Saturday, July 4, 2015

Is TEC's new doctrine of marriage heretical?

Tobias Haller writes about TEC's recent decision to canonically redefine marriage to be about two persons, not only about a man and a woman,

'The canonical amendment, in the drafting of which I participated, is, in my likely not sufficiently humble opinion, simultaneously orthodox and comprehensive. I challenge anyone opposed to it to point to any line in it that contradicts the teaching of the church. It is true that it omits reference to "man and woman" -- but omission does not constitute denial. Again, some may find this too subtle, but it is true.'

Here, it seems to me, Haller makes a claim that TEC has extended or developed its doctrine of marriage, but not created a new doctrine.

But some seem to view TEC's recent decision as a new revelation granted by the Holy Spirit. I make a comment at that post which ridicules the notion of a new revelation because it is ridiculous, except in one respect. I guess if you wish to assert a teaching which is out of step with nearly the whole of the rest of the universal church, both now and in the past, then logically you can only justify such an assertion by claiming it is valid as a new revelation. Otherwise, frankly, we are into heresy.

Heresy? Yes, because heresy is a distortion of existing doctrine which is not accepted as consistent with that doctrine by wider members of the church. (Or, heresy is acclaimed new doctrine which is not incorporated into the body of doctrine already accepted by the church).

What has TEC distorted in respect of marriage as understood by Anglicans around the world?

Let's go back to a citation in my post below:

'Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of N. and N. in Holy Matrimony. The joining of two people in a life of mutual fidelity signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and so it is worthy of being honored among all people.' from p. 98 of this TEC material, cited by Anglican Curmudgeon.

TEC's new marriage doctrine involves distorting the plain meaning of the underlying Scripture when we speak of marriage and its mysteries in relation to the mystery of the union between Christ and the church. It is bold and frank in its attempt to extend the Scriptural understanding of marriage to incorporate marriage between any two persons but the price it pays is to distort Scripture. (From this faulty basis, incidentally, the bold claim is made 'and so it is worthy of being honored among all people.' Once a church agrees to the premise and this conclusion, it must eject all its ministers who disagree.)

There is more to consider about the heretical nature of the new doctrine.

(1) It can make no claim that it is reaching back into the beginnings of the church's teaching on marriage to rediscover something which was there but then got obscured. There is no route from the teaching in Scripture and in the tradition of the church to extend the meaning of marriage from a covenantal partnership between a man and a woman to a covenantal partnership between any two persons.

(2) It can make no claim to being an understanding which either everyone, everywhere has always believed, or even nearly everyone, everywhere has nearly always believed.

(3) In respect of Haller's claim re comprehensiveness (if it be a presumption by TEC as to what it has done), we are in novel Anglican territory. Let me explain.

Previously Anglican comprehensiveness has been about the capacity of Anglicanism to live with a variety of understandings about doctrinal matters under a shared umbrella of some common understanding. The classic doctrine is eucharistic understanding. The umbrella has been acceptance that Jesus said, "This [bread] is my body." The comprehensiveness has been the acceptance of a variety of understandings of what "is" means (representation through to transubstantiation, Zwingli to Aquinas). But now Haller makes a move which is akin to the umbrella itself being the subject of comprehension, a move akin to claiming that Jesus didn't really mean "This [bread] is my body" but "Any food (including bread) is my body."

On Haller's notion of comprehensiveness, TEC is claiming that it can remain part of the Anglican body of churches while shifting its understanding of marriage from 'a man and a woman' to 'any two people (including, a man and a woman). But Anglican comprehensiveness is not an infinitely pliable concept. Haller's conception seems to be.

On his logic above 'omission does not constitute denial', marriage could be determined to mean anything, providing it did not exclude the possibility that it includes marriage between a man and a woman. Marriage between any two sentient beings or marriage between any number of sentient beings greater than one would fit his 'omission does not constitute denial.' This is plasticity not comprehensiveness.

We should ask and keep on asking, where does the Scriptural and traditional doctrine of marriage as understood by Anglicans (itself an understanding shared by most Christians around the world through Christian history, points of difference notably focused on the endings of marriage (divorce/remarriage) and not on marriage itself) require an extension which changes its own core definition?

Now, just before someone labels me a homophobic bigot, let me point out two things.

