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Open Letter to Anglican Leaders
Is Marriage After Divorce Possible?

crossDear leaders of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia,*

This is an open letter to you in response to decisions made at the recent meeting of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui with regard to blessing committed same-sex couples.

In the light of tabling the A Way Forward report and not progressing its suggestions, justice and integrity require that it is time, I think, to be seen to treat the majority in the same manner as the minority.

The debate about blessing committed same-sex couples has occupied a considerable amount of our church’s time and energy. It seems to me that there has also been a qualitative difference in our treatment of the minority (LGBT relationships) as compared to the scant amount concerned with parallel discussions about the vast majority (heterosexual ones). There appears to be a slanting favouring heterosexuals that is not evident for homosexuals.

In the course of discussing blessing committed same-sex couples, I discovered that clergy may have been marrying divorced people without fundamental authorisation and without consistency with our Church of England Empowering Act of 1928.

Motion 30 of the meeting of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui 2014, and the Introduction in the A Way Forward report, it seems to me, are quite correct in stating that our church’s doctrine of marriage holds it to be between a man and a woman, life-long, and monogamous. We have, however, for about half a century, in conflict with our doctrine, had clergy officiating at weddings of heterosexual couples where one or both are divorced – they have previously entered such a “life-long and monogamous” marriage.

It is possible that we may be able to change our doctrine of marriage (from “life-long” to “intended to be life-long”, for example). My understanding is that such a change of doctrine requires a change to our formularies by the “twice round” process agreed to under the Church of England Empowering Act 1928. As far as I know, our church has not done this. The only thing the church has (to marry divorcees) is a clause in a canon, passed by a simple majority at one sitting of General Synod. This, as you know, is not the appropriate, agreed process to change doctrine. The clause is without foundation and inconsistent with the Act.

If I am correct in these points, then, it seems to me that, for the sake of justice and the integrity of our church and its leadership, if we agree it is God’s will to allow the marriage of divorcees, we must embark on trying to change the teachings of our church on marriage by our own agreed process. We need to be seen to treat moral issues for the majority (heterosexuals) with the same seriousness as our church has been treating moral issues for the minority (homosexuals).

There may be flow-on effects (in terms of licensing and, concomitantly, livelihood) of the realisation that our church has not begun the appropriate process to allow divorcees to be married in our church. A learned commission might be established to think through the implications.

My own position is to see God wherever I find love and caring, and to point to and facilitate ways that this might flourish. I believe that the structures we create should demonstrate understanding of the complexity of the human condition we find ourselves in and respond with justice and compassion. I am disturbed that our church makes the celebration of committed same-sex couples such an all-consuming controversy while comparatively scant energy has been expended on the parallel points for opposite-sex couples. I wonder about the dynamics at work underneath the debates, that we as a church seem to have issues with a small minority (who often appear objectified as “them”) while we appear not to have really paused to equally apply the same arguments to the majority (“us”). I wonder why this issue, rather than other pressing issues in our contemporary world, occupies so much of our church’s energy.

I look forward to responses to this letter. I will regard all responses as being public.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Bosco Peters

*This letter has been sent to the General Secretary of our church with the request that it be forwarded to members of General Synod Standing Committee. If you are a leader in this church – this letter is also to you.

*****

This is the second post in response to the recent meeting of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui; the first is: Anglicans Abandon Common Prayer and Allow Blessing Same-Sex Couples.

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14 Responses to Open Letter to Anglican Leaders
Is Marriage After Divorce Possible?

  1. In discussing this with our Dean, we were told that the Dean had been performing marriages between divorcees for the past 35 yrs. If the English church is living in the past century that is their problem. We no longer amputate hands for theft and the same now applies here. The church can live in the past…lucky them. We, the people, have to live in the present. We have no choice. This is when the church looks ridiculous to ordinary people and opens themselves to ridicule..dont we have enough real problems to deal with, without creating them? Some days, we just look to God and ignore the men and women in the Church hierachy who have seemingly lost their way. “Render under Caesar….” I have faith in the Lord.

    • Thanks, Sandi.

      I’m not sure which dean you are discussing this open letter with – but it is great that this open letter is being discussed with church leaders in New Zealand. Yes, as I indicated in this letter, clergy have been officiating at weddings with divorcees for about half a century. Your dean is no exception.

      You reference “the English church.” I am not sure why? Is it possible that you think the Church of England Empowering Act of 1928 applies in England? It does not. In your discussions with your dean s/he should have made clear that is the title of the Act in our NZ Parliament which includes the process for making changes in our (NZ Anglican) church. This describes the process that was put before our General Synod for blessing civil marriages, for example.

      Yes – our church does look particularly ridiculous when we have this agreed process and are determined to use it for homosexuals but not for heterosexuals.

      Blessings.

  2. The simple answer for this is that the two issues are entirely unrelated. Divorce is not same sex marriage is not divorce. Each is a discussion/decision in its own right with entirely different discussion criteria.

    • Thanks, Rodger.

