Stop press On behalf of the Standing Committee of General Synod, the Archbishops have today welcomed the appointment of each of the commissioners, welcomed the work they will do – and thanked them in advance for it. You can read the Archbishops’ statement here.
The church has taken a step which it hopes will lead it out of the impasse over questions about the ordination and blessing of folk who are in same gender relationships.
A commission of eminent people, led by former Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand, met for the first time on Saturday to begin the task of clarifying the choices the church faces over these issues – and identifying the implications of those choices.
The commission’s task is to summarise the Biblical and theological work done by the church over 30 years on these matters – and to present a final report to the 2014 General Synod which outlines the various options, and suggests the implications of each of those options.
The commission is a 3 Tikanga body whose members have been chosen because they each have distinguished records in their own fields, because they are not personally embroiled in the debate – and are therefore, hopefully, able to bring a degree of detached objectivity to their work.
The members of the commission are:
Sir Anand Satyanand, who was a lawyer, judge and ombudsman before he was chosen as New Zealand’s 19th Governor General;
Mrs Mele Taliai, a Tongan New Zealander lawyer who is also involved in a wide range of health, legal and Pacific Island advocacy work;
Professor Paul Trebilco, head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Otago;
Justice Judith Potter, a High Court judge, and former president of both the Auckland District and New Zealand Law Societies; and
Sir Tamati Reedy, an educationalist who was the founding Professor of the University of Waikato’s School of Maori and Pacific Development, and who has also served as the head of the Maori Affairs Department.
The commission was instituted by the Standing Committee of the General Synod, which resolved at its November 2011 meeting to ask a small group of eminent people “with ability, credibility and a commitment to work in prayerful collegiality” to convene to do this work. The Standing Committee also crafted the commission’s terms of reference.
Those terms require the commission (among other tasks) to prepare “a summary of the biblical and theological work done by our Church on the issues surrounding Christian ethics, human sexuality and the blessing and ordination of people in same sex relationships, including missiological, doctrinal, canonical, cultural and pastoral issues.”
The commission will report its progress to next month’s General Synod – and deliver its final report for consideration at the 2014 General Synod. The terms of reference also require various church bodies – such as the Doctrinal Commission and the Judicial Committee – to offer the Commission “advice on specific matters of questions…” if that’s sought.
“If I was to put the task of the commission in a nutshell,’ says Archbishop David Moxon, “I would say it is to listen to the church, to listen to the Bible, to listen to canon law, and to listen to the Anglican Communion.
“And to describe the various choices that the General Synod has before it – without prescribing one in particular.”
Archbishop David, who was speaking on behalf of the three Primates, says “the questions in front of the church are complex, and the diversity of the church is considerable.
“Those questions need careful consideration by this group of eminent people – who are above the immediate tensions and conflicts, and can offer objective analysis and perspective, so the range of choices in front of us are fully researched and described.”
Archbishop Moxon thinks that this work of dispassionate clarification could have the effect of subtly changing the terms of the debate.
“We may find,” he says, “that the choices in front of us look a little different than they do at the moment. What does unity in diversity actually look like?”
Archbishop Moxon says the purpose of the commission’s report is to lay the groundwork for the first formal debate the General Synod has had on these matters.
“When we do have that debate,” he says, “we won’t have to do work on the hoof, we won’t have to invent things overnight, we won’t have to wish we’d done more homework, or more consultation on the legal or canonical issues – all of that will have been done for us.”
The commission met in Wellington on Saturday to receive introductory papers, and to discuss a timetable and a process. It chose a Maori, Tongan and English title: henceforth it will be officially referred to as the Ma Whea? Mei Fe Ki Fe? Where to? Commission.
The members of the commission also made it clear that they wish to create an atmosphere of hospitality – so that any members of the church who wish to contact them to share their views feel welcome to do so, preferably in groups. Those wishing to explore this possibility should contact the General Secretary, The Rev Michael Hughes.
The commission also intends to interact with the church through cyberspace, and the chairman, Sir Anand Satyanand, will film a short You Tube clip in which he will describe the work the commission intends to do, and they way it hopes to go about that work.
The commission will not, however, interact with the media during the course of its deliberations. It will not speak in public, in fact, until it presents its report to the 2014 General Synod.