Dear Anglican Communion,
Yesterday our General Synod/te Hinota Whanui came to a resolution about same-sex relationships. It is quite long so I will send you to a link rather than reproduce it here. It should be read alongside a letter from our three Archbishops. Also helpful will be this report on Taonga.
What has been resolved has been described as 'fudge'. I guess that is because it is an amalgam of opposing views, a familiar and classic Anglican solution to differences among us.
Across the Communion, however, we are well aware that any such fudge on this matter is a bit different to other fudges. Divisions have occurred in some places (i.e. instead of fudge there has been a brittle biscuit/cookie) and in other places it seems like no one is prepared to enter the kitchen, let alone get the ingredients out to make fudge.
While only time will tell whether our fudge is a good fudge, I want to suggest some reasons for hope (from a conservative perspective) that it is good fudge.
1. Our Synod engaged in a remarkable process of listening at all possible levels (by tikanga, by house, by diocese) so all could contribute, not just those comfortable speaking in plenary session. The process seems to have been slow and deliberate, and carefully worked out as 'in committee' so that people were free to engage frankly and freely without fear of creating unhelpful headlines.
2. Out of that discussion a nine person working party was set up. I do not know the full membership of the group but the members I do see in photos on the Taonga website assures me that it was a group of clear and convictional thinkers from all parts of the spectrum of views.
3. The resulting resolution, UNANIMOUSLY agreed, is framed in its preamble with a sure theological explanation of the church in relation to the grace of God revealed in the gospel. That is a great sign that we are a church which wishes to think before we act and to act according to our thinking - the general Kiwi tendency is to make pragmatic decisions and to think up the reasons afterwards!
4. We are upholding the doctrine of marriage as we have received it:
"In the midst of the articulation of many theologies and cultural influences, our unity in Christ was never-the-less evident even when we disagreed. The Church has received and articulated an understanding of intimate human relationships which it expresses through her doctrine of marriage between a man and a woman, and is life-long and monogamous.We uphold this traditional doctrine of marriage." [from the preamble to the resolution]
5. We are acknowledging that life today is different to yesterday, without making stupid and superficial claims that the revelation of the Spirit changes to fit with today, while also acknowledging what we have known for a long time as Anglicans, that we are not agreed on doctrine:
"We recognise a diversity of voices about what constitutes a right ordered intimate relationship between two persons regardless of gender. At this time it is the will of the General Synod/Te Hīnota Whānui to respond to what the Spirit is saying to the Church. Although we are far from unanimous in seeing the way forward, there is a broad recognition of the dynamic nature of doctrine, and the call of the prophetic word to be attentive to the movement of the Spirit. There is no questioning the depth of love and commitment in some gay and lesbian relationships and their commitment to serve the wider community and to be disciples of Jesus Christ." [from the preamble to the resolution]
6. We have drawn a 'line in the sand' about the place of those whose understanding of marriage and blessings of other relationships is 'conservative' - making the following statement the first part of our resolution:
"A process and structure by which those who believe the blessing of same-gender relationships is contrary to scripture, doctrine, tikanga or civil law, will not be required to perform any liturgy for the blessing of same-gender relationships, will continue to have integrity within the Church, and will remain compliant with the parliamentary legislation within any relevant jurisdiction;"
7. We have accepted formally that we are a church with 'two integrities' on these matters by also resolving:
"A process and structure by which those who believe the blessing of same-gender relationships is consonant with scripture, doctrine, tikanga and civil law may perform a yet to be developed liturgy for blessing same-gender relationships in a manner which maintains their integrity within the Church, is compliant with the parliamentary legislation within any relevant jurisdiction, and can remain in communion under scripture, doctrine and law; including(i) A proposal for a new liturgy to bless right ordered same-gender relationships;
(ii) A process and legislation (whether church or parliamentary) by which a new liturgy to bless right ordered same-gender relationships may be adopted;"
In other words, we have not asked people to change their views, nor to compromise their views, but we are asking ourselves to stay together with our different views.
8. We are asking for people to be patient and gracious, noting the unhurried nature of governance in our church. The following will satisfy only those seeking change who are willing to be patient and gracious:
"Clergy who so wish are permitted to recognise in public worship a same-gender civil union or state marriage of members of their faith community:(a) with the permission of their licensing Bishop; and
(b) with the permission of their Vestry or equivalent leadership body.
Such recognition cannot be marriage or a rite of blessing of a same-gender relationship.
We recognise that this may cause even further distress. Noting the commitment of the Church demonstrated in clauses 1 to 4 above, we ask the LGBT community to recognise that any process of change within our Church takes time."
We may wish to raise all the criticism in the world about when a prayer is a prayer and not a blessing and vice versa but that would be to miss the point. We are organising ourselves as a church to get to a certain point about blessings and in the meantime the above compromise is offered as a way forward because there is a need to allow our church to digest points 1 to 7 above.
Woven through those eight observations if a recipe for a way forward for those with ears to hear it. It has been bathed in prayer and suffused with goodwill on all sides of the Synod. It is offered free of charge to the Anglican Communion.
A clerical pundit from the ends of the earth.