Don Mathieson writes:
In my view the General Synod resolution on same sex matters is a disaster. The resolution will lead, in all probability, to the solemnisation of same sex marriages in a few years time. It will in all probability split the church. It will in a comparatively short time lead to the death of overseas mission.
I know that to write succinctly and directly runs the risk of appearing dogmatic,prejudiced and homophobic. I shall have to take the risk. I believe I am none of those things. In particular, I am proud of the part I took as a Vice-President of the Homosexual Law Reform Society in the campaign, ultimately successful after years of struggle, to decriminalise homosexual acts.Throughout that struggle, however, which brought me into fruitful contact with many homosexual, ie gay, men, I carefully maintained the distinction between what is sinful and immoral on the one hand and what is criminal on the other.
Motion 30 deals with the very important question of what is authoritative for our church by dodging it. The scriptures quoted are irrelevant to the question: is sexual activity between people of the same sex sinful and disapproved by God or not sinful and therefore to be approved through blessing ceremonies performed by the church? To say that a blessing would not constitute,and be seen to constitute, approval would be to engage in unrealistic nonsense. Motion 30 fudges the approval question.
It is all very well to say, rightly of course, that Christ as our Good Shepherd "seeks to bring home to the fold every person" but that is irrelevant. There is no question but that we must welcome gay and lesbian people into our fellowship, offer them the sacraments and generally love them in every way. The key issue remains: are we additionally to approve the relationship that a person is in and has expressed a desire to maintain if that relationship involves behaviour which God has made it plain is disobedient and sinful? With the scriptures and the Christian church for nearly two thousand years I say we must not. Motion 30 says we may and should. Hence the disaster. The distinction between a person, and the relationship that that person is in should be easy and obvious.
Motion 30 says that, if they obtain two permissions, clergy, if they so wish, are"permitted to recognise in public worship a same-gender civil union or state marriage of members of their faith community." The word "recognise" is undefined,and what this means is thus left obscure, probably deliberately.
Such recognitions may occur immediately.What would a "recognition" convey to the congregation in likely practice? To answer that, assume that the clergyperson is keen on the concept of same-sex blessings. The only restriction that he or she faces is that such recognition "cannot be marriage or a rite of blessing". No one knows exactly what is, and is not, a "blessing". Is it not a blessing simply because the words "bless" or "blessing" are absent? What exactly will happen, will depend on the type of worship service that it is, and the composition of the congregation. It will be permissible for our enthusiastic clergy person to bring the couple forward, speak encouragingly to them and invite the congregation to pray for them. What will any combination of these "recognising" acts say to the people? Answer: the Church approves their relationship and the sexual activities expected to go along with it.\
The distinction between this and a "blessing" is wafer thin. While the words are different, the substance -this relationship is approved- is the same. Consequently, when same sex blessing rears its head again at the General Synod of 2016 it will be easy to portray the existence of recognitions in various parishes as blessings of a kind, and so why the fuss? Concentrate, it will be said, on the details of the "process and structure" that the working group has come up with. Same sex blessings are thus the inevitable successors of same-sex "recognitions".
In turn, same gender blessings will quickly turn into same sex marriages. I prophesy a maximum time lag of three years. Why so? Because the conceptual distinction between the two ceremonies will be seen as too thin to be bothered with.Only a few extra words need be inserted into the rite.
Bear in mind that of those (probably only a small percentage) of couples seeking a ''mere blessing", many will have recently been civilly married by a Registrar under the 2013 amendment of the marriage laws. Your ordinary kiwi will not make any sense of a distinction between blessing a civilly married couple and marrying that couple. Your average person will simply ask whether the church approves or disapproves of a particular kind of covenanted relationship.
The General Synod has committed itself to continued dialogue which "respects and protects diversity with the option of change". This is ambiguous.
Does it refer to the possibility of a change of direction away from the whole idea of same sex blessings? Or to discussions aimed at changing our liturgies and teaching within the new liberal scheme of things? The "option of change" sounds generous and humbly tentative. In truth the "way forward" is intended by the framers of the motion to be a decisive advance towards the great goals of more equality and less discrimination. I would not think the proponents have the slightest desire to allow surrender of their first and fateful step.
The motion is a classic piece of cultural accommodationism. Gerald Bray, in a recent editorial in The Churchman asks: "Are we supposed to conform our way of thinking to what the Scriptures teach, or are we free to relegate them to a historic shelf in the library and move on into a brave new world where non-churchgoers set the agenda? Is keeping articulate unbelievers quiet what we are meant to be doing?"
In the communion-wide struggle for what might be called the "soul of the Anglican church" a crucial battle has been lost in our own country, and at a time when our numbers are dwindling and the demographics look bad. I doubt if there will be an Anglican church vigorously involved in the mission of God in fifteen years time. The General Synod in my view has no power under the Constitution to introduce same-sex blessings. The Ma Whea? Commission simply and unhelpfully referred to "different interpretations" of the Constitution.
Peter Carrell writes:
Questions raised here include:
1. Does this do justice to a Two Integrities approach to same sex relationship blessings, that is, to an approach which explicitly sets out to provide space for two equal and opposite beliefs?
2. Is a Two Integrities approach - in the long run - sustainable?