Conversations from the heart

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Stuart McMillan, Uniting Church in Australia President, encourages the church to ensure discussions about marriage are anchored in grace and respect. This statement was originally published on New Times online in September 2016. It is being shared again in light of recent national discussions on this topic, and has been updated to include some remarks from Colleen Geyer, the General Secretary of the Uniting Church in Australia. 

I’m sure we have all been reflecting a lot about the proposal for a plebiscite and more broadly civil society’s discussion about marriage equality.

How as the people of God in the Uniting Church in Australia do we engage – firstly, with one another within the Christian community recognising the range of theological diversity; and secondly, how do we engage with the wider Australian community?

The internal discussion on the theology of marriage begun at the 13th Assembly in 2012 is continuing. In 2015, the 14th Assembly committed to encourage the “space for grace” – a time of listening to one another and respectful conversations about healthy relationships, marriage and other issues, particularly where cultural understandings differ.

As we move into a time of greater public discussion about marriage equality, I would remind church members of the importance of maintaining this space for grace.

It is easy to harm each other with careless words. So we should all choose ours carefully.

We are committed to being an inclusive Church that embraces LGBTIQ people as full members and to culturally appropriate discussion about relationships and marriage across our diversity.

Within the grace space, this is possible. But it will require conversations from the heart and being truly present for one another.

Over the past year I have been encouraging different communities to hear afresh the word of Scripture from Romans chapter 12, verse 5 which says: “We belong to one another”. This belonging is not a possessive, controlling belonging rather it is about mutuality and respect, recognising the intrinsic worth of every human being all bearing the image of the Creator.

My friend, Rev Andrew Norton, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, recently reported through Facebook on a conversation from the heart in his Church.

The forum for that conversation was a hui – a special assembly at a Maori meeting place called a marae attached to the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand’s Maori Synod.

Andrew said of the meeting: “Diversity is possible and doesn’t have to lead to division and marginalisation if only we listen deeply to one another and to God”.

This seems like wisdom of the Spirit to me.

Coincidentally the venue was called Te Maungarongo marae, meaning the meeting place of peace and reconciliation.

I know we have similar places of peace and reconciliation in our ancient land, and we too should make use of these places for our own conversations from the heart.

Our Church has many such conversations ahead of us.

There are conversations with First Peoples about covenant, sovereignty and treaty, and a whole range of issues across the cultural and linguistic diversity of our Church.

So as we come to a time of national discernment let us encourage one another as members of the community of God within the Uniting Church in Australia to conduct ourselves respectfully through conversations from the heart, listening deeply to one another and God.

In this we do as the Scripture urges us, we show by our love for each other God’s love for the wider community.

Mägayamirri rom*,


*Mägayamirri Rom means “the way of peace and tranquility, harmony with the whole of creation, be with and within you” in the Yolŋu languages of North East Arnhem Land.


Comments from the General Secretary

In a recent email, Assembly General Secretary Colleen Geyer reminded Uniting Church leaders and members of Stuart's call for conversations from the heart and encouraged people to revisit this statement.

"National debate on the issue of same-gender marriage - and the accompanying rhetoric - is again peaking, just as we encourage Uniting Church members to prepare for our own independent discernment. Our priority through this debate remains our own discernment process, and there are no plans to respond to the Federal Government’s current proposal for a postal plebiscite, the vailidity of which is set to be challenged in the High Court," Colleen writes.

"As Stuart reminded church members [in the 'Conversations from the heart' statement], it is easy to harm each other with careless words. So we should all choose ours carefully. We have also committed to being an inclusive Church that embraces LGBTIQ people as full members and to culturally appropriate discussion about relationships and marriage across our diversity.

"We believe that this is possible if we make space for God’s grace, but it will require conversations from the heart."

Resources for respectful conversations on marriage are available at​.


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