Monday, May 14, 2018

Decision 2018: Q and A (1)

Among recent comments to the post below, a few questions were asked of me and I am posting responses here in a new post, along with a few further thoughts/reflections from me.

First, the further thoughts:

As the days unfold after General Synod in New Plymouth, I am aware of rumblings if not ructions in various parishes up and down these islands. I offer two personal hopes to any readers in any such parishes.

(1) that discussions in parishes are based on accurate information about what General Synod has done, on fair and reasonable expectations of trust and goodwill among Anglicans as we work these things out, including trust that our bishops are open to working out how conservative parishes are supported through this new era.

(2) that parishes do not try to work out difficult questions in (say) parish meetings without calling on outside assistance such as an archdeacon to be an external voice in proceedings. Archdeacons are busy people and may not love me for expressing this hope, but I do worry about parishes working on these matters within the framework of limited viewpoints.

Tomorrow I hope to tackle a couple of questions raised with me "off-blog" but for now, two questions raised the other day here on ADU

Sarah's question: "My question is not in regards to the SS issue but rather your thoughts on other examples of permanent/de facto relationships. Forgive me if this has been addressed before, I am a sporadic reader.

Question: if a heterosexual couple came into the church, having been in a de-facto relationship for a number of years and, let us say, have children in tow, and whom had a genuine desire to know the God's teaching on family order, what would your response be? 

Where in Scripture (and I would like the answer to be Scripturally based, please) would you point this young couple? 
I am genuinely interested as I have read your thoughts on the SS aspect of such a scenario, and wonder - if the basis is a committed relationship (and how more committed can a couple be by having children!) - where your line is drawn for gentle and loving rebuke? "

My response: The hypothetical couple you refer to are married, theologically speaking. There is no Scriptural text I am aware of which demands that a de facto married couple become a de jure married couple. There is no text that prescribes what form the beginning of a marriage should take but 1 Corinthians 5 teaches that every act of sexual intercourse forms a marriage, even sex with a prostitute does that, and such brief marriages are injurious. But the point is that consummation of a relationship is critical to the beginning of a marriage and historically non-consummation has been grounds for annulment of a(n apparent) marriage.

However in most churches in the Western world we like to know that couples in our midst are in a de jure marriage rather than a de facto marriage. This is probably because we doubt that a de facto married couple are quite as properly married as a de jure married couple, since the former lacks the public declaration of lifelong commitment and fidelity which the latter requires. But, to repeat, Scripture does not require a wedding as we generally understand weddings. It would be fine if your couple said to your vicar: "we are not married legally and have no intention of being so,* but we do want to be married theologically and we want the congregation to know that, so could we next Sunday together say to the congregation that we love each other, that we promise to be faithful to the other and to remain married till one of us dies." [*there are good arguments for the church having nothing to do with state registration of marriages.] 

It is actually hard to find one simple Scripture to cite which fulfills your request for Scriptural reasoning for asking your hypothetical couple to make their marriage either de jure or in some way more "proper". I think I would say to your couple that the general discipline of the church through the ages, based on numerous Scriptural texts about the importance of marriage, is that couples in a sexual relationship should be married and the clearest sign of a couple embracing this challenge is to become legally married

I myself would not think of offering a rebuke to such a couple as you cite. Many and varied are the reasons why some couples are in a de facto marriage and not in a de jure marriage and as a pastor I would want to listen to those reasons before speaking.

At least twice in my pastoral ministry I have found the right words to say which have led to couples formalising their de facto marriages. I do not recall those words being a "rebuke".

Sam's question: "you wrote, "There is another image that fits here too, it is called whanau or extended family. ACANZP is that family"

To which family do you consider yourself primarily attached, the parish, the denomination, or the universal church? To which of these do you think Christ calls us to show greatest fidelity? Even at the expense of the others?"

My response: "To which (church) family am I loyal? I have this feeling, Sam, that my answer will not satisfy you! But why not give it a go. I am loyal (human frailty acknowledged) to Jesus Christ and to his followers and thus to God's family in the widest sense of all those who also confess loyalty to Jesus. But in a narrower sense, the Anglican part of that family, I am loyal to Anglicans ahead of (say) Presbyterians (even though my initial theological education was with them) or Catholics (even though I am married into that great family) or Protestants generally (even though I share many matters of theology with those unconvinced by all the claims of Rome). 

In an even narrower sense I am loyal to the church - ACANZP - into which you and I have been ordained and have taken vows of obedience to the authority of our (respective diocesan) bishops, our constitution and canons, including the liturgies authorised for use by common agreement through General Synod which express our doctrine. That loyalty is congenial to me because of my upbringing as a cradle Anglican, my conviction as a thinking adult Anglican and by my many wonderful friendships across theological divides and cultural diversity in our Three Tikanga church (underlined again this most recent General Synod).

In this church of ours I appreciate fellowship with Anglicans loyal to Jesus who include two brothers and a sister who resigned this past week from General Synod and gay Anglicans who did not. Our current and future situation would appear to ask whether I will be loyal to one group rather than another. If that is your underlying question then I can only say that I will love all Anglicans in these islands, both those who stay in ACANZP and those who may yet choose to depart. 

You also ask to which of the forms of church, parish, denomination, universal church does Jesus Christ ask us to show the greatest fidelity? The answer is "all" because we have obligations to the local church to which we belong (and may, as licensed ministers, have made specific commitment to), to the denomination to which that local church belongs (and without which the local church would not be the local church), and to the universal church of which the denomination belongs, for the universal church is Christ's body on earth and we cannot opt out of that!

