I am going to jot down responses to the Ma Whea? Commission's offering of ten options to General Synod, the report of the Doctrine Commission, with a day by day addition to this post for a week or so.
Key Links re what is being presented
Anglican Taonga Report
Ma Whea? Commission's full report in PDF
The Ten Options
Precis of Doctrine Commission's report
Doctrine Commission's full report in PDF
A blogpost or two worth looking at re response
Making Tracts (Bishop Jim White)
Monday 7 April
Reading around the traps (i.e. posts and comments to the posts) I suggest that one way to reflect on the situation before our church is that of two broad groupings talking past each other because the situation is seen in a completely different perspective by each broad grouping. (Thus the one bit of the reports presented on Taonga which connects with this reality is the news that the Doctrine Commission could not agree on a number of matters).
For one group the issue before us is small (and the group cannot understand why so much energy is expended about it), involving a modest extension of rights within our church, an additional rite for our church and, possibly, a tiny change to our doctrine of marriage by removal of gender differentiation as a sine qua non of marriage. In terms of the ten Options, C, D and I could come to the forefront of consideration with little or no ramifications, according to this line of thinking (as I detect it, reading around the traps ... I might be misreading).
For another group the issue before us is big (and thus a lot of energy is being expended because the future shape and even life itself of our church is at stake). On one point this group would agree with the other group, greater clarity re 'rights' within our church is important. Thus we read in the report on the Doctrine Commission,
'The Commission states clearly that the Church should stand for the inclusion of those who are marginalized, even while the shape of that inclusion is debated.'.
But for the remainder of matters, this group's thinking runs along these lines: there is nothing 'modest' about a change which decides we can bless in God's name what God has prohibited, nor about removing gender differentiation as core to our understanding of marriage. For that matter even adding a rite to our church's set of rites is not a neutral action for it would raise the question of whether clergy would be disciplined for refusing to offer the rite, to say nothing of the question of people being refused ordination or appointment to licensed positions because of such refusal. I note that under Option I there is a chilling remark to the effect that it is a serious option to refuse to permit clergy to not offer the rite:
'“An exception could be considered to permit clergy to elect not to perform blessings of persons in same sex relationships.”'
Only, 'could be considered'??
Within this group I detect an alertness to the possibility of naievity. The course of secular debate in Western societies has quickly moved from 'de-criminalization' of homosexual acts, to 'civil unions', to 'gay marriage.' Wouldn't it be foolish to presume that agreement now to Options C, D, or I would settle the matter once and for all? Surely the real agenda of those pushing for change is to secure Option E? Why not 'get it over and be done with it?'
For this group, seeing large rather than small changes before us, of the ten options, J seems the least we could agree to at this time - A would be satisfactory, B plausible but demanding. In ascending order of urgent priority for consideration F, G, and H must be reckoned with if change is going to happen.
But F, G and H are arguably 'nightmare' options. But the reality, whichever way we might go as we reflect on the options is that we have a 'mare's nest' because we have two quite different views at work as to how big or small the issues are.
The mare's nest also involves Option K which the Commission has not presented, and maybe not thought about ... more later.
Tuesday 8 April
Very interesting discussion on the Making Tracts post linked above - please read.
Reading there and elsewhere, and thinking further ... these scenarios/questions strike me:
X: We retain the status quo because we cannot agree on a way forward ... but perhaps also because we recognise that whatever we do, change or don't change, our church will suffer loss, and we cannot work out which is the greater loss if we pursue one option rather than another.
Y: We change (or signal 'change in principle, two years study, change in 2016 in practice') but will we be able to sustain Two Integrities? Will those pressing for change admit safeguards? Will they be permanent or for the time-being? What kind of Two Integrities would we have? Referring back to discussion on Making Tracts (link above) would the Two Integrities be akin to trying to promote both Baptism of Infants of Believers and Baptism of Adult Believers Only (something Anglicans have not done previously) or to living with Military Chaplains and Pacifists in our midst?
Z: We bite the bullet and press for Dismemberment: choose you this day whom you will bless. (At least we might allow ourselves a process through two years for orderly Dismemberment). But would the rump 'gay church' survive? If we pressed for Change Now, Dismemberment Now some very strong parishes (i.e. with many younger generation families) could depart. Almost certainly on such a draconian cleaving of the ways, the Diocese of Nelson (with a theological college in its midst) would walk apart. Perhaps one other NZ Diocese too, along with the Diocese of Polynesia. Many parishes remaining would consist of elderly parishioners incapable of embracing adaptation to the 21st century, unable to put forward candidates for ordained ministry in sufficient numbers to maintain ordained leadership going forward. Within ten years the rump church would be in severe crisis mode re person power in the ministry (though likely not financially as existing trust funds would spread better over fewer ministries). Hmm. Not an exciting scenario. Perhaps General Synod won't go there!
In some ways our church is considering a 'zero sum' game: if we chose one scenario we keep so many and lose so many; if we choose another scenario we lose that much and keep that many. Put another way, our dilemma (arguably, when all is said and done) is whether we wish to include conservatives and marginalise gay couples and their supporters or marginalise conservatives and canonically include gay couples and bring peace to their supporters. We would like to (so to speak) keep both groups happy. We worry that we cannot do so. If there were a simple answer to the dilemma we would not be a church with ten options to consider!
