Members of St Mary’s Anglican Church in Armadale in regional New South Wales are rallying behind a gay couple who claim they were forced to leave their positions within the congregation for living in an “unBiblical way”.
Peter Sanders, 57, worked as the church organist and Director of Music at St Mary’s, while his husband Peter Grace, 61, was on the organising committee of the church’s 125 year celebrations. The couple got married last year. In May this year they were told that to retain their positions within the church they would need to be celibate, separate, and receive religious counselling.
In response to these requests, the couple have ceased going to the church’s services. An online petition by the couple’s friends asking the church to let them return to their roles has garnered over 11,500 signatures.
‘Ultimatum Was Given To Us’
“We felt that we didn’t have any other choice by the ultimatum that was given to us … other than to step back,” Sanders told ABC News. Sanders added that an “overwhelming majority” of the congregation had supported them.
Senior members of the Anglican Church have refuted the couple’s claims that they were asked to leave St Mary’s. A spokesperson for the church said that “To the extent that any such comments were made to Mr Sanders (which I cannot confirm), they were certainly not made with the authority or consent of the Dean (or the church).”
Reverend Rod Chiswell, Bishop of the Armidale Diocese, added his voice to the conversation saying via a statement that the church were seeking a “pastoral conversation” with the couple.
“The Anglican Church in the Armidale Diocese, like the Lord Jesus, welcomes all who choose to come to church, regardless of sexual orientation. Involvement in positions of ministry or other leadership, like in many other Dioceses, is conditional upon church governance and agreeing to and complying with the Faithfulness In Service code.”
Religious Discrimination Bill On The Horizon
Of course, all this comes just months before Michaela Cash as Australia’s new Attorney General is set to bring the religious discrimination bill before Australian Parliament later this year. If passed, it would make such termination of employment and engagement legal.
Since the 2017 plebicite on same sex marraige, the Anglican Church of Australia has continued to double down on its opposition to LGBTQI+ rights and acceptance. In a joint resolution, they declared that it is not “appropriate” for same-sex weddings to be held anywhere on Anglican property. In 2019, the Archbishop of Sydney suggested those who wish to change church laws to enable same-sex marriage should leave the church.
Yet last year the Appellate Tribunal – the legal advisory body of the Anglican church, voted in favour of Dr John Davis and Father Rob Whalley, the first same-sex couple to receive a blessing from Australia’s Anglican church.
A recent report from the Anglican LGBTQI lobby group Equal Voices paints a disturbing picture. “Among our number in recent times we have had Anglican LGBTIQA+ communicants end their life by suicide, suffer from extreme mental health issues, feel isolated and uncared for. Some have been denied clerical licences, some are in fear they will have their licence revoked, others have left the Church, more still others have even abandoned their relationship with God,” the report said.
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