AN Anglican priest who has championed the cause of marriage equality has caused consternation in his congregation by revealing he would refuse to wed gay couples – even if same-sex marriage were to be legalised.
Father Rod Bower, of the Anglican Parish of Gosford on NSW’s Central Coast, has made headlines nationwide and received thousands of social media followers due to his eye catching and provocative slogans posted outside his church on a range of issues from immigration and the environment to marriage equality.
However, a former member of the church has told the Star Observer that a number of parishioners left after Bower revealed that, even after a change in the law, he would not be able to perform marriage ceremonies for same sex couples.
One of those parishioners is Gosford local Donna Evans, who attended the church for six months.
“They call themselves progressive Christians but I’m not sure what’s progressive about talking the talk but not walking the walk,” she told the Star Observer.
“The moment I heard it from him first hand, I stopped going. I just couldn’t handle the hypocrisy.”
Father Bower said while he would like to be able to marry gay couples, Anglican doctrine would prevent him from doing so.
“People feel this is a contradiction. I don’t, I’m part of a family and I like my family,” he said.
“Even if I don’t agree with everything they say we have enough in common to keep us together.”
Evans said Father Bower should do more to challenge the Anglican hierarchy’s views and if that failed, he should consider setting up an independent church.
“Many gay people decide to leave their families if they don’t accept them, he should leave the church if they don’t accept same-sex marriage,” she said.
Father Bower said little would be gained if he left the Anglican fold.
“There would be a splash on the paper and that would be the last you hear from Rod Bower because I’d lose my platform forever,”he told the Star Observer.
“I know that for the people it effects personally it’s all consuming but it’s not the only issue we’re concerned with and, to be blunt, when people are committing suicide in detention camps there are other issues which are a little more pressing.
“I’m interested in being part of the conversation rather than packing my bags because at our best we do wonderful things.”
Father Bower added that he was a well-known campaigner within and outside the church on LGBTI issues and had even been labelled a “sodomite activist” by his critics.
“So to say I haven’t advocated for marriage equality is a bit unfair,” he said.
This weekend, the Gosford priest will give the sermon at the gay-welcoming Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Sydney’s inner west.
He said there was no need for a specific church focused on gay people within the Diocese of Newcastle – in which his parish fell – due to the more relaxed attitude of the Anglican hierarchy in that area.
However, he said it was a “sad indictment of the rest of the church” that many Sydney gay Anglicans only felt comfortable worshiping at MCC.
“In the Diocese of Sydney they say gay people are welcome but they’re welcome as long as you deny what you are which is such an unhealthy message to send out,” Father Bower said.
Pastor Sam Grebert, from the LGBTI-affirming New Covenant Pentecostal church, said he was “very much in favour of committed long term relationships and we’d love to see same sex marriage in Australia”.
New Covenant already has a base in Sydney’s inner west but this weekend starts a new service deep in the city’s Christian heartland of the Hills District.
“People have this idea of gay people only being in the city but in the last 12 months we’ve had people call us from Parramatta and the Hills so we’re here precisely because it’s the bible belt,” Grebert said.
Openly gay himself, Grebert also told the Star Observer he would welcome the opportunity to conduct same sex wedding ceremonies and his church had more ability to make their own decisions.
“Because we’re independent we’ve got a lot more freedom then in a mainstream church and that’s the issue with more established churches – they don’t have that freedom,” he said.
Father Rod Bowder will be the guest speaker at MCC Sydney at 6.30pm Sunday, September 28 at 96 Crystal St, Petersham.
New Covenant Pentecostal Church will hold services every month in Castle Hill launching 6pm, Sunday, September 28 at the Castle Hill Community Centre, 1-17 Castle St, Castle Hill.
Main image source: Anglican Parish of Gosford’s Facebook page