My sense is that I and a few other bloggers are not alone in being dissatisfied with AWF. In fact, beating drums tell me that a number of people across many of our episcopal units are not satisfied that AWF is "the" way forward. My own summary of what we are most dissatisfied about is that, when all is said and done about the strengths and weaknesses of AWF, it does not propose a robust scheme for two integrities. Diocese by diocese choice and individual priests being able to refuse to do a blessing does not "cut it" when it comes to signing up via licensing procedures to what this church believes according to its formularies.
But I think we should pause and note that there is no particular reason to make that a great negative re the work the working group did. Let me explain: I am a great believer in arriving at the truth via failed efforts (!!), in line with Karl Popper's approach to finding by approximations what the truth is, such approximations getting ever closer on the basis of the latest approximation being falsified. If we collectively judge that AWF doesn't get us to where we think we want to be (let alone to where God wants us to be), that should be a spur to work from what has been falsified to a better position, always grateful for what AWF has illuminated for us along the way.
I think we can construct a better way forward than AWF does, and I think Trevor Morrison is correct to argue that we should. I also think he is correct to press for greater signs of mutual understanding of respective but different positions on blessings as well as to remind us that there was a vision in Motion 30 for "two integrities" which is not well developed in AWF.
At the end of the previous post I suggested that the formation of FCANZ could be significant in finding that way forward. I said that because if we are to have a "two integrities" approach then we need FCANZ to engage with the development of the concept and to sign off on any new proposal in that direction. Ditto, observing some remarks made in the paper by Peter Lineham and Mark Hendrickson linked to here last week, a group inclusive of publicly self-identifying gay and lesbian people should also engage with and sign off on such development. That is, in a new proposal, we could see ourselves heading to towards a future GS with a settled feeling that we had negotiated a peaceful outcome. Remember we go to this GS with the AWF report declaring it is not an agreed report by the whole group!
Note that the simplest, clearest form of two integrities on the matter of blessing of same-sex relationships is for there to be a formal division of our church into two separately governed churches. A schism, in other words. But or BUT no one says they want schism, no one says they want ACANZP to divide. That, surely, provides a starting point for thinking about how we might have an undivided church with two integrities within it. That starting point being that we share a commitment to not dividing our church.
Can we find another point of common interest? Yes, we can, and that point is that we commonly recognise that there are three sides in this church on this matter of blessing, none of which looks like changing its collective mind any time soon.
One side: we want blessings to happen
Another side: we do not want blessings to happen
Yet another side: we are not yet sure on the matter and we don't want to be railroaded into one or other of the other two sides. This side, incidentally, has most to lose if our church divides.
In other words, we could have a common commitment to finding a way forward which neither divides the church nor requires one side or another to give up what they believe.
Incidentally, but not insignificantly, the three sides I describe above are present simultaneously in many of our parishes and, as far as I can tell, are present in all of our episcopal units!
Naturally some readers here will wonder why I am talking about two integrities and three sides, so why not three integrities? I see the two integrities in concept as a formal way of acknowledging the right of some in our church to explicitly believe one thing and the right of some in our church to explicitly believe the opposite. The "third" side I am talking about should have their right to keep options open simply by being part of our church without pressure to choose one integrity or another.
It then strikes me that a key step towards two integrities within one church is securing agreement on what each integrity might permit the other integrity to believe and to perform.
A few weeks ago. Bosco Peters introduced the very helpful word "may" to the inter-blog discussion.
"May" is a great Anglican word because it implies a permissive (i.e. broad, liberal as in "open-minded") approach to matters of choice and of conscience.
My sense is that our church may hold together if
A. it can continue to
B. permits belief that a marriage-like relationship between two people of the same gender may be blessed providing the latter belief rests on a case* that conservatives can respect even if they do not agree with it. (A weakness of the AWF report is that it does not offer that case).
What kind of formulary?
Clearly two integrities within one church has the challenge of securing a way forward so that a blessing service is
(a) authorised for use by those who wish to use it
(b) expressive of what this church permits its members to believe concerning such a service.
That is the two integrities (however they are defined) need to act as cohorts within one church (through General Synod) in respect of (a) and (b).
My understanding of (a) and (b) is that this would need to be a formulary (i.e. a service agreed both by GS and by a majority of the diocesan synods and hui amorangi).
I am no expert so I may be out of (constitutional and canonical) line in proposing that Bosco Peters' "may" be part of any such formulary so that it is clear that the doctrine being expressed in the formulary is a matter of permitted belief and not of required belief. I invite constitutional and canonical experts to come out of their hermitages and comment!
