With one eye on what is happening in England about You Know What (see yesterday's post for links), we might cast our other, speculative eye across our church in these islands of cricket records. Quo vadis? Which way are we heading. Already I hear talk of the possibility of a "Pilling Report" solution for our church. Or perhaps that is the wishful thinking of those who could live with that kind of solution for our church? (To declare a bias, I think such a solution could be something I could live with, so I count myself among the wishful thinkers).
Yet the dear old C of E has found that trying to follow the Pilling approach has led to this and that being said, including the most recent statement of the House of Bishops there - or is it just the two Archbishops? I find it hard to keep up on a limited time budget - which is widely being panned if not pilloried. Even, some say, their statement is a dog's breakfast. Not exactly a declaration that the bread of life is available on the menu. So, quo vadis for our church? Or not?
A few observations might be worth making about our particular situation.
1. I detect no widespread support for changing our doctrine of marriage (e.g. to line it up with our state's 'doctrine' of marriage). A few may push that at General Synod in May, but they will get nowhere. For a variety of reasons I will not detail here, suffice to say, one reason is it would involve more work than our already hard-pressed bishops and chancellors would want to commit to.
2. Logically that leaves the push for change in our church focused on 'blessing.' One significant question is,
Might we permit our bishops at their discretion to authorise priests to bless same sex partnerships (i.e. conduct a service of prayers for their relationship and praise God for the love and commitment the couple share together)?
But I also detect another question, theologically driven out of our ecclesiology,
Should we not wait until we are a church (of common mind and heart) which authorises all its priests to bless same sex partnerships?
(I won't waste my writing time or your reading time by also exploring some nuances to these questions. I simply acknowledge that other questions re 'blessing' are in the mix of formal and informal conversations at this time).
3. I am not sure how much the following matter is understood at large in our church, but it is an important question - perhaps even the most important question at this time. This is the question of authority, viz.,
By what authority would any change re blessing (or marriage) be allowed?
We do things in the church either because we believe them to be commanded by God or allowed (i.e not prohibited) by God.
Our eucharistic ministry, for instance, is founded on the command of Christ, 'Do this ...'
Our orders of ministry, for an example of 'allowed' action, are founded on the models of ministry in the New Testament and the practice of the church since and the understanding that God has not forbidden such ordering of ministry. A similar observation could be made about baptising the infants of believing parents: there is no specific, clear command to do so, but, observing the practice of 'household baptisms' in the New Testament, the continuing practice of the church since, and the lack of prohibition of infant baptisms, we believe we are authorised to conduct infant baptisms.
Thus (casting a cross glance within ACANZP to Chris Huawai making a stirring point that 'Our LGBTQ Family Aren't Worth Dirt' and to Ron Smith, posting about the current 'tied in knots' situation in the C of E) I see a missing note which concerns the question of authority re change. The authority to bless dirt, or heterosexual marriage, in Anglican understanding, comes from God. We need the same authority to bless same sex partnerships. At this time neither the C of E, nor ACANZP is agreed that we have that authority.
Whether we claim that authority comes from the Spirit of God, from parliament appointed by God, from Scripture, from tradition or from common sense (reason), the normative working of the church is that the church accepts that claim as a matter of common mindedness. To be frank, it is not always clear to me, serving in ACANZP, that we are a church which understands this (fairly basic) point about ecclesiastical authority. Please feel free to tell me (if you are a member of ACANZP) that I am weirdly shortsighted about this ... that really and truly everyone else gets this point!!
[Editorial note: please discuss the contents of Chris' and Ron's posts at their sites. Only comments discussing 'authority' to bless (as I am discussing here) will be accepted].
This question takes us over well trodden ground, namely, what does the Bible say to us as God's Word on the matter? (Noting, by the way, that there is precious little other ground to dig over, as the one thing which cannot be said about blessing same sex partnerships is that this has been the practice of the church through the ages).
Cutting to the chase and keeping this post to reasonable length,
(4) There is a lot of merit in the position of my own Diocese of Christchurch as we head to the General Synod in May: [the following is a revision of what was previously here, to more accurately reflect the way synodical processes work] that position is stated in clause 4 of resolution 3 of our September session of Synod 2013:
"Notes the cautions expressed in our Bishop’s charge about the care we should take
in changing a long-held doctrine of the Anglican Church; believes more time is
needed to give in-depth consideration to the theological foundations of the doctrine
of marriage and therefore requests General Synod in 2014 to postpone any decision
concerning changing the doctrine of marriage to at least the 2018 General Synod."
My question to the church at large is then, Will we pause to reflect on the matter of authority?
The most diplomatic thing we can say about ACANZP (and the C of E) at this time is that we are churches operating at two speeds re the authority to authorise blessings of same sex partnerships.
The C of E has tied itself in knots trying to be a ship operating at those two speeds. The ACANZP has not begun to do anything quite so ropey!