      Our church’s marriage doctrine ties these more closely than you would suggest: (1) between a man and a woman, (2) life-long, and (3) monogamous. Discussions about divorce are around (2) and (3). Discussions around what you call “same-sex marriage” are around (1).

      In any case, if you have been following the state of discussions here, our church is not debating “same-sex marriage;” the discussion is around blessing a committed same-sex couple. Whether that is a marriage or not is not currently in the formal discussions.

      Blessings.

  3. Dear Bosco, congratulations on getting your article – on this delicate subject – onto the TEC web-site of ‘Episcopal Cafe’. No doubt, American Episcopalians will be interested that another Province of our Anglican Communion has inconsistencies of response towards the Blessing of Same Sex Marriages – although, in their case, the actual Marriage of monogamously committed Same-Sex couples can take place in their churches, where the Diocesan approves.

    This vexed question; of the proper authorisation of the Marriage of heterosexual Divorced Persons in ACANZP seems not have caused so much controversy as that caused by the prospect of the Blessing of Same-Sex Civil Marriages.

    In the light of all that; it seems eminently right and reasonable that the Blessing of a Same-Sex Anglican couple’s Civil Marriage ought be at least similarly treated – from the point of view of Church Law. To allow for this would prove that our Church has no difficulty with equal treatment of Gay and Straight Couples in matters of Church Law and Moral Integrity

    • Thanks, Fr Ron. As you know, I have proposed several different possible alternative ways forward on this site. It will be of interest what responses are forthcoming from our church’s leadership. Blessings.

  4. I am struggling to understand the point you are making. You write: “In the course of discussing blessing committed same-sex couples, I discovered that clergy may have been marrying divorced people without fundamental authorisation and without consistency with our Church of England Empowering Act of 1928.”
    Your ‘may have’ suggests you are not certain, only doubtful about the legality. So the answer surely is to call in the Canon Lawyers to get a definitive judgment. If the expert opinion confirms your suspicions, then the answer is to regularise matters through the agreed legal procedures.
    In the meantime, clergy should desist from officiating in marriages of divorced persons.
    Isn’t this what you are calling for?

    • Thanks, Warren.

      I am struggling to understand why you do not see the point I am making. All I can do is quote from my letter: our doctrine of marriage is that it is (1) between a man and a woman, (2) life-long, and monogamous. We have spent a considerable amount of our church’s time and energy on (1) but manage to change our actions in relation to (2) apparently without even going through our own agreed process.

      Did you miss that this letter has gone to the General Secretary and members of General Synod Standing Committee of our Church? Yes, if these canon lawyers you mention agree with your analysis, then the minimum time period needed to alter our doctrine concludes about five years from now.

      Blessings.

  5. You write: ” … apparently without even going through our own agreed process.”

    So you mean you are uncertain whether the 1970 action was legal or not? I notice you do not say for certain that it was illegal.
    The answer to your uncertainty is simple: formally request whoever decides these matters to clarify the legality of the canon which permits marriages of divorced persons in Anglican churches. In law this is simply a matter of seeking a judicial opinion and it happens all the time.
    (FWIW, my own view is that marriages of divorcees shouldn’t take place in church because of the invidious position this puts churches and ministers in. I’ve never been convinced of ‘the pastoral argument’.)

    • Thanks, Warren.

      Since you keep pressing/repeating essentially a similar point – agreement on doctrine and discipline may not be as “simple” as you suggest (see the my earlier point that there is no unanimity whether blessing a committed same-sex couple is a change in doctrine). You may be aware that under our Constitution/Te Pouhere, Part C Clause 10:

      The General Synod / te Hīnota Whānui shall establish a Tribunal or Tribunals for the purpose of deciding all questions of Doctrine and Discipline and may establish a Court or Courts of Appeal from the decision of any such tribunal.

      So, yes, the leadership of our church, whom this addresses, may need to have recourse to tribunal(s) and court(s) of appeal. I wouldn’t call that “simple” – but I’m happy to be in a broad church that includes people who see such as “simple”.

      Blessings.

      • “Simple” doesn’t mean “easy”. Recourse to the law rarely is, and few of us are experts in the law (I include lawyers in that stricture!). But of course, by ‘simple’ I meant the principle of the basic remedy for resolving legal disputes. You need to make the case first that the 1970 Canon was illegal or ultra vires. Do any canon lawyers concur with you in your suggestion?
        As for Part C Clause 10 of the Constitution, I don’t know when this came into force. Was it post-1970? The principle of stare decisis generally functions here.

        • Thanks for your advice, Warren, about what I need to do first. If you follow the links in this post, you will find I have already done that. Blessings.

  6. ‘My own position is to see God wherever I find love and caring, and to point to and facilitate ways that this might flourish. I believe that the structures we create should demonstrate understanding of the complexity of the human condition we find ourselves in and respond with justice and compassion’.

    Who are we to point the finger? Jesus never did except at those religious leaders who kept the supposed letter of the law. Don’t fall into that trap. Follow Jesus and Christianity rather than ‘Churchianity’.

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