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Scotland Shows NZ Anglicanism Marriage Equality Way Forward

blessing same sex couples

Scottish Episcopal Church shows a way forward

The Scottish Episcopal Church has opened marriage to committed same-sex couples. It has done so through changing its Canon 31 of marriage, removing that it is ” one man and one woman…and lifelong” and highlighting:

In the light of the fact that there are differing understandings of the nature of marriage in this church, no cleric of this church shall be obliged to conduct any marriage against their conscience.

This is exactly the approach I suggested in my submission to the Working Group trying yet again to find a way forward in NZ Anglicanism’s rut-stuckness on committed same-sex couples. In NZ, we already have in place that “Any minister shall have full discretion to decline to conduct any marriage service.” (Canon III of Marriage 2.11).

NZ Anglicans cannot marry divorcees

NZ Anglicanism’s doctrine is that marriage is “between a man and a woman, life-long, and monogamous”. The stuckness is pretty straightforward: If sex is morally to be limited to marriage, and if marriage is “between a man and a woman”, then NZ Anglicanism cannot bless a committed same-sex couple. That’s the Gordian knot.

A good way to do a trick is by distraction. You can hide things in plain sight. For over fifty years, in spite of the doctrine being clear that marriage is life-long, NZ Anglicans have been breaking this for the majority (heterosexuals) and marrying people already married. NZ Anglicanism even has a rite, produced by the Church’s liturgy commission, Liturgy for recognising the end of a marriage.

My open letter about the duplicity to NZ Anglican Church leadership has now been waiting for a reply for over a year. The letter has been considered by General Synod Standing Committee meeting, the Chancellors, and the Liturgical Commission. After a year – no reply has been received. People have rightly, in my opinion, been understanding the lack of response as a silent acknowledgement that NZ Anglicanism marries divorcees without foundation. If the Church were to acknowledge that the majority heterosexuals have been ignoring the NZ Anglican doctrine of marriage, then the pastoral consequences of cleaning up the mess is unimaginable. Hundreds, thousands of marriages are cast in doubt; dozens and dozens of clergy licences come under threat;…

But don’t try that sort of ignoring of NZ Anglican doctrine when it comes to the minority, homosexuals…

The Church That Discusses Gays

The mouthful of the NZ Church’s official title is “The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia”. It is often misnamed. Easier to remember, because of its worship life, is The Anglican Church of Or. To others, it will be known as ‘The Church That Discusses Gays’.

The failure of General Synod meeting after General Synod meeting to resolve the discussion has led to yet another attempt at another way forward which, we are told, will be revealed in July. In our diocese, before that revelation, we are to have “respectful listening exercise[s] for the Sexuality Conversations requested at our last Synod… the Sexuality Conversations, … are not about blessing relationships but simply the relationships, prior to reception of the ‘A Way Forward’ report.”

To be clear, such conversations are far from new. Gay friends remember discussions beginning in the 1960s; a day seminar for synodspersons facilitated by our Diocesan Committee on Homosexuality in 1979; parish conversations in the 1980s. There have been Lambeth Conference debates, shelves of books, Hermeneutics Hui, ‘The Bible in the Life of the Church’ project, motions, blog posts, articles, sermons,…

This church bus has been going round and round and round this particular roundabout now for so long that it has worn a donut rut into the ground. People have been flung centrifugally from the bus, and (the stats speak for themselves) people more concerned about the environment, refugees, poverty, unemployment, worship, and even growing in a contemplative relationship with God see little reason to get on this bus, or, with its non-stop motion around this centre, struggle to do so should they want to.

A discussion with a gay CofE priest recently led to a quick survey of NZ Anglican dioceses and the confirmation that the majority of NZ Anglican dioceses do not seem to have out gay licensed clergy.

