Inclusivity

In this series of posts, I am exploring aspects of the AJC that I believe contribute to making it a unique church. None of these posts are official church statements, they are my own views and observations as a member of the communion.

One of the distinctive things about the AJC is our inclusivity. This manifests in several ways.

Usually the first way that strikes people when meeting the church is the last statement in our statement of principles:

We recognize the Sacred Flame to be present in all Beings and therefore our Offices are open to all humanity without discrimination on the basis of gender, race, social status or sexual orientation.

This seemingly anodyne statement, nudged into the list right at the end, has a range of radical consequences which painlessly locate us as a church in the current era.

We ordain women and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folk as deacons, priests and bishops. This isn’t something we’ve struggled with and come to tolerate; it’s a natural, effortless consequence of our founding principles. No argument required.

We marry any two people who are prepared to commit to making a marriage together. Simple. (EDIT: That is, any two people who are of a legal age to marry, who aren’t already married to someone else, who the celebrant is convinced are making a genuine commitment – we simplify the gender stuff, not the rest of it)

We offer the Eucharist to any person prepared to receive it, baptised or not, Christian or not.

I believe there is a pattern underlying the way these norms arise that we see manifest in various ways in the AJC. My way of describing that pattern is: it’s more important to maintain clarity about the centre than it is to merely police the boundaries. We certainly do police boundaries from time to time, but clarity about the centre means that’s a lot less necessary.

In this case, the centre is the experience of the Sacred Flame present in all beings and an understanding that our role as a church is to point out the Flame, to foster an individual’s experience and awareness of it in their own being and to get out of the damn way.

Obviously, those three consequences (inclusive ordination, simplified marriage, open communion) are some of the advantages that arise from being an organisation founded in the third millennium. We get to choose what aspects of Being Church we draw out of history rather than being the captive of organisational norms and cultural prejudices stretching back to the feudal era in Europe.

While we are a young organisation, we also embed an ancient tradition. In the next post, I’d like to explore some consequences of inclusivity in our tradition and the way the Clear Centre pattern plays out in how we engage with theology and scripture.

13 responses to “Inclusivity

  1. I’m glad you’ve given birth to the series, Father Tim+.

    It seems to me there’s an opportunity for reverence to be extended for any move that is required to be made from the centre towards the boundaries. Such a move would inevitably involve adopting a perspective and taking a contextual position, and while I would envisage that a clear starting point could only enhance a transmission from centre to boundary, maybe the principles of tonglen (forgive me, I’ve yet to find a Christian equivalent) could be utilised upon discerning a short-term need to defend boundaries. Embracing the trinity of the view of someone within the diameter, someone on the edge of the radius and someone perpendicular of the situation altogether might be the work of a shift from the core that is identified by the principles of the church?

    Thanks for getting here,
    From she who’s always movin’,
    Trish

  2. I’m glad you’ve given birth to the series, Father Tim+.

    It seems to me there’s an opportunity for reverence to be extended for any move that is required to be made from the centre towards the boundaries. Such a move would inevitably involve adopting a perspective and taking a contextual position, and while I would envisage that a clear starting point could only enhance a transmission from centre to boundary, maybe the principles of tonglen (forgive me, I’ve yet to find a Christian equivalent) could be utilised upon discerning a short-term need to defend boundaries. Embracing the trinity of the view of someone within the diameter, someone on the edge of the radius and someone perpendicular of the situation altogether might be the work of a shift from the core that is identified by the principles of the church?

    Thanks for getting here,
    From she who’s always movin’,
    Trish

  3. Tim, I’m interested (when you have time and energy) to hear how this inclusivity plays out in real life. For example, there are perhaps cases where many would feel uncomfortable marrying two people who are otherwise prepared to commit to each other – for example, I read this morning of arranged marriages to children.

    As minister, you undoubtedly have a number of influences to weigh when deciding to marry two people – e.g. legal, ethical and religious. Since, as it seems, the AJC permits you to separate the last two, it seems your task is made more complex than it would be for ministers of most other churches. I guess your decision to withhold the marriage sacrament until same-sex marriage is permitted in Australia plays into this too. How do you make that separation, and to what extent does ‘the church’ support the outcome?

    PS your comments box is too small for philosophical discourse!

  4. Tim, I’m interested (when you have time and energy) to hear how this inclusivity plays out in real life. For example, there are perhaps cases where many would feel uncomfortable marrying two people who are otherwise prepared to commit to each other – for example, I read this morning of arranged marriages to children.

    As minister, you undoubtedly have a number of influences to weigh when deciding to marry two people – e.g. legal, ethical and religious. Since, as it seems, the AJC permits you to separate the last two, it seems your task is made more complex than it would be for ministers of most other churches. I guess your decision to withhold the marriage sacrament until same-sex marriage is permitted in Australia plays into this too. How do you make that separation, and to what extent does ‘the church’ support the outcome?

    PS your comments box is too small for philosophical discourse!

  5. So, as a church or as an individual, which boundaries would/should/do you police?

    For example, you state that you will marry any two people prepared to commit to making marriage together. Would you marry someone who is currently married (either in law or in “church”)? Or does the act of choosing to marry again essentially establish that the previous marriage is no longer current? If so, would you marry Fred and Wilma this weekend if you had married Fred and Betty the previous weekend? Would behaviour like that (that trivialises marriage at least in my mind) be acceptable under the tenet of inclusivity (we can’t all be lifetime committers, right?) or does it constitute a boundary to be policed?

    It’s one thing to say you don’t want to police the boundaries, but does that extend to not knowing where the boundaries are?

  6. So, as a church or as an individual, which boundaries would/should/do you police?

    For example, you state that you will marry any two people prepared to commit to making marriage together. Would you marry someone who is currently married (either in law or in “church”)? Or does the act of choosing to marry again essentially establish that the previous marriage is no longer current? If so, would you marry Fred and Wilma this weekend if you had married Fred and Betty the previous weekend? Would behaviour like that (that trivialises marriage at least in my mind) be acceptable under the tenet of inclusivity (we can’t all be lifetime committers, right?) or does it constitute a boundary to be policed?

    It’s one thing to say you don’t want to police the boundaries, but does that extend to not knowing where the boundaries are?

  7. Hi Greg and Kerry,

    I’ve edited the bit about marriage to make our practice a bit clearer, I hope.

    Greg, my personal decision hasn’t been to withhold the sacrament, because of Australian law. I will happily offer matrimony to people who want to honour the spiritual character of their bond. I’ve decided not to do the work of being certified as a marriage celebrant for the moment. In truth, I don’t have time to do the course right now, so it’s partly an ethical stand and partly expedience 🙂

    Kerry, if you re-read my post, you’ll note that you’ve “straw-personned” what I said a little. I didn’t say that we don’t want to police the boundaries (in fact I say the contrary), just that being clear on the centre seems to be more important than merely policing the boundaries.

    And remember, that’s just my view based on my observations as a member of the church. It’s not any kind of church policy or position. Our bishops very firmly police relevant boundaries when necessary.

    I hope that’s a bit clearer.

  8. Hi Greg and Kerry,

    I’ve edited the bit about marriage to make our practice a bit clearer, I hope.

    Greg, my personal decision hasn’t been to withhold the sacrament, because of Australian law. I will happily offer matrimony to people who want to honour the spiritual character of their bond. I’ve decided not to do the work of being certified as a marriage celebrant for the moment. In truth, I don’t have time to do the course right now, so it’s partly an ethical stand and partly expedience 🙂

    Kerry, if you re-read my post, you’ll note that you’ve “straw-personned” what I said a little. I didn’t say that we don’t want to police the boundaries (in fact I say the contrary), just that being clear on the centre seems to be more important than merely policing the boundaries.

    And remember, that’s just my view based on my observations as a member of the church. It’s not any kind of church policy or position. Our bishops very firmly police relevant boundaries when necessary.

    I hope that’s a bit clearer.

  9. Greetings, Tim

    I just want to point out that this principle is not unique to the AJC . What you describe is the standard practice of the Gnostic churches that I am familiar with.

  10. Greetings, Tim

    I just want to point out that this principle is not unique to the AJC . What you describe is the standard practice of the Gnostic churches that I am familiar with.

  11. Hi Father Troy,

    Thanks for dropping by. That’s good to know. I guess a part of this exercise is that I have to get clear on who the “competition” is that I’m trying to define our uniqueness amongst.

    I don’t know of an area in which the AJC and the EG (for instance) compete for parishoners. Most modern Gnostic churches seem to have parishes in places where there aren’t any others – most of us are competing for parishoners with orthodox Christian churches, Buddhist groups and the usual postmodern hodge-podge of spiritual organisations.

    I’m in Sydney, Australia, the closest we have here is the EGCA and the LCC.

    Thanks for your thoughts and for pushing my thinking in return.

  12. Hi Father Troy,

    Thanks for dropping by. That’s good to know. I guess a part of this exercise is that I have to get clear on who the “competition” is that I’m trying to define our uniqueness amongst.

    I don’t know of an area in which the AJC and the EG (for instance) compete for parishoners. Most modern Gnostic churches seem to have parishes in places where there aren’t any others – most of us are competing for parishoners with orthodox Christian churches, Buddhist groups and the usual postmodern hodge-podge of spiritual organisations.

    I’m in Sydney, Australia, the closest we have here is the EGCA and the LCC.

    Thanks for your thoughts and for pushing my thinking in return.

  13. Pingback: Market and Competition « …as upon a straight road

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