Church split emerges over lesbian leader
By HELEN PITT, Religious Affairs Writer
A split within Uniting Church congregations - particularly among its members - has emerged following the revelation that the Church’s second highest office bearer, the Rev Dorothy McRae-McMahon, is a lesbian.
Ms McRae-McMahon, 63, who outed her homosexuality during last week’s Uniting Church assembly, will retain her position despite the congress’s failure to reach an agreement on its controversial sexuality report.
The chairman of the Uniting and Islander Christian Congress, the Rev Djiniyini Gondorra, warned the assembly last week that if it decided to ordain homosexuals then Aborigines and Islanders might be forced to withdraw from the church.
But in an open letter to Mr Gondorra, Sydney-based women affirmed their support for Ms McRae-McMahon and other homosexual leaders and members of Australia’s third largest church.
"We have a deep love for our friend Dorothy McRae-McMahon - we honour her for her uncompromising ministry," the letter said.
"We have stood with her in forums of the Uniting Church in the past and gladly stand with her now."
Mrs Joyce Clague, an member of the Pitt Street Uniting Church congregation, wept as she read the letter during an emotional service yesterday at the church which Ms McRae-McMahon led for 10 years.
The 120-strong congregation joined with the church’s parish council to express their "overwhelming support" for Ms McRae-McMahon. One member, Mr John Floyd, read a prayer in "support of her honest stand".
Another member, Mr John Thorpe, said there was no dissent within the congregation in its support of Ms McRae-McMahon.
"For us her sexuality is not an issue at all ... some of us are very conservative people but we don’t impose that on each other," he said.
Another member, Mr Warwick Tate, said Ms McRae-McMahon’s public stance "may help change many people’s perception of homosexuality", but he recognised that not all members of the Uniting Church would agree with Ms McRae-McMahon continuing in a senior position.
"It will still be a rocky road for her - many people within the church will make trouble for her," he said.
But just down the street at the Wesley Mission, a very different view was expressed by members of the Uniting Church’s largest Australian parish. Many of the Wesley Mission’s 60-strong 3pm congregation called for the resignation of Ms McRae-McMahon, claiming her position was "untenable". The chairman of the Wesley Mission’s 3pm congregation, Mr Ben Smith, said: "The majority of the congregation would be opposed to accepting homosexuals or lesbians as church leaders.
"There is a strong possibility many members will leave the church because they feel it is not taking a strong stand on the issue of homosexuality.
"A splinter group may form; many feel the church has let them down."
to the launch of the 1998 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival.