Some thoughts on the New Zealand response to the proposal from Sydney

On 9 May this year the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia passed a motion at its General Synod (‘Motion 29’) that will allow its bishops to permit the blessing of same-sex relationships, including same-sex civil marriages, in their dioceses.

On 23 August the Archbishop of Sydney, Glen Davies, wrote to ACANZP putting forward a proposal for the future development of Anglicanism in New Zealand and Polynesia in the light of the passing of this motion.[1]

He noted that:

‘….dissenting churches from Christchurch and elsewhere cannot in good conscience remain in ACANZP, despite the gracious offer of alternative oversight from Polynesian bishops. The problem is that these brothers and sisters cannot continue to be a part of a Church which in their understanding has changed its Canons to allow the blessing of same-sex couples living in sinful relationships. Yet these brothers and sisters are still Anglican, and recognised as such by most Anglicans around the world.’

His solution to this issue was to propose that a new Anglican church should be formed in New Zealand to provide a home for these people. This church would co-exist alongside the ACAZNP in the same way that the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe and the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe currently co-exist alongside each other in continental Europe.

In his words

‘…there would be two Anglican Churches in New Zealand, just as there are in Europe, both recognised by Canterbury as being Anglicans, by their historical connection to the formularies of the 16th and 17th century, and thereby both sharing a common Anglican heritage.’

For this solution to work he said,

‘… the ACANZP would need to allow parishes to decide whether they would leave the ACANZP to join a parallel and overlapping Anglican Diocese/Province. This would include the retention of their property, which would continue to be held in trust for the benefit of the parish. This should be the outcome of the ‘respectful conversations’ that the Motion 29 Report called for in Section H2. Each Anglican expression would recognise the other as having Anglican heritage, despite their significant differences on the issue at hand.’

In his view, if ACANZP were to adopt this proposal it could:

‘… lead the way in expressing generosity of Spirit to those who find themselves unable to accommodate the new consensus. This would be a model not only for other provinces, but for the Anglican Communion as a whole.’

On 13 November Archbishop Donald Tamihere and Archbishop Philip Richardson replied to Archbishop Davies on behalf of the General Synod Standing Committee of ACANZP.[2] In their reply they note that Anglicanism in New Zealand has been shaped by a specific two hundred year history and that:

‘To be Anglican in this land requires that we, led by our Lord Jesus Christ, face into this shared history so that we can help shape a common future for all people based on peace and justice and righteousness.’

They then argue that this means that in order to be ‘committed to that fundamental consequence of being Anglican in Aotearoa New Zealand’ people have to remain in the existing ‘constitutional and Treaty-based relationships’ which were reflected in the passing of Motion 29. As they see it, it would be impossible to recognise as Anglican a body that was not bound by the ‘laws and promises and solemn commitments’ of the current ACANZP.

On this basis they say they are unable to accept Archbishop Davies’ proposal. To an outside observer, however, it is not clear why this should be the case.

It is perfectly reasonable to say that any form of Anglicanism in New Zealand needs to reflect the distinctive history of New Zealand. However, there is no reason why the sort of parallel Anglican jurisdiction proposed by Archbishop Davies could not do this.

Prior to the passing of Motion 29, the version of Anglicanism that existed in New Zealand reflected the history of that country without accepting that it was legitimate to bless same-sex relationships. Why then would it be impossible for there to continue to be a form of Anglicanism in New Zealand that reflected that country’s history while still not accepting the legitimacy of blessing same-sex relationships?

What has historically been unique about ACAZNP is that has been a form of Anglicanism that has given constitutional recognition to the existence within it of three ethnic groups, or Tikanga, the Maoris, the Polynesians and the Pakeha or Europeans. There is no necessary connection between this and the blessing of same-sex relationships.

What if it were possible to develop a new Anglican body in New Zealand that made provision for the constitutional recognition of the three Tikanga as ACANZP currently does while continuing to hold on to an orthodox biblical view of human sexuality? On what grounds would the objection by Archbishops Tamihere and Richardson to Archbishop Davies’ proposal still have force?

What would be interesting would be for someone to develop a proposal for a new Anglican body in New Zealand along the lines just outlined and submit that to ACANZP. Their reaction to such a proposal would make it clear whether the objection was to a jurisdiction that ignored the New Zealand context or simply to any form of alternative jurisdiction outside of ACANZP