If I lived in one of those great castles built on a cliff beside the sea I don't think a perfect storm would worry me too much. But what if I lived in a sandcastle on the sea shore? Jesus got there before me and told the story. The house built on the rock will stand.
Rather than prognosticate on how strong I think our church is to withstand controversy, let me ask readers these questions.
If we engage in a perfect storm over the next few years, will there be an Anglican church in these islands in twenty years time?
Do we have the strength to survive the storm and rebuild after it passes through?
Where the Anglican church has exhibited a progressive agenda in these islands, can we measure the impact of that agenda in terms of congregational growth?
A PERFECT STORM WILL NOT NECESSARILY TAKE PLACE
In an important comment to the previous post in this series Bosco Peters makes the case that there need not be a perfect storm over the matter of the blessing of same sex partnerships (especially here). His supporting analogy is that on the question of divorce and remarriage where we have made decisions and pursued practice which is not biblical, nevertheless we have remained together as a church. I agree that there need not be a storm. I think that all those for whom 'biblical' is an important criterion for judging what we should and should not do would do well to ponder the following: what things in our church are practised which we think are unbiblical, and why do we accommodate them by staying rather than leaving?
In other words, in terms of disagreements in our church, as outlined in previous posts (e.g. approaches, attitudes, authority), we have experience of sharp disagreements being overcome and of disagreements being maintained in tension without spilling over into schism. The present brewing storm need not lead to division.
YET DANGER REMAINS BEFORE US
Nevertheless, I suggest there are possible decisions our church could make which would contribute to a perfect storm engulfing us. Here are three.
(1) If we changed our canon on marriage (and text of our marriage liturgies) in order to extend our ecclesial definition of marriage to include two people of the same gender.
As I listen in our church I hear voices which are open (some much more open than others) to our church doing something re 'blessing' same sex partnerships but draw the line at change to our understanding of marriage as being about a man and a woman. In other words some pragmatic recognition of same sex partnerships which does not revise what we already have written down about marriage in our formularies and canons may avoid the perfect storm developing.
A different voice, though getting at the same idea, that marriage between a man and a woman is sui generis, is expressed by Bryden Black, in various comments over time on this blog, but especially here.
In my words, at least two views of marriage are at work in the Western world (in one marriage is an estate ordained by God for the conjugation of a man and a woman with potential for fruitful procreation and capacity to both image the diversity-in-unity of the Triune God and of Christ and the church, and in the other marriage is a legally and morally acceptable arrangement in which two people express their committed love for one another).
Our allegiances within the church to one model over the other represent a cleavage between an understanding of the church as a body governed by a theology disclosed by God through revelation and as a body governed by theology built from the ground upwards where the ground is human reflection on experience. At some point in the history of the church in the 21st century this cleavage will result in conflict rather than conciliation. This may be that moment.
(2) If we made general willingness to conduct blessings of same sex partnerships determinative of selection for ordination or appointment to licensed ministry.
We likely will make a decision which in principle means that ministers are equally free to offer such blessings or to refuse to give them. After all, currently ministers are free to accept or to refuse to conduct a wedding. But that is not where controversy lies. Where controversy lies is in the processes of discernment for ordination and for appointment to licensed ministries. In that process questions can (and should) be put about attitudes to things. Examples include wearing robes, using the prayer book, following certain customs, approach to collaborative ministry. Sometimes these questions are put to yield a kind of profile of the interviewee with no one question being a "killer" question in which the wrong answer could mean a refusal to proceed to ordination/appointment. Sometimes one question is a killer. I will be upfront and say, I can imagine in some dioceses that an expression of refusal to offer blessings for same sex partnerships will determine the outcome of interviews.
(3) If we so approved whatever it is that we might approve by way of change that licensed ministers and officers of the church felt they could no longer sign with good conscience that they will abide by the authority of the General Synod.
On this matter I am speaking about a specific concern voiced by colleagues whose integrity is such that they would leave their current ministries by handing in their licences if a decision of General Synod meant they could not remain committed to the authority of General Synod. In reporting this concern I have no specific example to give of how GS might word a decision so that the concern is met and all is well. Put another way, while there is the obvious example that a change to our marriage canon (see 1) above would trigger this concern, it is not clear to me what might count as a change instituted by General Synod which either does not trigger the concern or is at least ambiguous enough for hesitancy to occur as to whether the trigger is pulled or not. But I will observe this: for General Synod to offer the possibility that each bishop may determine whether or not blessings of same sex partnerships may occur within their episcopal jurisdiction may be a step too far.
For now, that is the end of this series. Comments are welcome. They may yet trigger some further thoughts.
PS I am offering reflection on the possibility of a perfect storm arising if our church proceeds in certain directions. It is also possible (though may be not equally possible) that if our church does not proceed in certain directions there will be a perfect storm.