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How Anglicans make decisions?

Flow Diagram
Anglican decision making on gays

This is the decision-making flow chart for the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia on whether to bless committed same-sex couples, and allow for clergy that are in such a relationship.

To place this flow chart in context, it is important to compare it with the flow chart for other significant decisions.

So here are some of those flow charts first:

Allow heterosexual divorcees to remarry in church
(Luke 16:18): report; vote; done.
Allow women to be priests (1 Tim 2:12): report; vote; done.
Have two co-equal bishops in one diocese: report; vote; done.
Most things: just do it, whether it’s allowed or not; done.

Abortion: don’t talk about it.
Clergy training and formation: don’t talk about it.
Liturgical chaos: don’t talk about it.
National statistics: don’t gather them.

Bless same-sex couples and allow for clergy that are in such a relationship:

At the Provincial Liturgy Commission produce a rite for the Blessing of a Relationship.
At General Synod, pass the Worship Template which mentions “blessing… making and renewing of vows” and allows for the Blessing of a Relationship rite to be used. [Yes, we were the first; this was at using the (see above) well-worn “report; vote; done” flow diagram of our church]

But wait! There’s more!

Debate it at Lambeth Conference.

International consternation is followed by international commission, report…

When things start to warm up, remove the Blessing of a Relationship rite, which was on official church websites, from those websites.

Have a bishop state that ordaining someone in a committed, life-long, monogamous relationship with someone of the same sex may result in a a public determination that the ordination in question was invalid.

Stop receiving communion when someone is there whom you disagree with on this.
Stop attending international meetings of the communion if someone is there whom you disagree with on this.

Don’t discuss the issue; try sleight of hand and distraction techniques – look at the cool Anglican Covenant over here.

Pass motions at diocesan synods.

Have a Lambeth Conference where no decisions are made whatsoever.
Don’t invite the only Anglican bishop who is honest and open about his committed same-sex relationship to come to the non-deciding, non-binding-anyway Lambeth Conference.

Have dioceses hold meetings and consult about this.
Have large province-wide hui (gatherings) to consult about this.
Try to set up a Commission of church experts to consult about this.
Set up a Commission of respected non-Anglicans to gather information about this (the Ma Whea? Mei Fe Ki Fe? Where To? Commission).
The Ma Whea? Commission appeals for more submissions.
Have the Ma Whea? Commission meet with a “Reference Group” of church experts to consult about this.

Try to set up hui (gatherings) about marriage.
Set up a “Commission on Doctrine and Theological Questions” about this.
This new doctrinal commission will make its findings available to the wider church for response.
It will then produce a report and present this report and those responses to General Synod Standing Committee and the Ma Whea Commission.

Having gone through this latest decision-making flow diagram (I have possibly left out some steps, been confused, but the essence is correct), you may by now have forgotten the earlier flow diagrams. So, here are some of those earlier flow diagrams again, along with some others:

Allow remarried heterosexual divorcees to receive communion: report; vote; done.
Province-wide standards for ordination: don’t talk about it.
Keep national statistics of church attendance, age-distribution, etc.: don’t talk about it.
Allow women bishops: vote; done.
Allow divorced priests and bishops (1 Tim 3:2): don’t talk about it.
Allow anything except blessing committed same-sex couples, and clergy in such a relationship: don’t talk about it.


NB. Attitudes to committed same-sex couples appear to be about as fixed as sexual orientation. In all the decades of debating, I do not think I have observed someone alter their basic attitude significantly.

ps. There is not much online discussion, that I am aware of, in our church about blessing committed same-sex couples, and clergy in such a relationship. If you are interested in such a discussion, the most focused would be on the blog site of my friend and colleague Rev. Dr Peter Carrell, who takes what he would describe as a “conservative evangelical” position on his site Anglican Downunder. To get a range of the opinions it is good to read through all the comments (say here and here). It is notable how quickly those who like confessional lists of beliefs resort to the word “heretical”, including against each other at the same “conservative evangelical” part of the Christian spectrum. Historically, confessional purity results in ever finer fragmentation.

pps. It is good to have been pointed to a video of the well-known Roman Catholic theologian Fr James Alison (noted for his application of René Girard’s anthropological theory to theology). Here he introduces the understanding that if being gay is a regularly occurring non-pathological minority variant in the human condition, rather than the Vatican’s teaching that it is an “objective disorder”, there needs to be a rethinking about how that affects ethics to enable and encourage human flourishing:

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10 thoughts on “How Anglicans make decisions?”

  1. Greetings Bosco, as you know Iam by no means neutral on this topic and have been accused of being a ‘proselytising liberal’, ‘single-minded heretic’ and ‘church-wrecker’ among much else. I am also, however, someone who very, very much altered his basic attitude on these issues at a point in the past.
    I am not a fan of the endless round of consultations game, but I do know from first hand experience the importance of open, honest and often difficult conversations. For those conversations to work, however, there do need to be some elements on place:
    1) They have to happen. To our great shame, after 30+ years there are still some parts of our Church that have failed to engage with this conversation, largely because bishops and other gate keepers wouldn’t let them. That is appalling.
    2) They have to involve and include the people whose lives we are talking about. I have watched the Church strip consultations to the point of utter blandness in the name of ‘neutrality’ – another word for not willing to stand for anything. If it weren’t for my engagement with those in the LGBT community I wouldn’t be where I am now. Reports don’t change attitudes – or lives – relationships do.
    3) They have to result in action. We are experts at repeating a process until we get the result we want. I am heartened by the apparent shift in mindset and opinion on these matters, but can also see the strategies emerging to hold off the inevitable for as long as possible – and continue decades of discrimination in the process.
    So, attitudes can shift, but only if we let them and then it’s time to act!

    1. Thanks, Brian. You are quite correct; some individuals make a significant change in their position, and many will fine tune their position from, say, accepting blessing committed same-sex couples to understanding marriage differently; I could not reply to my LGBT friends where were they in the commissions and groups mentioned. I will be very surprised if some new understanding breaks through that is not readily available in the literature. I will be similarly surprised if there is a significant shift in numbers for positions so that it ceases to be an issue. So I’m not going to agree with you that we wait for attitudes to shift prior to taking action. It appears to be clear not whether it will happen – but how long we can delay it from happening. In the more than two decades that my post recounts, I wonder if it may have been better to have put energy into how we can stay together – how we can agree to disagree – than going round and round and round pretty well-worn tracks. Just wondering. Blessings.

      1. Julianne Stewart

        There are many elephants in the room here… If you lift the lid off one aspect of human sexuality you have to examine many other dimensions, perhaps as yet, unrecognised. For example, divorce and remarriage — how often? (the Orthodox allow a maximum of three). For straight Christians who have been married more than once, even more than twice, there are parts of the church where such people are seen as second class Christians… There are gay and straight Christians who have lived in serial monogamous relationships but have not actually married. They may then marry (where legally and/or ecclesially possible) and only ever have one marriage until death, and if they are straight, their sexual history will not normally trouble the church. So the “gay debate” implicitly raises such issues as these which also need to be grappled with. Not to mention the history of the Anglican church’s attitude to marriage…including to those of a certain “reforming” monarch of the Renaissance period…

        1. Yes, Julianne, you are naming some of these elephants. And my post, in part, is one attempt to help people at least begin to glance them out of the corner of their eyes. Surprisingly, some of those most involved in putting the brakes on any movement have themselves had a journey differing from virginity-until-marriage-and-then-faithfulness-to-one-spouse-of-the-opposite-gender-till-death without any repentance of that. Are they “lifting the lid” or can it also be another sleight of hand: look over there – gays. That latter call, of course, used to have energy. It’s not that long since gays were illegal. But that is now so last year – young people have to be told about the history of its illegality, and look bewildered and incredulous when that is explained. Blessings.

  2. No real disagreement here Bosco. I know some people are still shifting their attitudes / positions (a major reason why the ground is shifting – not as a result of some liberal takeover as some people think, but because attitudes are shifting), but the time to act is now. Indeed, the acting will mean more change in attitude as time goes on. We’ve seen it in many things, including smoking, drink driving and seat-belts (all legislated long before comeletely sold to the public) and let’s not forget Homosexual Law Reform.
    The staying together thing is interesting. We have worshipped at the altar of unity (read: uniformity) for a decade and a half now, whereby no bishop can act until consensus is reached on the bench. I suspect this is going to change very soon, and it’s about time!
    And now back to work!! B

    1. Yes, Brian, my point about “staying together” differs from not acting until we all agree, but seeking a way to agreeing to disagree. In any case, the “decade and a half” that you refer to (especially for our overseas readers who may not be aware of the reality here) has not been as episcopally uniform as you suggest – especially those who were behind drawing up the Blessing of a relationship rite, and seeing that allowed through General Synod. Attitudes will shift, as you suggest, just as they did when those struggling with having women ordained experienced ordained ministry and pastoral care from women. If we talked about any national statistics about age demographic and trends we could also discuss the effect of younger people on attitudes changing in the church. Blessings.

  3. Gillian Trewinnard

    I wonder if part of the reason why there has been relatively little movement recently in our church on the issue of full participation by members of the LGBT community is that our church is ageing demographically? Eventually, as the baton is handed on to future generations, one expects there will be a shift, but in the meantime, there is a shameful waste of God’s gifts and grace in continuing to limit or exclude some people on the basis of sexual orientation.

    1. This is such a fascinating, important point Gillian. I specifically mention that we keep no national church statistics on age – we do not even know the age distribution of clergy and trends there. Are some/many young people put off by the lack of inclusion they mostly take for granted? If you see our church as demographically ageing – what assurance is there that the “baton will be handed on to future generations”? As I mention in the post – I don’t see anything like the energy being put into that question as I do the question central to this post. Blessings.

  4. The truth is there isn’t a satisfactory simple answer to a lot of questions of conflict and especially normative abuse like discrimination…people will just have to be committed to respond with honour and good grace and move forward best as possible.

    I have much respect for the Catholic Pope resigning as he realises he cannot undertake the necessary duties and current debate for his office; his church has catastrophically failed both in the protection, shepherding and healing of people and he is trying to be responsible.

    We don’t live in the Garden of Eden, any of us, nature itself is capricious, and human nature perhaps the most so of all.

    Christ meant us to be contemporary- I really belive that, because he was. And to look for the good beyond ourselves: If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.

    Whenever we write off a group of people and rain down misery or exclusion on them, what good does it do?

    Whether people are celibate or sleep with who they like- they are still cruel or kind…and so is any response.

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