QLD and NSW Presbyterians considering response to possible Marriage Act changes

NEWS | Tess Holgate
Tuesday 7 July 2015

The NSW Branch of the Presbyterian Church is the second state branch to issue a public statement about responses to potential changes in the Marriage Act.

Clerk of the QLD Presbyterian Church Reverend Ron Clark told Eternity that in June this year the Queensland Presbyterian Church reaffirmed a statement they made two years ago outlining that “if the government forces celebrants to marry homosexuals that could compromise the church. And were the church to be compromised, then we would have to look very seriously.

“We have not made a commitment to withdraw [from the Act]. But this is a serious situation and we are waiting to see what comes forth with the proposed changes,” says Rev. Clark.

Meanwhile, last week the Presbyterian Church of NSW voted 140 to 62 to ask the federal body of Presbyterian churches to consider withdrawing from the Marriage Act if the definition of marriage is changed to include same sex couples.

The Moderator of the NSW Presbyterian Church Reverend Kevin Murray released a statement yesterday which said that the decision upheld the church’s position that marriage is a “life long covenant between one man and one woman”.

“Jesus clearly teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman,” it reads.

“It [the NSW Presbyterian Church] decided to ask the General Assembly of Australia to withdraw the whole church from the Marriage Act, so that our ministers could no longer solemnise marriages under the Marriage Act.”

The statement says that if the Marriage Act were changed to include same sex couples, then under the current cooperative agreement, Presbyterian ministers would be “acting for the government in a system which did not reflect the biblical view of marriage.

“In this case the positive reason for our co-operation with the Marriage Act would have been removed, and we would be better to avoid association with evil by no longer acting as celebrants,” said the statement.

The decision is not yet final; the General Assembly of The Australian Presbyterian Church still needs to consider and vote on the issue when they meet in September next year.

If passed by the General Assembly, it would mean that the Presbyterian Church would withdraw “the whole church from the Marriage Act so that our ministers could no longer solemnise marriages under the Marriage Act.”

Marriages conducted in Presbyterian churches would still be recognised by God, but not by the state unless people chose to have a state sanctioned marriage as well.

John McLean, Convenor of the Gospel, Society and Culture Committee of the NSW Presbyterian Church says, “the introduction of same sex marriage will be the next step in a process of the redefinition of Christian marriage; the gap is getting bigger and bigger.

“The positive reasons for cooperating with the Marriage Act are disappearing,” says McLean.

“Jesus teaching on what marriage is, is very clear and biblical truth is not an area in which we are free to develop and evolve. Jesus’ view was that sex is for marriage, marriage is for life and marriage is for a man and a woman.”

Robert Forsyth, a senior Bishop in the Anglican Church in Sydney says, “At present we have no such plans”.

“It is difficult for people who believe what God has said about marriage. Their views, and the view of the state, would be deeply different if there is a change (in the Marriage Act). Some may say we shouldn’t be involved if it is different. I think we are heading towards the view that if we still have the freedom to teach and deal with marriage as we believe God’s word allows, then we see no reason to pull out, but it is early days yet.”

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