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blessing same sex couples

An Improved Way Forward?

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 the “safeguarding” canon can be altered or rescinded by any meeting of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui at the vote of over 50% of its members).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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52 thoughts on “An Improved Way Forward?”

  1. I agree with nearly all you say and see your suggestion as a possible way forward to the sunny uplands of wide agreement in our church.

    On two matters I demur.

    1. To the extent that the current proposal offers a “safeguard” to dioceses that want nothing to do with blessings of same-sex relationships, yours does not do this in respect of Polynesia. On your proposal a couple could enter a civil marriage in NZ and fly to Suva for a blessing which neither the Archbishop nor synod of Polynesia could prohibit (should either individual and/or body seek to do so).

    2. Diocese by Diocese adoption of rites and canons is, I am informed, a feature of Australian Anglican polity. While it would be a new feature in our polity to move in that direction, at least re the proposed rite, is it a direction which is prohibited by either our current constitution or by the 1928 Empowering Act?

    1. Thanks, Peter. Your near-agreement offers much hope. Quick responses to your two hesitations:

      1) I think the current proposal does not offer the “safeguard” you suggest – essentially because it is not possible to implement. We simply do not have the mechanism the current proposal is founded on. “Neither the Archbishop nor synod of Polynesia could prohibit (should either individual and/or body seek to do so)” a formulary of our Church – which is what the current proposal seeks to authorise.
      1a) Is a NZ civil marriage (of a same-sex couple) recognised as legally binding in the countries of Polynesia? If not, then the formulary I suggest cannot be used in Polynesia. That would be one clarification.
      1b) If a NZ civil marriage (of a same-sex couple) is recognised as legally binding in the countries of Polynesia then, yes, under my proposal, if a bishop or priest licensed in Polynesia is willing to perform such a blessing, then there is nothing to prevent it. Bringing their own priest from elsewhere would require the Archbishop of Polynesia to agree to that priest acting within his diocese.

      2) The diocese-by-diocese adoption of the marriage rites is also, of course, the polity of TEC. If you have followed the discussion of my posts on Episcopal Cafe you will have seen that they had not thought through to the issues I presented which such polity opens up. You yourself did not manage to produce a concrete way forward to the issues this engendered. The “solution might” end up being bigger than the “problem”.

      So do help me to run this particular flag up the flag pole and see whether others also salute it.



  2. Bosco. What a splendid way out of the apparent problems many of us have with the ‘Way Forward’ process as currently advertised. The adoption of your broad plan of revision would surely make the proposed arrangements much more understandable and workable. I wonder if anyone at Head Office will actually take note and action appropriately?

    By the way, Bosco, I have taken the liberty of posting your article – with my comment – on my blog ‘ kiwianglo. Agape, Fr. Ron

  3. Hi Bosco
    I understand and mostly concur with what you say above (i.e. concur on points made and on questions needing asking).

    I don’t agree that it matters too much which country a person is civilly married in prior to blessing:

    John and Johanna marry civilly in Germany, celebrate with Johanna’s family in Stuttgart, but look forward to a blessing in Christchurch NZ when John’s family can join with them to celebrate. Later John offers for ordained ministry: surely he should be able to be counted as chaste on either the current proposal or yours.

    Ditto, Mary and Marion civilly marry in NZ, later shift to Fiji, come to Christ, seek the blessing of the church there, Marion offers for ordained service in that Diocese, (on your remark above) surely she should be able to be counted as chaste in that Diocese even though her civil marriage could not have occurred inside Polynesia itself?

    1. Somehow, Peter, I am not managing to convey what is clear in my own understanding.
      John is counted as chaste in my proposal.
      I thought you were indicating that the proposal should not force the Diocese of Polynesia into blessing Mary and Marion’s union. Are you now arguing that you want the Diocese of Polynesia to bless this union, and to allow Marion to go through to ordination and being licensed?


  4. Well Bosco; great attempt at squaring the circle, I have to admit. And certainly a better process than that which WFWG tried to offer. But it does to my mind beg a huge question: the sheer legitimacy of the basic move itself. And no; it is not due to “prejudice” that I say this.

    On countless occasions I have stated on ADU, and have even mentioned here on your site a couple of times, that the analogous parallel you repeatedly draw between either SSB and/or SSM and divorce-and-remarriage is a very poor one. I have even cited the Winchester Report of 2000 to the CoE. This is available as [i]Marriage in Church after Divorce[/i] at http://www.chpublishing.co.uk/product.asp?id=13853 This shows the grounds on which we may genuinely offer some “a fresh start” in their married lives – even if in a number of cases nowadays both society and church have become far too lax in their ‘application’ of this ‘enabling’, to the point of sanctioning what is often called “sequential polygamy/polyandry”.

