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Blessing Same-Sex Unions

Sergius & Bacchus

Yesterday, the text of the Way Forward Working Group report was published. It deals with how blessing committed same-sex couples may be progressed in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. It comes in response to Motion 30 of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui 2014 (GSTHW 2014).

The Way Forward Working Group report (PDF)
The covering letter sent by the Archbishops with the Way Forward Working Group report

The thanks and congratulations of the Church must go to the Working Group members.

I suggest you use the above links because, unfortunately, the church’s official media website’s version (on Anglican Taonga) has stripped any pagination (making the contents pointing to page numbers redundant), messed up numbering, and removed clarity of layout (making it difficult to distinguish, for example, the two distinct blessing rites). Unfortunately the PDF also has layout issues (our church does really struggle with digital technology – but that is another issue) but it is by far the better version.

Obviously, I have not had time to digest the document in the manner it deserves. My first impression is that this indeed provides a way forward. Just as we hold together in one church those who accept remarriage after divorce and those who don’t, just as we hold together in one church pacifists and army chaplains and those who would bless instruments of war, so the hope is that we will hold together in one church those who accept the blessing of committed same-sex couples and those who do not.

In any comments to this post, please maintain the culture of this site: your real name; no ad hominems; light rather than heat.

These are merely my initial notes:

  • I am pleased to see that the route being proposed is to create a formulary. This means no alteration need take place to the normal process for authorising Blessing a Same-Sex Couple (GSTHW – hui amorangi/diocesan synods – GSTHW; a year’s wait to see if there are any objections). Statute 711, returning to GSTHW 2016 after just squeaking through to the slightest majority of dioceses, is not needed for this Blessing Rite, so it can happily be discarded.
  • In more than one place, the report speaks of diocese or amorangi “choosing to adopt” or “not authorise” this Blessing Rite. Someone please explain this to me. I do not think that dioceses or amorangi can make choices about formularies once they have been authorised by the Church.
  • I underscore the sadness of same-sex couple who hope to be married “in church” that this is specifically excluded. Furthermore, this rite can only be used by those who have been civilly married.
  • Our Constitution (and the Church of England Empowering Act) stresses that we cannot make changes to the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ. The report is clear: marriage is not a “Sacrament of Christ”, and “Doctrine of Christ” is unclear and undefined.
  • The Church of England Empowering Act has not caught up with the Tikanga changes in our Church. The report encourages updating that Act.
  • There is a change suggested to the Marriage Canon so that the Church no longer have its own list of those excluded from the possibility of marriage – but merely accepts the State’s list. The State, however, might change that list. The report calls removing our own list a “simplification” rather than “substantive”. I strongly disagree. This is substantive. The Church might take into account changes to the understanding of marriage that the State undertakes; we might hear God’s voice in changes that the State undertakes; but the Church should clearly retain our independence of the State’s changing understanding of marriage. We should not have a “what they said” canon.
  • The suggested altered Marriage Canon has “3.7 As a matter of doctrine any minister has the right to decline to officiate at a service blessing civil marriages (whether involving divorced persons or where the couple are of the same sex) and may not be subject to any disciplinary proceedings for doing so.” I am interested why this is termed “a matter of doctrine”. As I would understand it – a canon cannot change doctrine. I can see a possible problem: those in the against-blessing-committed-same-sex “integrity” will have a formulary blessing such unions. A formulary is binding on belief. This conflict needs to be resolved within the formulary, it seems to me – I do not think it can be done outside it by a canon. Previously, when people disagree about a formulary they have simply ignored it or disobeyed it, but issues around same-sex couples seem to generate more energy and debate than other ones. I can only suggest that the formulary itself needs to include the word “may”, e.g. beginning with a rubric such as: “After a couple has been married in a civil ceremony they may be blessed using the following form.”
  • The two rites presented follow the Kiwi Anglican tendency of responses that need to be read with heads in books, pamphlets or staring at screens. I think well-known responses should have been at least an alternative option.

If there are online discussions elsewhere about this report, please add a link in the comments.
Peter Carrell’s Anglican Down Under has already started here.

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Image: Sts. Sergius and Bacchus, 6th or 7th century encaustic icon from Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Egypt. Now in Kiev, Ukraine (Kiev Museum of Western and Oriental Arts)

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11 Responses to Blessing Same-Sex Unions

  1. It’s interesting watching your machinations. Over here (SEC) I’m not aware of the terms “Sacrament of Christ” or “Doctrine of Christ”, let alone any difference between the two. From what I see, we just have Canons, generally follow them and make a lot of noise about changing our equivalent.

    Maybe “as a matter of doctrine” is meant to be helpful – it puts the rest of the sentence into the land of mud rather than black+whites.

    Kudos on a step forward.

      • Good question. I can’t see one as such, off-hand – such constitutions as I can see concern individual charges.
        The description of Synod says that it addresses two broad areas, both internal such as Canon law and international.

        I might have to hunt harder 🙂

  2. “Just as we hold together in one church those who accept remarriage after divorce and those who don’t, just as we hold together in one church pacifists and army chaplains and those who would bless instruments of war, so the hope is that we will hold together in one church those who accept the blessing of committed same-sex couples and those who do not.”
    Cleary, in accepting contradictory behaviours, this Anglican ecclesiastical community has no moral guidance to offer mankind on important matters of right human conduct. Is it just an organisation of ethnic, if not romanticised, nostalgia, rather than one based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and its challenges for converting the world?

    • Quite the opposite I would have thought, Victor – rather than “Clearly”. What we need in our warring world, it seems to me, is learning to accept difference, learning to enjoy diversity, rather than having everyone conforming to a monochrome position. Would you care to say which “moral guidance you would offer mankind on the important matter of right human conduct” in your quote: the pacifists or the army chaplains? Blessings.

  3. Dear Father,
    I have read through the document twice now and think it offers an excellent ‘way forward’ that acknowledges the reality of people’s lives but does not do violence either to those opposed to same-sex marriage or to those in favour. I hope those in favour (as I am) can be generous here and recognise that the reality of marriage is always that the couple are the ministers of marriage and that same-sex marriages exist and are beloved in God’s eyes even when the church, through its ministers, as witnesses of marriage have some catching up to do. Well done NZ for suggesting a way forward in co-existence, I pray that this route for good disagreement might be approved and serve as a model for other churches.

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