First, that the House Of Bishops has spoken warmly about the Communion Partner bishops (those bishops within the House who emphasise the importance of walking in step with the Communion) who have dissented from the recent decision on same gender marriage. We can read what the Communion Partner bishops have to say here.

Secondly, there is another way forward for Anglicans to move - a way which some Anglican churches are considering, including my own (as per Motion 30). That way is to consider the possibility that permission might be given for those who wish to bless partnerships between any two persons might do so.

An advantage of this way of proceeding is that it need not involve heresy because it need not change the doctrine of marriage. It is controversial, because not all Anglicans are willing to accept that such blessings are not prohibited by Scripture and tradition. It is a matter of continuing argument, because such a move rests on an arguable presumption that what is not addressed is not prohibited and is thereby permissible. (See comments to post below for arguments back and forth).

But it is something to consider on two grounds (at least): (1) some conscientious Anglicans (with a conscience in respect both of Scripture and tradition and in respect of gay couples in their congregations) wish to have this permission; (2) at least in countries such as Aotearoa New Zealand which legally permit gay marriage, it is appropriate that somewhere in the life of the church some manner of liturgical recognition be available for those who choose a pattern of partnership which is covenanted.

TEC, however, has gone beyond this step.

Many Anglicans around the world, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, have big questions about this step.

I am suggesting here that those questions include the very significant question of whether TEC has now committed itself to heretical doctrine of marriage.

PS For reference, the Task Force's report is here.


Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter (from the English Midlands), one cannot think that what you tend to call the traditional DOCTRINE of MARRIAGE was already compromised when the Church decided to allow Divorce and Contraception to become an accptable variation of the norm. To now protest that Same-Sex marriage is somehow a no-go area in the doctrine of Christian Marriage (whiach has already been compromised by the Church) seems somehow naive - if not dowright dishonest.

Bryden Black said...

This post Peter is a brave (though some might say, foolish) attempt at rationalizing/justifying our own ACANZ&P approach, as opposed to that of TEC - which latter one I do indeed myself see as both foolish and heretical (Matt 5:13, in the context of the Sermon on Mount, applies).

It does however raise a key question: wherein the difference between “blessing” such a partnership, and the rite of marriage itself? I have especially Ephraim Radner’s classic piece on Blessing in mind: see

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Ron
I don't think those arguments, of the two wrongs make a right kind, actually figure in the work of Tobias Haller!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bryden
I hadn't thought of my post quite like that but I see your point.
The difference between TEC and my approach is that the former involves specific change to the doctrine of marriage within the canons and to the liturgies of the church in respect of marriage, whereas the latter need not involve such change and leaves open the question whether any future compulsion could be brought to bear on clergy performing such blessings.

Brendan McNeill said...


It seems to me that we are advancing the ‘same sex relationship blessing’ argument within the Church on the basis of human equality, dignity and respect for those in committed loving relationships regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

There is no explicit endorsement or blessing of same sex relationships in Scripture, or in Church history. Even if you were to re-imagine the explicit and implicit condemnation of homosexual relationships out of Scripture, to bless such relationships remains at best extra-Biblical.

Once we abandon the example of Scripture and of Church history, then TEC is our destination.

You argue against TEC on the basis that they are redefining the Scriptural understanding of marriage being between one man and one woman. Yet what do you suppose those ‘church blessed’ gay couples get up to in the evening if it’s not living in a sexual relationship in the form of marriage - endless games of scrabble?

To bless same sex relationships is to bless same sex marriage. Without wanting to labour the point, it is the act of becoming ‘one flesh’ in sexual union that consummates the marriage, not the ceremony at the church.

Each of the three points you make opposing TEC could equally be made about same sex relationship blessings. Try substituting the phrase into the text and you will see exactly what I mean.

Passing motion 30 means we have already conceded the point, and it’s authors understand that completely. How can anyone deny marriage for those whose loving and enduring relationship God has already blessed through the ministry of the Church?