    So; unfortunately, I have to draw your attention to the fact that it is not mere “prejudice” that will make folk like myself demure from your otherwise suggestive alternative proposal going forward. It is on account of a basic – in the true sense of that word – failure to present the due means of Christian authority and so legitimacy that might sanction the heart of the proposal itself. While it has the Kiwi air of being a wonderfully glorious, pragmatic solution to our current dilemmas, it will sadly only divide us nonetheless should it become a formulary of our Church. That is my personal evaluation having tried to address this issue since the early 1990s. Sorry for presenting basically a no-hope forward comment – but there it is frankly.

    1. Thanks, Bryden.

      Yes, the Winchester Report you point to essentially takes position (2) that I outline above, rather than, say position (1). People who hold to position (1) [including priests and bishops] are not, however in breach of any vows or declarations. They can live within our Church, possibly with some discomfort as you indicate (the practice often, as you point out, being at 3 rather than 2). So your arguing for (2) is an acceptable integrity within our Church. That there are other ways to understand Christian marriage than yours is also an acceptable integrity within our Church.


  5. Perhaps I could take a different tack, Bosco, so forget my hypothetical examples above and any hypothetical implications flowing from them.

    On your proposed rite, would what constitutes a “civil marriage” which may be blessed by the church need clarifying (by a canon?)?

    For instance, might a priest/bishop in Fiji bless a couple already civilly married in NZ or any other country (even if civil marriage is not recognised in Fijian law)?

    Or, would priests/bishops only be able to bless civil marriages which are recognised in the civil jurisdiction in which the blessing is conducted?

    1. Thanks, Peter.

      You are not reading my post(s) well if you think that I would suggest that a canon clarify a formulary! That is exactly the last thing I would suggest.

      At the end of many of our formularies there are often “Additional Directions” which form part of the formulary as authorised. I suggest your clarification that “civil marriage” refers to those recognised in the civil jurisdiction in which the blessing is conducted be a point made in the “Additional Directions”.

      These are details that are normally finalised in the Second Reading, the Committee Stage of a bill at at the first time a possible formulary is presented in General Synod Te Hinota Whanui.

      I think there is energy within our Church to have a way that those who seek to have their Committed Same-Sex Relationship blessed be pastorally met. I think there is also still a will to hold those who do not think God blesses such a relationship within the communion of our Church. I do not think that The Group’s Report can work within the confines of our Act of Parliament. I think altering our Act of Parliament could be an absolute disaster. I think that my proposal can move forward within all those restrictions.


  6. Bosco, I have been reflecting upon your conclusions about “prejudice”. And I sense you are right: prejudice plays a decisive role here – though perhaps not in quite the way you initially intend. In a way that’s not too stereotypical I hope, I should explain what I mean.

    There are two ways we may view human being. The one views us basically – that word again – as materialistic, biological animals, with epi-genetic components. The other views us as creatures of the living God, essentially good but fundamentally flawed, along with the rest of creation – where the etymology of the qualifiers is decisive; there is a basic asymmetry; the Christian faith is not dualist.

    For, as Alister McGrath demonstrates in his first volume, Nature, of A Scientific Theology (2001), we can only VIEW ‘nature’ AS something or other; ‘nature’ is not a neutral concept. Human being is integral to how we view nature. Consequently, pre-judgments on how we view nature and so human being will effect and affect basically this entire moral problem that is before us. And that will also impact any so-called ‘scientific’ theories of the multifactorial aetiology of the homosexualities before us. Indeed; most western Christians are in a real bind here. They still have not been able to bridge the two basic views I have outlined above, tending to remain on either one bank or the other, with not much traffic across the bridge – and this despite the increasing rise of good literature re the science/religion interface [scope for many a blog there I suspect!].

    In which light, your delightfully pragmatic Kiwi solution to our dilemmas is just that and should be viewed as such. It has little theological basis and is therefore unlikely to achieve a real solution in the long run; in fact, it may very well only serve to muddy the waters. Until such a time as we are truly able to “reason together” (Isa 1:18) and more fully integrate a genuine Way Forward, neither Christian unity nor our very real differences will be adequately addressed.

      1. Of course you were Bosco; that set the supposed lie of the land. Thereafter anything akin to my basic observation was quietly ruled out of court – supposedly!

  7. Your persistence in looking for a way to resolve this divisive issue is commendable but I think Bryden sums up the problem well. My retired Anglican minister friend muttered something about pouring the Devil’s oil on trouble waters and I wonder if he is right.

