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Submission on Blessing Same-Sex Couples

Sergius & Bacchus

This post will only interest those following the debate in NZ Anglicanism around holding together those of different persuasions in relation to blessing committed same-sex couples. General Synod Te Hinota Whanui has moved from trying to come to theological agreement to enabling a structure in which these differences can be held within one church.

The Motion 29 Working Group report – in full can be found here
The Archbishops’ covering letter to this report
My summary and initial reflections are found here.

I have been urged to submit constructive suggestions to improve the proposal, and I am grateful to those who have helped to sharpen my own ideas. My submission is written, as all that is presented on this site, in the context of a very busy life and IRL ministry – please take that into account as you digest my points.

As always, we have worked hard to have a positive culture on this site – one with more light than heat – and any constructive comments need to hold to this approach. Anonymous statements are not normally accepted unless there is clear reason for the anonymity.

Submission on blessing same-sex couples

The Anglican Church has an unhealthy obsession with sex. There is dissembling, hypocrisy, and dishonesty. Some people are caught up in this in relation to ordination or a Church licence, or they simply want a sense of belonging in a particular church community. Troubled persons can struggle to find appropriate care. Confidentiality adds a further dimension. The combination of secrecy, power, and sex can be particularly destructive.

The Anglican obsession with sex focuses predominantly on homosexuality, a ‘non-pathological, regularly occurring minority variant’ in the human condition. This obsession has rent the “Anglican Communion” in a way no other disagreement has – so much so that calling it a “communion” is arguably erroneous. When was the last time that the Anglican primates actually all had communion together? At the recent meeting of the Anglican primates, there was a media statement on behalf of some Anglican primates that they were put “in a difficult spot” because another Anglican primate, The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church (TEC), prayed for the victims of the Las Vegas shooting! What was the reason why some primates felt they were put in such a “difficult spot”? They disagree with the way TEC allows for a breadth of positions on homosexuality. We are now so used to such disunity that the reaction of the Archbishop of Canterbury to this complaint was that he was “slightly taken aback.”

The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia has been debating homosexuality for decades (with commissions, hui, groups, papers, books, General Synod Te Hinota Whanui debates, and meetings, including special diocesan synod and Inter-Diocesan Conference meetings), all without a single step forward.

Anglicanism allows for a wide breadth of opinions and positions on everything from the Eucharist through to the ethics of abortion and euthanasia. When, for example, was the last time you heard any issue being made of blessing a hospital in which abortions are carried out?

With so much in our country and in our world that should be the focus of our attention, we should be gravely concerned about the energy expended on controversy about blessing committed same-sex couples. The best estimate for the number of same-sex couples that might seek the Church’s blessing in my diocese, the second largest in New Zealand, is four a year. To be clear: we should not ignore minorities because they are small – quite the opposite. The teaching of Jesus, the Bible, and Christian tradition call, instead, for a preferential option in their favour. But can we be honest with ourselves, in the face of immense problems and an aging Church with rapidly-declining statistics, that this is distracting, misdirecting, and even scapegoating?

Notice how, for the majority heterosexuals, changing sexual regulations is uncontroversial. The Church’s teaching on marriage is clear: “between a man and a woman… life-long and monogamous” (Introduction to the WFWG Report). But, in our Canon of Marriage, Anglican clergy can ignore this doctrine of the life-long nature of marriage and “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.” (2.9). A canon, of course, was much easier to change than the doctrine of our Church. No effort was put into the latter. For the majority, heterosexuals, we changed from being one of the strictest denominations on divorce to one of the most lenient. Why can such an easy solution be found in the case of the majority – heterosexuals? A (May 2016) letter about this discrepancy, which was received by General Synod Standing Committee, the Church’s Chancellors, and the Liturgical Commission, has not received a reply. Clearly, there is no reply.

Response to the Interim Report of the Motion 29 Working Group (IRWG)

First off, I express appreciation for the work of the working group.

We need to be clear about the limitations of the group’s brief: to propose a structure, without a change of doctrine, which “safeguard both theological convictions concerning the blessing of same gender relationships”.

Many people would say the group was handed an impossible task. This includes those who argue that our doctrine forbids such blessings. They make such claims, I underscore, in the context of a church that explicitly allows for the majority, heterosexuals, to marry divorcees in conflict with the same doctrine.