The only difference between TEC and the NZ Anglican Church is that TEC have dispensed with the niceties of gradualism.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Brendan
You could be right!
However I remain committed to the following assessments:
1. ACANZP has some different dynamics to TEC and we are not destined to end up where they have.
2. Yes there are - obviously - similarities between blessing a same gender partnership and marriage between a man and a woman. But there is a difference between changing the current teaching on marriage (a la TEC) and retaining it.
3. If ACANZP is to hold together either the status quo or something like what I am proposing might enable this to happen. Anything further in the TEC direction then my confidence that we could hold together drops as low as the temperature in Chch tonight!
To be frank, I think you are wrong on a couple of things about Motion 30!
4. The authors of this Motion are effectively the whole of General Synod (for it was a much reworked motion) and thus to talk about it in the way you have presumes, in my view, too much about what "it's authors understand ... completely."
5. Motion 30 also speaks unreservedly about upholding the 'traditional doctrine of marriage'. I have some hope that that will remain so.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Brendan
You could be right!
However I remain committed to the following assessments:
1. ACANZP has some different dynamics to TEC and we are not destined to end up where they have.
2. Yes there are - obviously - similarities between blessing a same gender partnership and marriage between a man and a woman. But there is a difference between changing the current teaching on marriage (a la TEC) and retaining it.
3. If ACANZP is to hold together either the status quo or something like what I am proposing might enable this to happen. Anything further in the TEC direction then my confidence that we could hold together drops as low as the temperature in Chch tonight!
To be frank, I think you are wrong on a couple of things about Motion 30!
4. The authors of this Motion are effectively the whole of General Synod (for it was a much reworked motion) and thus to talk about it in the way you have presumes, in my view, too much about what "it's authors understand ... completely."
5. Motion 30 also speaks unreservedly about upholding the 'traditional doctrine of marriage'. I have some hope that that will remain so.

Father Ron Smith said...

It seems to me - tell me if I'm wrong - that certain people on this blog have, not so subtly, moved from the position of absolute oppositiont to Same Sex BLESSINGS, when confronted with the very real possibiliy of ACANZP approval of Same-Sex MARRIAGE, to actual consideration of the proposal to allow for S/S Blessings, rather than the possible alternative.

If this is the case, it would be interesting to know the theological basis of their change of mind on the subject. Is this apparent change of mind due to a new spiritual insight, or merely as a kneejerk reaction to the prospect of SSM?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
If you are talking about me ... then:
- I don't think ACANZP is at all close to proposing that SSM be approved any time soon;
- I am trying to read the signs, especially in the light of Motion 30, and those signs tell me that SSB is a distinct possibility;
- I am trying to respect the movement and the movers of the movement towards SSB (e.g. by not calling for them to be expelled from our church);
- I am asking whether those of us who are against SSM and SSB can accommodate some change (i.e. SSB) and implicitly I am asking those eager for SSM whether they might accommodate those so opposed by agreeing to a lesser ambition (i.e. SSB).
- if a simple proposal for (say) SSB came to a vote in a forum I was entitled to vote in, I would likely vote against it;
- if a more complex proposal came to such a forum (say for some to be permitted to conduct SSB while affirming the status quo on our doctrine of marriage), then I am open to voting for such a proposal as a recognition that we are trying to be one church with disagreement in our midst.

I'll leave it to you to work out whether you are right or wrong. I think you are wrong, but not too far wrong!

Brendan McNeill said...

Hi Peter

I have a question you may be able to help me with. How does the blessing of a committed, loving sexual relationship between two gay men differ from (say) the church blessing a committed and loving sexual relationship between a man and a woman outside of marriage?

Think for example of two University students, John and Miriam who are in their late teens, early 20’s and who regularly attend their local Anglican Church. They have just witnessed their fellow students Bill and Andrew have their same sex relationship blessed by the Church, and would equally like to experience God’s blessing on their loving and intimate relationship through the ministry of the Church.

Does the New Zealand Anglican Church differentiate between these two couples, and if so on what basis?

If the church doesn’t differentiate between them, ie both can be blessed by the Church in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, then what remains of the Apostle Peter’s instruction to the gentile churches in Acts 15:29 ‘to abstain from sexual immorality’?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Brendan
I will treat your excellent question as though the future has arrived, since currently no legal permission for same gender blessings exists. But that means I will be making some presumptions about what 'might' be the case!

(1) A possible legal answer is that our canons would be such that a priest would have discretion to offer marriage to the heterosexual couple and blessing to the same gender couple but not blessing to the heterosexual couple.

(2) A possible theological explanation in respect of (1) is that the church expects couples to live an ordered life in respect of sexual intercourse. For a heterosexual couple this means marriage (as has always been the case). For a same gender couple this would now mean a blessed relationship, one which is now offered as a means by which the church provides for an ordered life together while not confusing such a life with marriage between a man and a woman.

In respect of your last question, even if the church were to bless both kinds of relationships, 'to abstain from sexual immorality' would mean (at least) (a) to abstain from sexual relationships with third parties, and (b) to especially abstain from sex with prostitutes (that, scholars seem to think, was a particular target of verses such as Acts 15:29, fraught as such relationships were in that time with confusion about idolatry).

Brendan McNeill said...

Hi Peter

Thank you for your reply, because I believe there is a ‘Pandora’s box’ of unintended consequences for the Church if we affirm same sex blessings.

First up, your initial point is clearly discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation.

As a result we enter the realm of absurdity where you are suggesting that God’s rules for sexual activity are less restrictive for gays and lesbians than they are for heterosexual couples. You are suggesting that gay men can have Church blessed sex outside of marriage, whereas heterosexual couples cannot.

If you respond to the above point along the lines that God intended sex to be exclusively for married couples, (as most Christians would) then all of a sudden you have exposed the fallacy of the same sex blessing argument. However, if you argue (as I think you are) that ‘exceptions can be made’, then you are forced to explain why you are making exceptions for gays and lesbians, and not for heterosexuals, and then on what Scriptural basis you are making them.

You cannot logically defend restrictions on extra marital sexual activity for heterosexual couples without applying that same measure to gay couples.

Finally, are you suggesting that fornication is no longer a sexual sin, and therefore does not fall into the Biblical definition of ‘immorality’ Acts 15:29?

Or is it only considered fornication if heterosexuals engage in sex outside of marriage, whereas for gay couples, sex outside of marriage is ‘sex to be blessed’?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Brendan
There may be a Pandora's box of unintended consequences if the church changes the status quo but there might also be a Pandora's box if we do not (e.g. legally married people might go public asking why they are unworthy to be appointed to (say) a licensed office of the church despite being married in the eyes of the law ... ministers might struggle to explain to a Mike Hosking or Heather du Plessis-Allen why they treat legally married gay people as though they are fornicators etc ...

I take exception, however, to your comment 'that gay men can have Church blessed sex outside of marriage, whereas heterosexual couples cannot.' That is an unfair reading of what I said might prove to be the case: the point of any change would be to set up a clear standard of what 'ordered sexual relationships' were understood to be by the church. To then say of one group of ordered people that 'you are immoral because you are not heterosexually married' would be precisely the opposite of what the changes were setting out to do. The very least we would be asking of each other if we remain together in a church which both upholds traditional marriage and offers blessing of same gender relationships is that we do not then make the kinds of comments you make above. In such a church it would be appropriate to argue for traditional marriage but not to speak against couples whose relationships were blessed.

Yes, indeed, my initial point is that a discriminatory situation would exist. It often does when we set out to 'order' people in the church: deacons are not priests are not bishops are not laypersons. Yes, indeed it would be on the basis of orientation. That necessarily follows from adhering to marriage being between a man and a woman. I think it would also prove to be discriminatory if we maintained the status quo, because same gender couples, legally married in the eyes of the state could continually point out that the church continues to refuse to bless their marriages while blessing the marriages of men and women!

I am not personally suggesting that fornication is no longer a sin. Some scholars debate the meaning of 'porneia' and whether fornication is a sin while accepting that consorting with prostitutes is/was definitely a sin.

Brendan McNeill said...

Thanks Peter

I’m blunt about the sex because quite frankly, what else does it mean to be gay?

I agree that we are called to discriminate in the church, I was simply pointing out the irony of the church potentially discriminating in favour of homosexual practice by placing fewer limitations upon it. Who would have thought?

What in your view would a clear standard of ‘ordered sexual relationships’ look like for gay men in the church?

How can anyone argue for ‘traditional marriage’ in the church without by implication condemning those whose sexual practices fall outside that definition, however ‘blessed’ they may be?

If you agree that fornication is still a sin, then is gay sex sinful?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Brendan
I think gay people might say there is more to their relationships than sex!

I am not sure how ordering a relationship similar to marriage would put 'less restrictions' on it! I have never come across any discussion of blessing of same sex partnerships that has presumed anything less than stable, faithful, permanent, loving partnerships, akin to marriage.

Absolutely one could argue for traditional marriage in terms that include that it is the only relationship within which sexual intercourse can take place with God's blessing. By implication of such definition then all other sexual relationships constitute fornication or adultery.