I continue to think that my suggestion of altering the NZ Anglican doctrine of marriage is the only honest way forward. The only other honest way forward is to admit that the last five decades of marrying heterosexual divorcees was without foundation and inconsistent with Church doctrine – and then work through the pastoral fallout from that sincerely. The Scottish Episcopal Church shows NZ the changing-doctrine way forward. The Very Rev Kelvin Holdsworth, the Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow says it well:

This wasn’t a vote about gay people. It was a vote about what kind of church we want to be.

This is a mainstream Anglican response to the question that has beset us. Not building windows into other men’s souls and respecting the consciences of all. This is what Anglicans do. This is who we really are. And this is the only solution that will work in the Anglican Communion. Let it be seized on by all who seek peace and goodwill.

This solution to the Anglican agonies of recent years bears the label – Made in Scotland for Export.

Made in Scotland with love.

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32 thoughts on “Scotland Shows NZ Anglicanism Marriage Equality Way Forward”

  1. Thank you for this: as part of a remarried couple (who took some time to accept that we could take the step of becoming a partnership in God’s eyes) this has always been the only possible view I believe I can take of same-sex marriage. anything else would be hypocritical.

  2. I understood that the reason NZ Anglicans cannot follow the very sensible Scottish example is that the government says it has to be an all in or all out situation. Not sure if this is a law or a regulation. Perhaps someone more knowlegible can comment.

    1. I’m not sure what you mean by “an all in or all out situation”, Pat. I think you mean the scaremongering that if a denomination allows marriage equality for those whose conscience permits it, then there will be some sort of legal pressing to force those whose conscience opposes it to go against their conscience. The Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act 2013 was clear that conscience is respected – but, yes, I’ve seen the scaremongers twist the words to mean the very opposite of what the Act intended. Blessings.

  3. I do admire your persistent efforts to advance a solution to this pressing issue Bosco.

    “If sex is morally to be limited to marriage, and if marriage is “between a man and a woman”, then NZ Anglicanism cannot bless a committed same-sex couple. ”

    I do not think that follows Bosco. Of course we can bless relationships that are not marriages. We always have.

    I suggest the way forward is to officially bless such relationships, and to conduct state same sex marriage ceremonies, containing to recognise that Church ministers may celebrate as officers of the state whatever it is the state considers marriage to be.

    I think your second solution to the problem of divorce and remarriage would be more honest. The Catholics and Orthodox have developed appropriate solutions and Pope Francis’ Amores Latetia has positive ideas.

    I wonder if your solution would really be acceptable, because it is far from “marriage equality”, offering a much watered down form of marriage, not a union to death do us part but merely a union for as long as both find it convenient ? And not a sacrament all have a right to (cf Catholic canon law) but a compromise subject to the whim of the the minister ?

    I hope and pray we will find a fair and just solution.

    Many Blessings

    1. Thanks, Chris.

      I am not suggesting “merely a union for as long as both find it convenient”. I am clear that marriage requires the intention to be lifelong. Traditional catholic sacramental theology holds that it is not sacramental marriage without this intention. I am not suggesting a change to that.

      I am not suggesting any change to the explicit, current NZ Anglican provision that “Any minister shall have full discretion to decline to conduct any marriage service.” Your criticism that this makes it “but a compromise subject to the whim of the the minister” can be directed to the current rules. I have not heard anyone suggest that this should be changed.


  4. It’s not like the SEC invented this from whole cloth, isn’t this what the US Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada have done, took gender out of their marriage canon and respect the conscience of clergy to officiate as they are led?

    1. Thanks, David. Others may clarify the details of those churches. Your point reinforces my point, and that of Kelvin that this is the clearest, most honest way forward. Blessings.

  5. Just a heads up: You seem to be using the word “homosexual” as a blanket term for same-gender. It is not. “Homosexual” is an identity for those who only feel sexual attraction for members of the same gender as themselves (often conflated with “homoromantic”, which focuses on romantic attraction; in some cases, people do have cross-orientations). Many people who are not homsexual (gay or lesbian) experience same-gender attraction, and their identities do not change based upon the gender identity of their partners. Thus, any marriage in which one or more of the partners is bisexual, pansexual, asexual (cross-orientation is particularly common in the ace community, since many people are asexual but feel romantic attraction towards one or more genders), etc, can be neither homosexual or heterosexual.