Others hold that a committed same-sex relationship is not a marriage, and hence the doctrine of marriage does not apply.

Still others (from laity to bishops) see no distinction between the marriage of a man and a man, a woman and a woman, or a man and a woman.

The greatest deficiency in IRWG is its failure to address the ordaining and licensing of people in a committed same-sex relationship. The threat of disciplinary action against bishops and licence holders, in such situations, continues to hang like a sword of Damocles.

I think the structure suggested by IRWG is unnecessarily complex. And I am astonished that IRWG proposes a link with Religious Orders. My understanding is that there has been little to no consultation with Religious Orders about this. By all means, formally recognise Religious Orders at General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW) level. Honour and acknowledge them, but that is, or at least should be, quite a separate action to lumping Religious Orders in together with groups that are formed around the basis of what they think about homosexuals!

Some people see the proposal to have formally-constituted (so-called) “Christian Communities” with additional episcopal oversight (called a “Visitor or Protector”) as pointing to a theology of taint that again underscores the exceptional focus that homosexuality can engender. There was, they would point out, no call for additional episcopal oversight in the case of bishops who were women or divorced and remarried, even when, in the case of the former, males ordained by a bishop who is a woman did not have their ordination recognised, and could not serve, in many parts of the “Anglican Communion” where males ordained by a male clearly could.

It is unsurprising that many who effectively hold to such a theology (being comfortable with disagreeing with their bishop on many things but not about homosexuality) are unaccepting of additional episcopal oversight, first calling for alternative episcopal oversight, and, more recently, advancing that to a call for separation into an extra-provincial diocese. [UPDATE 21 November 2017; 4:57pm: A helpful comment by Rev. Dave Clancey clarifying this is now found below.]

The simplest way forward, in this regard, is a clear and positive recognition and acknowledgement that we are living together with disagreement – differences in belief and practice. Let us have a clear statement acknowledging explicitly that a bishop does not have to be in full agreement with what happens in every ministry unit under his or her oversight with regards to blessing committed same-sex couples. And, furthermore, that people (including clergy) do not have to be in full agreement with what happens within the ministry unit or episcopal unit that they are part of with regards to blessing committed same-sex couples.

The seeking of authorisation for a rite of blessing of a committed same-sex couple is an unnecessary further delay. The Church does not have authorised rites for any number of services (from consecration of a building, through blessing an army tank, to installing a vicar). But, even if a rite of blessing a committed same-sex couple is authorised by a bishop, other “home-grown” options would be allowed within the frameworks of A Form for Ordering the Eucharist or An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist or A Form For Ordering a Service of the Word (not to mention the Worship Template). Rites will simply commend themselves by their inherent quality. A more formally-produced rite already exists – the Liturgy for the Blessing of a Relationship prepared in 1992 by the Liturgical Commission of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia as part of the raft of rites facilitated by the Worship Template (that blessing rite sits along with four other rites, including a Liturgy for Recognising the End of a Marriage).

As to the proposal to amend the declarations of adherence and submission to the authority of GSTHW, if this helps some people, great. I cannot see it making any real difference. People who made these declarations, from lay to bishop, believed women could be ordained when our doctrine said they couldn’t, just as people now, from lay to bishop, think that people of the same sex are as married as people of opposite sex. Retaining or amending the declarations will not alter the flexibility with which the declarations are approached.

I make two key proposals to conclude this submission. The first is already in the IRWG: the acceptance of providing immunity from complaint for bishops and clergy for exercising their discretion on whether or not to authorise or conduct blessings of committed same-sex couples. This can be effected by the passing of a canon. This requires a simple majority at GSTHW and would have the same status as the canon which effectively grants immunity from complaint for bishops and clergy for exercising their discretion on whether or not to conduct a marriage of a divorcee while the other party to the prior marriage is still living.

This approach fits within what many will see as a movement of the Holy Spirit. Those under the oversight of Pope Francis are encouraged to pastoral compassion for individual contexts without altering doctrine. That, let us be clear, has been our approach for decades now for heterosexuals in relation to divorce.

