Dean Martyn Percy in his essay bursting onto the Anglo-Blogosphere this week - see previous post - does not offer a way forward for the Communion as the Primates gather in January 2016 (IMHO) but he does say some important things along the way. In churches such as my own, wrestling our way towards General Synod, May 2016, with questions dividing us about how we remain faithful to the gospel as a message of God's welcoming love as well as of kingdom living according to God's Holy Word, Percy has a point to ponder. The simplest way to get the point to you is to cite a longish section from the essay (accessed from Modern Church's home page here). My comments are italicised.
First, what is arguably the most workable compromise in a church in which people of opposing views wish to find a way to stay together and live with those opposing views:
"Yet other churches have faced the divisive issue of sexuality with a bit more
nuance. The Church of Scotland, for example, deemed that same-sex
relationships were a ‘matter of liberty of conscience, guaranteed by the
Church, on matters that do not enter into the substance of faith’. Here, the
question of same-sex relationships was left to the liberty of conscience of
individuals, congregations and their ministers."
The advantage of this way forward is mutual respect and affirmation of "the other":
"Thus, a few might say that they cannot support same-sex relationships, and
never will. But a quieter majority of others might think otherwise, and
therefore affirm such relationships. The liberty of conscience applied here is
still a matter of beliefs and practice, but not one that ultimately divides
members of the church, who are all mutually affirmed as still ascribing to the
core substance of Christian faith."
Percy is not satisfied with what happened in the final decision making of the Church of Scotland. I would part company with him on this criticism. I think it too much to expect churches not to reaffirm "the 'traditionalist' line ... as the normative-default position." I think ACANZP would divide badly - with an "unholy row" if we went the Percy way rather than the Scottish way:
"That carefully worded phrase, which was supposed to bring peace to the
Church of Scotland, almost succeeded. Almost. The intention in the drafting of
the ‘liberty of conscience’ clause was to accommodate revisionists and
traditionalists alike, liberals and conservatives. In many ways, it aped that
beloved Anglican ideal – an ‘ecclesial DNA’ of inclusive dynamic conservatism
that characterises the polity of the church.
Unfortunately for the Kirk, however, when the debate on sexuality took place
at the General Assembly in 2014, the ‘traditionalist’ line was reaffirmed as the
normative-default position. Although the Kirk subsequently permitted
congregations and ministers to opt out if they wanted to affirm civil
partnerships. This was done to ‘keep the peace of the church’, of course – and
avoid an unholy row."
That was a pity, because there are two problems with this compromise, and
they are ones that the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Anglican Primates,
would do well to avoid next month. First, the concession maintains
discrimination and perpetuates an injustice against lesbian, gay and bisexual
people, and so runs contrary to the spirit of the 2010 Equality Act in the UK.
Second, and despite initial appearances, the two interpretations of ‘liberty of
conscience’ are not in fact symmetrical. They appear to be chiral, so to speak;
but there is one crucial difference to note."
Percy offers the following allegory to support his position on the importance of symmetry rather than asymmetry in churches inclusion of same sex partnerships. Does it work? Does it help the argument he is making?
"And here, an allegory may be helpful. There is a world of difference between
going to an ordinary restaurant and requesting a vegetarian option, and going
to a vegetarian restaurant and asking for a steak, medium-rare. The first
scenario is fine and has sense – no decent restaurant menu is without
vegetarian options. But we would rightly regard the second scenario as nonsense.
Indeed, potentially rather offensive to vegetarians – and entirely
against the spirit of the restaurant.
Yet by making heterosexual relationships the exclusive and traditional default
position, the Kirk effectively chose this second scenario. The relatively small
numbers of traditionalists and conservatives who reject same-sex unions and
gay marriage in churches, are, in effect, dictating the menu for everyone else.
In this allegory gay people are fully part of the mainstream of the population.
The majority are usually quite happy to eat vegetarian food; just not all the
time. But that same majority would not think of insisting vegetarians
occasionally ate meat. That would be non-sense."
The next paragraphs are particularly aimed at the situation in the CofE, with regard to its role as "national church", a role no other Anglican church has in the Communion. But there are sentences which pertain to life in ACANZP. I have underlined those:
"Living with Diversity:
One key ecclesial question flows simply from this allegory: how might churches
manage to live well with constrained differences and minorities? Moreover, in
a way that does not stigmatise minorities, and caters for them in a nondiscriminatory
Is this a recipe for diversity of practice that inexorably leads to irreparable
disunity? Not really. The Church of England already knows how to live with
this kind of reality. Some of the more catholic-inclined clergy and
congregations already exercise their liberty of conscience on women priests
and women bishops. They’ve opted out, and reasonable (some would say
overly generous) provision is made for them. Some of the more evangelically inclined
clergy and congregations don’t always hold services that technically
conform to stricter interpretations of canon law on robing or liturgy; they also
exercise a liberty of conscience.
In neither case are these clergy or congregations cast out. They are catered for;
or even permitted to self-cater. And although both these groups might claim
to hold more firmly to the truth than others, no-one is asked to dine
elsewhere, so to speak. No established church can afford to de-nationalise
itself on an issue that is now treated as a matter of equality and justice by the
state. Civil partnerships and same-sex marriages, and those entering into
these unions, enjoy the full protection of the law, and majority affirmation by
the population as a whole. For any national church to turn its face away from
those who are full and equal citizens, and have their unions and marriages
recognised as such, effectively augments a process of de-nationalisation and
privatisation. It is a route-march towards a tribal church.
The church becomes, in effect, a sad and unwelcoming restaurant with a
rationed menu, where the diners who tried to order a meat dish were made to
feel terribly guilty. Or more likely, quietly asked by the sullen owner, or
embarrassed waiter, to take their custom elsewhere. The diners duly leave.
In effect, this is the adopted position of the Church of England by the current
Archbishop. But a national church must cater for the whole palate of the
population. That is what a broad church does."
Whether we Kiwis think we have become or are becoming a "tribal church" is a moot point!