    Further, since there are well more than two genders, and have been for pretty much the entirety of recorded human history— a fact recognised by modern historians, anthropologists, psychologists, medical science, neurological science, etc, but actively covered up historically (and today) by the world-wide Church, which forced non-binary people to act in accordence with a binary gender role assigned by the Church during colonialism (most infamously with regards to North America Native Peoples, though this also occurred with several Polunesian cultures). The current liturgy as defining marriage as being between “one man and one woman” denies recognition towards marriages where one or both members are NB, unless they closet themselves for the sake of having their relationship recognised. (Ironically, these relationships may well be different-gendered, but may still be denied recognition if the two members present as the same gender!)

    This is one of the further hypocrisies of the current state of marriage in the NZ Anglican Church: It will cheerfully acknowledge non-heterosexual marriages on the conditional basis that the Church can wilfully deny the Queer identities of those involved, even if that means misgendering people.

    Even if I, a ciswoman, were to marry a cisman, it would never be a heterosexual relationship, because I am not heterosexual. I should not have to bare the pain of having the Church ignore such a deeply personal part of my God-given Identity, simply to have the Church— a Body which claims to be the representation of the Infinite and All-Loving God recognise my love.

    Either we all bare the Imago Dei, and all devoted and selfless love is a reflection of the Divine Love, or we don’t. The Church cannot keep trying to undermine the Infinite God’s creation of an infinite variety of sexual, romantic, and gender identities, and expect to continue to be taken seriously as a representation of the God of Love and Goodness.

    1. Thanks, Katherine. May I reinforce your point by highlighting the NZ Eucharistic Prayer:

      you have created all things from the beginning
      and formed us in your own image;
      male and female you created us.

      The clause, “male and female you created us”, is a constant reinforcing of the binary position we know is untenable, it is unnecessarily didactic, breaks the natural poetry of the prayer, and feels simply as if a biblical quote has been crowbarred needlessly into a pretty-internationally-universal text which works much better by its omission.

      1. Jesse Billett

        My guess, Bosco, is that this phrase was “crow-barred in” to give women an obvious presence. Our Canadian alternative EPs do this repeatedly. Is an EP really so greatly impoverished if it lacks a passing reference to the prophetess Hulda? Such insertions are, as you say, distractingly didactic — and didactic in a way now felt by some to be erroneous! Yesterday’s progressive revolutions are today’s oppressive orthodoxies.

        Cranmer looks better to me every day. 😉

        1. My thesis, Jesse, was on the history of the NZ Anglican Eucharist (click link for text). It includes evolution of NZ Prayer Book texts. Texts with a certain history would be made to fit with a new theme that the committee now wanted to fit a set into – it might be “Creation and Redemption” – and there would be a FIND “title for God” and REPLACE WITH “Creator” or “Redeemer” so that the theme-title appeared justified. In the thesis you will see the particular Eucharistic Prayer began its life in 1964 and went through many iterations. Only on its last one (1984 draft) before the Prayer Book’s publication did the words “male and female you created us” get added. Clearly to make the point you indicate. Once the committee had put it in, there would be no way the General Synod (or even a committee member) could argue for its removal.

          As for Cranmer – which do you suggest? BCP 1549?


        2. I thought this verse appears in Genesis? Don’t we get into dangerous territory when the ‘church’ begins to see the Word it is founded on as untenable because it doesn’t fit into mans understanding.

  6. There are important parallels between the blessing of remarriages and the liberty now sought by many to bless particular same-sex relationships. However, I don’t think the parallels are total yet, and so more patience may still be needed if the change is to be effected without schism.