I am imagining a situation in which the church agrees to retain marriage as is, but also permits priests who choose to do so to bless same gender partnerships. In that case I think the church, at the least because of etiquette would ask those promoting traditional marriage to mute associated talk which implied that blessed same gender partnerships were on a moral par with fornication.

Anglican accommodation of difference has normally involved some compromise ...

Of course those pushing for equal marriage in our church might not want to have a bar of what I am proposing. I have history re proposing compromises that no one else thinks much of :)

Brendan McNeill said...

Hi Peter

Thank you. I understand what you are saying.

However for the sake of clarity I seek your theological perspective on the four relationships outlined below.

a) A man has sex with a woman who is not his wife. As Christians we call that sin, either fornication or adultery depending upon his marriage status.

Scripturally and pastorally, we believe he needs to repent and at the very least seek forgiveness from God. I imagine this is still the Anglican perspective?

b) The same man has sex with another man (who is not his wife). Presumably we call that sin also? The requirement for repentance and forgiveness remains the same as in (a) above?

c) The same man neither repents, nor seeks forgiveness, and moves in with his female partner in a stable enduring sexual relationship. We used to call that ‘living in sin’, albeit you don’t hear that phrase used socially these days.

I presume we would both agree that Scripturally, that is not a ‘God ordered relationship’, neither is it one that God or the Anglican Church can bless?

d) The same man neither repents, nor seeks forgiveness, and moves in with his male partner in a stable enduring sexual relationship. I’m not sure what we used to call that, but living in sin is probably a reasonable approximation.

However somewhere along the timeline of this relationship the Anglican Church of New Zealand now believes that a miracle takes place, and whereas ‘a one night stand’ was sinful, the enduring nature of this relationship transforms the sin into righteousness. This releases the Church to bless these same sex relationships in a way that honours God and is pleasing in his sight.

I’d be delighted if you could explain to me theologically how that transformation works.

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter, thanks for your itemised reply to my last question (on your own behalf, not that of others on ADU). I must say that, compared to the comments of B,M., your attitude towards the accommodation of the Church's acceptance of the Blessing of faithfully monogamous S/S Relationships is much more eirenic. But then, you are an educator who has to engage with such matters in as eirenic a way as you can find possible - despite your instinctive personal reservations. There is an integrity about your position.

What really worries me is those who simply refuse to engage in the necessary dialogue, without regard for the pastoral implications of the need to make the very best of the situation of Christian LGBT people who deserve the same possibility of an ordered one-to-one relationship as other people. It is not ALL about sexual activity!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Brendan
In some ways it is for those advocating for same sex blessings to answer your questions!
In my understanding unfaithfulness to marriage vows is unfaithfulness to marriage vows (i.e. adultery), and lack of repentance means a state of continuing sin, so in all four situations sin is committed and not repented of.
The kind of transformation you refer to is not, however, that difficult to imagine in regard to another set of circumstances:
a young couple begin sleeping together, then decide to commit to marriage: that is a transformation from a state of sin to a state of blessedness, is it not?
Within a church ordering lives through blessing of same sex partnerships, would not a similar transformation take place if two men form a couple and then later decide to commit to a lifelong, faithful partnership which is blessed in the church?
(Conversely, in the eyes of those who do not think such blessings should be granted, then nothing changes. But that differentiation in assessment within the church also occurs in another situation:

John and Jane divorce and later John marries Jessica (in church): some Christians say that is okay (providing John has repented of his wrong-doing re divorce) while others say that as long as Jane lives, John is committing adultery by being married to Jessica.
While we are asking questions of each other, perhaps I could ask you whether you think John is committing adultery or not?

Kurt said...

“Many Anglicans around the world, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, have big questions about this step.”—Peter Carrell

Perhaps so, but most of them—particularly those in the West—are unlikely to demand the “expulsion” of the American Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion because of them. This is particularly true when they watch the demographic trends in the churches of the West.

In America, for example, Millennials are far less likely to put up with what they believe is anti-gay or anti-woman bigotry than most other cohorts. This is true for the majority of Millennial Evangelical youth as well—young men and women under age 35, a near majority of whom now support same-sex marriage. It is not unimportant that gay student organizations have recently formed at Evangelical liberal arts colleges across the United States, including such leading Evangelical schools such as Wheaton College in Illinois and Baylor College in Texas.

