Defrocked anti-gay Qld minister loses unfair dismissal claim

Former Queensland Uniting Church minister Hedley Fihaki
Image: YouTube

A Queensland minister dismissed by the Uniting Church for publicly opposing the church’s allowing of same-sex marriages has lost an unfair dismissal claim.

Reverend Hedley Fihaki started as minister of the Mooloolaba Uniting Church in 2013.

In 2018, the Uniting Church of Australia passed a 2018 national resolution that allowed same-sex marriages within the church.

Fihaki made statements against same-sex marriage online and on social media from 2019 to 2021, the Fair Work Commission heard.

Members of the minister’s own congregation made “multiple complaints” to his higher-ups about his public commentary, the Commission heard.

The Uniting Church later defrocked him. The church said he “publicly departed from and significantly recanted the teachings of the UCA in his statements to the media.”

The Uniting Church alleged 23 breaches of the church’s code of ethics and ministry practice, the Commission heard.

Rev Fihaki “did not refute that he made those statements” during a disciplinary investigation by the church.

Fair Work Commission rules on minister’s dismissal

But Fair Work commissioner Paula Spencer ruled Fihaki was not unfairly dismissed. She ruled he “was not an employee” of the church under the Fair Work Act.

“The ministry role within the Church creates a covenantal or spiritual relationship between the Church and the Minister. It is not an employment relationship,” Spencer ruled.

Fihaki argued that it was. But the Commissioner found Fihaki’s “letter of call for congregational placement” was not an “employment contract”. She ruled the church was paying Fihaki a stipend as a “living allowance” and not a wage.

But the Commissioner ruled that even if he was, the church’s reason for sacking him was still valid.

“I find that there was a valid reason for the dismissal based on the repudiation of the employment relationship,” she wrote.

Reverend Hedley Fihaki now runs a separate church on the Sunshine Coast.

Uniting Church allows same-sex marriages

In 2018, the Uniting Church became the first major Australian Christian denomination to endorse same-sex marriages.

The Uniting Church of Australia’s 265-member National Assembly voted to approve two marriage definitions.

One is between a man and a woman. Another is between two people as in Australian law, allowing Ministers to choose.

The resolution caused internal backlash and division in the church at the time.

However, a bid to undo the decision and send it to another vote failed to garner enough support in January.

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Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

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