    Once you approve of same sex unions in concept it seems there is little reason to stop short of the execution. A halfway house solution pretending to be a solution seems to be no solution at all.

    I fear that the secular state, which increasingly cares little for Christianity, will eventually clarify what they mean by exercising conscience and shift the problem from same sex couples to ministers by requiring ministers to exercise their conscience and face penalties by declining to do what amended legislation requires.

    1. Thanks, Terry, for commending my efforts. In relation to your third paragraph: how long have you held this fear in relation to the state requiring clergy to marry divorced heterosexuals; and clergy facing penalties if they decline to do so? And have those particular fears of yours, after all these decades, come anywhere close to being realised? Blessings.

  8. Dear Bosco, I can see the wagons circling!

    However, this trumped-up fear of the State honing in on recalcitrant clergy who refuse to invoke God’s Blessing on monogamous, faithful Same-Sex legally Married Partnerships is all grist to the mill for homophobic Anglicans.

    Abject fear is such a disabling tool of loving engagement. Perhaps that’s why Jesus was always remembered in the scriptures, whenever he encountered frightenend followers; for greeting them with the words: “Peace, fear not!”

    The energy being put into the rebuttal of your helpful suggestions here towards the pastoral initiative being made to Church-based homosexual couples is significant of the unwillingness to accommodate a real need in ACANZP; to overcome generations of prejudice against people who are different. This is why I use the term ‘phobia’ to describe your detractors on this issue.

    General Synod will have to decide whether, or not, our Church is willing to treat homosexuals with the same kindness and courtesy as it is seen to accommodate the pastoral needs of the divorced and remarried in our Church. Simple as that!

    Jesus had specific instructions on how to deal with marriage and divorce. He left no such instructions on how to deal with faithful, monogamous, same-sex relationships.

    If the Church is going to split on this issue, then it will be the parsimonious who walk away – not those concerned with the implementation of the Love and Mercy of our God.

    1. I see it slightly differently, Fr Ron. I think some comments are not attending to the point of my post, which is explicitly not about debating The Report’s rhetoric, plan, rationale, and theology. As I said, there are plenty of other places where that is (endlessly) debated. This post is an examination of The Report, my assertion that I think it cannot be implemented as it stands, and my suggestion how to make it workable and in a very simple way. The fear that the state will require Christians to do things against their conscience also is quite a different discussion, and is not affected by what decisions we, as Christians, make, including at this coming meeting of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui. Blessings.

  9. In response I’d say I have no fear because the issue has not raised its head here – yet. It does appear that, on occasion, activists here and overseas have deliberately targeted Christian businesses because, knowing they will not provide the service sought, legal action to punish is available. The fact that plenty of other options exist to supply what is wanted is of no consequence and secular law is already punishing those who follow their conscience.

    Gay rights have moved significantly over the recent past and I see no reason to suspect calls for further developments in legal equality to be recognised and developed into law. Marriage in practical terms is already available but for some that will not be enough. The passionate may be few but they are also the least open to compromise. I simply think legislation will move in the direction of compulsion because that is the trend.

    1. I am sorry, Terry. Other readers here may understand what you are talking about, but I’m finding your comment obscure, and I do not see how it contributes to the point of this thread which is looking at The Report, my assertion that I think it cannot be implemented as it stands, and my suggestion how to make it workable and in a very simple way. You are very welcome to contribute to that discussion in a constructive way. Blessings.

      1. activists…overseas have deliberately targeted Christian businesses because, knowing they will not provide the service sought, legal action to punish is available.

        Please, Mr Brown, provide evidence that this claim of yours is actually true and not your personal assumption.

  10. With respect Bosco, until the theology of marriage and same sex attraction is settled, the church has no place to be innovating its doctrines and formularies regarding them. Your analogy with Divorce and remarriage is not helpful as any faithful reading of scripture will want to distinguish between matters where the bible speaks with one voice( eg homosexual expression), or matters where there is ambiguity and permission within the text(eg. divorce and remarriage). Surely theology must define our legislation and not the other way around?

    1. With respect back, Stu, your suggestion that other readings of scripture that are different to yours are not “faithful” is not helpful. Many Christians, possibly the majority currently and historically, do not agree with your suggestion that there is ambiguity about the theology of marriage and divorce. And many Christians do not agree that the bible speaks with one voice, or even any voice, when it comes to committed same-sex couples. I repeat again: if you want to be part of those discussions there are plenty of places to do so, and I can point to at least one very good one if it helps you. The decades of discussions make one thing clear: “the theology of marriage and same sex attraction” will not be “settled”. Just as many other things have never been “settled”. The Church manages to live together with those unsettled things. Blessings.

