UPDATE: In the latest Taonga print magazine (accessible via the internet here) I argue for a position, written prior to the publication of the Ma Whea? Commission report with its ten options, which is effectively Option J. I am not the Autocrat of the church but if I were I would continue to argue solely for that option (which, I remind you, is the resolved position of the Synod of the Diocese of Christchurch). However, with the publication of the report and the ten options, and taking 'soundings' about responses to these options, what I write below seeks to acknowledge the 'real politik' of our church at this time.
ORIGINAL POST: For those who wish to cut to the chase re 'a way through the maze' head down through the post to the heading with those words.
The following is "up for discussion" here. Perhaps it is nonsense. It might be useful. No doubt it can be improved. My purpose in offering this is not to hold our church together at any cost (though I would like us not to divide). Rather, my purpose is to explore finding a way to remain together despite opposing views because those opposing views involve important matters of Christian faithfulness. Faithfulness to God's revelation in Scripture and faithfulness to the well-being of people - a faithfulness which, in each perspective's own lights, is found together on both sides of the matter - is not something to be lightly disregarded.
I have now read through the 102 pages of the Ma Whea? Commission document including the report of the Doctrinal Commission (you can re-find it here). There is some impressive work in the document. For example, writing is generally clear, ideas are expressed concisely and, in my view, nothing seriously silly or even stupid is said. However I am learning from some correspondents that some are disappointed with the two reports. Nevertheless some folk have spent a lot of time on the various pieces of the document and for that I think our church can be very appreciative.
Let me be also just a little bit cheeky, provocative and yet encouraging in an even-handed manner to regular commenters here: I think some arguments on both sides of the ledger here at ADU could be improved by learning from the document :)
I would like to pay a special tribute to the Rev Dr Andrew Burgess, Principal of Bishopdale Theological College, Nelson who took part in the Doctrinal Commission's deliberations. When he was considering appointment he sounded me out as to whether I might be more inclined to be considered for appointment. I declined for various reasons. Andrew was appointed and to the extent that I can discern his influence on the Doctrinal Commission's report I cannot imagine any aspect where my influence would have improved on his.
My summary thoughts as I read through the two Commissions' reports
These thoughts are important for what I say about a way through the maze!
1. The case for change to the doctrine of marriage of this church (as received by this church and recorded in our formularies) has not been made.
In part this conclusion is drawn from the strength of Section C of the Doctrinal Commission's report. In part it is also drawn from something I do not think any part of the document tackles with sufficient rigour, namely, the distinctiveness of the difference between man and woman and hence the special but deservedly privileged status heterosexual marriage enjoys, in Scripture and in tradition. Put another way, a running thread through 102 pages of the combined document is a flattening of gender difference.
2. The case for provision of blessing of (permanent, stable, faithful, loving) same sex partnerships is almost made.
If I were to tweak the Doctrinal Commission's report I would say something more about the blessed relationship between Naomi and Ruth (mentioned, but could have been explored more) and also open up friendship as a category of relationship well blessed by God. But whether we could then get to a case for blessings which was received well by our whole church remains an open question. Plus ...
3. A crucial question then arises: with an improved case being made would we have a case being made for the provision of such blessings as a provision for pastoral care or as an inclusion in our formularies, printed in our authorised prayer books?
This distinction is very important. The former is a provision of pastoral care for those who wish to provide it, the latter implies a pastoral responsibility across the Three Tikanga of our church. The former puts the onus on bishops (and/or synods) to determine whether to permit such provision (or even, more subtly, to not forbid it). The latter puts the onus on those not wishing to conduct a prayer book service to justify their refusal.
4. Across the two reports, the case is made that we are a church with two (or more) views on same sex marriage and the blessing of same sex partnerships.
5. Yet we seem to be a church in a state that if we cannot find a way to formally be a church of more than one view then we will lose people.
