Australia’s Uniting Church splits over gay row

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Evangelical conservatives are planning to create a new church group after the Australian Uniting Church decided to continue allowing the ordination of gay ministers.

Gay churches were met with outrage from anti-gay leaders after the denomination’s national assembly, where a 2003 ruling giving individual churches the right to appoint openly gay clergy was debated and preserved.

Rowena Allen, from the Church’s gay and lesbian group Uniting Network, said the vote sent out a positive message of the Uniting Church, she told the Sydney Star Observer, “We’re feeling affirmed that congregations can make decisions with gay and lesbian ministers, and that’s exciting.

“It will mean angst on both sides of the debate because it doesn’t give a clear answer one way or the other.

“It’s up to each presbytery as to whether they want to ordain gay and lesbian ministers. On the other side it says no congregation can be forced to take a gay or lesbian minister.

“All we’re wanting is an inclusive space where everybody feels welcome.”

But clerics from the Evangelical Members and the Reforming Alliance, now plan to distance themselves from other gay affirming churches, despite the head of the Uniting Church, Gregor Henderson, questioning the legality of their decision.

Mr Henderson told the Sydney Morning Herald, “On face value this proposal seems to suggest establishing a series of parallel structures within the Uniting Church.

“The church’s Basis of Union provides for members of the church to work within the established councils of our presbyteries, synods and the assembly, and the proposed charter appears to be in breach of this.

“The Uniting Church has received no formal communication on this issue. I am concerned the proposed charter lacks clarity and raises many more questions than it answers.”

The row comes as Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, aims to appease Anglican churches who have threatened to leave the communion in a similar dispute.