There is also an eleventh Option K to consider which I will think about further while on the road today ... comments may not be posted till late tonight.
Wednesday 9 April
Reading the ten options I do not find any particular sense of reflection on the future of our church in terms of growth and development, in terms of, we might say, riffing off from Option H, 'Planned Memberment.'
The focus, understandably, through the ten options is, 'What will we decide?' and 'How will making a decision, one way or another, affect current membership of the church?'
But we live in a desperate situation for our church, one of widespread ageing and decline of congregations BUT NOT a situation beyond change, transformation and a new day dawning. A new day dawning, however, is about recruiting new members into the life of our church.
None of the ten options addresses the question of what kind of church in the future will new people want to join (whether as Christians transferring from other churches or as new Christians responding to the gospel preached from our ministry unit bases).
In the present context some, of course, are likely to say 'Well, no one will want to join a church out of touch with the times' and others might say, 'Not so. Who would join a church which looks so in touch with the times that all distinctiveness of message and lifestyle is lost?' Personally I would prefer to ask this question:
'What messages being preached in word and deed today are drawing new members into the life of the Anglican church in these islands?'
My Option K is then this: 'We should decide re marriage and the possibility of blessing relationships which are not marriage to make changes (or no changes) which support and foster the messages being preached in word and deed today which draw new members into our churches'.
Would doing anything else foster the continuing decline of our church?
Friday 11 April
Our dilemma as a church is neatly captured by a comment made on Making Tracts - link above - from which I cite a small portion:
"In the NZ society, unlike Australia, there is no official discrimination except in the church. Even the visiting future king attended a playgroup yesterday with a same sex couple and their child. It was harldy big news.Even in my age group of 60 plus I do not experience any discrimination day to day. Most of my friends however do not go near a church.I do not support church missionary activity because I would not recommend any young gay person become involved with the church. That way lies misery."
I suggest that no one on the conservative side of the argument wishes the church to be a place where it is viewed as the only community within society where there is 'official discrimination' against gay members; nor does anyone wish the church to be a place where gay members are 'miserable'.
Yet no one on the conservative side of the argument wishes the church to be a place where our understanding of the will of God is determined by sweeping social change or parliamentary law. Social change expressed in law may be God's will (or at least in accordance with God's will) but shouldn't the church discern whether that is the case or not? And shouldn't our discernment be undertaken in terms of our understanding of Scripture and tradition?
Solomon: what is your cellphone number?
Sunday 14 April
I like this comment by Gail Young on Anglican Taonga's report re the commission (but it needs to be read in tandem with the comment below by Rosemary Neave):
Justice delayed is justice denied."
Mollie Hemingway, in the context of the USA has a stirring column re marriage and debates (or suppression of debate) in her country. Here is the heart of her pro-marriage as it always has been argument:
"Well, I know that we’ve had years of criminally one-sided media coverage, cowardly political leaders and elite cultural views that have conveyed to you that the only reason anyone might think sexual complementarity is key to marriage is bigotry. ... There’s no question marriage has been treated dramatically differently than other relationships by governments and society. Why? Is it that it features a more vibrant or emotional connection? Or is there some feature that is a difference in kind – that marks it out as something that ought to be socially structured? We usually don’t want government in our other relationships, right? So why is marriage singled out throughout all time and human history as a different type of recognized relationship?
Well, what singled it out was that sex was involved. Sex. ... And why does that matter? Well, there’s precisely one bodily system for which each of us only has half of the system. It’s the one that involves sex between one man and one woman. It’s with respect to that system that the unit is the mated pair. In that system, it’s not just a relationship that is the union of minds, wills or important friendships. It’s the literal union of bodies. In sexual congress, in intercourse between a man and a woman, you are literally coordinated to a single bodily end.In every other respect we as humans act as individual organisms except when it comes to intercourse between men and women — then we work together as one flesh. Coordination toward that end — even when procreation is not achieved — makes the unity here. This is what marriage law was about. Not two friends building a house together. Or two people doing other sexual activities together. It was about the sexual union of men and women and a refusal to lie about what that union and that union alone produces: the propagation of humanity. This is the only way to make sense of marriage laws throughout all time and human history. Believing in this truth is not something that is wrong, and should be a firing offense. It’s not something that’s wrong, but should be protected speech. It’s actually something that’s right. It’s right regardless of how many people say otherwise. If you doubt the truth of this reality, consider your own existence, which we know is due to one man and one woman getting together. Consider the significance of what this means for all of humanity, that we all share this."
Tuesday 15 April
With H/T to a colleague for two of the three links below, I note the following:
A new crisis for the C of E re gay marriage, precisely because a clergyman has married his male partner and thus appears to have flouted C of E rules.
Andrew Brown comments on the delicacies of the situation, including that the clergyman is secularly employed as a chaplain while holding a bishop's licence as a canon. I am not sure that Andrew Brown has a particularly dramatic headline - creaking compromises are what the C of E is made up of!
Then a link to an interpretation of Leviticus. What do you think, brilliant or incorrect?