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blessing same sex couples

Option B2

blessing same sex couples

I am very hesitant to add to the IMO-excessive time and energy expended by my church debating about committed same-sex couples, but… {…especially with the meeting of our General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW) only a month away, the need for reflection towards a decision is pressing…}…

After years and years of meetings, hui, commissions, debates, blog posts, articles, and books about what the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia might do about committed same-sex couples, the commission with the biggest firepower has concluded with ten options (that people presumably all realised were possible when this whole debate first began).

If you were asking my advice on which option to bet on, I would suggest Option J will be the most likely to be the option decided on by GSTHW: continue meetings, hui, commissions, debates, blog posts, articles, and books but now do it in a “focussed” way. Option J is really just a subset of Option B “Preserving Present Circumstances” ie. keep doing what we are currently doing.

I want to underline, in this Option J and B, what is mentioned in the commission’s report: that clergy can continue blessing committed same-sex couples during the time of keeping doing what we are currently doing whether focussed (J) or not (B).

Firstly let me highlight that under our formularies (agreed practice) Christian marriage consists of a man and a woman. This is important. Let me be crystal clear: I am firmly committed to the agreed practice of our formularies that I vowed to and signed up to. This is in stark contrast to many who argue against blessing committed same-sex couples on the basis of those formularies while they publicly, openly, intentionally flaunt the breaking of those formularies that they also have vowed to and signed to maintain.

Returning to my point that our formularies hold that Christian marriage consists of a man and a woman, The Worship Template, passed by General Synod Te Hinota Whanui, insists that if we have a formulary for something we must use that formulary. We do not have a formulary for blessing a committed same-sex couple, just as we do not have one for blessing pets, weapons or military vehicles and vessels, or even for inducting a new vicar or installing a bishop, etc. Just as in all those situations we are able to construct a rite following the Template’s structure, so we can construct (or adapt) a rite to bless a committed same-sex couple. Our Church’s Liturgical Commission produced one in 1992, but it is not required to use this particular one.


Title D Canon I Of maintenance of standards of ministry for bishops, ministers and office bearers is regularly pointed to:

Chastity is the right ordering of sexual relationships.
10.4.1 Ministers are to be chaste. Promiscuity is incompatible with chastity.
10.4.2 The sexual abuse of children is an utter disregard of humanity and a complete repudiation of the teaching of Christ.

It seems pertinent that “faithful in marriage, celibate in singleness” is not the language that is used to explain the requirement of chastity in this 2000 text. Instead there is a forbidding of promiscuity and a repudiation of sexual abuse of children. There are widespread, publicly-known examples of clergy in committed same-sex relationships. The Ma Whea Commission’s claim (E 4.3) “that this Church has insisted its licenced office bearers are to be either married or celibate”, to put not too fine a point on it, is false. And so its continuing that sentence with “and this is the meaning of ‘chaste’ within its canons” is an interpretation that is seriously open to questioning.

Furthermore, the widespread practice in our church of baptising the children of unmarried co-habiting parents reinforces that, within the large number of communities that have allowed that, unmarried co-habitation is not regarded as conflicting with renouncing “all evil influences and powers that rebel against God” (NZPB page 384), [nor evidently contrary to the commandments and obeying the teaching of Christ (NZPB page 382)].

Mutually Assured Destruction

There has been inaction by individual bishops, with a regular pointing to the threat that a Title D (formal disciplining) would be taken out against them. The reality is, however, that once people start down the Title-D-formal-discipline road there will be no stopping such litigiousness. Nearly every bishop (whatever their personal position in this discussion) in this province will have acted in a manner that a Title D disciplining could be initiated against them, particularly with regard to neglecting to use authorised Ordination Liturgies (Title D Canon II 4.3).

Option B2

General Synod Te Hinota Whanui may very well vote for Option B (or Option J, which is really just Option B written in bold italic) but in the Anglican Church of Or committed same-sex couples will continue to be blessed, and clergy in such relationships will continue to hold a bishop’s licence.

An Afterword

General Synod Te Hinota Whanui is meeting a month from now. Representatives have not yet received papers, motions, or bills. So we (and they) have no real idea what to consult on and prepare for. As information becomes available I hope there will be transparency. I will also consider keeping some information flowing if I receive it (including possibly on the Liturgy facebook page).

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11 thoughts on “Option B2”

  1. Peter Carrell

    Hi Bosco,
    I suggest that Commission (and many people in our church – the Commission was a ‘listening’ commission not a theological commission) is right about chaste.

    The important phrase is ‘right ordering of sexual relationships’. Our church via Scripture, tradition and canons knows of no other ‘right ordering’ than marriage or celibate singleness.

    That the next line in the canon seems to pose chasteness versus promiscuity does not lead to the conclusion that non-promiscuity equals chasteness. Would any clergy person loving with a person of the opposite sex but not married to them presume that their local bishop would deem that to be ‘chaste’ behaviour? The expectation of any of us in that situation is that the bishop would tell us to get married pronto.

    To then draw a line from baptismal practice re un married parents to a presumed and agreed definition of chasteness in our canon concerning ministry standards is to draw a bow beyond breaking point.