4. I note the observation made that the Diocese of Auckland found it easier to secure a majority re blessing than re marriage. (Section E1.2 of Doctrinal Report on p. 33 of that report, which is page 97 of the combined report).
"We may note that in 2013 the Synod of the Diocese of Auckland voted not to
pursue a path toward same-gender marriage but voted in favour of a path toward
a liturgy for blessing same-gender sexual relationships. The margin of disparity in
voting on the two relevant motions before the Synod indicates that in the minds
and hearts of a significant number of those voting there is a difference between
‘blessing’ and ‘marriage’. In other words: clearly for some Anglicans a blessing
of a same-gender relationship is acceptable when same-gender marriage is not."
Re-linked here are the ten options the Me Whea? Commission is proposing to the GS for consideration.
A Way Through the Maze
A couple of observations to begin with.
First, from the conservative side of things, there is concern that if agreement to some change is secured now it will lead to pressure for further change, then further change until, before you know it, we will have changed to a degree that is worth dividing over. Hence two strategic conservative response at this time: (i) agree to no change, make no compromises, allow no foothold on to the thin end of the thick wedge; (ii) leave fairly quickly after change has been made because the momentum for further change is unstoppable, so no point in waiting.
Put another way, and in question form, might conservatives accept some change to acknowledge we are a church of more than one view if there is guarantee that further change will not be pressed for?
Secondly, with respect to bishops making determinations about the chasteness of candidates for ordination and for licensed appointments, we can observe that bishops already have some discretion in this area. Consider the matter of remarriage after divorce. Strictly speaking remarriage after divorce is not an impediment to ordination or appointment on the grounds of chasteness. But we could understand that a bishop might be a little wary of (say) a candidate who has been twice divorced and thrice married.
Here, then, is my way through the maze, in the light of the 102 page document, the above thoughts and observations:
(in parentheses are named relevant options from the ten options proposed by the Commission, though no claim is made that my 'steps' equate to the commission's 'options').
In certain ways what I am proposing relates to Option F.
Step One: we commit to not changing our doctrine of marriage for a period of not less than twenty-five years. (See Option A)
If 'resistance' to such change is a generational thing, then twenty-five years should see the resistance melt away without painful divisions resulting.
Step Two: we confirm that bishops have discretion (remember: it has already previously been exercised in the past in our church) to authorise priests to conduct blessings of same sex relationships (note: a rite already exists on one of our church's websites but we might wish to bring this up to date while not making it part of our formularies). (See Options C, I)
Step Three: we confirm that bishops and their advisors only have authority to ask of prospective candidates for ordination or appointment to licensed ministry about their adherence to our doctrine of marriage: that is, whether or not a candidate is willing to conduct or to not conduct a blessing of a same sex partnership is not a relevant matter to such discernment processes. (See Option A)
Step Four: we confirm that 'chaste' may be understood by bishops to include people in same sex partnerships which have been blessed by a priest or a bishop and registered with the state via civil union or marriage but need not be so understood (i.e. bishops could choose to continue to understand 'chaste' as 'married or celibate'). (See Options C and E)
For Steps Two and Four, bishops might wish to consult their synods and they might be prudent to do so but they would not be required to do this. (See Option D).
Step Five: we encourage a period of facilitated conversations in dioceses prior to 1 April 2016 in order that from 1 April 2016 Steps Two, Three and Four may be implemented. (See Option J)
Step Six: we encourage bishops to remain open to the possibility that the actual working out of Steps One to Four, with respect to all sides of the issues, might require new arrangements in respect of episcopal care of clergy and parishes and we authorise the Primates with the assistance of the General Secretary to appoint a commission of responsible persons at any time through the period 2014 until 2018 to review how this new direction for our church is working. (See Option G).
It is understandable that bishops are wary of 'Dual Episcopacy' yet our church may need to find new ways of being an episcopal church in a new situation. All may go well, in which case Step Six requires nothing to be done. But if all does not go well then this Step offers guidance to our bishops and archbishops.