I do not see where 1 Corinthians 12 or Romans 12 implies that our love for fellow Christians is ever asked to be "at the expense of others." 1 John implies a situation in which some Christians have departed the fellowship to which the letter is addressed, and calls for ever deeper love for those that remain, but it is not clear exactly what has led to the departure, though it may be over the highest form of dispute possible between Christians, the nature and character of Jesus himself. From that perspective I would not say that (e.g.) I am obligated to have as much faithful love for Mormons, Muslims, Christadelphians, etc as for fellow Christians.

37 comments:

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter, Although I have no part in the questions you ask of other people on this thread, I do wonder whether what you say here is correct:

" But the point is that consummation of a relationship is critical to the beginning of a marriage and historically non-consummation has been grounds for annulment of a (n apparent) marriage." - P.C. -

Yes, I am aware that, legally, any 'marriage' that is not connubially consummated can be grounds for a (legal) annulment.

However, does this (automatically) mean that a couple is not - theologically or legally - married if consummation does not occur? Because, if this is the case, then I would not be legally or theologically married - although, I was married by my local Bishop - with the explicit understanding that there would be no physical consummation between us. Am I not married in your eyes?

Your statement - above - would also mean that no couple who are unable (or unwilling) to have a sexual relationship could be legally married. This would mean that there are a lot of people around the world who thought they were married but turn out not to be - by your definition.

Another situation, Peter, is that of an older couple who may not be capable of - or even want to make - a sexual connection in their legal marriage. Are they not able to marry or be married? I suppose the underlying question here is: Can any couple marry without the intention of begetting children?
Already, you can see the possibility of an argument for S/S marriage.

I'm sure, Peter, that when you have really thought about this, your statement is neither legally nor theologically unchallengeable.

"God has gone up with a merry noise, Alleluia. He has gone up with the sound of the Trumpet, Alleluia, Alleluia!"

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Ron
You know well that every statement I make here is challengeable and, indeed, normally is challenged, if not by you, by someone else :)

I am not going to comment on your or anyone else's situation in a direct and personal sense via the medium of text on the internet.

If I have made an incorrect theological statement I would be interested in the challenges of others, whether supporting your own argument or bringing other arguments to bear.

I think it important we have discussions about theological topics both cognisant of personal situations (for they can highlight faults in stated positions) and independent of them (for constant regard for personal situations can stymie sincere attempts to lay down general precepts).

My remarks here were made, of course, about another situation altogether, than your own lifestory.

Incidentally, as a matter of quality of argument, I suggest arguments for SSM which rely on quirks in logic of discussion about marriage between a man and a woman are not arguments of high quality. The high quality argument for SSM is the argument which demonstrates that God cares not one whit what the sex of each partner to the marriage is.

I have never seen that argument made well.

Glen Young said...


Hi Peter,

In your answer to Sarah, you made a profound Theological statement which concurs with all my mentors, during my training in Christian Counselling: that being, that sexual intercourse is the basis of "marriage". "....and the twain shall be one flesh".Matt.19/5. Hence Paul's teaching in 1 Cor.7/12:"For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband:else were your children unclean;but are now holy."

Why,because the husband and wife, are in the sight of God,"ONE FLESH', united together by sexual intercourse.They live,die and stand before God, as "ONE FLESH",joint together by His Holy Will.This is surely the "HIGHEST QUALITY" of argument that one can produce in relation to this issue; that God sees a unbelieving husband joint to a believing wife and an unbelieving wife joint to a believing husband; as one, and they both sanctified by the believer.This "ONENESS" is the underlying TRUTH behind: "Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh.What therefore God hath joint together,let no man put asunder." Matt 1/6.This is the "RIGHT ORDERING" of human relationships.

So,let us see your "HIGH Quality" argument in favor of Same Sex Blessings which substantiates that God does not care a whit about the sex of the partners in a marriage; along with your Scriptural texts. Are you now claiming that the belief of one same sex partner sanctifies the non believing partner.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Glen
It is for advocates of SSB to make their claims.
I am happy for our church to have space for those who wish to bless same-sex marriages to do so on (at least) the basis that where two people are willing to commit in love for each other for life, there is something which is right and proper about making such a commitment, especially when it is grounded in an understanding of the self-giving love of Christ.
Whether one can then advance arguments for one making the other holy etc is beyond my theological paygrade but perhaps other commenters here can help out.
It is a kindness, is it not, to pray for love to increase in the world? And where there is love, to give thanks for it? There is, otherwise, more hatred and more lust in the world than the world seems to be able to bear.

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter, bearing in mind not only your own but also Glen's (and perhaos Sarah's) arguments here, it should be remembered that human marriage is a state intended by God for this world only (Scripture tells is there is no 'human' marriage in heaven).

In fact, a further and perhaps deeper concept of marriage is that depicted in the N.T. as the relationship 'betwixt Christ and His Church' (Scriptural) which has absolutely nothing to do with gender or sexuality. This makes human marital relationships not based on sex or gender difference at least spiritually acceptable, surely?

Human marital relationships are not set apart from any other relationships in the afterlife - towards which we are all heading; incorporation with the Godhead.

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Ron
It is a great mystery, marriage and an even greater one, the love of Christ for his church and the honour bestowed upon marriage that it is illustrative of that great love which binds Christ and the church into one, as husband and wife are bound into one flesh.

Beyond that I am - unlike you - very hesitant to move into speculation about whether marriage might be constituted between two people, if one of whom is not the opposite sex to the other. The point of human marriage, limited as it is to earth (I agree with you, and heaven may be a shock to all those looking forward to meeting their beloved again, for meeting the Beloved will overwhelm all otherwise human longing and sentiment) is very earthen: the propagation of life and the formation of family, the need for which no longer exists in the life to come.