    Now where I support you and others in our church who argue similarly is that ‘chaste’ does need some definition. First, because clergy thinking about these things are spotting a ‘weakness’ in our common understanding on the matter. Secondly, because we are far from agreed in our church as to what ‘chaste’ means in an age when various relationships sanctioned by the state are possible, and many believe that a faithful, stable, permanent relationship between two people is chaste.

    1. Thanks, Peter.

      Firstly let me underscore, in the context of your comment, that you are notably not denying my point that the Commission’s contention “that this Church has insisted its licenced office bearers are to be either married or celibate” is false. And so to continue that sentence to the conclusion of “and this is the meaning of ‘chaste’ within its canons” is to develop a conclusion based on a false premise.

      Your conclusion that “we are far from agreed in our church as to what ‘chaste’ means” contradicts the rest of your comment.

      Your having a different standard of morality for the order of laity than for orders of clergy (that something is morally wrong for clergy but not for laity) appears a clericalism I thought we have moved beyond.

      Clearly arguing “non-promiscuity equals chasteness” would be nonsense. But, that in a legal document, super-carefully crafted only a few years ago, well within the time-frame of this discussion, that the definition of “chaste” you presume makes no appearance whatsoever, underscores my interpretation which is, as you also say, “we are far from agreed in our church as to what ‘chaste’ means”.


      1. Hi Bosco
        Let me try to be clearer.
        1. I think you are wrong about the Commission’s statement and that they are right. ‘The Church’ both via its use of ‘right ordering’ within the canon and via the kind of discipline a bishop would naturally impose on (say) an unmarried clergywoman living with a bloke (i.e. ‘Get married’ pronto as the kindest imposition of that discipline) is clear about what ‘chaste’ means. (As an aside that is why, apparently, some of our bishops have refused to proceed with ordinations of people in same sex relationships for fear of a case being brought against them for going against the church’s definition of chaste.
        2. Popularly, among some members of our church, some questions have been raised about ‘chaste’ and its definition. That suggests that the definition of chaste presumed in the canon is now in need of clarification so that popular agreement would be secured as to the definition, that is, so that legal and popular understandings meet one another.
        3. In short, legal definitions of a word can exist which are at variance with popular understandings. I would prefer to rely on the legal definition rather than the popular one were I contemplating a day in ecclesial court. Others might prefer to take their chances that the popular definition in the hands of a skillful barrister might yet hold sway.
        4. Put another way: if you are right and the Commission is wrong, why did we have a Commission in the first place?
        5. There is no clericalism involved in discussing the meaning of a canon about ministry standards for office-bearers of the church (ordained and lay). My point stands about what the canon means whatever our practice of baptism is. The way you put it, it sounds like our baptismal practice needs immediate tightening up so that it is coherent with Title D. It does not sound like Title D should be interpreted according to baptismal practice which seems, the way you put it, lax, unscriptural and lacking in conviction about the meaning of words we say. To coin a phrase, two wrongs do not make a right.

        1. Thanks for the clarifications, Peter.

          I think you are oversimplifying to an unhelpful binary option of either I am right or the Commission is right. The Commission itself, in Option B as I have indicated, gives my B2 position within it: “In the course of our discussions with church groups we learned that some Bishops and legal advisors believe that the status quo leaves room for same gender blessings whilst others do not share that view.” (Report, page 38). I show why I hold to the former position. The Commission affirms I am not alone but that there are bishops and legal advisors who hold the same position.

          You, Peter, are also not alone in your opinion.

          But your “the definition of chaste presumed in the canon is now in need of clarification” makes it sound as if this canon was passed long ago in a different context. It was not. This canon was passed relatively recently, in the context of our current discussion.

          Your question “why did we have a Commission in the first place?” was certainly asked at the time of its being set up, and continues to be asked as its conclusion is listing options that are essentially the same as would have been known before the commission’s start. But to predicate this question on the definition of chastity I find surprising. I am discussing in this post essentially one of the 10 options – the other eight or so follow a different approach.

          If you think that we need to be clearer in our baptismal practice which you describe as wrong, you should bring that as a motion to synod – it would be heartening to see some debate which challenged the majority – heterosexuals.

          Some of your approach seems decidedly circular.



  2. Chris Sullivan

    It’s very amusing Bosco that you complain about the Church being obsessed with matters gay yet seem unable to keep posting about it 🙂

    You remind me of Jeremiah complaining about not wanting to speak out but feeling compelled to do so.

    It seems to me that it is theologically and politically viable to retain the traditional understanding of marriage as a necessarily heterosexual union together with the blessing of same sex unions and celebrating state same sex marriages, so long as as there is a clear distinction between these and sacramental marriage.

    St Thomas Aquinas would invite us focus clearly on the moral object chosen. In the case of such blessings and state same sex marriage ceremonies, it appears clear that there is nothing in either which is actually contrary to traditional Christian theology and moral understanding.