Of course, if one reply is that "Peter, it would be unprecedented to have that kind of formulary" the easy response is "Well, Dr Expert, we are in an unprecedented situation so, just as we did with the Three Tikanga Structure in 1992, we need to invent a new way forward."
What kind of "two integrities"?
If a new way forward followed the line being taken here, two integrities would be much less about responding to a formulary for blessing a same-gender relationship and much more about how our church handles questions of ordination and appointment corresponding to two differing understandings of "rightly ordered" ordinands and clergy.
In one integrity the understanding of "rightly ordered" would remain what it currently is, in the other integrity the understanding of "rightly ordered" would be enlarged to include "ordered" same-sex partnerships.
(By "ordered" I mean, "according to some objective measure." The AWF recommends that measure be "a blessed civil marriage" but there has been criticism of that proposal and it may be that in a new proposal there is also a new proposal about what the measure should be (e.g. "a civil marriage, whether blessed or not") but here I am not going to offer further discussion on this particular issue.)
Now this is where things do get tricky and as we try to work out a better way than AWF's "diocese by diocese" approach we can see that while it is easy to criticise this particular "way forward" it is a challenge to find a better way forward. (And I am by no means confident that what I outline here is that better way forward but I think it may offer a better sense of safeguarding of convictions for individuals and for parishes than AWF's "diocese by diocese" basis).
A first level of "two integrities"
Individual office-holders, deacons, priests and bishops may wish to indicate that they identify with one integrity or the other. This likely would impact on appointment in respect of the second level.
A second level of "two integrities"
Individual parishes and other ministry units may wish to indicate that they identify with one integrity or the other. This likely would impact on aspects of working together within the same diocese where a ministry unit's identification is different to the diocese to which it belongs.
A third level of "two integrities"
Individual episcopal units may wish to indicate that they identify with one integrity or the other. This may impact on candidates offering for ordained ministry and on applicants applying for licensed positions.
A fourth level of "two integrities"
I am going to put this level in terms of a question to be resolved rather than offer my resolution(s).
How would we work through the situation when a deacon or priest and/or (a) (their) parish identify with one integrity and the licensing/overseeing bishop identifies with the other integrity?
It would take a lot more thought on my part and yours to work out whether these "two integrities" needed some kind of formality like a "warden" or a "council" to guide and facilitate each integrity. As I write I am inclined to think that the two integrities could be about making a formal note of some kind (individuals on a CV, parishes in a self-description on a website, etc). We already have these notes informally: Fred is an evangelical, St Swithin's will never have a woman as vicar, St Jeremiah's will only have a liberal theological priest who will wear a chasuble. Might we have them formally?
I have done my dash for this week. Your comments welcomed, especially any improvements.
If we were to start again while building on learnings from AWF and the process that has led to that report and its recommendations then we could consider:
- work on common ground between various sides, seeking before a GS (2018? 2020?) some agreement as to what the sides could be committed to, all premised on the promise of Motion 30 to find a way for two integrities to operate in this church;
- we take particular care that any resulting formulary expresses what people may believe and not what they must believe when signing licences and adherence to General Synod;
- we formulate an approach to "two integrities" which permits individuals, ministry units as well as dioceses to belong - if they choose - to one or other integrity or to neither;
- we attempt the very difficult if not impossible and answer the question I pose above re "Level 4";
Briefly, my own suggestion for a respectable case in conservative eyes is one which (a) acknowledges different assessments of what the Bible says and does not say about homosexuality, (b) in particular acknowledges that while the Bible is clear in its prohibitions re sex between two people of the same gender, it can reasonably (but not necessarily) be interpreted as silent on the specific question of a marriage-like relationship between two people of the same gender committed to lifelong loving partnership, (c) assesses a permanent relationship between two people of the same gender as pragmatically better than either a series of impermanent relationships or an unbearable life of celibacy, (d) acknowledges that the church itself has opened a pathway to remarriage of divorcees which takes a generous, non-literal understanding of Jesus' and Paul's own teaching on remarriage after divorce and thus as a consequence acknowledges that some couple relationships do not fit neatly into what otherwise appears the clear teaching of Scripture, and thus (e) opens the possibility that in good conscience a marriage-like relationship between two people of the same gender might be both prayed for and given thanks for by bishops/priests subscribe to this kind of case.