    The no-strings attached blessing of the remarriage of people who have been divorced has been embraced by most if not all of even the conservative parishes within the ACANZP, even though – as you have rightly pointed out – the practice is actually illicit. I think the fact that this change has been received without question across such a wide doctrinal spectrum of parishes is evidence that the change was prompted by the Holy Spirit who has convinced us that this change applies the gospel better than the Church’s historic position did. (And, when I say “the gospel” I include in the gospel the words our Lord Jesus Christ himself said about divorce and remarriage and adultery).

    In the next paragraph, I will use a rhetorical “we” to represent all the people who allowed this change, from Bishops through Clergy and Synods-people down to ordinary parishioners. I don’t mean to imply that I was personally involved, though I am part of the “we” as one who agrees with the change made.

    We have quietly made this change without radical debate because we suspected that if we precipitated a debate that tried to go to the root of the matter and was subjected to the twice-round General Synod process, people would be diverted from the evidence that the Holy Spirit was presenting to their pastoral hearts and instead vote with their scholastic heads. And even the scholastics didn’t want that!

    We made the change without denigrating the wisdom and pastoral sensitivity of the Church Fathers who gave us the old rule. We can acknowledge that the strict rule may have actually been the right and pastorally sensitive rule in a different age of the Church, but we, even we conservatives, have strongly felt the testimony of the Holy Spirit that the rule should be changed. Paul and Peter and John have taught us to read the gospels through the lens of sanctifying grace, and we cumulatively have had more centuries of doing so than the Fathers before us, and so we have become convinced that when Jesus said what he did about divorce, he was setting before us an ideal to strive for, not a one-size-fits-all prison. We (conservatives) have made the change and retained our commitment to Sola Scriptura because we believe that the change is justified when the New Testament scriptures are read holistically rather than proof-textingly.

    Importantly, the whole thing happened without precipitating schism because there was a quiet consensus that included almost the whole of our church.

    Now, let’s consider how that precedent might be applied to the present controversy.
    It surely cannot be denied that the strict rule was part of sacred tradition, “that Faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all”. Yet we changed it! That means that we (even we conservatives) have recognised – however obliquely – that there is a God-authorised process for rethinking a teaching which was so early embedded into sacred tradition that it seems incontestable.

    The blessing of certain same-sex relationships would be a similar departure from sacred tradition. However, the argument, “You permitted the blessing of remarriages, therefore you ought to permit the blessing of same-sex unions” is unsound. As I see it, the first clause has an unspoken prior part: “The Holy Spirit had raised disquiet in your heart about forbidding remarriages, therefore you permitted… (etc)”. If you want to use the remarriage parallel persuasively, you will need to suggest winsomely, something along these lines: “In the light of the change you permitted with regard to remarriages, would you consider whether the Holy Spirit is now trying to get a similar message through to you regarding the blessing of certain same-sex unions, and whether you are blocking the message by going round and round in circles looking at particular texts instead of considering those texts in the wider context of the gospel of grace?” And, if the reply comes back, “I am certain I am reading them in that very context,” then ask, “Would you consider whether you are using those verses to confirm a misunderstanding of the gospel of grace, instead of letting the gospel inform your understanding of those verses?”

    What I am getting at, Bosco, is that the change regarding remarriage happened without schism because the Holy Spirit had produced a sufficient quiet consensus. We could all (both sides) decide to withdraw from the present debate and not force the issue, and within a decade or three the new consensus would exist anyway, and the conservatives of the day would recognise that it had not, after all, perverted the church into the worship of the spirit of the age. Or we could continue in Christ to try to hurry things along, but the hurry should be in the direction of consensus, not of reluctant compromise.

    Finally (for now), let me add lest any reader misunderstand, nothing I have written here is intended to support licentiousness or antinomianism. The blessing of remarriages is subject to pastoral discretion that can refuse to bless whenever refusal is pastorally appropriate, and the blessing of same-sex unions would be subject to the same discretion.

    1. Thanks, Trevor. This is very helpful.

      Not least because it invites me to clarify things I may not have been clear about.

      1) I am not arguing: “You permitted the blessing of remarriages, therefore you ought to permit the blessing of same-sex unions”.

      2) I AM noting that what you are describing as a movement of the Holy Spirit, sociologically (and statistically) can be seen as a majority movement (I don’t see this as either/or – I’m quite willing to see the Spirit’s action in the sociological/statistical). Divorce and remarriage amongst the majority (heterosexuals) was becoming so normal (the vast majority of families would experience it within their immediate family and close friends) that to automatically excommunicate them all (the reality previously) became untenable. The dynamics are significantly different in the case of a minority – committed-same-sex couples. So I sorely disagree with your suggestion that the same dynamics be followed in the case of such a small minority. In effect, you are incorrectly arguing: “The Holy Spirit permitted the blessing of remarriages, therefore you ought to follow the same dynamics to allow the Holy Spirit to permit the blessing of same-sex unions”.

      We have jumped from being one of the most strict churches with regards to divorce and remarriage (you just couldn’t – there wasn’t even the RC annulment process) to being one of the most permissive churches (I know a good priest who officiated at a person’s seventh wedding – all previous partners still alive). And we have done so, conveniently (some might stay “without schism”) without being honest about that.

      3) I am pointing out that those opposed to blessing committed-same-sex couples regularly use arguments that, when followed honestly and consistently, lead to needing to address our inherited doctrine of marriage to incorporate the change that allows marriage of divorcees. They can no longer have that particular cake and eat it. Because the cry has gone up that this particular emperor is naked.


    2. “It surely cannot be denied that the strict rule was part of sacred tradition, “that Faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all”. ”

      I don’t think so. The Orthodox have long allowed divorce and remarriage from their principle of Economia (basically family peace and a realistic assessment of what people are capable of and the consequences of not accomodating human weakness).


      Many Blessings

      1. It is very difficult for (us) Westerners to not see Eastern things through our Western lenses. Eastern Orthodox second and third marriages are not the same as the first marriage, and this is represented liturgically also. Blessings.

  7. For me, the issue is one of self-respect. What divorced person or same-sex couple would want to be married by a church that does not accept their union?

  8. I have never understood the religious arguments around marriage, women were mere property in the time of Christ, they had no choices, as many don’t today around the world!

    When I look at Sermon on the Mount I believe Jesus was trying to improve and protect the rights of women.

    But the churches and the religions have ill-treated women forever, they are not going to suddenly start showing fairness or compassion to gay people.

    People don’t need these organisations to bless or sanction their unions, the churches need to wake up that they need the people way more than the people need them.

    1. There’s so much I’d like to pick up in your good comment, Tracy. I’ll limit my dialogue to two. I think my/our/the church’s task is to point to the good. I think that “blessing” is done in the Jewish/Christian tradition by “giving thanks”. So what we are doing when we “bless” a relationship is pointing to the good (God’s action, as it were) and giving thanks for that. Blessings.

    2. That’s an excellent reply, Bosco, and a very good methodology to adopt. If we can find the good in relationships which some seem to prefer to judge and not accept, then we will be heading in the right direction. We don’t need to pretend that all relationships are the same (the Orthodox don’t), or that they are perfect, or that that are the same as heterosexual marriage open to procreation.

      Many Blessings

  9. I wonder Bosco if attempts to change the doctrine of marriage are really the most prudent (Mat 10:16) way to proceed ?

    They seemed to have lead to the possibility of schism in Scotland with a “Missionary Bishop” being appointed (!!!) to minister to those who disagree with the change. (Who gets to appoint Bishops in Anglicanism anyway?)

    Would it be wiser to find some other way that doesn’t involve any change of doctrine?

