A couple of comments here in recent days have provided some food for thought on issues which relate both to current movement in our church towards some kind of rapprochement on same-sex partnerships and generally to questions of what it means to be church in the world.
One question is whether justice and catholicity are bound together (as in "true catholicity is always just; true justice is coherent with catholicity") or may - in at least some circumstances - be opposed to one another.
Another question is whether the church is bound to recognise what the State decides.
Justice and Catholicity, Justice versus Catholicity?
If catholicity is the universally recognised truth that God has revealed to us, combined with universal recognition among Christian people of what is naturally right, appropriate, fair and proportionate, that is, agreed truth, then catholicity and justice are not at odds with each other. They are coherent.
If then I say (in brief summary): catholicity means marriage is between a man and a woman, and another says (in brief summary): justice means marriage equality, then, first, it looks like justice is contrary to catholicity. Secondly, it looks like (depending on perspective) one trumps the other. Certainly in my recall of various debates both within our church and within the Anglican Communion, I have heard and read assertions and arguments which look like one is to be discarded in favour of the other.
But if my starting supposition about catholicity, "agreed truth", is correct then justice is never opposed to catholicity and thus when it appears otherwise, either "justice" or "catholicity" is misunderstood.
In the present case it is inconceivable that catholicity misunderstands the core understanding of marriage. It is too much of a stretch to say that catholicity which, remember, is the universality of belief from past ages as well as in the present ages, does not and has not really meant by marriage that it is between a man and a woman but could be between any gendered couple. Catholicity understands with biblical support within the Judeo-Christian tradition that marriage is a one flesh union of two different genders, male and female. So justice (that is, justice understood as coherent with catholicity or agreed truth among Christians) does not and cannot claim that marriage equality is demanded by God (i.e. as an implication of God's revelation about the kingdom of God).
Justice may demand and appropriately claim, coherent with catholicity, that all people are treated with dignity and respect, and that in civil society, forming bonds of faithfulness, mutual love and covenanted commitment are respected and supported in law (because such things contribute to a just society). Hence churches for the most part in a country such as ours have not particularly organised against first, civil union legislation and then, secondly, against equal marriage legislation. There has been a recognition by the churches that justice understood to be coherent with catholicity is not a shared belief with all civil society about what constitutes justice. Justice in modern Western civil society has diverged from justice based on and framed by Christian revelation. To argue against same-sex marriage being enabled by civil legislation has been to expose the churches to the risk of appearing to be against justice, in a world which thinks its understanding of justice is the same as the churches'. The churches have rightly accepted that that risk could undermine its witness to the gospel more than the existence of legal same-sex marriage.
Nevertheless the Western churches are now in a fraught situation of wishing both to uphold a catholic understanding of marriage and a catholic understanding of justice while refusing to agree that justice as understood by the wider society should drive home a change to the catholic understanding of marriage.
Church versus State?
When Jesus warns his followers that they are likely to be arrested by civil authority, tried and tested for their testimony to him, he clearly and rightly makes a distinction between obligation to his kingdom and obligation to the kingdoms of this world.
When Paul, writing in Romans 13, warmly endorses the authority of the State in general (but including the particular Roman State to which he was subject as a citizen) as being an authority authorised by God, he speaks clearly and rightly to the situation in which most Christians most of the time find themselves: living in a State which orders the affairs of its citizens for the outcomes of order, justice and security.
Our problem as Christians is mostly not whether we obey the State or respect the State when it makes laws we do not agree with. But sometimes it is. Sometimes we have found ourselves in Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Russia or their equivalent. But the challenge we face in respect of same-sex marriage is not to be compared with such rogue States. We are in a more ambiguous situation. In NZ, for instance, we have found ourselves living in a State which has determined that parents may not smack their children. Objectionable though that may be to some (because against the Bible's teaching, because against a traditional method of discipline, because against common sense that a quick smack saves hours of negotiation ...:) ) we recognise both that the State has the right under God to make such decisions and also that in making such a decision some aspects of justice, especially for vulnerable children, are being served. Ditto, same-sex marriage.
So when I moot that the church might find ways to recognise relationships that the State recognises, I am simultaneously raising the question whether the State has exercised its divine authority appropriately or evilly. I do not accept the latter. I accept that not all may think it is the former. But there is another question lurking here. Mostly States such as our NZ one act via parliamentary democracy which, despite its many faults, tends to reflect not the will of the parliamentarians but the will of the people (who will de-elect them if unhappy). That is, same-sex marriage legislation is not simply "the State making a decision." It is our society expressing its views via legislation.
So talk here of the church recognising relationships provided for by the State is simultaneously talk about recognising relationships affirmed in our society (which often means affirmed within our own families as, e.g., a nephew marries his boyfriend and the extended family, perhaps slightly unsure about what to do, nevertheless, turns up to show aroha and commitment to being a family and all circumstances).
Of course, we may not think the church should do this recognising. We may think even considering doing so shows a lack of faithfulness to God's Word. We may have personally made a decision not to attend the aforementioned hypothetical nephew's wedding.
But is there not a question here, whatever our views, of how the church makes a communicative bridge to a society which thinks differently about relationships? Has the church (churches?) not found in times past (if not also in the present) that breaking the bridge by, e.g. imposing the strictest of laws (suicides may not be buried in holy ground, remarried divorcees may not receive communion, etc, has been detrimental rather than fruitful for the gospel? That on the question of intimate relationships society at large is not exactly queuing at the doors of the churches with the "most conservative" moral stance on relationships? That, in fact, society at large longs for the church to treat it like Jesus treated the Samaritan women at the well?
Again, comments welcomed, encouraged and sought ...