Recently I posted a reply to an open letter by Archdeacon Glynn Cardy on same sex blessings in our church. Here is his response:
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Thank you for your response.
I think one of the major tenets of Jesus’ thinking was that the law was a servant of mission, rather than mission a servant to law. Jesus challenged and broke the exclusive purity laws that the ecclesiastical elite used to maintain power. In his breaking he touched, ate, and included a wide range of socially undesirable people – the sick, women, Romans and their lackeys, and children. Jesus’ praxis of inclusivity and table fellowship is the basis of a Christian understanding of the dignity and personhood of every human being, i.e. a Christian understanding of human rights. Jesus also pointed us towards an understanding of mission that broke the boundaries of exclusivity.
My belief, experience, understanding of the Bible, and medical reading has led me to see that by definition a same-gender relationship is not wrong or sinful of itself. Like all relationships it is to be measured by the love. Indeed, as for heterosexual couples, I think it is wonderful when people come to church to affirm their love and fidelity to each other and be prayed for. Affirming relationships of love, trust, and commitment is an important part of my priesthood.
I don’t expect all Christians to agree with me, or all churches to welcome and accept same-gender couples. I do however hope that the Anglican Church in this land will always be able to tolerate the diversity of belief and practice that St Matthew’s represents. As an aside please be assured that bishops of Auckland have been aware of and Auckland synods have regularly debated our gay/lesbian friendly policies. We have always been public about our beliefs and practice. We also think it is consistent with Scripture to not only pray with people but also to advocate for and with them.
I think the Church is currently in the midst of a liturgical seismic shift. As the technological development called the printing press changed the localized nature of liturgy into a centralized standard form [called the Book of Common Prayer], so the developments of the personal computer, Internet, and desktop publishing are decentralizing liturgy. Rather than argue about what Canon Law might allow we should instead be arguing about how to broaden our mission. As I mentioned above I think it is more consistent with Jesus to understand law as subservient to mission rather than have mission constrained by law.
It is therefore probably no surprise that I am supportive of the wide variety of ‘Praise and Worship’ services, Taize services, and other non-authorized forms in this archdeaconry of Auckland. Most of the ministry units don’t use the New Zealand Prayer Book for their services, although a number creatively adapt it. Despite varying interpretations of what is canonically allowed regarding liturgical forms in practice those forms are guides.
Similarly I am supportive of pastoral services where authorized forms are lacking e.g. a ‘retirement service’, ‘a renewal of commitment between two people’, ‘a blessing at the adoption of a child’, and a ‘service for a family who are emigrating’. I trust that licensed ministers will always will seek out or create appropriate liturgical resources for such occasions, as do other ministers when celebrating and praying with a same gender couple. I can’t make the distinctions you do between formal and informal services, church buildings and other settings. Mission is anywhere and everywhere. Style and venue are not the issues.
As stated in my first letter I simply believe that God’s blessing is an endorsement of the unconditional love and acceptance as shown in the life and teaching of Jesus. I do not believe that God’s blessing in the context of a wedding is a blanket endorsement of marriage as you seem to be saying. One of the influences upon my theology is that of the Reformed School as taught at Otago in the 1980s. Barth and others would be very wary of the Church endorsing, or saying God endorses, any human social, cultural, or political arrangement whether it is marriage, democracy, or the institutional Church itself. These arrangements do have the potential for and are often experienced as giving life, well-being and hope. However our histories also show that can be oppressive and hide oppression.
I think it is also problematic to use the Bible to support cultural arrangements like marriage. Most of the examples and thinking around marriage in the Bible are not what the Church would support today e.g. polygamy, the status of wives, the importance of male heirs, etc.
My understanding of mission, as shaped by my context, is not one that requires conformity. We don’t all have to think the same, act the same, believe the same, read the Bible the same, or relate to the same people. Such conformity indeed stifles mission. However I do think that we need the discipline of learning to live with diverse expressions of mission and trying to tolerate, even while disagreeing with, a number of those expressions.