The second key proposal is the acceptance of providing immunity from complaint for bishops for exercising their discretion on whether or not to ordain or licence anyone in a committed same-sex relationship. People have different interpretations of the term “chastity” found in Title D Canon 1 10.4.1 (“Ministers are to be chaste”). Rather than further delaying with new studies and debates on “chastity”, this proposal suggests that, whatever one’s position, those in a committed same-sex relationship will not fall foul of Title D solely because of their orientation. Commitment would be the same for homosexual as for heterosexual couples.


This submission suggests:
• If discussion since the publication of IRWG deems it sufficiently helpful, amend the declarations of adherence and submission to the authority of GSTHW.
• Have an explicit, clear and positive recognition and acknowledgement that we are living together with disagreement – differences in belief and practice on committed same-sex couples.
• Provide immunity from complaint for bishops and clergy for exercising their discretion on whether or not to authorise or conduct blessings of committed same-sex couples. Clergy and couples can choose from available resources and/or work together to produce a service of blessing.
• Provide immunity from complaint for bishops for exercising their discretion on whether or not to ordain or licence anyone in a committed same-sex relationship.


In a world rapidly moving away from binary oversimplification about gender and sexuality, the Church is seen as focusing on yesterday’s questions rather than today’s. In a world of increasing ethical complexity, the Church’s focus on homosexuality is not providing moral paradigms that can easily translate to these third-millennium debates. In a global village that needs, more than ever, to have models for how to live together with significant difference, Anglicanism models how not to – all the way to the inability of our primates to pray together, let alone share communion together. My fear is that my submission adds further air to the overemphasising of this debate, but I do so on the advocating by and with the encouragement of others more vulnerable than I am in this regard. It comes with my prayers.

In Christ,

(Rev) Bosco Peters

15 November 2017
This submission is public.

I am not the first nor the only one to publicly make essentially the above suggestions as can be seen here.

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19 thoughts on “Submission on Blessing Same-Sex Couples”

  1. Thanks for your work on this Bosco, your proposals are good ones, especially the immunity from complaint provisions.

    There is no doctrine against blessing same sex unions, which does not necessarily imply approval of sexual behavior any more than marriage implies approval of every form of sexual behavior which happens in heterosexual marriages.

    In both the Jewish and Christian traditions we have always had different theologies, including theologies of marriage. I am very encouraged that Anglicans are putting so much thought and energy into finding ways to accommodate that.

    FWIW, there is nothing in the Torah or Gospel against same sex unions.

    Many Blessings

    1. Thanks for your positive, ongoing dialogue in this regard, Chris. You have been a consistent exponent of the second position I describe as those who hold that a committed same-sex relationship is not a marriage, and hence the doctrine of marriage does not apply. Blessings.

  2. A clear restatement of what you have said in other posts.

    One element which has not been mentioned is the relationship (if any) between the Church’s rules and the “law of the land”. Murder is prohibited by the ten commandments and is a crime in the Crimes Act. Divorce is allowed in secular society and is, obviously, allowed in the Anglican Church at least and at all levels. Persons of the same sex are allowed to marry under secular law but not, so far, in the practice of the Church. Perhaps this is an issue (like divorce) where the Church could mirror the law.

    1. Thanks, Ralph. Yes – those who arrive simply at this post may miss that the ideas here are not new, they are bringing together ideas in which many people have been involved – including off-site. Blessings.

  3. ‘Notice how, for the majority heterosexuals, changing sexual regulations is uncontroversial. The Church’s teaching on marriage is clear’

    How did the church get from no divorce ( clearly not an obvious acceptable teaching of Jesus in the Bible ) to divorce being accepted in religious communities?

    I know even that statement is simplification, but maybe there is some ‘truth’ there?

    Do not all religions write and re-write themselves for their future?

    1. Thanks, Tracy. There is some great historical research waiting – and some cool books to be written and read, including on the Anglican complete reversal (again for heterosexuals) of the position on contraception. Blessings.

  4. Hi Bosco
    I generally support your submission and I think I can live within a church which agreed to it.

    I think this is critical: “Have an explicit, clear and positive recognition and acknowledgement that we are living together with disagreement – differences in belief and practice on committed same-sex couples.” Only if we can say to ourselves that we are moving forward in disagreement yet wish to stay together can we live with such disagreement.