    God Bless

    1. Yes, Chris, I am very conscious of the inconsistency you point to in your first paragraph, and am pleased that you find it only “very amusing”. In my defence – you will find well over 2,000 pages on this site – the percentage about “matters gay” here could be taken as neglecting an important discussion…

      My post, in many ways, is saying that what you go on to describe is the current situation (Option B) although poorly articulated by many. The clarification that this is where we are, is my “B2”.


  3. It seems to me that all one can really read from section 10.4 regarding ministers is that they are to order their relationships in a “right” manner (and, of course, not abuse children). “Right” is not defined, except that it isn’t promiscuity; and seems to be a term requiring interpretation. I’m not so sure that equating non-promiscuity with chasteness is unjustified — why should promiscuity alone be called out specifically, if not as the prime state to be avoided?

  4. The point has often been made that marriage in earlier times did not involve a wedding ceremony in church. It seems to me that we are returning to that situation; indeed our law recognises that co-habitation beyond a certain period of time constitutes a marriage as far as property is concerned. The law has responded to the facts on the ground. In view of this it seems to me that a cohabiting heterosexual couple might fairly be regarded as living in chaste and faithful married relationship.

  5. Fr Bosco and Chris,

    I don’t see any «clear distinction between these and sacramental marriage». On the contrary, such a distinction implies ontological difference btw male and female (and the other genders).

    Only two options can be coherent:

    #1. Either there is an ontological distinction between male and female. In this case,
    a. The other genders are not in God’s plan.
    b. Christ had to be male.
    c. Christ didn’t save the female («what he has not assumed he has not healed»).
    d. Women are not able to represent Christ, therefore they may not be ordained in ministry.
    e. The incarnation is bankrupt.

    #2. Or the genders are variants of the same human race, with no ontological difference. Therefore:
    a. There are a variety of genders (as shown also by science).
    b. Christ had not to assume a clear gender, or all the genders, as he didn’t assume all the skin and eyes colours.
    c. Whatever his gender be, he assumed not “maleness” or “femaleness”, but the whole humanhood, and saved it.
    d. Therefore any human being may represent Christ in the congregation, and therefore get ordained.
    e. The Incarnation is successful.

    Partaking the people into three categories (celibate, married, and “other”) is an insult to a lot of couples, and to the reality.

    Now the practice has always shown up before the agreement, and has been positively sanctioned afterwards. This is how it works. Take the example of the icons or of the vestments. I’m trying to imagine a committee discussion whether or not the churches should accept icons or not, and finally decide that some might. There would be parishes screaming about idolatry, others claiming the Incarnation, some parishes deciding to hire painters, before deciding which be the style etc. No. This scenario didn’t happen. The practice of acknowledging the sacramental character of any kind of marriage and blessing them all, this is what has been going on in the progressive Churches (most of the Scandinavian Churches, the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands, some American dioceses). Within one century or two, this option will be positively sanctioned worldwide. All the other options will be seen as unacceptable.

  6. Edward Prebble

    It should come as no surprise to you, or to Peter, that in the discussion above, I agree with you, and not with Peter.

    Putting it another way, Option B/J assumes that we maintain the status quo. But there is considerable debate as to what is allowed by the status quo. A large number (I mean some dozens)of gay and lesbian people were ordained in the last half of the 20th century. Some were known to their bishops be so; a rather larger number were nodded through under some variant of “Don’t ask, don’t tell”; and a larger number again realised/discovered post-ordination that they were gay or lesbian.

    Similarly, a significant number of same-sex unions were blessed by clergy, with the knowledge of their bishops during that same period. If that were not so, why on earth did someone compose the blessing liturgy to which you refer above.

    If we can accept that this occurred under the status quo, and accept that similar events will continue to take place, then perhaps Option B/J may be (part of) the way forward

  7. I have taken a short break from blogs over Holy Week. But I wanted to come back to this discussion in particular.
    I think your proposal is definitely a way forward. it would allow us to look at what is and isn’t possible within the status quo (i.e. including our correct, current legislation as you rightly point out), without raising options that force people into divisions.
    In doing so, we need to all look more deeply at what these core concepts mean for us. Chastity has to be more than just “get married or keep your pants on” – there is a deeper spiritual meaning that clergy and lay leaders should be practicing. Similarly, it is a good time to develop a renewed understanding of the holiness of matrimony.
    Also, I think there needs to be clarity that there are two different matters before the church and an answer on one doesn’t necessarily lead to the same answer on the other.
    One is whether the church can bless the commitment of same-sex partners to a life-time relationship (and what form this relationship should take). This is a test of the comfort level and question of what is being blessed. Having a common, but optional, form of blessing would be valuable in that it would ensure that blessings were done appropriately. Without such, blessings and prayers could vary from something that is all but marriage in name through to “bless the sinner but hate the sin” – all done with the best intentions.
    The other question is whether people in same-sex marriages can serve as clergy. Even if the church allows blessing of relationship, it doesn’t necessarily follow that this must also be agreed with (although my personal opinion is it very much should be). It is on this decision that the issue of “right relationships” and chastity is much more pertinent.
    Interestingly in the Commission’s recommendations, the headings refer to “right relationships” and the text is all about blessings. Nothing on the appointment of clergy.

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