  11. Hi Bosco, I make no claims about my reading of scripture in the above post.
    I suggest any faithful reading of scripture will need to distinguish between matters where the bible speaks with one voice, upon which the church has and can make doctrinal statements and matters which are ambiguous. The distinction I make re divorce and remarriage is not ambiguity from scripture but permission.

    I think a few decades in the scheme of the churches history is a relatively short time frame to discern God’s will in matters of innovation of doctrine and we need to be listening to the whole church.
    Very happy for you to point me to where we can have that discussion if not here.


    1. I challenge you, Stu, to give us even a single, unambiguous biblical text which explicitly gives permission for remarriage after divorce as you suggest.

      My friend, The Ven Dr Peter Carrell’s site, Anglican Down Under, is a place where you can participate in the sort of theological discussions you are seeking. He is currently, week by week, working through The Report which you are responding to.

      To round off this conversation, I await your biblical text.


  12. you’re pretty good at this blogging business aren’t you bosco? 🙂
    Ambiguity + permission discerned in 1970 allowed the Anglican church back when I was lad, to allow for pastoral exception as in the texts you site above. I know I know, that’s your point I hear you say.
    my point at the risk of delving into theological discussions not allowed here is:
    God speaking through the bible with one voice in terms of the prohibition of homosexual expression, does not give us the permission we might want. Certainly not the permission to enact formularies.
    Why are we, in the western church so sure we know the truth? Hasn’t the leadership of our Anglican communion discerned something quite different about this recently? Shouldn’t we be listening to them?

    1. Stu, there is no “ambiguity” in the Bible in regards to giving permission for remarriage after divorce. Your inability to respond to my challenge demonstrates this. When the Bible does mention remarriage after divorce it calls it adultery.

      As to sexual expression in a committed same-sex couple – the Bible makes no comment about it. A bit of wider reading can help to show that many do not agree with your “one voice” hypothesis. Surely as well as providing a place where you can safely discuss this – you are not now going to ask for a reading list?

      It is not we “in the western church” who are “so sure we know the truth” – it is actually you in your comments who are presenting yourself as being sure you know the truth. We “in the western church” are actually saying the very opposite of your contention, and this thread is part of that. We are NOT sure “we know the truth” and so we want to make space for more than one position, more than your position, in this “western church”, and try to hold together these different positions in the one Body of Christ.


  13. If as you say formularies express the agreed teaching of your church, then adopting your formulary will mean that blessing civil SSM becomes part of the teaching of your Church. Or as you suggest, that Civil SSM “may” be blessed.
    Is there a formulary for divorce? Or a re-marriage formulary?
    If a teaching that remarriage of divorced people is not expressed in a formulary, then at that point does your analogy hold?

    1. Thanks, John. Our Church’s Liturgy for recognising the end of our marriage is authorised within our Church’s formulary A Form for Ordering A Service of the Word. Yes, the formulary I am suggesting is that the agreed teaching of our Church be that a priest or bishop may bless a civil marriage. If someone holds that in no situation whatsoever may anyone in our Church bless a (same-sex) civil marriage then they would vote against the formulary. Just as they would vote against The Report’s proposal. Blessings.

      1. Thank you, most enlightening. I have not come across that formulary before. Now if a priest may bless a civil marriage, how does that interact with equality law in NZ and elsewhere? I understand there is an exemption for religious employment.

  14. Hi Bosco,
    you are making quite a few assumptions here about my reading lists and my certainty of truth. The reason I popped over to this site, from the good Ven DR Carrell’s site is to keep listening and learning. But here is the thing; if our church innovates a doctrine on marriage in the way you and The Way forward are proposing, the vast majority of the Body of Christ, Protestant and Catholic alike are going to quite rightly say this contradicts our Lords teaching on Marriage.
    What our Lord Jesus was unambiguous about was linking Marriage to the creation account ( Matt. 19:4-5) in our maleness and femaleness and becoming one flesh. The assumption that blessing a civil same sex marriage does not effect our Lords teaching on marriage is surely hard to hold, ecumenically, historically and biblically.

    1. Thanks, Stu. Whilst you say that you seek “to keep listening and learning”, your statements all contain words like “any faithful reading of scripture”, “God speaking through the bible with one voice”, and now “to quite rightly say”, and “unambiguous”.

      You have not answered the simple single question I have asked of you. And, apparently unable to do so, you neatly excise your verses from the context which is dealing with (and condemning) divorce (rather than committed same-sex couples) and then you continue to raise further objections which will drag us into discussions about whether the focus is really on gender difference or primarily on companionship, and even into the historicity of the Genesis stories within an evolutionary world view.

