Thursday, February 28, 2013

Do words mean what they say?

I have appreciated various comments here, and some off-blog emails about my recent posts. I want to take a few moments to address one or three issues being raised. Essentially they are issues about whether words mean what they say or not.

Gay Marriage in New Zealand

At last late last night the penny seemed to be dropping here that the wording of the proposed legislation carries the curious feature that it addresses the question of the beliefs of a religious body and not of an individual minister of that body. Thus if ACANZP were to change its 'beliefs' re marriage that could put its ministers in a vulnerable position.

That said, some commenters think that discretion always applies re marriages and no minister will be forced to conduct a marriage they do not want to conduct. A plausible example is the marriage of a divorced person which no minister has been forced by state or by church to conduct. However I do not think this is a very good counter example: there is no lobbying group of divorced persons that I am aware of which would consider taking a refusing minister to (say) the Human Rights Commission. Can we be sure that those pressing for rights of gay couples would not take a test case to the Commission?

Church Websites and commenting on them

I have been challenged here and in an email about first contacting the ministers of churches before making comments based on their churches' websites and what is communicated on them. Possibly I should have done that. In reply I suggest that some thought is given to what these websites are saying and what their existence is intended to achieve.

I have understood these websites to be telling the public all the relevant facts about these churches, not least because, being unrelated to a larger church body, the only public information about these churches is contained on their websites. [UPDATE: I accept that there is other publicly available information via tracking down the documents of churches which have been incorporated as charitable trusts]. Thus, if we take an example or two, eucharistic worship is a feature of a church it is reasonable to expect that this will be described in a page which otherwise tells us about the general congregational life of that church, or if the church as an independent church has an accountability structure then it is reasonable to expect that this information is conveyed in an account of the church's life (as, indeed, I observed and cited in the one case out of three where this information is given).

In other words, I have tried to take the websites I explored seriously and to treat the words on them as meaning what they said. I feel I have been taken to task for assuming that words given in description of a church might be an accurate description of the church!

Heads up to all churches: if you have a website, please say on it what you mean and not something which requires an email to the minister to obtain additional information in order to understand it. In particular, if you are telling us 'About [your church]', please include all relevant information, including to what larger body you belong or, if that is not the case, what governance structure you have in place. And if you break bread together, tell us that is an important feature of your life together!


Scott Mackay said...


I think you may be confusing 'publicly available' information with 'immediately available to me within 1 minute of using a Google search'.

The fact is that the online register of any society or trust in NZ can be viewed at:

Within a few minutes I managed to find the trust deed for Campus Church Trust, and Auckland Evangelical Church Trust, and view the relevant information about these organisations, including information about office holders and accountability structures.

I agree with your general point about church websites. However your claim that the 'only publicly available information' is via a church website is incorrect.

Besides, most Anglican churches in the Christchurch diocese don't spell out the nature of their church government either, and therefore further investigation is needed to determine the exact relationships of accountability involved.

Peter Carrell said...

I see, Scott, a reference to an executive in each trust deed and presume that is what you mean by 'information about ... accountability structures'.

That is not quite the same as viewing the canons and constitution of our whole church or the statutes of the Diocese of Christchurch via the web.

While I get your point about the difference between publicly available and immediately available, the publicly available information on the websites of the churches purports to tell readers quite a bit about each church, but only one of the three sites actually states what I consider - even if no one else does - to be important information re the fact of a structure.

Janice said...

Can we be sure that those pressing for rights of gay couples would not take a test case to the Commission?

No, Peter. Given what has happened in other places, I would expect an activist gay couple to do just that.