ACANZP – An Improved ‘Way Forward’ ?

An Improved Way Forward?

blessing same sex couples

I think that the proposed way forward, in The Report (download PDF) to bless committed same-sex couples in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, needs to have a couple of improvements to enable it to work. The dynamic of this post is not to get stuck on arguing about The Report’s rhetoric, plan, rationale, and theology (there are other contexts that facilitate that) but to see if it is possible to further The Report’s goal, and to move beyond people’s finding further fault with details of The Report.

First, I present the broad brush-strokes of my suggested improvements. Then I will give some commentary.

1) I suggest we pass a formulary* (essentially the one in The Report of the Working Group formed by General Synod / te Hīnota Whānui 2014) and call this “Blessing A Civil Marriage”. My suggestion is that this formulary has the (important) words added at the start: “A bishop or priest may bless a civil marriage using the following form”. This is followed by a rite of blessing drawn from The Report.

2) I suggest the change in defining “chastity” in Clause 10.4 of Title D Canon I (as the right ordering of sexual relationships) follows the broad outline of The Report (page 28) – a blessed civil marriage would be understood to be a right ordered sexual relationship. But at this same point, The Report’s suggestion (page 28) of having individual Diocese or Amorangi vote for or against a formulary, needs to beabandoned.**

3) As with marrying currently, the canon will be clear: you can refuse to bless any couple without needing to give the reason why you are not prepared to do so.

The Commentary

Firstly, there is an issue with The Report as it currently stands making it impossible to implement. People are arguing about The Report’s rhetoric, plan, rationale, and theology but, all that aside, its assumption that we can have a diocese-by-diocese, amorangi-by-amorangi acceptance or rejection of our Church’s formulary is mistaken.

A formulary is the only way we can authorise a service of worship. A formulary is also something we vow and sign up to as expressing our belief.

My proposal is that the belief expressed in this particular formulary is that a bishop or priest of this Church may bless a civil marriage, whether or not that is of a heterosexual or homosexual couple. It is not accepting agreement with such a blessing. It is accepting that a bishop or priest, should s/he so choose to, may bless such a civil marriage. I will suggest a parallel model, as clarification, below.

Secondly, a canon cannot trump a formulary. This is what The Report suggests we do. We cannot.

My proposal has the formulary, as with every formulary, applying everywhere in our Church. A bishop (or synod/hui amorangi) cannot authorise a service, and a bishop (or synod/hui amorangi) cannot forbid a service. And we should not go down the route of altering our Constitution and Parliamentary Act (the suggested Statute 711returning to General Synod Te Hinota Whanui this year) to alter our process for authorising services. The formulary is available everywhere (this is a significant difference to The Report’s proposal). In some dioceses and amorangi, priests and bishop(s) will use the formulary. In other dioceses and amorangi, essentially no one will use this blessing formulary. In some places the blessing formulary cannot be used to bless a committed same-sex couple – a civil marriage for homosexuals simply does not exist in some countries in our Church.

Thirdly, let us be clear that the use of the blessing formulary in a diocese/amorangi does not mean that the licensing bishop agrees with the particular relationship being blessed. Just as, in The Report, a priest (or lay person) merely by being in the same diocese/amorangi as someone who blesses committed same-sex couples thereby is not taken to being in agreement with that particular blessing. Gracious disagreement is a strength, not a weakness. We practice it already, as illustrated under the next heading.

A bishop, as always, can licence (or not licence) whoever s/he wishes in her/his diocese (as long as they conform to the Church’s requirements, which include chastity).

Divorce is a Model

Since 1970, marriage after divorce, while the previous partner is alive, is allowed in our Church. Prior to 1970 “The Catholic and Anglican churches argued that marriage could only be ended by the death of a spouse.” “Changing social attitudes are reflected in the decision by the [Anglican] church in 1970 to permit the re-marriage of divorced persons in church.”