Andrei said...

"Question: if a heterosexual couple came into the church, having been in a de-facto relationship for a number of years and, let us say, have children in tow, and whom had a genuine desire to know the God's teaching on family order, what would your response be?"

This is a total red herring - people find the Church who are living in irregular circumstances of course. And in the fullness of time as they mature in the Faith those irregular circumstances are regularized if possible which may not be the case and accepted if not because of course in the Christian Faith everyone gets a fresh start regardless of what has gone on before

For example someone may have divorced, remarried and started a new family and such a person coming into the Church in such curcumstances would bring their new family

In missionary situations a man may have multiple wives in societies which accept this and hat man and his wives may be accepted into the Church of course even though Christianity is nominally monogamous

But same sex "marriage" is a 21st century novelty beloved of the over priveledged in wealthy societies that have lost their way, lost the plot and of course once you accept same sex couplings as equivalent to FECUND hetrosexual pairings you are finished within a generation or so...

What you are doing Peter is engaging in sophistry as you squander your heritage and missing the point entirely as you do.

This topic is a matter of interest only in the drawing rooms of the middle classes in leafy suburbs and entirely irrelevent to the great unwashed strugglinng to raise their own in the Faith of their Fathers in a world increasingly hostile to it

Correction: it is worse than irrelevant it is actually pernicious because it makes acheiving sexual gratification as important if not more so than raising children to carry on from us when we depart.

How many souls do you thing this innovation will win to the Church? What will its legacy be in 100 years?

Peter Carrell said...

No Andrei.
Not at all.
Never.
Homosexuality is not an indulgence of the middle class in leafy suburbs and irrelevant to the great unwashed. Homosexuality is a human phenomenon, present in all classes, all races and all cultures.
Late modern cultures are recognising that homosexuals are not helped by being forced/compelled by social expectation into heterosexual marriages, nor by being closeted as single people into secret social lives hidden away from the leafy suburbs etc. Better to be open, transparent, above board, many societies are saying. Including our own. Western churches are responding by adaptive, liturgical support or by openly supporting celibacy. Either way, there is no support for fecundity when it is not possible and there is recognition that old ways of suppressing homosexual longings through pretend happy marriages is unsatisfactory.

Sarah Behan said...

Thank you for your measured and thoughtful response.

Ron, I really appreciate your thoughts and thought your questions very valid!
I agree that consummation is a core aspect of marriage (the union of oneness), but I cannot see that it is the whole part of what makes marriage Marriage (with a captial). If Marriage is an earthly image of Christ and His bride, the Church (cf. Ehp 5:21-33), then there must be more elements to it than just physical union. And I don't necessarily mean in the legal sense, either.

The average Dick and Jane, for example, at 17, who are consummating their teenage relationship are not imaging Christ and His Church! Any (hopefully) responsible parent of such a couple would discourage this sort of relationship because of youth and immaturity etc. Therefore, if such a couple came in to the church, eager to love Jesus, how much more would the Christian family – for more eternal and God-honouring reasons - encourage either, a “cease and desist” physically, or an early journey to marriage.

Why? Because we know there is more to Marriage than de facto consummation.

From what I can tentatively read of the Scriptures as a whole, marriage is ordained by God between two people (let's leave the other debate out of it!); there is a mystery that goes on that we cannot comprehend, a tie between two souls that is somehow bound up in the heavenly realms. Being ordained by God, it is altogether from Him, by Him, and for Him - and therefore, cannot just be happened into just by consummation.

From your statement about Jesus not asking a SS couple to divorce on conversion, and your own response to my question, it seems that you believe that whatever state a person/couple come into the church (from a non-Christian position), there is no necessary need for change or transformation.

And so it seems that if this is the case, then is there any need for conversion for our imaginary couple at all? If they have each other here and now, what need have they for Jesus?

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Sarah
I am not sure how you get to your last paragraphs from my statements above but I accept that what have written has somehow led you to write them!

(1) I thought I made it clear that I have spoken to couples about their marital status. I will continue to do so as and when deemed necessary, especially with respect to the ordered life and good fellowship of the whole congregation. That a couple presenting themselves to join a congregation might not, on close and theological consideration of their life circumstances, require change does not entail the conclusion "whatever state a person/couple come into the church (from a non-Christian position), there is no necessary need for change or transformation."

(2) Jesus requires repentance/conversion of us all. That for a given couple he might not require their divorce does not entail no need for repentance. But the specifics of what he requires might differ from what we think he requires. The Salvation Army and some other denominations have historically been keen on Jesus requiring the giving up of drinking alcohol, but many Christians beg to differ. That does not mean we do not all believe that Jesus asks of all who come to him that there is repentance.

(3) Our need for Jesus - reading your last paragraph - is a need which transcends marital circumstances. Single people need Jesus. De facto married people need Jesus. De jure married people need Jesus. Divorced people need Jesus. We all need Jesus because there is no ultimate satisfaction to be found in states of life, and there is no reconciliation with God via states of life, only via Jesus.

Please do not read into what I have said some diminution of the gospel.

Let me put a point at issue in this way, partly taking up your example above. I assume you and I agree that "The average Dick and Jane, for example, at 17, who are consummating their teenage relationship" are fornicating (to use somewhat disused language these days). I also assume that you and I agree that if the average Dick and Jane marry (de jure), vowing fidelity to each other as long as they both shall live, and one of them has an affair with a third party, that one is committing adultery.

What I do not assume is that if Dick and Jane continue their teenage relationship into a faithful, permanent, adult relationship in which children are born and a family is set up in a responsible manner, let's say for 30 years, then you and I would be agreed as to what state they are in.

It appears that you think they are living in sin.

I would say they are living a married life (de facto) and I would encourage them to address the matter which would complete their marriage, making it de jure by the public declaration of their love for each other and articulating in the same ceremony what they already exemplify: their commitment to love each other faithfully. But I would not say they are living in sin. And that is not because I want to run around declaring sin X to not be a sin but because I want to discern the reality of their life together and find the matching name for that reality, which in this case is marriage and not sin.

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter, in furtherance of your argument re the authenticy of a consummated relationship as a de facto 'marriage' - whether or not the couple have gone through a public commitment ceremony. My family is involved in one such. For their own reasons, our daughter and her partner have been together for years long anough to have bought their own home, birthed and raised a seven-year-old daughter and live together in love, harmony and commitment - without the benefit of either civil or religious ceremony. This is their choice and not ours. We love and support them - irrespective of their decision to involve neither Church nor State in their 'marriage' Both families would prefer them to make a public confession of their commitment to one another, and their fresponse to this is that their life together should be evidence enough to convince us of that reality.

Although our daughter and her partner were both brought up in Christian families, both agree that they are not impressed with either Church or State as a guarantors of the marriage bond, and that they consider themselves the best arbiters of their own ongoing commitment. Against that argument - in view of the high rate of divorce in both instances of Church and State weddings - we have no defence, except our own faith position which cannot bind them as they have their own individual conscience and responsibility to maintain their relationship. Incidentally, they feel that committed S/S couples should be free to marry or not, in the same way as many hereosexual couples choose to live their lives in today's world. They have friends in both situations

Both our chidlren (Diana's) are highly educated and responsible people, and we love them and treat them no differently. Our son and his wife were married by me in The Church of the Good Shepherd, Tekapo. The children of this marriage were baptised into Christ - in the R.C. Church. Both our in-laws' families are Roman Catholics, and their parents feel the same as we do. We cannot and would not want to control their lives, believing that our role is to support and love them all.

Andrei said...

Peter I didn't say homosexuality was only found in "leafy suburbs" I said the fascination with the topic of same sex "marriage" was found primarily among those who move in such circles

The rabbit hole you have fallen down is to conflate meeting the pastoral needs of the same sex attracted with the concept of same sex marriage

In my upinion this is one of Satan's most successful deceptions

In the West the Church is dying, the institution of marriage as we received it is dying and the people who should be doing something about this are involving themselves in rhetorical tangles that lead to perdition

Here is something sobering - in 1959 18,319 marriages were performed in New Zealand, a quarter of them were celebrated in Anglican Churches!. Over 80% were celebrated in some sort of Church, with Anglicans, Catholics and Prebyterians being responsible for over 75% of all the celebrations

Last year there were 20,685 marriages performed including 485 of the "same sex" kind while the population has more than doubled in that time

And how many of these marriages were celebrated in the Anglican Church according to the rubrics of the Anglican prayer book?

It is the decline of Christianity and the decline of Anglicanism synod should be have been addressing I'd posit

Peter Carrell said...

Fair point, Andrei.
I would simply say that at our GS support for our proposal re SSB seemed to come from all classes represented there, from both Maori and Pakeha (Polynesia was a different story).
Absolutely we need to address decline at all levels of our church, including GS.
My hope is that, moving forward on SSB, we might begin to do that.
But it is a challenge to get people concerned ... some Anglicans are either obtuse, ignorant, or unseeing about decline.

Sam Anderson said...

A parishioner asked me on Sunday what percentage of our Anglican church were gay people in monogamous relationships seeking the blessing of God and the church. I didn't know what to say. I said I thought it was a very small percentage: a tiny minority within a minority of society.

Can anyone give a more accurate answer? If not, would people agree with my broad description? Or suggest a better one?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Sam
One of our clergy did a statistical analysis (weddings in NZ, SSM in NZ, in our diocese ...) and came up with the predicted figure of five same sex couples seeking blessings within the Diocese of Christchurch each year.

Jonathan said...

Sam, do you think it would be good (or at least better) if more( or all) gay people who aren't celibate were married and sought the church's blessing for their life together?

Sarah Behan said...

Hi Peter,

I guess I will have to draw the line and say we definitely disagree on the sanctity and validity of marriage.

I was thinking about it this morning and thought of two things from Scripture:

1) In Mark 10, when Jesus is teaching on divorce, the primary element of what formulates a marriage is declared by Jesus - "...Therefore, what God has joined together, let no man separate." (vs.9) It is God that joins a couple as one, not just consummation. Consummation appears to be an outward sign of an inward grace made by God's hand.

2)Furthermore, the question of the Pharisee's and the "certificate of divorce" (vs.4) show that, at some point since the Garden, a formal ceremony became the proper manner in which God joined two people together. Thus, a divorce is all the more abhorrent, because it is more than separating two bodies from union, but a ripping a part of the heavenly mystery that God created during the ceremony.

For this reason, I would say if Dick and Jane went on to be together for thirty years, then if I understand the instances mentioned above, they are not married. And therefore, are living in sin. It would remain fornication, regardless of children and how long they were together.

I'm not saying this is easy. It's one thing to think and write about it, than it is to face a couple who love one another, giving guidance if requested.

But what I fear more than awkward and painful conversations is doubting that Scripture is enough, that Jesus didn't know what we would be facing two thousand years later. If Scripture is not fully enough for us - for edification, for rebuke, for encouragement, for a means of knowing God - then why on earth would I choose Jesus? What kind of substantial good would I gain from bowing to Him and following Him if His Word (being the Word) is not sufficient, even for today?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Sarah
The history of marriages and how they are contracted will either support what you say or it won't. I am no expert but it seems to me that you have consigned with your comment thousands and thousands of couples through the centuries who did not have the means of formally contracting their marriage, who lived in "common law marriages" or "de facto marriages" to the sin of fornication. Further, your assumption on the history of marriage implies a "God" factor in the ceremonies of marriage through the history of Israel and then the history of the church. I don't think a priest was present when Jacob took Leah then Rachel into his tent to make them his wives; and in the history of the church, priests were not uniformly present at weddings for centuries. But, again, if these are all to be consigned to the sin of fornication then so be it.