And, to my mind, anyone who spouts the “Sydney Anglican” line of lay celebration of the Holy Communion/Mass, or of so-called “Male Headship” doctrine has a lot of insolence lobbing “h” stones at TEC!

But, then, the American Episcopal Church has been used to such controversy for over 230 years…We are still here and most of our critics have been forgotten…

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Anonymous said...

I think we need to tread very carefully when it comes to couples who are 'living together'. It seems clear to me that in the Old Testament one of the ways to legally contract a marriage was intercourse; there is evidence for 'wedding feasts' but I don't know anything about ancient Israelite wedding services or even whether or not vows were used. And of course Paul is on record as saying that the act of intercourse makes a couple 'one flesh' - the very phrase Genesis uses to describe marriage.

So I think the sea is considerably muddy when you have a cohabiting couple who are committed to each other and have every intention of staying together for life. I think you could make a strong Old Testament argument that they are married in the eyes of God.

Tim Chesterton

Undergroundpewster said...

In TEc, the approval of same-sex blessings led to the leap into the heresy of same-sex marriage. I would discourage you from going there. I agree that this is a heresy, but it is only a manifestation of a deeper heresy: revisionism. We in TEc have as watched men like Haller have manipulated the words of Scripture to get to this point. The revisionist fallacy or heresy is a seductive trap.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tim
There are indeed many questions to ask ourselves re "living together":
- is it de facto marriage? Often it is. (Theologically, it could be argued that it always is so).
- is it always de facto marriage? No because a missing factor can be the commitment to live this way permanently.
- should (say) a Vestry making appointments to parish leadership expect couples to be married according to legal form in order to have clarity re marriage status? It would help ...!
- Etc

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Underground Pewster
I am publishing your comment with considerable caution: whatever we think about how some in TEC handle Scripture, a word such as 'manipulate' is unlikely to forward the debate to some happy ending place.

I quite accept that 'blessings' might be a stage on a slippery slope, but I suggest much depends on the make up of the church considering that step. In TEC's case the drift away from it by conservatives has always continued to weaken opposition to the next step (whatever the merits of leaving may have been).

Here in ACANZP, it would be foolish to predict the future, but I am prepared to say that I have some confidence that if we do not have departures then we will have a church with a different politics to TEC's.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Peter, thanks for your reflections. I think if you return to Ephesians and look at the whole of the document, you will find that the "mystery" of Christ and the Church is not only (or even primarily) about the union of husband and wife. It is also about the union of Jew and Gentile -- now that the dividing wall has been knocked down. The union of persons is the mystery to which Ephesians points.

Naturally I would agree that the author of Ephesians likely would have found the notion of the union of two men or two women to be passing strange. He is, after all, writing from his own religious base. However, he would never have suggested that two men or two women did not become united by virtue of their baptism. So the question has to be about the nature of union -- and Paul warns (in 1 Cor) about the danger of marital or sexual union between a believer and a non-believer, or where true union is not intended, so perhaps the emphasis really ought to be on something other than sex and on the mystery by which people come to reflect the unity of Christ with the Church, or indeed of the Persons of the Trinity, the mystery from before the beginning of Creation.

So before you charge "heresy" perhaps you might want to look more closely at just why people have long held that only a man and a woman can be united in marriage. Do these reasons reflect a sound theological principle? Those bishops, priests / deacons, and laity who voted in an overwhelming majority to make these provisions have looked at the arguments, which have been going on in our province for about 40 years, and come to the conclusion that the sound theology opens the door to marriage equality. Rehashing the old arguments against will not persuade them that they were mistaken, as these arguments have been weighed and found wanting.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tobias
I am open to the possibility that today's 'heresy' is tomorrow's 'orthodoxy' (and, perhaps the reverse, I guess Arianism for a while looked like the orthodoxy of its day). If other Anglican churches steadily follow TEC's lead then I will be the heretic and TEC will be the champion of orthodoxy. :)

For me to be persuaded by your/TEC's arguments, I would need greater confidence that Paul in Ephesians could have seen the union of two believers as encapsulating the mystery of Christ's union with the church. Obviously it is speculation what he would say if he were commenting here, but the fact remains that when he was very keen on the notion of our union in Christ as believers, he nevertheless chose to use imagery from marriage.

