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NZ: 'We're not bigots', says vicar splitting from Anglicans over same-sex blessings

NZ: 'We're not bigots', says vicar splitting from Anglicans over same-sex blessings

By Charlie Gates
October 13, 2018

Vicar Jay Behan is part of a group leaving the Anglican church over same-sex blessings.

In a partially boarded-up house in suburban Christchurch, Jay Behan is helping to start a new church.

He doesn't know what it will be called yet, but some estimate it will have a congregation of about 1000 people.

The worshippers will mainly come from four Christchurch parishes that have split from the Anglican church, along with eight ministers who have resigned their positions.

Canterbury bishop elect Peter Carrell voted in favour of same-sex blessings and is saddened by the departure of some Anglicans.

The drastic decision to form a splinter church was made in reaction to a move by Anglicans in May to allow same-sex blessings.

The Anglican's ruling body, the general synod, voted to allow the blessings if they are authorised by the local bishop. The motion only allowed blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples who were married elsewhere and gave each diocese's bishop and clergy immunity from complaint if they refused to conduct blessings of same-sex couples.

It was an attempt to reach compromise on a divisive issue, but it failed.

Vicar Jay Behan says trying to get people to agree to a new name "is horrific".

Since then, congregations in four Christchurch parishes -- St Stephens Shirley, St Johns Latimer Sq, the Parish of South Christchurch, and St John Woolston -- have voted to disaffiliate from the Anglican church. Three ministers -- Andy Carley of St Pauls Papanui, Mark Hood of St Christophers, Avonhead and Al Drye in Rakaia -- have resigned over the move.

Behan was vicar at St Stephens in Shirley until the disaffiliation took effect at the end of September. Now he is helping create the new church, working in a single-storey house rented from the Anglican church in Shirley. It used to be the vicarage for the St Stephens church, which was demolished after the February 2011 earthquakes. The front window, which overlooks the now empty church site, is boarded up.

Behan is keen to explain why they have left the Anglican church. He wants to dispel what he describes as a caricature of the group as "bigoted and hateful and spiteful" or "an angry group of conservatives".

Instead, he says the debate is about the authority of the Bible and the guidance it gives about sexuality.

"This is an issue over Biblical authority, because the Bible seems pretty clear on it."

"In the area of sex there are a number of things that for Christians are not seen as best practice. If you are single, you are to remain celibate. If you are married you are to remain faithful. If you are same sex attracted you are to remain celibate.

"Part of Christianity is we say no to self and try to follow the way the Lord calls us to live.

"There are specific verses that talk about it, but it is also the way that all the way through the scriptures, what is prescribed is marriage between one husband and one wife."


This strict interpretation of the Bible is rejected by many in the Anglican faith.

Vicar Helen Jacobi of St Matthew-in-the-City in Auckland says the Bible does not offer guidance on modern sexuality.

"I would argue that there is nothing in the Bible that that we in our modern understanding would think of as same-sex relationships.

"The scriptures don't give us guidance on that. But they do give lots of guidance on inclusion, love and understanding."

She says references to homosexual activity in the Bible were written in a completely different time and place, with no relation to our modern understanding of sexuality.

"It has a very different societal context, as do many things in the Bible. The Bible says women should be silent in church and we don't follow that.

"Jesus said divorce is not allowed, but we allow divorce. That is a much more specific instruction.

"There are many things in the Bible that we don't take literally and take them in terms of their time and context. You can't take one thing literally and not the next.

"They have taken an interpretation which results in people feeling excluded from the church and that is most unfortunate."


But Behan could not compromise on the issue, even though ministers could choose whether or not to conduct same sex blessings.

"That is a difficult place to see where there is compromise.

"It has changed the teaching of our church and the practice of our church. Some people are fine with that, but for some there is a real issue of conscience."

He believes Anglicans will probably go further and allow gay marriage. More people will join their new church if that happens, he says.

"It may be that, with some of the stronger conservative voices not there anymore, things may progress," he said.

"We're setting it up in recognition that there are lots of Anglicans up and down the country who are concerned with what has happened.

"If things were to change ... then this would be an Anglican structure that they could come into."

Jacobi said it would be some time before Anglicans returned to the issue.

"People are feeling pretty bruised by the whole process and we will take a bit of a pause before we move to the next step."


In the meantime, Behan and his colleagues will have to find new office space and places of worship for their new church. It will all be funded by their new congregation.

"There is no war chest. We will continue to run on the generosity of the people who come along.

"We are starting from scratch right now because we have not had a plan in the back pocket.

"We are now working on the pragmatics. We don't have cash funds to buy or build something."

He says so far it has been a civilised and polite schism.

"When similar situations to this have occurred in North America it has been chaos. There have been legal disputes and arguements."

He hopes to have a new name for the church and have appointed a bishop by the middle of next year.

He wants the new name to include the word Anglican, but doesn't want to inflame divisions in the church any further.

"Trying to get people to agree to a new name is horrific."


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