      Yes, Anglicans in NZ have made a number of decisions which put us out of step with “the vast majority of the Body of Christ, Protestant and Catholic alike”. This decision will be another one of those.


  15. Hi Bosco,
    I need to go and prepare now for a church camp weekend we are calling “Life Together”. Just wanted to make one final comment:
    Our church right now needs theologians to think theologically. We don’t need lawyers to write laws that will divide us. I don’t believe the Way Froward or your revision of that will hold us together because there has been no coherent theology of Same sex blessing let alone same sex marriage + blessing offered.
    God’s richest blessing on you,

  16. Bosco; perhaps a few comments abt the supposed silence of the Bible.

    It is pretty unambiguous abt ss activity. Thereafter, contextual studies suggest the likes of St Paul were not unaware of sundry forms of this activity. Viz eg Thistleton’s commentary on 1 Cor – and I reckon we’d both agree on his stature.
    As for explicit texts: as we both know there are few explicit texts re the Trinity. Yet that is the very best INTERPRETATION overall. So; as with remarriage we extrapolate that folk are granted a second chance in view of grace.
    QED. Much of the actual logic you pursue I have to describe as “precious”. Sorry; but we both know this in our better moments …

  17. Hi Bosco
    (After some reflections on conversations since I last made comment here) I am less than convinced, remain yet to be convinced that your proposal is superior to the present proposal when it comes to ordaining/licensing persons in blessed same sex partnerships.

    As I understand your proposal a bishop would oversee a diocese in which blessings might occur even though he/she did not personally approve of such blessings and thus would not accept that a person in such relationship could be counted as chaste when offering for ordination/ appointment to licensed position.

    One advantage of the report’s proposal is that a diocese would be consistent in respect of blessing/ordination (choosing to be No/No or Yes/Yes and not being able to choose No/Yes or Yes/No). A bishop could say that his/her diocese neither accepts blessings nor ordinations/appointments, and the bishop in justifying his/her public position would have recourse to a diocesan decision as backing it and constraining it.

    A disadvantage of your approach is that it would leave bishops to make decisions about ordinations/appointments purely on the basis of their own determination with respect to this specific matter.

    Perhaps it is not for me (or you!) to speculate how bishops would feel about such a choice, but I wonder if they were to comment here, what they would say?

    1. Thank you, Peter, for bringing this thread of comments back to discussing the actual details of my proposal.

      1) The primary issue is not whether or not my proposal is “superior” to that in The Report. The proposal in The Report is not possible to implement. No one of the thousands who have read this post has responded here with reasoned disagreement with that point. So what remains is – is my proposal workable? Which brings us to the second point.

      2) I responded earlier to the point of yours that a bishop could be in a diocese with a chaste person applying for ordination discernment. I indicated that this would be in the same category as The Report’s diocese-by-diocese/amorangi-by-amorangi approach when there was a change of bishop. In other words, what you consider as “one advantage of the [unexecutable] report’s proposal” only holds for the period until the next episcopal election. You did not reply with a suggested motion-to-synod/hui wording that would assure the whole diocese/amorangi changed position with the bishop. So if this is to be a discussion – which I sincerely hope that it can be – I still await that response. This point was taken up internationally by a TEC discussion on Episcopal Cafe, as their polity allows for such diocese-by-diocese uptake on marriage equality, and they had not seen the issue of my point previously. Our Church, unlike TEC, of course, does not allow for diocese-by-diocese/amorangi-by-amorangi uptake of an agreed formulary.


  18. Hi Bosco
    I would assume that a diocese in choosing its next bishop would check whether that bishop was agreeable to the current policy of the diocese or not. Even if the bishop chosen were not agreeable, that bishop would need to move in the next synod a change of policy, and that motion would be defeated if either the house of clergy or the house of laity or both houses refused a change of policy.

    I don’t think I have to provide the wording of the motion necessary to change policy but I imagine it would begin along the lines of “whereas this diocese has not agreed to the use of the formulary X, it now agrees to its authorisation in terms of canon ABC” (or converse, as the case may be).

    I am not convinced that our church cannot govern the use of a formulary via a canon and a consequential diocesan decision. It would be novel to do so, but would it be illegal to do so? And if it were illegal to do so, who would determine that it is so? On the one hand a church tribunal would no doubt be formed but on the other hand the matter involves the Empowering Act and thus could involve our civil judicial system. It could be that such a prospect would be too difficult for anyone to bother about it, in which case our church would be accepting that GS had acted to order our life together albeit in a novel direction.

    A related issue, I suggest, is that when we see a window of opportunity in the life of our church, we should seek Parliament to repeal the Act and resolve through GS a different way to measure the standards of our church in respect of formularies, other authorised services, and the relationship between canons and formularies.