I am unconvinced (here purely re exegesis of Ephesians 5, politics of sexuality aside) that "It is also about the union of Jew and Gentile -- now that the dividing wall has been knocked down. The union of persons is the mystery to which Ephesians points." Yes, the second sentence is true in respect of the overall thrust of Ephesians towards church unity without dividing walls, and towards understanding what it means to be one body. But the union re marriage and the mystery is the specific unity of Christ the head with the church the body of Christ, not the unity of the body.

Tackling this from another angle, for TEC's commitment to equal marriage to move from being viewed with disfavour by the rest of the Communion, on your arguments here and in your other publication, the Communion would need to persuade itself something like this: 'what Paul really meant was not X [traditional marriage etc] but Y [an underlying spiritual union, between any two persons].' Is that not a huge ask, that we be persuaded that after two thousand years of believing Paul meant X, he really meant Y?

Yes, TEC has now made that shift. Call me a man of little faith and foresight, but I just can't see that argument flying outside of the particular (unique?) context of the US in respect of the whole sociological drive towards equal marriage? At best there might be a few other countries where a similar context would arise. Even in my own country which has equal marriage by law, I don't see the momentum for hermeneutical change in our church ...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Peter. That is, certainly, one way to read Ephesians; and it has the credit of being the way it has been read for some time -- the translations now even favoring it. But I think the Greek (and older translations, such as the KJV) reflect a very different understanding, including "Paul" (I accept that authorship though many don't) catching himself and saying, "But I speak of Christ and of the Church." In other words, it isn't marriage that is the mystery, but the paschal relationship of Christ in union with his Body, that is his real concern, and is a mystery that informs how a husband should treat his wife. Ephesians 5-6 can be seen as an expansion of Colossians 3, with more theological reflection; but I think it is an inversion of Paul's intent to think that he is claiming such a high place for marriage -- esp. given his more substantive views in 1 Cor. No, I think this is a theologized paraenesis -- answering the question of how husbands should treat their wives; that is, as Christ did the church. It seems that all human beings are called to serve each other as gifts to each other, paschal and personal. The base theological question in Ephesians, then, is "How do the many become one." I don't think it takes a great hermeneutical effort to read Ephesians in this way, as it makes greater sense of the whole, and is more consistent with the rest of the Pauline corpus (esp 1 Cor and Colossians.)

As to the rest of the communion, I think you will soon see others making similar shifts for similar reasons. I know that Scotland and Brasil are headed this way. I suspect Southern Africa may not be too far behind. Who, after all, would have thought that change could come so quickly, even in America? Nor do I think that sociology is the driving force; I suspect instead a convergent evolution, in which similar challenges to social mores and traditional theological views both collapse under the weight of their inadequacy.

Of course, that doesn't mean the old view is necessarily wrong -- but it is losing ground. I take comfort in knowing that the church can err, and that goes for the past as well as the present. Fifty years from now, I venture to think the landscape will be very changed.

Thanks again, and all blessing....

Father Ron Smith said...

Tim, I find myself, for once in agreement with you - on the issue of the basis of heterosexual union, which might well be considered to be 'marriage'. After all, even the law recognises a de facto relationship as tantamount to marriage. We have a daughter who, amongst her various educational attainments, studied Feminism at university level. She and her partner are in a loving, monogamous, faithful relationship, with a beautiful daughter of their union. I would love to cement their relationship by marrying them in the Chuch. However, for their own reasons, not entirely unconnected with their combined views of both Church and State involvement in the business of marriage, have decided to live together for the rest of their lives, while they have love for one another. Diana and I cannot argue against that level of commitment. They do not see the Church as an entirely satisfactory arbiter of the inclusivity they find in its Founder!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tobias
(I appreciate that you are not wanting to linger in the conversation, so the following remarks are for other commenters to reflect on, as much as anyone ...).

Yes, the issue Paul deals with is how husbands are to love their wives etc, but along the way he nails a particular view of marriage as Christians were understanding it.

Can we vary that in the way you argue? Perhaps. But if so, I think we can observe that such an argument (re the union of many in the church) would work very well as an argument for polygamy; that is, the argument advanced might not be quite the argument the church in the long run would actually like to make.

On the question of 'losing ground' I think we need to ask whether it is losing ground within global Christianity, or within a few Anglican churches associated with countries where sociological/legal change to marriage has been rapid ...

Bryden Black said...

In response to a number of lines of conversation, which I sense are truly getting down to some avenues that require attention re SSM and/or SSB.

