Anglican clergy were stopped from debating the Diocese of Sydney's $1 million donation to the same-sex marriage "no" campaign this week, when motions to discuss the controversial use of funds were shut down at a meeting of the church assembly.
Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies announced the donation – made to leading "no" group the Coalition for Marriage – earlier this month, telling the diocese's 51st Synod it was a "bold step" in the high stakes arena of Australia's same-sex marriage survey.
The decision to hand over $1 million was made by the diocese Standing Committee, a representative body with decision-making power, and the money was taken from the Diocesan Endowment, a fund usually reserved for church administration.
Several Anglican leaders spoke out against the donation after it was revealed by BuzzFeed News, labelling it "regrettable" and "a poor use of church finances".
Now, ahead of Davies' appearance in a debate on same-sex marriage on ABC TV's Q&A program on Monday night, attempts to debate the issue at a Synod meeting of clergy and laypeople were stymied by motions to shut it down.
On Tuesday evening, the meeting considered a motion moved by professor Bernard Stewart which called on the Synod to endorse the $1 million donation and included a clause that the vote be conducted by secret ballot. However, a motion was successfully moved by Philip Gerber that it not be voted on.
Another motion in relation to the donation, moved by archdeacon Deryck Howell, sought to require the Standing Committee to seek endorsement from the Synod before it could use money from the Endowment for purposes other than acquiring church assets in the future.
But the motion lapsed after reverend Richard Bligh successfully moved that it too not be voted on.
Reverend Andrew Sempell, rector of St James King Street in Sydney, told BuzzFeed News that not everybody supported the motions to stop debate, but that they were carried "on the voices", meaning there was no precise count.
"There would have been about a dozen of us standing [to indicate they wanted to speak] at the time when debate was about to start," he said. "I had my papers in my hand ready to go. And then it was all just closed down.
"This is a tactic often used in Synods to stop any debate occurring – the motions had been presented, and then a member of Synod stands up and says, 'I move that the motion not be put'."
Sempell said he was surprised the debate didn't proceed, as it would likely have meant an official Synod endorsement of the donation.
"I thought the majority of Synod members would have happily endorsed it, and that would have given strength to the Standing Committee," he said.
Archbishop Davies did not respond to questions on whether he agreed with shutting down the debate, or if he would have preferred it to go ahead.
His office instead provided BuzzFeed News with a letter to church leaders dated October 11 in which Davies defended the donation:
"Some have questioned whether the money would have been better spent on social justice
issues (feeding the poor, Sydney’s homeless, refugees etc)," he wrote.
"The reality is, however, that our
participation in the Coalition for Marriage is not at the expense of our commitment to social
justice, but because of it ... A legal recognition of same-sex marriage
will significantly affect Anglican bodies who wish to maintain and promote a Christian
understanding of marriage in opposition to the law of the land."
Sempell said it had been "a shock" to him and many other clergy when the donation was revealed, and he was disappointed that it hadn't been debated.
"There remains, I think, a lot of concerns about what occurred for a range of reasons," he said.
"There’s a legal one about using charitable trust funds for political purposes; there’s concerns about drawing down on the capital on this way; and then the ones attached to the actual debate, and whether the diocese should be engaging with politics in this particular way."
Several other motions carried at the Synod pertained to same-sex marriage.
One called on Davies to write a letter to the three mothers who appeared in the Coalition for Marriage's inaugural TV ad — Cella White, Dr Pansy Lai, and Heidi McIvor — and thank them for their advocacy on behalf of the Synod.
That motion also included that the Synod "encourages all Australians to consider the implications for children’s education and the teaching of gender ideology in Australian schools should same sex marriage become law".
Another motion stated that the "most appropriate way" to address inequality for LGBTI couples under various Australia state and territory laws would be to introduce a civil partnerships act.
One noted that the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) had changed its definition of marriage to allow clergy to solemnise same-sex weddings.
The motion noted "with sadness" that the SEC was now out of step with wider Anglican teachings, expressed support for Anglicans who would need to leave the church because of its teaching, and prayed that the SEC would "return to the doctrine of Christ".
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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