LEAVING SPACE FOR GRACE
One of the various hats I wear is as a Board Director of a Uniting Church Educational Institution. This work aligns with my passion for education and the transformative power it has on children and our leaders of tomorrow in fostering critical thinking, problem solving, connectivity and imagination.
During our Board discussions the topic of marriage recently came up. Many of you in Australia will have taken part in the postal plebiscite that took place in November 2017, where we were required to vote either YES or NO to changing the laws in Australia to legalise marriages between same sex couples.
The debate in the lead up to the postal vote was an emotional and often divisive one, with politics, religion, personal views and fear mongering all playing a part. Members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) community felt outcast, marginalised and traumatised, and many conservative community members felt unsafe and scared of what impact marriage equality would have on society.
I was reminded in discussions with the current Moderator of the Uniting Church in Western Australia about how this institution chose to deal with this vexed and complex issue. The approach struck me and resonated with me so deeply, that I have chosen to share it with you in this newsletter, as I believe there are lessons for all of us to take into our own lives, relationships and organisations.
In the lead up to the marriage equality postal survey all the main religious organisations and churches went to the Government and made it clear they would be in the ‘NO’ camp. The only exception to this was the Uniting Church, who, after a number of Assembly discussions and meetings of it’s various bodies and congregations, decided it was important to adopt a different approach, recognising the differing and strongly opposed opinions within its congregation and followers. The Uniting Church decided to adopt the approach of holding space for grace, and making room for and recognising both the YES and NO view amongst its own.
When the Australian population voted resoundingly in favour of marriage equality, the Uniting Church also decided it would allow and celebrate the freedom of conscience for all it’s bodies, institutions, ministers and followers. Essentially, the Uniting Church’s view is that there is space on this issue for two opposing and different views. It is celebrating difference of opinion and the ability for human beings to respect and live/work in a world where opposed opinions exist.
The practical impact of this is that no definitive decree has been made by the Uniting Church that will bind all of it’s followers. If a parish, school, minister or member of the congregation wishes to celebrate, attend, host or preside over a same sex marriage then the Uniting Church allows, supports and celebrates that decision. Conversely if those same bodies or people decide to only uphold the traditional view of marriage as that between a man and a woman, and refused to celebrate or officiate over a same sex marriage, then that is also supported by the Uniting Church.
Whether you are in the Yes or the No camp is not important or the purpose of this true story. The lesson for me is in how this institution chose to deal with two opposing and strongly held views of people within it’s own ‘family’ or under it’s one roof. It is a timely reminder that there is always room for differing opinions, as long as we can hold them with grace, respect and peace.
We could all do with taking this learning into our relationships, homes and organisations, and now more than ever, our leaders would do well to remember that our differences are often what makes us strong as a group, not what should divide us. There is room at the table for everyone and if we could just hold the space to listen, understand and respect each other and our views, wouldn’t the world be a much kinder, inclusive and peaceful place.