Wallis Simpson & Prince Edward

Wallis Simpson & Prince Edward

Yesterday, The Final Report of the Motion 29 Working Group (on blessing Committed Same-Sex Couples in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia) was published. The PDF downloads by clicking here. There is an article about it here. And the Ven. Dr Peter Carrell begins his series discussing it here. This will be debated at the Christchurch diocesan synod (March 3). Tonight there will be the first of four pre-synod meetings on this. And General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW) meets about this in May 4-11.

I want to approach this slightly differently.

Many people are sloppy about the Anglican approach to marrying divorcees – especially about its history. The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia practices such marrying (see the Canon of Marriage).

Individuals’ protestations notwithstanding, the Bible is no straight-forward help. There are at least four different approaches that can be argued from the Bible alone:

A) The Bible is against divorce, and the Bible is against marrying divorcees;
B) The Bible allows for divorce, but the Bible is against marrying divorcees;
C) The Bible allows for divorce and marrying divorcees in specific cases, ie. adultery and desertion;
D) The Bible allows for divorce and marrying divorcees in a variety of situations.

I do not want this thread to become a debating place around these four options – the purpose of this post lies elsewhere – but I would say the strongest argument, in the context of a New Testament community that understood the imminent end of everything, lies with (A). If you want to pursue this further, see Jesus and Divorce [and do follow through with other texts such as Romans 7:2-3]. When, in Mark 10:2-12, Jesus argues against divorce by going back to the story of Adam and Eve, those who use his words as an assertion that marriage is limited to “male and female” miss the context. Jesus illustrates with a story where remarriage after divorce is impossible: if Adam and Eve split up, there’s no one else for them to be married to! In any case, people who treat this creation story literally feed into the church’s poor relationship with science and evolution. Only last week, I was walking into a museum exhibition with some newly-made friends. One carefully checked that I would not be upset or offended: the exhibition was about evolution.

Before proceeding, an important conclusion at this point is highlighting the inadequacy of sola scriptura here. Each of the four positions can be held with integrity by those who hold a sola scriptura/Bible-alone position.

Those who want to press for an early-church pro-divorce-and-remarriage position often point to Eastern Orthodoxy. But Westerners can too easily misunderstand Orthodoxy’s framework where “economy” allows for human weakness by providing for different types of second or third marriage. Westerners can mistake this for their approach of marrying divorcees into the equivalent state of the first marriage.

Let us move on with the primary thrust of this post.

Within the Christian family of churches, Anglicanism long held one of the strictest understandings and practices of marriage. The Church of England, at the time of Henry VIII, maintained this rigorous practice. They did follow the Western understanding of being able to annul an invalid marriage. Henry VIII’s “divorces” were all annulments (and then there were his marriages until death!)

This strictness against divorce and remarriage is the only explanation for King Edward VIII’s abdication in order to marry the divorcee, Wallis Simpson. It is the reason why Prince Charles could not be married in church to the divorcee, Camilla Parker Bowles.

The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia inherited this Church of England stringency. The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia still explicitly teaches that the doctrine of marriage is that it to be between a man and a woman, life-long, and monogamous.

Yet – and here comes the point of this post – this church has, for half a century, had a canon which allows marrying divorcees.

One might argue that authorisation of this canon was the death of the strongly Anglican principle Lex orandi, lex credendi (“the law of praying is the law of believing”). One might argue that people are simply blessing adultery.

Regulars here will know that I wrote an Open Letter requesting an explanation of the discrepancy between our teaching and our practice.

No answer has been forthcoming in the 20 months since that letter (which was sent by the Church’s General Secretary to Standing Committee, etc).

But in The Final Report of the Motion 29 Working Group a possible response can be gleaned.

In Section III (page 4) it says:

In other words, the reality is that there are differences in this Church over whether blessing same-gender relatonships is consistent with the Formularies or not. GSTHW is entitled to have regard to such differences in opinion when deciding what matters will be disciplined.
Second, the WG is satisfied that the changes are constitutional for two reasons. Firstly, even if it was generally accepted that the Formularies were clear on this issue, the Church is still able to regulate for itself what it does and does not discipline. Secondly, granting immunity for the authorisation and use of services blessing same-gender relationships is not, in and of itself, unconstitutional.

This appears a good answer to my Open Letter – in fact, the only one I can think of: there are different interpretations in our church on the nature of marriage; even even if it was generally accepted that the Formularies were clear that marriage being “life-long” means life-long – the Church is still able to regulate for itself that it does not discipline those who, in good conscience, decide to marry after divorce; and that the Church does not discipline those clergy who, in good conscience, decide to officiate at such a wedding.

Read Part 2 in this series here.

Comments are to follow the usual culture of this website: no anonymous comments; no ad hominems. We have a culture here of light not heat – we can disagree with each other’s positions respectfully. Also be conscious that, reading your comments are real people – many readers have suffered significantly around the issues dealt with in this series.

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