    1. Firstly, thank you so much, Peter, for actually engaging with the dynamic of this post. Discussion and clarification such as yours is exactly what is needed to see what different options are even possible, and how they might work out in concrete practice.

      So, from your first paragraph, you and I are now in total agreement on this. Were the proposal in The Report possible, it and my suggestion would be merely one electoral college apart in the possibility of having a bishop out of step with his/her diocesan practice.

      Only at the 2014 meeting of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW), not yet fully two years ago, was it acknowledged that all our Church’s legal experts had been wrong, and our Church’s years and years of “authorising” services “were inconsistent with the 1928 Act and lacked fundamental authorisation in the first place”. Between at least 1992 and 2014 our Church had been “authorising” forms of worship using a canon to trump our formularies and our process for producing formularies – an error acknowledged explicitly, and that acknowledgement passed by the 2014 meeting of GSTHW. Clearly the habits of 22 years of practice die slowly – including with you. A canon cannot trump a formulary or the process of producing or removing a formulary.

      The process of producing a formulary is the only way that a form of worship can be authorised in our Church. And doing so authorises it in the whole Church, and is binding on all in our Church.

      As for your suggestion of no one bothering if the process of authorising a blessing of committed same-sex couples does not follow the agreed process of our Church – I nearly sprayed what I was drinking over my keyboard, Peter. If we could harness the energy of those determined that this not proceed to a generator, we could generate enough electricity that no church building of our Church would need to pay a power bill again until the Second Coming.


  19. Hi Bosco
    Your last paragraph implies I have not been clear enough on the matter of what people may not be bothered about.

    I am clear, because I am told so, that some in our church, depending, of course, on precisely what GS does or does not agree to, are willing and able to take an appeal against any objectionable decision to court, with specific appeal to the 1928 Act. There is energy for that.

    I am less clear that if GS makes a decision which is reasonably acceptable to all parties, but such decision involves “canon governs formulary” that anyone, save perhaps your own good self, has energy and inclination to challenge the “canon governs formulary” aspect of the decision.

    And speaking of the “canon governs formulary”, in your specific examples in the comment you make immediately above, I see a difference between the illegal practice of our church through the years you cite, a practice in which canons illegally authorised the use of certain services which were not formularies.

    The report is proposing something different, and that is why others in our church may be less persuaded by your argument. The report proposes that our church legally authorises a formulary for use in the proper way. It then proposes that a canon govern the process of implementation of that formulary. That canon will not authorise the use of a service not yet agreed by our church in the proper way. It will authorise that dioceses may choose whether they use the formulary or not. When put like that I am not yet convinced that our church cannot do that.

    1. Sorry, slightly mangled expression in last two paras. I am referring to the difference between the illegal practice we eventually acknowledged to be wrong and the proposal in the report over which we are discussing whether it is or is not wrong.

    2. Thank you, Peter, for pressing this discussion deeper, encouraging me, and other readers here, to try and follow different implications through.

      You write, “if GS makes a decision which is reasonably acceptable to all parties” – from comments, on your site and mine, and from general discussion, I understand there to be people who are against the blessing of committed same-sex couples to be authorised anywhere in our Church, and who will do everything possible to seek to delay and prevent this from ensuing.

      The diocesan vote, in The Report’s proposal, happens after the formulary has been passed. Those who do not want to see such blessings in their diocese cannot be certain that the vote at their diocesan synod will go as expected.

      Concretely, our dioceses are not as hermetically sealed from each other as possibly imaged. I do not think that people will go, “well at least it is not happening in my diocese” when the neighbouring parish, which just happens to be across diocesan borders, is happily, very publicly doing this. Furthermore, one can visualise that, say, Nelson Diocese does not proceed to allow it, but the Diocese of Te Waipounamu does, so that in Nelson City a very public Anglican blessing of a committed same-sex couple occurs. [For overseas readers – NZ Anglicanism has overlapping geographic dioceses and The Diocese of Nelson is geographically completely enclosed within the boundaries of the Diocese of Te Waipounamu.]

      A canon, of course, is only ever one meeting of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui away from being changed. And that only requires 50% agreement there.

      And yes, there are people who have never considered appealing to the 1928 Act. They are in favour of blessing committed same-sex couples and are patiently waiting to be allowed to do so. If the formulary passes, and yet they find themselves because of a canon unable to use the formulary, they may very well appeal to the 1928 Act. And yes, they might win – and the canon be ruled to have no effect over the formulary that has been passed. I don’t think that either you or I have had that particular group on our “who might appeal?” radar.