    What I am not at all clear about is whether those who can live with what you propose constitute 50% of our church (I don’t think it is less than that), 60%, 80% or even higher. I guess we need something in the region of 80% agreeing to live in disagreement in order for us to substantially hold together!

    1. Thanks, Peter.

      As New Zealand’s Anglican who has facilitated the most public, fullest, ongoing reflection on this (at Anglicans Down Under) that is very positive.

      The explicit, clear and positive recognition and acknowledgement that we are living together with disagreement is, I think, the improvement of your own suggestions.

      What is not being seen here is the positive response I am receiving behind the scenes. In relation to your percentages, I would suggest that the vast majority of those who can live with disagreement would be comfortable with my significantly simpler proposal. On the other hand, the majority of those who disagree with these blessings in strong principle, will not be able to live with whatever complexity of structure is given further incommensurate time, energy, and money to provide.

      There is a further important point to your percentages. Mine is a missional perspective. It parallels my regular concern that it is the people who are there who choose our leadership – not the people who aren’t there. That is increasingly significant as our church ages and shrinks. Will your numbers grow or shrink (faster or slower) if we pursue my proposal, or if we pursue the overly complex and overweight proposal of the working group, or if we do nothing at all?

      On Sunday, in the church where I worshipped, we sang the hymn “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy”. Here are its lyrics (I’m sure the author would have used different gender language in today’s world):

      There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
      Like the wideness of the sea;
      There’s a kindness in His justice,
      Which is more than liberty.

      There is no place where earth’s sorrows
      Are more felt than up in Heaven;
      There is no place where earth’s failings
      Have such kindly judgment given.

      There is welcome for the sinner,
      And more graces for the good;
      There is mercy with the Savior;
      There is healing in His blood.

      There is grace enough for thousands
      Of new worlds as great as this;
      There is room for fresh creations
      In that upper home of bliss.

      For the love of God is broader
      Than the measure of our mind;
      And the heart of the Eternal
      Is most wonderfully kind.

      There is plentiful redemption
      In the blood that has been shed;
      There is joy for all the members
      In the sorrows of the Head.

      ’Tis not all we owe to Jesus;
      It is something more than all;
      Greater good because of evil,
      Larger mercy through the fall.

      If our love were but more simple,
      We should take Him at His word;
      And our lives would be all sunshine
      In the sweetness of our Lord.

      Souls of men! why will ye scatter
      Like a crowd of frightened sheep?
      Foolish hearts! why will ye wander
      From a love so true and deep?

      It is God: His love looks mighty,
      But is mightier than it seems;
      ’Tis our Father: and His fondness
      Goes far out beyond our dreams.

      But we make His love too narrow
      By false limits of our own;
      And we magnify His strictness
      With a zeal He will not own.

      Was there ever kinder shepherd
      Half so gentle, half so sweet,
      As the Savior who would have us
      Come and gather at His feet?


  5. Hi Bosco
    Further thought overnight!
    I think where I differ from your proposal – with momentum from some of the discussion I participated in last Saturday – is that I would add a bullet point re the “Christian communities” concept.
    That is, I support that part of the current proposal which provides for parishes and individuals to work out together a commitment to certain values (on either side of the disagreement).

    1. Thanks, Peter.

      With the greatest respect, the over-focusing on any point, problem, or situation can lose a sense of perspective and proportion. That the IDC has had a special meeting about this and is calling yet another special meeting again before it meets at GSTHW reinforces that concern. I cannot be assured that the creation of the structure of so-called “Christian communities” with constitutions, additional episcopal oversight, permissions from the House of Bishops, and so forth, will satisfy even a small number more than my simple, straight-forward, clear proposal. It is creating a disproportionate solution to a perceived problem.

      Yes, a sledgehammer can be used to crack a nut. And for those who have been focusing on the nut, and arguing decades about its crackability, and still flying to national and international meetings about the nut, the sledgehammer can appear to finally fix it! But – I am concerned about the neglected, damaged, tottering, aging table on which the nut is lying.

