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Blessing Divorce and Marriage Equality

Remarriage

We have received a reply to my open letter to church leaders.

Our church may be unique in formally disallowing marriage of divorcees whilst allowing blessing of committed same-sex couples. Read on.

The topic in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia that engenders the most energy is (pick one):

  • climate change and responsibly living within creation
  • social justice and the fact that our nation has one of the fastest growing gaps between the haves and the have-nots
  • child poverty
  • homelessness; the housing crisis
  • refugees
  • fair trade
  • contemplative practices and mindfulness
  • plummeting church statistics; church finances
  • leadership formation

That’s correct. As is well known, the topic du jour in our church, in fact the topic de la décade, is … blessing committed same-sex couples.

Getting Your Marriage Rite

“Sanctity of marriage!” is one of the catch-cries of those opposed to such blessing. Yet, for half a century, our church has been marrying divorcees and ordaining and licensing people in such relationships without having bothered to go through the required changes to our church teaching. No one has hassled about such negligence. Could it be because that is about heterosexuals? The majority. Us.

So clergy may have been marrying divorced people without fundamental authorisation and without consistency with our Church of England Empowering Act of 1928. And, similarly, bishops have been ordaining and licensing people in such relationships.

The cry of “Heterosexist hypocrisy!” may actually have better objective veracity than the “Sanctity of marriage!” one that we mostly, loudly hear.

You will find the Open Letter to Anglican Leaders Is Marriage After Divorce Possible? here. Having promised to keep readers here informed of feedback, I have just received the response from the General Secretary of the Church:

Your letter was considered at the July GSSC [General Synod Standing Committee] meeting, and they have referred the matter raised to Chancellors advice and the Liturgical Commission.

You will, yourselves, have to divine what this means. Anything from: too complex for the GSSC – we have passed this onto those experts to discuss further. Or: GSSC agrees with this letter, and we have sent this onto the Chancellors and the Liturgical Commission to begin rectifying this and preparing the proper legislation to change our doctrine for the next meeting of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui. Or any other alternative interpretation.

Changing our Constitution

I lobbied that currently was the worst time to make a change to our Constitution (eg here, here, here, and here). Our Church is a patchwork mess of confusing and conflicting rules, teachings, and practices. It is unclear what is required, allowed, or forbidden. Attempts to get clarity have gone nowhere.

General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW) 2016 went ahead and changed the Constitution so that, for the first time in our Church’s history, bishops clearly have Jus Liturgicum – the right for the bishop to authorise a service (previously only GSTHW could authorise). While certainly at diocesan synods there was disquiet and strong voting against changing the Constitution, I am unaware of anyone who spoke or voted against it at GSTHW2016.

Because the majority legal position (Way Forward Working Group Report) is that blessing a committed same-sex couple is not contrary to our church’s doctrine, since the constitutional change, bishops can authorise such a service within their jurisdiction. In practice bishops have been licensing clergy in such relationships and participating in such blessings – but some people continue to dispute that this is what the constitutional change effects. Discussions about this by bishops and chancellors have not been made public.

In practice, bishops have been assuming Jus Liturgicum and using home-grown ordinals different to those authorised by GSTHW. These are variants of the Prayer Book’s, or translations, interpretations, and new rites. Some people, including bishops, think this is not allowed under the change to the Constitution. Others, obviously, have seen the change as enabling what they have hoped for.

Marrying Divorcees – Forbidden;
Blessing Same-Sex Couples – Allowed

Discussing the legality, and indeed validity, of such ordinals is beyond the focus of this post. It merely illustrates the extent of the current situation.

This post is to highlight what has mostly been missed in all the intense heat and noise of the same-sex-blessing feud: ironic though it may seem to some, the actual teaching of our church forbids the marrying of divorcees whilst it appears to allow bishops to authorise the blessing of committed same-sex couples in their jurisdiction.

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7 Responses to Blessing Divorce and Marriage Equality

  1. Bosco, perhaps this is too backwards of a question, or maybe you won’t want to go again and again in such detail, but what is the objection to the blessing of a same-gender relationship?

    Understand, in my tradition we bless boats, pets, and motorcycles, so I can’t fathom the reason for objection.

    • It may be fairer, Kevin, if someone who objects answers your question. In my tradition one might even bless military weaponry. Blessings.

  2. Perhaps my view on divorce and remarriage might be a little less strict than your own, Bosco – believing that God would not want sparring spouses to take their irreconcilable differences with them to the grave. However, I do appreciate the point you are making here, and in your Letter to the authorities.

    While the Church seems a tad more willing to enter into the legal anomolies involved in approving of Same-Sex Blessings; it seems to have forgotten the ease with which sanctioned Divorce and Re-marriage of heterosexuals has come into the praxis of the Church – with seemngly none of the (presumed) difficultes associated with the S/S question. The Constitution on the indissolubility of the Marriage of heterosexuals was – by your reckoning – simply ignored!

    One does wonder, then, whether the divorce and re-marriage situation really is a matter of relative unimportance to the hierarchy of ACANZP – and even some of its conservative supporters & beneficiaries of divorce and re-marriage – while the suggestion of moral and legal propriety of Same/Sex Blessings would seem, for this same group, to be unsupportable.

    I must declare that my own view is that both situations – of the re-marriage of divorcees and the Blessings of Same Sex Marriages – are matters for the pastoral concern of the Church for ALL people, who find their need of ‘the right person for them’ to love and cherish – if possible to their lives’ end.
    What I would like is for the Church to be equally charitable and accessible for ‘all sorts and conditions of people’ who realise the continuing need of God’s Blessing upon their lives and monogamous relationships – even if some are post the breakdown of a former married relationship. I don’t think God wants a couple to continue to live together in corrosive bitterness ‘to their lives’ end’.

    Nevertheless, I believe that Jesus would approve of today’s faithfully monogamous Gay couples receiving a similar Blessing of their loving relationship. After all, the real sin is that of promiscuity, whether gay or straight, not faithful sexual relationships.

    • Thanks, Fr Ron.

      I see no evidence that my view on divorce and remarriage (expressed briefly in the penultimate paragraph of the open letter) is any more strict than your own. This post is not about this view. This post is about the formal teaching of our church.

      Blessings.

  3. Sorry, Bosco. I find the while situation fraught with a seeming double-mindedness on the part of the Church, and I obviously misunderstood your own view on the business of D. & re-Marriage. Mea culpa!

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