      Your final point is that you (and others) are suggesting that a formulary is binding as an expression of our belief, but is only potentially an authorised service. A formulary, according to you and others, is not ipso facto an authorised service in our (whole) Church but can be limited, by canon, to be believed everywhere but forbidden to be used in regions merely by a diocesan synodical vote. I struggle to understand what it means to be required to believe something (by the Church) but be forbidden from acting on that belief – and that by the Church. And I also think this undermines the very core of our Act.


  20. Hi Bosco
    Thank you for helpful clarification (and/or comments which clarify my own thinking) above.
    I offer the following observations:
    a. I think that our church via GS can agree a canon to govern use of a formulary (no matter how absurd, contradictory, foolish-with-a-view-to-the-future, whatever that may seem). In the particular case under discussion, it may be that GS chooses this pathway as a reasonable compromise under particular circumstances.
    b. There is an absurdity to agreeing a formulary that potentially may not be implemented everywhere, since a formulary expresses what is intended everywhere to be believed. It could be that the GS cannot get past this point because it seems unlikely (today, at least!) that the proposed formulary could be accepted as a formulary=believed-everywhere-in-our-church.
    c. I accept absolutely as a possibility that surprising parties may yet take action against an objectionable GS decision.
    d. Yes, you are right to point out that we could have a pakeha diocese refusing to implement a formulary that an overlapping Maori jurisdiction agrees to implement. That will have its own “interesting” aspects as life is lived out in such overlapping jurisdictions, but it also highlights the fraughtness of the path the report proposes re “canon governs a formulary” because we would end up (as with your proposal) with one parish believing one thing and a neighbouring parish believing another!

    1. Thanks, Peter.

      We will have to agree to disagree at the moment on (a). I still remind you, however, that the best legal minds of our Church for more than 22 years were certain we could do one thing – and then in the last couple of years that understanding has been completely overturned.

      I need to clarify (and hence possibly disagree with) how your point (d) reads with regards to “as with [my] proposal”. My proposal has a formulary which says no more than that a civil marriage may be blessed in our Church. That, in my understanding, is of the same belief status as individuals may have their marriage solemnised in our Church even though one partner is divorced. Anyone may disagree with the particular solemnisation, may even be convinced that it is adultery that is being blessed (in the neighbouring parish), but there is no doubt that this action may be undertaken. By allowing this this action to be undertaken in our Church we understand that everyone need not agree with the action. If I am not expressing this well – I am sorry.


    2. ” It could be that the GS cannot get past this point because it seems unlikely (today, at least!) that the proposed formulary could be accepted as a formulary=believed-everywhere-in-our-church.” – Peter Carrell

      Well, it has happened before, Peter. I’m quite sure that the formulary allowing for the re-marriage of divorcees was never, in your own words: “accepted as a formulary-believed-everywhere-in-our-Church.

      Somehow, it managed to work! Perhaps, however, this was because it only involved errant heterosexuals in the Church and not ‘gays’.

  21. Hi Bosco
    I get your point in your 2.15 pm comment! My question (not only to you, but to the church at large as it engages with your proposal in the light of the AWF report’s proposal) is whether such a formulary involves more commitment than some in the church might be prepared to make. That is, those who are accepting that a priest/bishop may bless a same sex relationship may also be interested in the wording of the blessing (because those words embed understandings of blessing of such relationships which might or might not be shared by those who do not agree with such blessings taking place).

    Specifically, if such blessings proceed on the basis that such a blessing is not equivalent to ” church marriage”, then the question arises as to whether the wording of the blessing formulary makes sufficient distinction between such a relationship and a “church marriage.” (I mention this specific example because conversationally I am picking up that some readers of the report’s proposed rites think various lines of distinction are blurred).

    In order to try to be clear: I think one can logically say “I don’t think such blessings should take place, but if we permit them to take place then I think they should be worded thus and so rather than what has been drafted to date.”

    That is, on your proposal, a vexed question remains what the wording of the proposed rites are, and whether they are acceptable to the whole church.

    1. I have updated my post, Peter [see the top of my post]. A lot of the discussions we have had in this thread continue to apply – but they no longer apply to my proposal, as I am retracting that as unnecessary. Blessings.

  22. Thank you for now added clarification/retraction around the point/question, does a canon trump a formulary.

    I think you make an excellent point that it would have been very helpful if the report itself brought forward the case you bring forward in your addition for how a canon may already govern the application of a formulary.

    So, blogging achieves something!!!!