Peter drew our attention to this link where Andrew Goddard at Psephizo poses some questions about sexual ethics in the light of same gender marriage - I have to say I found it helpful and important. Not least, as I understand it, English Law re same-sex relationships currently makes no provision for ‘divorce’ on the grounds of any lack of ‘consummation’ - as of course was traditionally the case. That fact should make us sit up and contemplate what is in fact happening in our midst.

Then; thanks Tobias for your direct involvement with ADU; good to have you back! But I have to comment upon your take re Ephesians. I am not convinced that the Letter as a “whole” has to do with the One and the Many (my capitalization). That issue is more akin to the Forest Debates of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad or many a Hellenistic philosopher of old. True; there are some parallels to be drawn, as those in the Tradition have pointed out and discussed; and cf. Colin Gunton’s Bampton Lectures. Yet the triune nature of God is really rather different in the end, given the irreducible identity of each of the Persons, what is known in Latin as their proprium or in Greek their idiotēs. And this feature of Orthodox Trinitarianism would go severely against your own argument, I fancy, when we come to consider two humans of the same gender reflecting in marriage, in whatever distant or analogous way, this interplay of mutual submission/humility (ala 5:(18-) 21) or kenosis among the Godhead. That’s the first and most important pair of points.

Thereafter, while I concede it is just possible to construe the paraenetic nature of Paul’s train of thought, I fancy again most modern EVV are correct to render as they do over against the older KJV - which then certainly colours one’s overall interpretation of the section and then the entire Letter. But lastly, I have to agree with you [phew!] that Paul is most probably the ‘author’ of this Letter, with Luke most probably his amanuensis (or so Ralph Martin has persuaded me). It’s a wonderful argument based on real lexical, detective work; enjoy!

Finally, heresy. At this stage of the history of the Ecumene, this departure from the classical, conjugal view of marriage is nothing but heresy. We Prots always did have a rather vaunted view of ourselves!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Peter, and Bryden.

I agree that Paul's view of the spousal relationship is very much as his culture understood it. As the letter continues (again echoing Colossians) he reflects current views of the relationship of parents and children, and masters and slaves. So the question has to be, What is he introducing into these cultural mores that makes them distinctively Christian? The Task Force on the Study of Marriage explored that question WRT marriage. I wonder, have you read our study? It is much more in depth than I can hope to summarize in this comment box!

Bryden, I did not mean to reference the Trinity WRT marriage as such -- I actually agree that is not a good analogia entis as far as it goes. Rather I'm referencing it as part of the ecclesiastical union to which John refers ('that they may be one as you and I are one') which is also reflected in the union of the one Christ with the one Church (itself a composite of the many members). The ultimate mystery, per John, Paul, and even the Parmenides! -- is the One. The Unity of the Godhead is of course absolutely sui generis.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tobias
I'm not sure which part of the report you are referring to, but I have read two lots of material on Ephesians within the essays. What I find is a tendency to consistently refer to 'spouses' and not to husbands and wives, so the exercise seems to become one in which the required conclusion is already part of the premises. I also find a consistent exercise in abstraction re the ethics/moral values of marriage, but no great attempt to value the specific concrete reality of a man and a woman being required for a marriage. If the key to marriage is love and not a man and a woman then (ipso facto) marriage can be for any two persons who love each other. Finally, on the matter of (so to speak) the greater union/mystery of which Paul speaks in Ephesians, Jews and Gentiles forming one new humanity as part of the uniting of all things, it is precisely the uniting of Jew and Gentile, with their specific differences (we might note, not only cultural and religious, but also physical via circumcision!) which is the mystery, so also marriage with the specific differentiation between man and woman.

I mention these things not to draw you into rebuttal - that exists in the Task Force report and on your blog - but to lay out some reasons on my part why I do not find the arguments convincing. In turn, my very strong suspicion is that the case which has persuaded TEC's GC will not convince the wider Communion, and thus my contention remains that TEC is walking apart doctrinally on this matter.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Peter. I dare say we both come to our reading influenced by our predispositions, and I very much doubt we shall ever agree as to a "proper" reading short of the Day when all is made clear and we know as we are known. I trust that at that time, God will welcome us both, not for the rightness of our interpretation, but because we are His, and have shown such love for the church, his Body on earth, that we will be invited to share in that bliss in heaven.

God bless and keep you always...