[The full report is accessible here. The sections under discussion in this post is accessible here and here. In these posts I am aiming to work my way forward through A Way Forward report, posting on a new section each Monday in the weeks before General Synod, May 2016. Pagination refers to the PDF version of the report.]
Section 7: The Processes of Change (pp. 21-23) and Section 8: Changes to Title D Canon 1 (p. 24)
In Section 7 AWF sets out the process of change the working group recommends which has a mix of both required process (i.e. adoption of formularies require a "twice round" process of two general synods and diocesan synods and hui amorangi between the two general synods considering the formularies) and non-required process (i.e. helpfully suggesting that even canonical changes await confirmation in 2018 after dioceses and hui amorangi have a full chance to consider revisions and new elements to canons).
What this section OMITS to tell us is that it although it is legally correct that a twice round process gets us to where we want to go (i.e. to approve or not a proposed new formulary), it is not good liturgical practice to proceed in this way. Liturgical services are more than a set of approved words, they are a set of words which the people of God both believe in and get their heads and tongues around saying. Most formularies in the life of our church (e.g. those encapsulated in A New Zealand Prayer Book) have been worked on at length by the liturgical commission of the day, trialled by congregations, and feedback from those trials have contributed to further finalising of the wording before proposing it to General Synod. There appears to be no such process envisaged here. This is not a comment on the general quality of what is proposed. Although I have not yet reached the formularies in this set of critical reflections on the report and have not considered them in detail, a "first glance" suggests they are well-written. But the liturgical trialling and careful consideration of the proposed liturgies is more than eyes reading text on a page. Only with such a process can we consider what is before us as a first draft, middle draft or worthy-to-be-voted-on final draft. What we do not want, surely, is liturgical revision on the floor of synod!
To make this point in a slightly different way, recall that the "twice round" process does not give dioceses the ability to themselves makes revisions to the texts of the proposed formularies. They have to vote up or down, yes or no to the whole text. (A memorandum may be sent to GS with the diocesan vote, recommending changes, but in the hurly-burly of "trying to get the thing through without so many revisions that the "twice round" process needs to start again" such memoranda have about as much meaning as a tissue ... just after someone has blown their nose into it!) That is, it is VERY IMPORTANT that General Synod does not, perhaps late at night when all are tired, or in the last minutes of the last morning when minds are wandering homewards, offer a flawed text to the diocesan synods and hui amorangi. AWF offers no particular recognition that what it thinks could happen simply and easily, "Here is the text, let's start the "twice round" process," likely needs a lot more time and care.
In Section 8 we simultaneously have some excellent logic at work and and the heart of the ecclesiological and theological dilemma this report and recommendations pose for our church. (To be quite fair to the working group, the constraints of Motion 30 push the logic of the report to this part of their proposals.)
The excellent logic is that if we are going to bless same-sex relationships with the same formality and solemnity that we conduct marriages, that is, if we say that God is blessing such relationships, then sheer, if not mere consistency of theo-logic requires that we also change our understanding of chastity, with particular reference to Title D Canon 1 which sets out what chastity is in respect of licensed office-holders of our church.
Thus this section proposes an addition to our current canonical understanding of chastity in which a blessed civil marriage would also count as rightly ordering a relationship and the licensed office-holder in that relationship being therefore counted as "chaste."
What then is the dilemma?
Strictly there are two dilemma. One, which I won't spend long on here, is that this definition means that (say) James was married in a registry office, perhaps back in the day when he and his wife were somewhat heathenish, and had never actually gotten round to having the marriage blessed in church, and years later following conversion, James was ordained (because counted as chaste, because married) suddenly, on the passing of this change, James would become unchaste. It seems very odd that the proposal here has no "grace" clause which refers to those civilly married after (say) the date of the passing of the amended canon or, likely more workable, after the date when civil marriage of same-sex couples was legalised by our parliament.
The major dilemma here is that the effect of this amendment, in conjunction with the ability of dioceses-by-dioceses to choose whether or not to authorise a service of blessing of civil marriages, is that we will become a church of morally ambiguous clergy. (I know, I know, some might say we already are!) That is, the Rev. Jane and Mrs. Joan Smith would be considered chaste in the Diocese of X but when they were in the Diocese of Y they would not be considered chaste.
Now, this is a dilemma, to be sure, but perhaps the question we need to ask is not whether we are prepared to live with such a dilemma or not, rather the question we perhaps need to ask is whether this dilemma is the price we pay for attempting to be a church of "two integrities."
On the one hand we may collectively give the answer that we are prepared to pay that price; on the other hand we may come to the conclusion that such a price to pay is a folly and the attempt to be a church of "two integrities" should be stopped in its tracks.
What is at stake?
Sunday by Sunday we say the creeds, and in both the Nicene and Apostolic creeds we say we believe in the "catholic" church. That means we believe in the church being an amalgam of universality, common mindedness, agreement with as many Christians through as much of time on as many matters as possible, and generally being a church which moves together in the journey to which Christ has called us.
What is proposed in the report is not catholic. It does injury to the catholic character of ACANZP. This is not the way forward. We need to think again if we are going to continue to recite the creeds in our worship.
What do you think?