In our Church you can hold to different positions:
1) the pre-1970-Anglican/current-Roman-Catholic position: that a valid marriage is for life; only an annulment (declaration that the marriage was invalid) can allow a valid marriage to occur. All other weddings of previously-married people is essentially blessing adultery. Cf Luke 16:18
2) a more liberal position: that the intention of marriage is for life, but that there are rare exceptions which allow a second marriage. Marriage, in this view, is not an ontological binding together. This view expands Matthew 5:32 and understands 1 Corinthians 7:10-15 not merely as permission to separate (and hence not hold to the marriage vows) but to marry a second time.
3) the view that blessing subsequent marriages is generally possible. People are generally given the benefit of the doubt, and the possibility of making a fresh start is always available from God and seen as a central Gospel value.

Our Church formally allows clergy to decide whether they officiate at a particular wedding or not. If they decide not to do so, the Church is explicit that there is no requirement for the bishop or priest to give a reason why they are not prepared to officiate. A person may (from the above positions) think that a priest or bishop is blessing adultery, but this does not affect either person – both hold their opinions with integrity. Even the licensing bishop may not agree with the particular wedding should s/he become aware of it. But a priest deciding differently to what her/his bishop would do in that situation does not sully the integrity of the diocesan bishop.

This is a model for blessing committed-same-sex couples using my proposed formulary “Blessing A Civil Marriage”.

First Order – Second Order Model

There are some who have created a “First Order/Second Order” model of biblical behaviour. Those who follow this model would say that going against a “First Order” requirement of biblical behaviour jeopardises eternal salvation.

Even those who accept the “First Order/Second Order” model, and who agree that adultery, and blessing adultery, would be a “First Order” issue, have managed to live within our Church for over 45 years cheek by jowl with the three different integrities (described above) with regards to marrying someone previously married (with their previous partner still alive). We have remained together within our Church without (to my knowledge) a single formal complaint being processed for the nearly half a century since the marriage of divorced people has been allowed in our Church. I see no reason, other than prejudice, why my proposal cannot similarly work.

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*a “formulary” is the agreed liturgical practice and teaching of the Church. Authorised services are formularies of our Church, and we hold to the belief expressed in such a formulary. Return to where you were in the text.

**Of the thousands who have read my posts that we cannot have a diocese-by-diocese, amorangi-by-amorangi acceptance or rejection of one of the formularies of our Church, not a single person has communicated with me, either publicly or privately, that I am incorrect in this point. Return to where you were in the text.

Similar Posts:

“…a blessed civil marriage would be understood to be a right ordered sexual relationship. But at this same point, The Report’s suggestion (page 28) of having individual Diocese or Amorangi vote for or against a formulary, needs to be abandoned.**

3) As with marrying currently, the canon will be clear: you can refuse to bless any couple without needing to give the reason why you are not prepared to do so.

In the first of these two statements, it is made clear that a ‘blessed civil marriage’ (whether of opposite or same-gendered persons) would be understood to be a ‘right ordered sexual relationship’.

However, in this first paragraph, Fr. Bosco also challenges the Report’s suggestion that, in order to bless such a relationship, it might be necessary for each Diocese or Amorangi to either authorise or reject the process.

This new possibility would then leave to the individual officiating clergy-person the right to refuse such a blessing, without the need to provide a reason for refusal.

This, of course, would make the ‘Way Forward’ a much simpler and more easily understood process – where  ACANZP authorises the possibility of making accommodation for both heterosexual and same-sex couples to have their civil marriages blessed; without the official requirement from any clergy-person to comply with the arrangement.

This would seem to me to provide a way of pastorally caring for faithful, monogamous, same-sex couples in a congregation (or outside of it) to have their civil marriage blessed in their local Church. Those clergy who have a conscientious objection to such an arrangement are then provided for, by not having to become involved. This would be no different from the current situation with regard to the actual marriage of any couple. The clergy-person may claim a moral conscientious objection (for any good reason) not to perform a particular marriage.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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