    This has a scientific validity as same sex unions are obviously not the same as heterosexual marriage as they lack any possibility of natural procreation. It also recognises diversity between heterosexual and homosexual relationships rather than trying to pretend that they are identical.

    Many Blessings

    1. Yes, Chris, the whole fragmentation of Christianity is an issue I have written about in other threads. Do we let threats or the possibility of splits hold the truth hostage? My post is indicating that “keeping” the doctrine “unchanged” but allowing all to act contrary to it is dishonest. We have a doctrine, then, on paper that few believe or hold to whilst pledging allegiance to it and signing that we hold to it.

      As to your final paragraph – I’m not convinced it is as “obvious” as you suggest. Each relationship is unique. Many heterosexual marriages “lack any possibility of natural procreation”. There is diversity across all relationships. It is not a binary relationship world.


    2. Doctrine seems to often officially change sometime after Church practice has moved on. Sometimes the new understanding is just quietly accepted while the old doctrine remains on the books (because it still has a validity – eg interest on loans / usury).

      Heterosexual marriages are by their nature the kind of relations in which babies are naturally conceived. Same sex relationships are not. That is a very radical difference which goes to the very nature of the relationship, and one traditionally understood by the Church which recognised that marriage ought to be open to procreation. (In the Catholic Church young couples need to comit to being open to procreation as a precondition to marriage and some conditions preventing conception (perpetual impotence) are impediments to marriage).

      Many Blessings

      1. Many “heterosexual marriages are by their nature the kind of relations in which babies are naturally conceived”, Chris. In many heterosexual marriages, babies cannot naturally be conceived. Blessings.

      2. Yes Bosco, and that is usually received as a great tragedy by those of us unable to conceive, because we experience the loss of something essential to marriage, and something yearned for.

        That marriage was essentially about having children was explicit in the traditional Anglican rites of marriage.

        Abandoning that understanding is a loss of something very precious and sacred, and something essential to the flourishing of people and society.

        Too often we swing from one extreme to another, which unfortunately creates further problems. There has to be a better way.

        I do find it encouraging that much work is going on in the Church towards finding loving solutions to these issues.

        Many Blessings

        1. Thanks, Chris. I would express what is essential to marriage differently to you and have been part of this sadness for children yearned for, including amongst single people, and gay and straight couples. You may be right that traditional Anglican rites of marriage express one extreme, but I do not think that contemporary rites can be seen as another extreme:

          Marriage is a gift of God our Creator, whose intention is that husband and wife should be united in heart, body and mind.
          In their union they fulfil their love for each other.

          Marriage is given to provide the stability necessary for family life, so that children may be cared for lovingly and grow to full maturity. (NZPB p780)


      3. Thank you Bosco.

        The 1662 clearly lists procreation as the first purpose of marriage:

        “First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
        Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.
        Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.”

        Although some of this language would not be acceptable today, it is remarkably broad in it’s conception of marriage, and the 2nd and 2rd purposes do indicate the need for some form of recognition of same sex unions (and the first purpose indirectly, for those same sex couples raising children).

        Many Blessings

  10. As a divorcee and a practicing Anglican I accept I can never be married in an Anglican church or by an Anglican priest. That’s just the way it is and I accept that, even though with the “No Fault” divorce rules here in New Zealand, I had no say in the matter. I wouldn’t think for a moment of trying to circumvent or change the rules

    1. I am missing something here, Greg. NZ Anglicanism has had priests marrying divorcees in Anglican churches for half a century here. My post is clear about that. A good proportion of Anglican clergy here are themselves married again after divorce. I provide the link in my post to Canon III of Marriage 2.9 which is explicit:

      The marriage service of a person who has been divorced may be conducted by a minister even though the other party to the prior marriage is still living.


      1. Bosco, you make it clear that the church’s doctrine is that marriage is lifelong. I suspect that Greg is addressing himself to doctrine and not the apparently hypocritical position found in actual practice. You seem to make the same point; it’s a perplexing muddle.

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