The backlash against the Uniting Church’s decision to accept gay and lesbian clergy would not result in a split, according to a church social justice spokesperson.

We’ve actually had new people come to the church saying, -˜This is the first time the church has actually spoken to my needs,’ Rosemary Hudson-Mills, national spokesperson for the Uniting Justice Reference Committee, told Sydney Star Observer. The experience of the United Church of Canada was they had an initial loss, but the gain has far outweighed the initial loss, she added.

The statements follow a week of protests, walkouts and a threatened split by conservative opponents of the Uniting Church Assembly decision.

Anti-gay campaigner Rev. Fred Nile quit the Uniting Church this week in protest and announced he had renewed ties with the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches. Nile told The Sydney Morning Herald the Uniting Church had rejected entirely the grass roots of the church by not referring the decision back to the broader congregation.

Hudson-Mills told the Star the decision had been made by a group representing a wide cross-section of the church.

There were 265 members of the Assembly there, all people elected by other councils of the church, as delegates to the Assembly. This is the leadership of the entire Uniting Church, Hudson-Mills said. These people prayerfully and thoughtfully and painfully, in many cases, came to this decision.

Nile departed in protest, but fellow conservative Mary Hawkes this week proposed a different form of revolt. As chairperson of the Evangelical Members of the Uniting Church, Hawkes urged congregations to withhold church contributions in protest, ABC Online reported. Dissent has also been heard from members of the national Aboriginal and Islander Uniting Church group, and from some individual parishioners considering a break with the church, The Age reported.

Parishioners who split from the church have already been courted by another congregation. The Victorian moderator of the Presbyterian Church Terence Corkin announced Tuesday that disenchanted Uniting Church parishioners would be welcomed in the Presbyterian Church. He told ABC News homosexuality is unacceptable and a psychological absurdity.

Threats of walkouts and withheld contributions by parishioners have not moved other supporters of the decision, however. Uniting Church Assembly general secretary Rev. Terence Corkin told the ABC the call by Hawkes would only hurt those in need and he expected few parishioners would withhold funds. Rev. Alistair Macrae, Uniting Church moderator of the Victorian and Tasmanian Synods, told The Age the question of whether the church would lose members was not of ultimate concern.

The prior question is whether the church faithfully expresses the inclusive love of God to all people and calls us all to shape our lives according to the justice, love and peace of Christ, said Macrae.

Hudson-Mills concurred. I think it’s a very significant decision in the church in terms of giving a message that the Uniting Church is a church that welcomes all people to its membership -“ the Assembly strongly affirmed that.

And it’s also a church which affirms the gifts of people for ministry by who they are, not by their sexuality or by some other arbitrary assessment.

While a split within the Uniting Church may not be imminent, the controversy has proved significant enough for the Anglican diocese of Sydney to announce last week the issue might hinder a future merger between the two churches.

The Anglican Church faces its own internal split internationally on the issue of homosexuality. Twenty-four conservative American bishops announced last week they would join conservative church leaders in Africa, South America and Asia if voters at the Episcopal General Convention approve the election of openly gay canon V. Gene Robinson as bishop. The convention begins on 30 July

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