  23. Hi Bosco,
    Back from a life giving church camp not to mention an Otago anniversary day yesterday and I see you and Peter have been hard at work.
    When I left you were shouting at me in bold :
    “You have not answered the simple single question I have asked of you. And, apparently unable to do so”
    It seems like a bit of a red herring question to me but seeing as you are so keen. The text(s) that I, (and many better scholars than I), wrestle with due to ambiguity is Paul’s teaching on marriage in 1Cor 7:15 ‘But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances;
    “not bound” literally not under bondage= free.
    So we might ask free to do what? Free to leave the marriage presumably but Paul is ambiguous as to whether this freedom allows for remarriage. Place that alongside Jesus teaching in Matthew 5:32 when divorce and remarriage is explicitly forbidden with the exception of marital unfaithfulness (sexual immorality) and yes I find these texts ambiguous. Not ambiguous in God’s ideal for lifelong unions but ambiguous in God’s permissive will. So where as your biblical scholarship may have this sown up I’m not quite so sure…….
    But even if I was, and even if the church going back to the Reformers got these interpretations wrong to allow for the possibility of remarriage… are you really saying that because we interpreted Gods word wrong once, we can jolly well ignore its plain(unambiguous) teaching again so long as we get a 2/3 majority decision by some committee somewhere?

    One simple question for you:
    How is does civil marriage + blessing not equate to marriage?


    1. Thanks, Stu. I hope your camp is fruitful.

      Yes, as you see, through Peter and my discussion, with his staying on the point of this thread, there has been quite a shift, and my acknowledgement that I now hold to Peter’s position.

      Now to what you call a red herring. My question to you was: “give us even a single, unambiguous biblical text which explicitly gives permission for remarriage after divorce as you suggest.” And your answer is that you cannot.

      [Readers may be confused by Stu’s suggestion that what he refers to (as if they are a united group) “the Reformers” allow remarriage after divorce. They do not. The 16th Century English Reformers clearly did not. This is the reason Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles could not be married in the Church of England – she was divorced. “The Reformers” could, of course, refer to leaders in NZ Anglicanism which departed from this tradition in the 1970s and allowed divorced people to marry in Church. To fit in with this thread, I remind readers that is not a formulary of our Church but is in a canon – which can be changed by 50% at one sitting of GSTHW.]

      You leave me with another question unrelated to this thread in the style of “have you stopped beating your wife yet?” ie. “How is does civil marriage + blessing not equate to marriage?” The Report’s suggestion that our Church require a person being ordained to have their civil marriage blessed is certainly a novelty, and not a path I would have thought to go down. If our Church accepts this, might it apply to other licence holders? And I remind you – these things are not set by a 2/3 majority (as readers here might take from your comment), they can change at one sitting by a 50% vote. These things are not in the formulary (which has a far more complex process than “a 2/3 majority decision by some committee somewhere”) these points are in the canon. And we are back to the point of this thread.


  24. Good morning Bosco,

    I’m sorry to wander a little from the point of your post here but I guess the reason I did was to gently point out to you and our national church that a significant number of my flock and my colleagues flock are simply not ready to enact legislation that you and Peter are proposing which we believe will split the church. I dont believe the theology of marriage is yet settled and, I and the majority of the global church, certainly don’t believe the theology or righteousness of blessing same sex unions is settled. You seem to infer it never will be. I am more hopeful that God’s will, can be discerned if we are patient and keep listening.
    I want to develop a theology and pastoral practice that will ensure the transgender/ bisexual and same sex attracted folk (who are in the church I pastor) can come to Christ and be transformed by his grace and truth.
    What you are proposing in this thread (and the way forward report) will divide us.

    As to the red herring thread of divorce and remarriage, the distinction I make:
    The church is quite within her God given right to allow pastoral practice they discern where there is ambiguity or even silence in scripture on an issue.
    Where there is consistent prohibition we are not. We cannot bless what God does not bless. You presumably, and the Way forward writers, seem to think God is silent of committed same sex unions; I and the global church (catholic & protestant) do not. Until we resolve that question, legislation is not the next step lest will full into apostasy.
    Haven’t the Methodist church in New Zealand gone down this road at least in terms of ordination. Does their virtual disappearance from Gods mission give us any clue as to God’s will in this matter?


    1. Stu, we keep going round and round the same circle.
      Unlike you, I think Biblical texts are aware of the possibility of divorce and marrying after divorce, and texts are clear, unambiguously, that such is adultery.
      Unlike you, I think the Biblical texts are oblivious to homosexuality as an orientation, and this term did not enter our English translations until the 1940s.
      Also, unlike you, I do not see numbers as the measure of God’s approval. Following your logic, Roman Catholicism, being by far the largest, would provide God’s will. In which case your reasoning about marrying divorced people, being clearly contrary to Roman Catholic teaching, would be seen as being against God’s will.


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