      We have a variety of networks for likeminded individuals and ministry units: Latimer, AFFIRM, GAFCON, FCANZ,… There is no need to create yet another structure within our already complex three-tikanga church (the size of which, in some places, would be a large diocese) – with constitutions, ratification by the House of Bishops, a bishop visitor, and so forth. If people want further networks beyond the ones already existing, let them design whatever they find appropriate. We are already free to do that – it does not require further legislation.

      It is a nut. Use a nutcracker. I think my proposal provides the nutcracker.


  6. I am intrigued by your reference to the Liturgy for the Blessing of a Relationship. and had no idea there was such a thing. I had also wondered what would happen if David and Jonathan were to make their covenant (let’s be anachronistic) in a church, but I am guessing this liturgy would be used.

  7. Thank you, again, Fr Bosco, for everything you are doing!

    Just one question: with your proposal, what chances does have a familist gay or lesbian ordinand, to get ordained, when hir bishop, at hir discretion, refuses to admit him/her to the holy orders? How to by-pass such a bishop?

    Before my husband and I got married, we were first in civil union. When our civil union was celebrated at the town hall, the employee was so… willing to be somewhere else, as officiating for us seemed to be a problem for her, but she did her job however. This kind of situation could also happen when an malevolent bishop would have to cross hir fingers while ordaining a lesbian or gay ordinand.

    I know that in the Roman Communion, the Byzantine-rite ordinands which are part of a Latin-rite diocese have to take the airplane to some exotic country, where a Melkite or Ukrainian bishop would ordain their non-subject, on behalf of the Latin colleague.

    1. Thanks for your encouragement, George. In Anglicanism (as in other episcopal traditions) the bishop always has full discretion to ordain or not to ordain a deacon or priest in his or her episcopal jurisdiction. My proposal is not in any way suggesting an alteration to that tradition. Blessings.

    1. Thanks, Adrian. Your article does not deny the events, nor that the Archbishop of Canterbury said what he did. You simply interpret his words more strongly than they come across. Blessings.

  8. Many thanks, Bosco
    I think what you suggest presents a very positive way forward, and I hope the Working group takes your suggestions to heart.
    I have been doing a lot of thinking recently on the concept of “common ground” in relation to these debates, and I find myself concluding that the search for such common ground over the decades is one thing that has brought us to such a ridiculous impasse. No more commissions, hui, facilitated discussions or the rest will persuade those who believe all same-sex genital activity to be sinful that they are wrong. Nor will they persuade those who , like me, believe that GLBTiQ people are as such faithful reflections of the image of God, and should be treated equally, that we should compromise on that belief.
    Finding a way to agree is not going to happen. You are surely right that finding a way to disagree is a much more sensible approach, as we do on war/pacifism, the nature of the Eucharist, or the Progression of the Trinity, including how important that is or is not.
    I think your submission is a wonderful illustration of the principle that, if you want something done well and in a hurry, ask someone who is already busy to do it!

    1. Thanks, Edward! Yes, you and I agree more study (etc) isn’t going to lead to some magical agreement. I love your final sentence! Blessings.

  9. Hi Bosco
    Thanks for your work on this – very helpful. However, there is one factual error that maybe you might want to think about amending.  

    The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (New Zealand) has not ‘advanced’ its suggestion from Alternative Episcopal Oversight into an Extra Provincial Diocese.

    FCANZ’s initial submission to the Working Group in October 2016 first suggested the idea of an Extra-Provincial Diocese as a way for all to remain Anglican, and to recognise the significant distinction that lies between the two theologies at play.

    That first submission is found here: http://storage.googleapis.com/wzukusers/user-19875714/documents/57f2d9011ae3fhckMugs/FCANZ%20SUBMISSION.pdf

    In August 2017 FCANZ issued an initial comment on the Working Group’s Interim Report. It was initial thoughts and worked with what was set out in the interim report. You’ve linked to it in your first link (“calling for alternative episcopal oversight”)

    The second link you refer to (“a call for separation into an extra-provincial diocese”) was an article written more generally about the New Zealand situation and was simply reiterating what the very first submission said.

    FWIW, the final FCANZ submission to the Working Party can be found here: http://www.fcanz.org/media-messaging

    1. Thanks, Dave, for this very helpful clarification. I am updating the post also. Readers, please note: the link, above, leads to the FCANZ media release. As that media release indicates, the actual FCANZ submission is here. Blessings.

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