summary, is that deviations from the male/female God given norm are the result of 'The Fall' and only male/female sexual relationships or celibacy are the appropriate Christian road. But the Diocese has moved a long away in recent times; the reality of gender issues, which can be so painful, is no longer denied. The paper is well grounded in medical science, sweeping in its coverage, and highlights especially the distress caused by gender dysphoria which is fully acknowledged (ie "distress associated with having a psychological or emotional gender identity that does not match a person's biological sex" page 215).

During the debate on the Principles, the drafters advised they have been challenged by the category of Intersex, on which they need to do more work. Intersex refers to people who are born with any of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals that, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 'do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies'. One can see the difficulty the drafters have - how does their theological stance deal with the reality of Intersex people?

A truly enlightened moment occurred especially in the context of where this Diocese has come from. An amendment to the Principles was put forward in debate which declared, in summary, that 'transitioning' (changing your biological sex to accord with your internal sense of identity) is a sin. Two speakers, one being the Reverend Andrew Katay, stated this was a very dangerous proposition. What right do we have to declare a matter a sin when there is no such scriptural basis? Dr Mark Thompson (Principal of Moore College) spoke to the contrary but he failed to convince the majority of this normally highly conservative Synod. The amendment was voted down.

A revised set of Principles will come to next Synod and all Anglican agencies, including our schools, which work with people with gender identity issues, are invited to provide comment to Standing Committee by 30 April 2018.

A motion that, in summary, offered an apology to all LGBTQI people, for past treatment of, and attitudes to, by the church and some church workers, was withdrawn on the last day as the movers acknowledged they had received feedback that some of its wording could still offend. This motion was well-intended and it will be brought back to next Synod.

Same Sex Marriage

(report: page 310 of Synod Proceedings)

As you will know, Synod was presented with a fait accompli. The Standing Committee, before Synod met, voted to provide $1m from the Diocesan Endowment (money inherited by the Diocese from past generations) to support the media campaign by The Coalition for Marriage for the 'no' vote on same sex marriage.

In Synod there were two failed attempts to have this matter debated. Archdeacon Deryck Howell moved that (in summary) Standing Committee be directed to bring an Ordinance to next Synod which would require Standing Committee to obtain Synod approval, in future, to any proposals for special drawdowns on the Diocesan Endowment, other than for asset acquisition purposes, using, eg, electronic voting between sessions. There was no debate as a motion from the floor that 'the (above) motion not be put' received majority assent, immediately stifling the matter.

The second motion from Professor Bernard Stewart, St Georges' Paddington, sought Synod's endorsement of the $1m decision by Standing Committee, to be resolved via a secret ballot. A clever move as a secret ballot achieves two things; no pressure from expectations of others around you; and an actual tally of the vote. Professor Stewart effectively reprimanded Standing Committee for not having brought this motion to Synod themselves. 'They should have sought our endorsement' he said. 'It is not right that Synod members might return to their parishes without having had the opportunity to express their minds on the matter of the $1m.' A further motion from the floor that Professor Stewart's motion 'not be put' was carried on voices. Stifled from the floor again.

Proposal for a Property Receipts Levy

(pages 342, 364 of Synod Proceedings)

For the fourth year in a row, Synod was presented with another version of a draft policy which aims to raise more money from parishes where they have 'excess wealth' from income from 'property', now defined as 'net' income from buildings and land (leases, licenses and/or sales), income from investments and income from businesses run by a parish.

This started back in 2012–13 when Standing Committee asked work be done to get a more transparent and equitable approach to requiring parishes—with significant sales or leases of property and land—to contribute to the Diocesan funds or organisations. The current system is that each parish negotiates an Ordinance (a binding legal contract) with Standing Committee for this purpose. These Ordinances are not based on any agreed guidelines or standards and so significant variations between parishes exist, and there is no confidence that these variations are fair or reasonable.

Biblical principles (St Paul) of sharing one's wealth have justified the growth of this draft proposal to all income sources described above. It is regrettable that St Paul did not have the foresight to define what might be 'net' income; he did say a community should not be 'left hard pressed' as a result of sharing. Net receipts of less than $120,000 have been exempted; as one speaker highlighted, here comes the 'creative accounting..'

There were strong views from affected parishes about the lack of reasonableness in restricting very tightly what might be allowable deductions before 'net' or 'excess' is defined. Many questions were asked—for example, why not allow deductions for sinking funds, including for all parish buildings not just the one for which income is received; why exclude expenditure on ministries; the injustice of the excuse of ease of administration (for the Diocese) to limit allowable deductions; and the accounting complexity for local treasurers (volunteers) in arriving at 'net' figures.

This draft has been further complicated as it advises that those parishes with Ordinances may choose to stay with that approach, if the draft policy is problematic for them. Yet the policy was meant to be a replacement?

In answer to Question 10 (page 19) the Secretariat revealed that it is unable to supply a list of parishes which currently have Ordinances and how much is therefore raised by these, and for which funds/organisations. This goes to the problem that Synod has never been given a business case for the need for the extra funds to be raised—we don't even have a handle on the income from the current system we are meant to be replacing.

James Balfour, Representative from parish of St James' Church Sydney, sought leave of the House to put an alternative proposal to Synod, before this draft policy was debated. His alternative was to scrub the proposal, with all its complexities and inequities, and raise additional funds via a 'parish cost recovery' method—this is a well-worn, simple-to-administer path in this Diocese, equitable in its approach. Synod did not grant him leave to debate an alternative.

Clearly the drafters and Standing Committee are tired of the matter remaining unresolved and proposed that, after debate in Synod, Standing Committee would finalise an Ordinance on the matter, for implementation in 2018. An amendment, which would have required the draft Ordinance to be brought to Synod next year, on the grounds that Synod must not abrogate to Standing Committee its responsibility on a matter, so fundamentally affecting parishes, was lost.

The time normally allowed for debate was severely curtailed. A number of frustrated parish representatives were unable to speak, including my colleague from Christ Church St Laurence who had researched relevant papers and was ready to highlight that, while this was notionally about wealthy parishes helping others, he had found evidence of four or five extremely wealthy parishes which will be completely untouched by the policy. Why? But debate on the whole proposal was halted as it was late in the evening.

The motion was passed. See Resolution 34/17, page 36.

Synod further resolved (42/17, page 89) that the money raised will go to the Mission Property Committee for expenditure on some unspecified property developments. One courageous gentleman did get to express doubt about the need to increase our capital base in the face of declining church attendance.