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Response and Addendum from Emeritus Professor James Haire AC to Proposed UCA Marriage Changes

James Haire is Professor Emeritus of Charles Sturt University, Australia and Past Executive Director of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture. He was formerly the fourth President of the National Council of Churches in Australia and the ninth President of the Uniting Church in Australia. Professor Haire's response to the Report on Marriage and Same-Gender Relationships is included on the ACC website for the information of all members of the Uniting Church, and now includes an Addendum from Professor Haire, responding to the response from the Assembly Doctrine Working Group (published on the UCA Assembly website). The full document is now available to download for consideration (five pages).

The Addendum is included below:


My Response to the Paper and Proposals of the Assembly Standing Committee (ASC) and the Doctrine Working Group (DWG) of the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) on Marriage and Same-Gender Relationships was a response, not a commentary.   It did not seek to give comment on each section of the Report, but simply to raise a number of what I considered very important issues in relation to the Report and Proposals.   In replying to the DWG’s Response to my Response, I would make the following points:

1. With regard to the ecumenical calling of the UCA, particularly in its seeking union with other churches in Australia, as noted in Paragraph 2 of the Basis of Union, my concern was with the UCA acting in concurrence with other churches in Australia.   The DWG’s Response to my paper speaks of the similarity of the ASC and DWG Proposals with the stance of some other churches overseas.   It does not appear to speak of any intentional dialogue on this issue with other churches in Australia.   It does mention the attitudes of other Australian churches to changes in the civil law in Australia in this matter.   However, that is not a discussion of theological or ecclesiastical understandings of marriage and same-gender relationships with other Australian churches.   This issue is important, because for example the Australian Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church in Australia and the UCA produced a joint document on marriage in 1999.   I was co-chair of that dialogue, which produced that joint document.   Thus, if the UCA were to consider changing its understanding of marriage, then it would seem to me that such an intended change should necessitate intentional dialogue on the issue with a dialogue partner church, especially where a previous joint understanding had already been reached.

2. The DWG’s Response points to the similarities between the theological issues surrounding marriage and same-gender relationships and those surrounding the ordination of women.   I would maintain that there are very considerable differences between the theological issues surrounding these two.   The biblical material surrounding the discourse on the ordination of women, including that of leadership roles, is much more ambivalent, and therefore makes the arguments for the ordination of women much more feasible.   Moreover, the historical traditions surrounding the position of women in Christianity enhance that positive feasibility.   Neither of these appear to be found in any way to such an extent surrounding the matter of marriage and same-gender relationships.

3. The argument in the DWG’s Response that the interpretation of the Basis of Union needs to be seen through the primary position of Paragraph 3 may indeed be the view of many distinguished scholars of the Basis.   However, the Basis of Union itself does not overtly make that point. 

4. When I refer to an issue in the Report and Proposals, I do so by mentioning the relevant paragraph in brackets.   Thus, I am not quoting any part of the Report or Proposals when I use single quotation marks around the terms ‘genuine Jesus’ or ‘the genuine teachings of Jesus’.  I am in fact making reference to the long-contested searches for the historical Jesus in their many forms in the literature.

5. There is no intention by me to apply counter-cultural interpretations in the biblical material directly from the time of the early church to the twenty-first century.   However, counter-cultural dynamics seem to me to be significant hermeneutical resources for contemporary interpretation of the biblical material.   Twenty-first century societies, both western and others, seem to me to be the contexts of the counter-cultural dynamics inherited by the church from the earliest expressions of normative Christianity

6. At the beginning of the Report, we are asked to follow two videos.   One of these introduces the theological concept of diversity as a fundamental issue in this discourse, and relates diversity to the Trinity.   It thus seemed to me to be an important theme of the discourse, and thus I made response to that theme specifically in relation to our understanding of the Trinity.

The DWG’s Response suggests that my Response presents a “superficial” reading of the ASC and DWG Report and Proposals and a “misreading” or “misrepresentation” of its contents.   I am very surprised by the DWG’s use of these terms, as they seem to me to be inaccurate.

James Haire

June 2018