Report from the Church in Wales Standing Doctrinal Commission
The Church in Wales and Same-Sex Partnerships.
The report sets out initially the history of marriage as the background to the discussion of same-sex partnerships. In particular this section looks at marriage in Roman times; the Jewish understanding of marriage at the time of Jesus; the early church’s teaching, with its emphasis on celibacy, and the fact that not until the fourth century A.D. did a priest or bishop bless the couple getting married. Not until the thirteenth century, as well, was marriage seen as a sacrament. The report discusses the teaching of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer on marriage, and the crucial importance of the 1754 Marriage Act in England and Wales. Here, for the first time, marriage was only legally valid if performed in an Anglican church by an Anglican cleric. However by 1836 marriage in a registry office was allowed as a concession to non-conformists. The growth of cohabitation and same-sex civil partnerships is discussed, and finally the 2013 Same-Sex Marriage act is mentioned, which becomes law in March 2014, and sets the context for the discussion of the report.
The next section of the report (paragraphs 31-51) discusses the implications for the church of the scientific debate about sexual orientation. In particular, the final three paragraphs of this section argue that science should not determine the mind of the church, but there is a need to reflect on the growing scientific evidence that homosexual orientation should not be regarded as “a pathology but as a natural characteristic which, for a small but significant proportion of the population, is acquired before birth”. What is the moral and theological significance of this fact?
Therefore the report proceeds to discuss the place of scripture and doctrine (paragraphs 52-4). This section is brief, because the lengthy papers on this topic are on the Church in Wales’ website. What is important is that the church engages in a search for holiness for itself before God. The report then considers three options for the Church in Wales. One is a restatement of the traditional position, that marriage is only between a man and a woman (paragraphs 56-77). The second option is the blessing of same-sex partnerships, which is now allowed in some Anglican dioceses in Canada and the United States (paragraphs 78-102). Thirdly there is the option of marriage between a couple irrespective of sexual difference (paragraphs 103-136). Finally the report ends with an emphasis on what a pastoral response would look like.
Posted by Peter Owen on Wednesday, 2 April 2014
Thanks to Peter Owen for his posting on this important article on the ‘Thinking Anglicans’ web-site in the U.K.
From the report, which is a summary of the Church in Wales Doctrinal Commission statement, it would appear that the Church in Wales is far more ready than the Church of England to actually discuss the effect of Equal Marriage legislation in England and Wales and its impact on the local Church.
This morning, I received a phone call from my English brother-in-law who is a retired Church of England clergy-person. He was commenting on the English TV series ‘The Rev’, which offers a much-needed comic touch to the current dilemma faced by the Church of England in the wake of Equal Marriage in that country.
When approached by a gay couple asking if he would give a Blessing on their Marriage, The Rev. admits that, though he believes that God would bless their relationship, he’s not sure about the attitude of His Church. However, he agreed that perhaps he could say ‘a prayer’ with them in the presence of their family. A crisis occurs when, not only the families of the couple turn up at the church, but also their many friends, who insisted on behaving as they would at any other (heterosexual) wedding, even to throwing confetti!
The Archdeacon turns up next day, expressing his concern lest the Vicar had actually done something to offend the Bishop. He demanded to be shown the form of service that had been used and was presented with the scrap of paper on which the priest had scrawled the prayers. Scared lest this get into the wrong hands, the Vicar was urged to swallow the offending piece of paper. This, of course caused great amusement to everyone in the studio watching the show.
The show ended with a more formal Blessing given by the priest the next day, with only the couple present. My Brother-in-law, who discussed this with people he knew, suggested that the good humour with which the episode was presented might have helped all concerned to appreciate the importance of what was involved in the blessing of any loving relationship.
Perhaps this nation-wide TV broadcast in the U.K., received in the spirit of goodwill, will have done more than any preaching sermon to enlighten the general public, and the Church, on the real issue involved, which is that a monogamous Same-Sex relationship, such as marriage, can be a blessing to everyone involved.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand