blessing same sex couples

[Udate 21 March 2016 in red (further updating 23 April in green and 29 April in maroon) : Thank you to all who have been part of the discussion here – both online, in private messages, and IRL “In Real Life”.

These discussions have clarified that a formulary expresses a doctrine. We have a process, with careful checks and balances, that allow the Church to add, remove, and change a formulary.

We appear to be able to limit the application of a formulary in Church practice and can do so by a canon. There appears not to be any written clarification of this – nor in what way is that applicable. Surely this should be in our Constitution? If a canon at General Synod level can limit a formulary – what else can? A diocesan motion? This is an important clarification and I retract the point I made about this in my post that follows. This appears to make my suggested formulary possibly unnecessary.

A good example of a canon currently limiting the application of a formulary is the Canon of Marriage. The marriage formularies give the binding belief, and the practice that is required if an Anglican is officiating at a wedding. But the Marriage Canon restricts the application of these formularies – eg. the marriage formularies may not be used between specified persons – even if they are not related genetically. [The appropriateness of 2.6, suggesting the possibility of a “composite” of the formularies being done via a canon rather than via altering the formularies, is a different discussion]. This canon at 2.9 allows for the marriage of divorced persons. Allowing the marriage of divorced persons is, surely, a change in doctrine which cannot be effected by a canon – but requires a formulary. Ie. this canon is purporting to do things that it cannot effect. At 2.11 there is the allowance to decline to officiate at a wedding.

It is this possibility of the limitation of the use of formularies that is being used to limit the application of the formulary in The Report.

So to be clear: it seems that a canon may be able to limit the application of a formulary. It is surprising/unfortunate that this discussion/clarification does not seem to appear in The Report. All the other parts of the conversation on this thread still seem to be relevant (eg. the “safeguarding” canon can be altered or rescinded by any meeting of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui at the vote of over 50% of its members).

I have also updated Blessing Same-Sex Couples – A Way Forward? with this clarification/retraction.]

I think that the proposed way forward, in The Report (download PDF) to bless committed same-sex couples in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, needs to have a couple of improvements to enable it to work. The dynamic of this post is not to get stuck on arguing about The Report’s rhetoric, plan, rationale, and theology (there are other contexts that facilitate that) but to see if it is possible to further The Report’s goal, and to move beyond people’s finding further fault with details of The Report.

First, I present the broad brush-strokes of my suggested improvements. Then I will give some commentary.

1) I suggest we pass a formulary* (essentially the one in The Report of the Working Group formed by General Synod / te Hīnota Whānui 2014) and call this “Blessing A Civil Marriage”. My suggestion is that this formulary has the (important) words added at the start: “A bishop or priest may bless a civil marriage using the following form”. This is followed by a rite of blessing drawn from The Report.

2) I suggest the change in defining “chastity” in Clause 10.4 of Title D Canon I (as the right ordering of sexual relationships) follows the broad outline of The Report (page 28) – a blessed civil marriage would be understood to be a right ordered sexual relationship. But at this same point, The Report’s suggestion (page 28) of having individual Diocese or Amorangi vote for or against a formulary, needs to be abandoned.**

3) As with marrying currently, the canon will be clear: you can refuse to bless any couple without needing to give the reason why you are not prepared to do so.

The Commentary

Firstly, there is an issue with The Report as it currently stands making it impossible to implement. People are arguing about The Report’s rhetoric, plan, rationale, and theology but, all that aside, its assumption that we can have a diocese-by-diocese, amorangi-by-amorangi acceptance or rejection of our Church’s formulary is mistaken.

A formulary is the only way we can authorise a service of worship. A formulary is also something we vow and sign up to as expressing our belief.

My proposal is that the belief expressed in this particular formulary is that a bishop or priest of this Church may bless a civil marriage, whether or not that is of a heterosexual or homosexual couple. It is not accepting agreement with such a blessing. It is accepting that a bishop or priest, should s/he so choose to, may bless such a civil marriage. I will suggest a parallel model, as clarification, below.

Secondly, a canon cannot trump a formulary. This is what The Report suggests we do. We cannot.

My proposal has the formulary, as with every formulary, applying everywhere in our Church. A bishop (or synod/hui amorangi) cannot authorise a service, and a bishop (or synod/hui amorangi) cannot forbid a service. And we should not go down the route of altering our Constitution and Parliamentary Act (the suggested Statute 711 returning to General Synod Te Hinota Whanui this year) to alter our process for authorising services. The formulary is available everywhere (this is a significant difference to The Report’s proposal). In some dioceses and amorangi, priests and bishop(s) will use the formulary. In other dioceses and amorangi, essentially no one will use this blessing formulary. In some places the blessing formulary cannot be used to bless a committed same-sex couple – a civil marriage for homosexuals simply does not exist in some countries in our Church.

Thirdly, let us be clear that the use of the blessing formulary in a diocese/amorangi does not mean that the licensing bishop agrees with the particular relationship being blessed. Just as, in The Report, a priest (or lay person) merely by being in the same diocese/amorangi as someone who blesses committed same-sex couples thereby is not taken to being in agreement with that particular blessing. Gracious disagreement is a strength, not a weakness. We practice it already, as illustrated under the next heading.

A bishop, as always, can licence (or not licence) whoever s/he wishes in her/his diocese (as long as they conform to the Church’s requirements, which include chastity).

Divorce is a Model

[Update: what follows, I now suggest, is not fully accurate. It now appears that the church did not follow the appropriate procedure to authorise marriage after divorce which is a change of doctrine. For the last half century, clergy marrying divorced people may have done so without fundamental authorisation. You can read this clarification in Divorce, Remarriage, & Blessing Same-Sex Couples]

Since 1970, marriage after divorce, while the previous partner is alive, is allowed in our Church. Prior to 1970 “The Catholic and Anglican churches argued that marriage could only be ended by the death of a spouse.” “Changing social attitudes are reflected in the decision by the [Anglican] church in 1970 to permit the re-marriage of divorced persons in church.”

In our Church you can hold to different positions:
1) the pre-1970-Anglican/current-Roman-Catholic position: that a valid marriage is for life; only an annulment (declaration that the marriage was invalid) can allow a valid marriage to occur. All other weddings of previously-married people is essentially blessing adultery. Cf Luke 16:18
2) a more liberal position: that the intention of marriage is for life, but that there are rare exceptions which allow a second marriage. Marriage, in this view, is not an ontological binding together. This view expands Matthew 5:32 and understands 1 Corinthians 7:10-15 not merely as permission to separate (and hence not hold to the marriage vows) but to marry a second time.
3) the view that blessing subsequent marriages is generally possible. People are generally given the benefit of the doubt, and the possibility of making a fresh start is always available from God and seen as a central Gospel value.

Our Church formally allows clergy to decide whether they officiate at a particular wedding or not. If they decide not to do so, the Church is explicit that there is no requirement for the bishop or priest to give a reason why they are not prepared to officiate. A person may (from the above positions) think that a priest or bishop is blessing adultery, but this does not affect either person – both hold their opinions with integrity. Even the licensing bishop may not agree with the particular wedding should s/he become aware of it. But a priest deciding differently to what her/his bishop would do in that situation does not sully the integrity of the diocesan bishop.

This is a model for blessing committed-same-sex couples using my proposed formulary “Blessing A Civil Marriage”.

First Order – Second Order Model

There are some who have created a “First Order/Second Order” model of biblical behaviour. Those who follow this model would say that going against a “First Order” requirement of biblical behaviour jeopardises eternal salvation.

Even those who accept the “First Order/Second Order” model, and who agree that adultery, and blessing adultery, would be a “First Order” issue, have managed to live within our Church for over 45 years cheek by jowl with the three different integrities (described above) with regards to marrying someone previously married (with their previous partner still alive). We have remained together within our Church without (to my knowledge) a single formal complaint being processed for the nearly half a century since the marriage of divorced people has been allowed in our Church. I see no reason, other than prejudice, why my proposal cannot similarly work.

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*a “formulary” is the agreed liturgical practice and teaching of the Church. Authorised services are formularies of our Church, and we hold to the belief expressed in such a formulary. Return to where you were in the text.

**Of the thousands who have read my posts that we cannot have a diocese-by-diocese, amorangi-by-amorangi acceptance or rejection of one of the formularies of our Church, not a single person has communicated with me, either publicly or privately, that I am incorrect in this point. Return to where you were in the text.

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