Our hypothetical Dick and Jane will find, whether in a certificated marriage or not, a 1000 reason for needing Jesus to help them in their marriage/"marriage". I know I need Jesus in my marriage! Scripture is remarkably interested in the quality of all relationships, including marriage and remarkably uninterested in how marriages are contracted, to the point where it is never specified by Scripture how a marriage should be contracted.

Andrei said...

"For this reason, I would say if Dick and Jane went on to be together for thirty years, then if I understand the instances mentioned above, they are not married. And therefore, are living in sin. It would remain fornication, regardless of children and how long they were together"

I would say if Dick and Jane have lived together faithfully for thirty years regardless of the lack of formal ceremony uniting them they are in fact living lives pleasing to God and are to all intents aqnd purposes married in his eyes

Perhaps that is one point to be drawn from this what is the ceremony for? Certainly the civil weddings I have attended in recent days are notable only for the banality of the ceremonies and that they are almost completely devoid of real meaning - even more so given the ease of obtaining a civil divorce

The Liturgies for marriage are not magic spells, rather they are a formalized ritual for the couple to pledge their intention to remain faithful to one another for the rest of their lives before God and before temporal witnesses

In days of yore all that the Church required for a marriage to be considered valid was for each party to it swear to remain faithful to the other for the remainder of their lives and for there to be at least one witness to attest to the effect that they had done this.

The key to this is not the ceremony, nor the piece of paper issued by the Government and/or Church that the wedding has taken place but holding true to the vows that have been taken by the couple concerned

Sarah Behan said...

I am happy to be wrong (truly!) and if I am, one day when I see all things clearly, then I will definitely eat my words and hope that, in any way, I have never led anyone further away from Christ. But I also know that my heart is as true as it can be as a sinner on this matter - I only desire that seekers are led into good, faithful teaching so the Gospel can set them free and they can live life abundantly in Jesus.

Blessings! x

Peter Carrell said...

Yes, Sarah!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
I am cutting down your comment - some parts of it do not reflect where the conversation above has gotten to, and some parts introduce a new topic re international Anglicanism which I suggest is unnecessary in this thread. Thus:

"Peter, ... My memories of my childhood in the English countryside was of some poor farmers bringing up their families without the benefits of legal marriage, and yet managing to survive - with help from their neighbours. In those days though their children were considered by the State to be 'illegitimate', a nomenclature which today's more enlightened society no longer uses, thank God.

[What we need today is] God's ineffable love for all creation.

..."

Father Ron Smith said...

Am I to uderrstand, Sarah, that you rally believe that a couple who are considered by the stater to be 'fe facto', though faithful to one another and raising a family, are still considered by you and your church family to be 'living in sin'?

Anonymous said...

It is important to have a public record of who is married to whom. In the C12, creating such a record for the first time reduced abandonment, bigamy, jilting, illegitimacy, etc. In later time, it has enabled an expanding web of legal and financial rights. Today, in my country, many rely on these easily verifiable records for a lower rate of taxation, access to health care, or simply the right to be here.

Those who have cohabited and begotten without creating such a public record have made it a bit harder for themselves to get these benefits. But they do no harm to others. Courts in common law jurisdictions tend to accommodate them. In the Commonweath of Virginia, for conservative example, the rules of evidence forbid courts to permit argument challenging a couple's sworn testimony that they are married. If, in some sense, they were not married before that testimony, they become so in virtue of it.

At the turn of the last millennium, the clergy invented these records because nobody else could have done so when reading and writing were high technology. In that time before modern states, the clergy were the only clerks, the only ubiquitous organisation of literate persons in the Western world. When nearly universal literacy was achieved, state clerks began to keep many more complex records and eventually marriage records as well. Modern states have maintained these records well for centuries. New technology (eg blockchain) may make even that state role redundant. If couples do not need others to make their public records, then the practice will eventually end.

The clergy in the West saw a serious social problem and as clerks they solved it with a procedure. They were not obeying a command in scripture for there is none. Nor did they begin with a precise theological meaning and then implement it with a religious ceremony. To the contrary, medieval theologians never agreed about whether, and if so in what sense, marriage could be said to be a sacrament. Aware of this history, Protestant churches, including the Church of England, determined from scripture that marriage is not a sacrament but a natural *state of life*.

Anonymous said...

Cont'd

In places where state officers can read and write, Christian clergy have a presumptive duty to stop routinely solemnising marriages. With the debatable exception of royal weddings, it does no good. And it does do some clear harm--

(a) When the clergy perform this function, they imply that pairbonding is first of all a religious act when it is in fact-- even in traditional Christian theology-- a human universal practised by adherents of all religions and of none. This is a stumbling block both to busybodies out to police the sex of other people and also to non-Christians for whom a separate church rite can imply a rejection of their duly-recorded unions. Conversely, when state clerks perform the same function they show the universal truth about it in a way that the clergy presently cannot.

(b) Insofar as a body of Christians can agree on some theological meaning for this universal phenomenon of marriage, or even for a disciples' morality for living it, the bare bones of *solemnisation* do not symbolise it because they were never meant to do that. The debate about M29 shows that centuries of solemnisation and a clear Reformation determination of its status had not given Anglicans a single mind about what a marriage is even before That Topic was upon us. This is because that thin procedure and simplifying article were never meant to bear so great a burden. The clergy should not participate in rites that cannot be recognised empirically as informed acts of the whole Church.

