New Zealand debates “Way Forward” on same-sex relationships
[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The week-long biennial meeting of the General Synod of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia gets underway tomorrow (Friday) and amongst the items for debate is the report by the “Way Forward Working Group” on the blessing of same-sex marriages.
The report, which was requested by the last meeting of the General Synod in 2014, proposes new liturgies for the blessing of civil marriages. In the case of New Zealand, this would include same-sex marriages, which have been lawful since 2013.
The working group say that the proposed new rites of blessing are “additional formularies” rather than doctrinal changes: “It is the view of the majority of the group that the proposed liturgies do not represent a departure from the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ, and are therefore not prohibited by [the Church’s constitution], however the group also recognises that this will be a crucial matter for debate.”
The motion being debated by the General Synod next week asks members to accept the recommendations in the report and to “endorse in principle, for consideration, the proposed new formularies for use in public worship, and the changes to the canons of the Church set out in the report” but it says that the proposed changes should be forwarded to the dioceses of the church so that they can indicate “their assent or otherwise to the proposed changes” ahead of a further consideration by the next General Synod in 2018.
Two dioceses have already intervened. The Christchurch Diocesan Synod have proposed a motion that states that the General Synod “does not adopt any recommendations without first referring the report to the Synods . . . of this Church for discussion, and resources a significant period of education, discussion and discernment throughout this Church.”
And the Nelson Diocesan Synod have tabled a motion calling for “at least four years of intentional theological reflection, education and discussion across our Church on the substance and impact of the [proposed changes].”
The debate on the Way Forward Group’s report will take place on Monday. Other matters set to tax the mind of the General Synod during the next week include the issues of gender-based violence, child poverty, women’s leadership, the housing crisis and welcoming refugees.
On climate change, the General Synod will debate carbon offsetting and look at the disaster preparation of the Pacific islands.
Church order, ecumenical relationships and liturgical matters also will be discussed, including inter-changeability of Methodist and Anglican clergy, changes to the practice of confirmation, and vocations to the ordained ministry.
Having been present at the first of the explanatory meetings in Christchurch, I (I suspect like many others) was confused by some of the elements of the presentation. However, despite some rumblings of disagreement about whether same-sex relationships were ‘an abomination’ to God; it seemed at the time that what was being proposed – at least, for the proposition of ‘Same-Sex Blessings’, might be a reasonable way forward for our Church in New Zealand.
There has been another meeting since, which went into greater detail – but at which I was not present – that must have some impact on the disappointing (for me, at least) decision by our diocese to put the brakes on any decisions being made on this important matter at the general Synod shortly to take place:
“Two dioceses have already intervened. The Christchurch Diocesan Synod have proposed a motion that states that the General Synod “does not adopt any recommendations without first referring the report to the Synods . . . of this Church for discussion, and resources a significant period of education, discussion and discernment throughout this Church.”
Predictably, the other diocese in our Church that made a similar move to block any definitive action on the Same-Sex Blessings issue (I think that this WAS the point of their submission) was the Diocese of Nelson – whose Bishop has been active in the Fellowship of confessing Anglicans (FoCA) Movement to oppose any forward movement on Same-Sex recognition by Anglican Churches around the world:
“And the Nelson Diocesan Synod have tabled a motion calling for “at least four years of intentional theological reflection, education and discussion across our Church on the substance and impact of the [proposed changes].”
I am one member of our Church who believes that the blessing of Same-Sex Unions is a matter of some importance – not only for the members of our Church who would actually benefit from such an arrangement, but also for the integrity of the Church, that has suffered from an endemic attitude of homophobia and sexism for too long.
My prayers will be offered at today’s Mass at St. Michael’s for an openness to the LGBTQI Community in our Church.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand