Don't just read here, go to Taonga for a full report (which I see no need to repeat) with links to some (but not all, e.g. not Bishop Victoria Matthew's) papers given. I suggest that the headline there, "Hermeneutic Hui leads church ever closer to same-sex blessings" is an accurate summary of what the hui represents within the journey our church is on through these particular years (via diocesan work on theologies of marriage, the Ma Whaea Commission, General Synods 2012 and 2014). However other headlines could be given in summary. Here are mine:
"Our church stakes claim for discipleship and divine worship as context in which to make decisions about how we live in 21st century."
"Clear recognition by ACANZP that a consensus on homosexuality will not be reached."
"Determination by our church to find a way forward on blessings of same sex relationships which honours our respectful divisions."
"Uncertainties within ACANZP about how to proceed: do we do needed theological work before making ground-breaking decisions?"
I was asked yesterday whether, in a one word summary, I was heartened or disheartened and I responded, "Heartened." Why? Three reasons. We went through this event in fellowship, including eucharistic fellowship, despite our (respectfully, diplomatically) expressed disagreements. It would be naive to expect that those gathered at the hui represent every viewpoint in the church (e.g. as far as I could tell we were a pretty thoroughly "Anglican" group, but many in our congregations do not self-identify as "Anglican.") Nevertheless the character of the hui suggests we can mostly if not wholly hold together as we make decisions in 2014 (presuming we do not make stupid decisions).
Secondly, we expressed through our papers (despite their, in my view, mixed quality re depth of theological and exegetical insight) a new dimension of theological and pastoral engagement with the issues. Speaking broadly, the 'liberal' papers were seriously theological (i.e. not superficial regurgitations of secularist arguments of the kind being invoked in our parliament) and the 'conservative' papers were poignantly pastoral (i.e. not statements of conservative positions as though gay and lesbian people are invisible or have experiences we do not need to listen to).
Thirdly, we clearly said (particularly through Bishop Jim White's paper) that we are a church intent on holding together our differences on these matters and not, repeat 'NOT', a church intent on passing legislation with vague assurances that we will respect those disagreeing with it when really we do not mean it. +Jim's use of the analogous situation re pacifism/militarism was very important on that score: pointing to an issue in our church which we have never resolved and are not likely to resolve which is also an issue in which we live respectfully with both viewpoints. Putting this another way, with an eye on what some other churches are doing in the Communion, I suggest we are a church which very definitely, very clearly, and very intently does not wish to mimic the manner in which TEC has proceeded.
By the way, both for local readers who may not understand the dynamics of our church and for overseas readers, I perhaps need to say that conservatives at the hui operated on the presumption that when push comes to voting shove, at best we represent about 40% of our church and thus we do not expect to "win" votes on motions which push for change. We are expecting and believe we have a right to expect that we can "win" by having motions put which do not drive us out of the church.
However "heartened" is not the same as "perfectly confident all will be well." What, then, might be the roadblocks ahead of us as we proceed?
Participants at the hui as we go back to our dioceses need to remember that the decision-making of our church is in the hands of dioceses and General Synod. The goodwill of the hui may or may not be replicated in our synods when they come to address these matters.
Part of the hui (especially Bishop Victoria's paper on the theology of marriage) signalled a need to do further theological work ahead of change (in the sense that the four hermeneutical hui constitute the foundation for that work, not the whole of that work). If that call is heeded then change is a long way away, which no doubt would suit some in our church and not others.
There is a question how the goodwill of the hui re conservatives translates into individual diocesan situations going forward from any change in our church. I reminded my small group that in the past (i.e. before the current "moratorium") some dioceses discerning for ministry seemed to be making a question about attitudes to homosexuality the key decision as to whether a candidate was accepted for ordination or not. Thus general assurances to conservatives as a collective body could be undermined by the actual way a diocese operates behind the closed doors of selection conferences and Boards of Nomination meetings. (Again, I think we are in a different era on these matters, but we need to be vigilant).
On the theology of the blessing of same-sex relationships
Finally, here, a brief summary of my assessment of the case (i.e. across several papers, not picking on any one paper or argument mounted therein) made in favour of our church agreeing to the blessing of same sex relationships or even of deeming such blessed relationships to be marriages:
We are a church (in a Communion) looking for a theological warrant for blessing (which I understand as a signal of divine approval) relationships between two people which hitherto the church has understood to be unable to be blessed. Despite impressive rereading of Scripture to remind us of the variegated models of marriage in Scripture and of the trajectory of God's inclusive love (most especially the trajectory from Israel to the whole world, Jews and Gentiles), I did not hear the case for the warrant being made.
What I did hear is a lot of questions being raised about how well we understand marriage, a well made and pertinent case that relative to the gospels' teaching on discipleship in many parts of the church we have over-valued the importance of marriage (and undervalued the significant teaching on celibacy for the sake of the kingdom), and an underscoring of what I believe is now accepted in our church, that the church must not and should not be a body which ignores let alone rejects those who identify as gay and lesbian.
In other words, and picking up what I said here a few days ago, it is one thing to question whether our theology of marriage excludes the possibility of blessing same sex relationships, let alone might extend the definition of marriage to mean any two people, not simply a man and a woman; it is another step to answer the question affirmatively.
What does it mean to be a catholic church at this point in our life?
From a catholic perspective, the haunting dilemma for our church is how we might proceed, given the pressure to proceed emanating from the dioceses of Auckland, Waiapu, Dunedin and Aotearoa. As I understand catholicism as a characteristic of our life, we should only proceed if we have an agreed theology underpinning change. (This, I think, is one large concern in Bishop Victoria's paper: that it is better to do the theological work slowly and before we make change, than to change and do the work afterwards). Bishop Jim's point is that in a situation in which we seem unable to reach catholicity on the matter (i.e. I think he is pessimistic about this relative to some optimism on Bishop Victoria's part) we are free to pursue local options, having devolved authority to exercise 'conscience'. But is that the church operating in a proper catholic manner?
Further, and largely unacknowledged at the hui, there is the question whether we are heading towards a decision which puts us out of catholic sorts with most of the rest of the Anglican Communion.