(c) When the clergy perform a state clerical function they confuse church and state, which is contrary to the scriptural teaching about the aeons. Because disciples of Jesus need to be very clear about that teaching to navigate their lives in this world, the clergy have a duty to avoid this confusion.

(d) Clergy roles in the real sacraments that God has given to the Church unhelpfully confuse thinking about what they do in weddings. Crudely, if they are paid by churches, do majorities of synods get to decide for God what they do, for whom they do it, and what it means when they do? Can malcontents of the left and the right do something about pairbonding in the world at large by campaigning for changes in church weddings? And what does the legal fact that only clergy can perform civilly-recognised weddings imply about their role in the local congregation? Some cherish their answers to these questions, but the gospel of Jesus is purer and clearer where they need not be asked at all. Other people will go wobbly sentimental or icy-eyed militant about anything churchy, but the ordained have a duty and a grace to be calm and clear.

(e) Routine clergy participation in church weddings preserves a sentimental illusion that they are normal in the wider society when statistics show that they have not been for a generation. It is urgent that churches start to think about their lives in the present, but they cannot whilst they make-believe that they are living in the world of a century ago. The clergy should disrupt this self-deception.

For the present, solemnisation should join canonisation, confession, exorcism, and excommunication on the list of acts of the Church that are mostly reserved to occasions recognised by the scrutiny of a bishop or her delegate. In everyday practice, pastors might best refer inquirers to an approved local colleague who has recognised authority and competence.

This is not at all to say that Christians should not care about marriage, or should not teach, counsel, or celebrate this state of life. Indeed, a fresh conversation should begin about how to do these things today. It is to recognise the reality that routine solemnisation has not been doing any of them well for a rather long time.

BW

Anonymous said...

Postscript-- From time to time, a few kind souls have amused themselves in trying to understand my position on SSB, which does seem perplexing to many. I know God takes a special delight in procreation and is pained by what hurts mothers and children, but I do not think that every act that fails of conception frustrates that delight. I read the Six Texts as scripture, but I read the scriptures much as St Irenaeus did. I have been for civil unions for decades, but I have generally opposed SSB. I have urged others here to read the TEC, ACC, CoE, and CoS reports on gay marriage, but I have rejected their final conclusions. I have been supportive of efforts to maintain Anglican unity down under as here up yonder, but I have also seen runaway synodicalism as the cause rather than the solution for disunity. Etc. These are all, if not contradictions, at least unusual coincidences.

My comment above does not elucidate everything, but it does draw discussion of marriage nearer to the scriptures, and indeed nearer to a Reformation understanding of them that I have found clearer, better grounded, and more timely than most arguments on That Topic. Readers who work forward from that tradition rather than backwards from present-day moral sentiments may find my past comments a bit less perplexing. A few key points--

We cannot create orders of creation. Because they believe in a Creator God, both Jews and Christians believe that pairbonding is a human universal prior to either of their own traditions about it. To a traditional Jew or Christian, a wedding among Hindus or polygamous Mormons, or neo-pagan witches or whatever is a real wedding no matter what else is mixed up with it. This commits us to an empirical view of marriage-- we first look at what the Creator has done to frame the cosmos, both everywhere and among us, and then later make godly sense of that with the help of the Holy Spirit. Such empiricism is both exemplified in the scriptures and enjoined in them.

We do the same things that all other human beings do but in a way that through an inner transformation better realises the perfect humanity of Jesus. That is the point of difference.

There is no reason to expect those outside the Body to be able to live as those inside it do. The state does some things for all that the Body need not and should not do.

The Body is recognised empirically by the marks of its actual life described in the scriptures; its identity is not guaranteed in advance by its institutions and customs, precious as those are. Because unity is one such mark of the Body, mere majorities-- especially contested majorities-- and *a fortiori* schisms fall short of the visibility of the Body. Majority rule has often been an innocent short-cut to consensus in matters of mere prudence, but when it enables division in matters of faith and morals it is a regression to the loveless power struggles of the world. Congregations fade from the visible Body as they abandon unity in God for mere factional dominance. "If salt has lost its savour..."

Similarly, as ordination confers an office of securing visible unity, clergy are clergy insofar as they do what the whole Body intends to do in every ministerial act. Should they act in ways far from the intention of the whole Body then their ministry fades from the visible Body. This again is empirical, not theoretical-- first their following will be merely factional, and then it will wither.

Episcopacy is the ministry of recognition by which the Holy Spirit maintains the identity of the Body of Christ through space and time.

BW



Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bowman
I appreciate your thoughts re ordained ministry in relation to the Body.
Our church has been (IMHO) both synodical and otherwise in its deliberations on these matters, where "otherwise" means we have talked and worked on a way forward which is not solely about a decision in writing but also about relationships, trust and continuing discernment within the Body, especially in respect of each bishop working on diocesan unity.
A related thought re marriage, to what you and Sarah are saying above, is reflection on all things being done "decently and in order." One thing a wedding confers on a couple, their families and the community of faith around them is a public acknowledgment of the joining of these two people being according to an "order" (coming together, declarations, vows, prayers, ministry of Word and possibly also of Sacrament, fellowship over food).
Whatever we make of SSBs, such blessings according to a rite offer a couple and the community of faith to which they belong an "order" re public acknowledgement of their relationship.

Sarah Behan said...

Hi Ron,

I am going to bow out of this conversation as I am quite out of my depth, which I am ready to admit. It's always good to sharpen one another, and there are really valid points I have never thought of - so thank you!

I just want to make it clear, in your inference to "church family", that the thoughts that I have expressed are completely my own. I have no idea what other people in my family (either the Behan side or my maiden side), or At Stephen's as a parish, believe. Please never assume that I speak for anyone but myself! That being said though, my lovely husband Tim has supported these comments.

I do wish everyone the best, in Christ, whatever happens in the next while. Thank you, Peter, for providing this forum and for graciously allowing questions to be asked.

Anonymous said...

"One thing a wedding confers on a couple, their families and the community of faith around them is a public acknowledgment of the joining of these two people being according to an "order" (coming together, declarations, vows, prayers, ministry of Word and possibly also of Sacrament, fellowship over food)."

"Christians are obliged to love each other, even if they are married."
--Stanley Hauerwas.

Peter, I am not asking judges, mayors, clerks, and sea captains to stop conferring public acknowledgement on couples. They are more or less public figures; public acknowledgement is what they do; they are good at it (maybe not the sea captains ;-). I have been to perfectly lovely weddings in town halls, parks, art museums, etc where one of them did do that.* Families and friends of couples often like these weddings better than our weddings, especially when would rather be outdoors, mingling and chatting, dancing to sappy music, eating catered hors d'oevres, etc then sitting in a gloomy stone building hearing obscure allusions to the strange thought that a life lived well is a mystical participation in the crucifixion of a C1 Jew in Palestine. The Creator sends his rain on the just and the unjust, and he created pairbonding in the natural order in the first place, so of course he blesses these light, frivolous, sexy, civil weddings and their godless guests too. He always has. Your argument hints that even he may well like those weddings better! Anyway, I like them because their scrupulous silence about religion does not misrepresent or trivialise what it is to take up the cross for a spouse.

What I am asking is that intentional disciples of Jesus and their pastors recognise an obsolete antique for what it is, stop being haunted by anachronisms, and reintegrate marriage into a credible understanding of the gospel. Our old solemnisation rite was useful-- especially in the middle ages-- but not essentially different from what the captain does on his ship. Human marriage that is also in some serious sense participation in Christ needs something more. Have you read or heard Stanley Hauerwas** on this?

https://youtu.be/oAoMxqlNUEY

https://youtu.be/8OF7pgQuSCI

Anonymous said...

I do not object to ceremonial per se, of course. But it seems to me to be miles downstream of what is needed to minister to eg women convinced that any reference to procreation (or even sexual difference) must be oppressive, men and women convinced that common law parental rights without marriage are sufficient, exquisitely refined individuals struggling with the thought that they are also bodies with a sex, etc. It is rash to assume that all postmodern anxiety and confusion is just another nail for our liturgical hammer merely because we used to have a rite for it and Anglicans are practiced at hammering nails. The show does NOT need to go on. But I would be surprised if a mature Christian ethos in societies as they are now did not gradually inspire some fitting ceremony and custom. And who knows? Maybe at that point with that superior understanding some of them will prove helpful for SSM.

* Ritual Note: Because the interrogation-- who are you? do you want to marry? do you want to marry him/her? will you say this...?-- has been conducted when obtaining the marriage license, the public officials have dispensed with it at each such celebration that I have attended.

** Theological Note: Stanley Hauerwas is right that Joseph Fletcher failed to capture what is distinctive about an ethos in Christ, to say no more. (BTW both ethicists have belonged to TEC.) Yet even on the otherwise blessed isles, Fletcher's view is the one that many Anglicans are invoking against Reformed legalism squinting through a magnifying glass. And on the other hand, a few here at ADU have been known to hiss Fletcher's *situation ethics* back at comments that seemed to them to be more about luv sweet luv than agape, dying to self, the Cross, etc. The judges, mayors, clerks, and sea captains do less harm to the Church than hearing these two crude errors from the clergy. If the best on offer is either legalism or luv, then just let the magistrates take care of things for a generation or so. The question is: how are churchfolk caught up in these errors to be freed from them and healed? Of the several theologians who have corrected both, Hauerwas seems to be the most approachable and therapeutic.

BW

Anonymous said...

"a way forward which is not solely about a decision in writing but also about relationships, trust and continuing discernment within the Body, especially in respect of each bishop working on diocesan unity."

Peter, I have never doubted that this was and will be true, and yet...

In order to begin to agree with my comments, I think a convinced synodicalist needs a much more dynamic understanding than I have offered ADU of how years of living the spiritual discipline of non-coercive unanimity both constrains participants and inspires a local Body's deliberation about hard questions. Some things can be believed if they are explained well, but this may be one of the things that can only be believed if they are experienced. Perhaps your Presbyterian sister synod has learned something interesting from its new and less-majoritarian rules of order?

And personally, I took on the narrative revolution in theology, biblical studies, and ethics when they happened in the '70s and '80s, so the whole of That Topic often looks to me like a pointless face-off between legalists and emotivists from the '50s or '60s. Either position could be argued with little reference to the concrete story of Jesus-in-Israel and both usually have been. But why? I have no clues about why that should still be so half a century after the Christian mind retrieved narrative. It looks as though the law/emo meme grabs the id, polarises the mind to one side or the other, and thereafter shuts down the mind's receptivity to anything but law law law or emo emo emo. Because this is just the opposite of what I would have expected to happen-- narrative is routinely described as the mind's most powerful organiser-- I am perplexed.

But the two paragraphs above could make a disturbing sense together. Where decision dynamics are already polarised by an institution's majoritarianism, a felt need for the street-fighting crudeness of law/emo defenses may prevent the richer narrative theology from taking root, much as a weed chokes a flower. Because virtue ethics, for example, straddles the divide between the fixity of law and the subjectivity of emo, each side may suspect it of being the other. The implication, which I do not like, is that the better theology is a new wine still awaiting its ecclesial wineskin after all these years, and that wineskin must have a way of avoiding or overcoming polarisation.

