The Ma Whea Commission (the Commission on same gender blessings and ordinations in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia) met Saturday, 1 September.
They expressed surprise that they had only received five submissions (my open letter being the first they received). Many people I’ve spoken to are not. The decade-long debate as a central focus in Anglicanism means many have lost interest. In some ways that is part of the function of the Commission. The Commission is to collect information – well, the information has not changed in quite a while, and those really interested in this have already collected the information; and made up their minds. The Commission is a mechanism to delay making the decision at governing-body level. This delay hopefully will take some more heat out of the issue. Some heat has increased, however, through not having an openly gay person on the Commission, as well as parliament now working through a Bill for marriage equality (a situation that wasn’t the case when the Commission was set up but, let’s face it, was inevitably going to happen some time).
Historically, we can see the way the church altered about slavery, vestments, contraception, divorce-and-remarriage, women clergy… What were once regarded as significant debates, with heat, are now looked back to with little to no interest or discussion.
Take out your crystal ball and here are some of the conclusions of the Commission:
- Anglicans in good standing hold different positions on committed same-sex couples, and on ordaining someone in such a relationship. Some people hold these opinions very strongly.
- The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia is unclear whether one can bless a committed same-sex couple, and whether one can ordain someone in such a relationship.
- There are Anglicans blessing committed same-sex couples. There are Anglicans ordaining people in such a relationship. No one has been formally disciplined for either of these actions.
- The current formularies have marriage for a man and a woman. The formularies can be changed following the normal processes. Anglicans are divided about changing these formularies, including some people being in favour of being able to bless committed same-sex couples, but against altering the marriage formularies.
Take out your crystal ball again, and here is the future for the church:
- Anglicans in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia agree to disagree about committed same-sex couples.
- Some people leave the church over this decision. But not in great numbers.
- Some priests and bishops bless committed same-sex couples; some bishops ordain individuals in such a relationship.
- Flying bishops are a talked-about possibility, but generally not pressed for. Those who are very strongly against their bishop’s blessing or ordaining people in a committed same-sex relationship generally find ways that they do not need to relate compromisingly to that bishop.
The lack of interest shown in making submissions to the Commission has resulted in the Commission organising a widespread email campaign seeking submissions from “grass roots Anglicans in the pews of our parish churches”.
However few or many submissions the Commission receives, the view in the crystal ball does not change.