BW

Jean said...

It does sound like Dick and Jane are quickly becoming a famous couple.

My two cents. Marriage was significant biblically as we see with Mary and Joseph and the repercussion of perceived breach of contract. In this scenario what I sense a de facto relationship lacks is knowing the terms and conditions of a contract entered into a.k.a. An agreement to remain faithful to each other intentionally for life. Are de facto couples sinning, well yes I suppose but not more so than most, however, like in all areas when we become aware of sin which is potentially harmful to us the course of action is to address it.

In my experience which will differ from others for some who come into the church in de facto relationships a period of time is needed for people to “become aware” or be convicted by the Holy Spirit about what is best. In may be appropriate to say something if the couple has been churchgoers for a long time or at least have a conversation but in other situations people need space to learn, explore and form a relationship with Jesus before they are led to a decision. Why would I say a de facto relationship even a long term one is not equivalent to marriage however? Because of knowing many whom regardless of the length of their relationship view not being married as meaning they are always free to leave and knowing many who have done so children or nought. Sure you can do so too if married it is just a bit harder probably not even legally now but funnny how a personal commitment made is harder for oneself to walk away from than if no such commitment exists or is it? If a de facto couple have committed to each other in private, with family or a witness in a way that mirrors a formal marriage then this is a different scenario. Interestingly the greatest number of de facto relationships I am aware of in my local area amongst congregation members are second time relationshipers be that due to divorce or being widowed and are mature (in respect to age).

In the analogy of Christ and the Church or God and Israel it is spoken, written and acted commitment of covenant that stands as the marker of the relationships. Albeit the adherence to faithfulness is somewhat one sided.

Anonymous said...

As usual, Jean is right.

"... for some who come into the church in *de facto* relationships a period of time is needed for people to “become aware” or be convicted by the Holy Spirit about what is best."

Of course. And no other conviction matters.

"Why would I say a *de facto* relationship even a long term one is not equivalent to marriage however? Because of knowing many whom regardless of the length of their relationship view not being married as meaning they are always free to leave and knowing many who have done so children or nought."

Obviously, solemnisation is no guarantee of permanence. Some feel that they can leave a *de jure* relationship too!

Nevertheless, Jean is right that an active refusal to make a public commitment is very often avoidance of the sort of commitment for which Christians should strive. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways of making that commitment...

BW

Father Ron Smith said...

Even the Roman Catholic Church now admits that marriage is a 'Sacrament enacted between the two parties involved'. All the Church does is add a blessing.

Surely this means that even a 'de facto couple' who have made a personal commitment to one another, with a view to a lifelong relationship involving the procreation of children might still be considered 'married', even by the Church. The State actually will recognise their committed relationship and will grant the appropriate pecuniary benefits. If such a couple comes into the Church, they could then be encouraged to make a further, more public, commitment and receive the blessing available?

Firstly, of course, they need to understand that a Church blessing would add something of value to their relationship. Some couples, I suspect, may not see the Church as a loving. accepting, family with whom they aspire to belong. However, this may be the fault of the Church rather than the couple concerned who may perceive a possible reluctance on the part of the Church to receive them in their current situation.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Jean, Ron, Bowman for recent comments.
My reflection on the potential virtue of de facto marriage is not upon de facto marriages where couples either together, or one partner is hesitating to make the commitment permanent, or there is some financial consideration being placed in the way of a public event otherwise desired by the couple, etc.

The potential virtue of de facto marriage lies in its quality as an effective de jure marriage, not in a deficiency within the couple's self-understanding of what they would like if they were honest with each other - that is, in my experience it often turns out that in a de facto marriage one partner does want a wedding and the other partner does not (or for various reasons wishes to delay, even for years).

Chris Gousmett said...

As a non-Anglican I don't want to engage in discussions of church order etc. but have a few things to add which may or may not connect with comments already made.
1. We need to distinguish a marriage from a wedding. A marriage has I believe a form which persists through time and across cultures, namely the committed relationship of one man and one woman. Weddings take a variety of social forms all of which are equally legitimate. The essence of a wedding is a public commitment in a form acknowledged as legitimate within the culture/society in which the two participants are recognized henceforth as married. This may or may not involve legal aspects such as signing a register and being issued with a marriage certificate. That means that the excuse that marriage is "only a piece of paper" and can be discarded as an obsolete issue is incorrect. There are multiple aspects to a marriage and legal records are just one of them.
2. Just to be clear, when I said that a marriage is always between one man and one woman, polygamy or polyandry is not a counter-example. A man (polygamy is more common than polyandry) can be married to 2, 3, 4 or more women BUT he marries them one at a time. He does not marry four women, he marries one woman, then another, then another. Even if several women were married in one ceremony (not something that happens to my knowledge) each one is married to the man separately to the others. This may seem irrelevant but it is an indication that there is an enduring reality to marriage between one man and one woman which even polygamy does not alter.
3. Sexual intercourse does not on its own constitute a marriage. The view that it does ignores the point above that there is a socially-accepted form to entering a marriage which is not accomplished simply by sexual intercourse. To use an old fashioned word mentioned by another post, it is simply fornication, without an intention to form an enduring relationship with all that marriage entails.

Chris

Peter Carrell said...

I generally agree with you Chris, but 1 Corinthians 5 raises the question whether the reason why fornication is wrong is not so much because it is outside of marriage but because, at least in a certain sense, it constitutes a marriage, albeit brief, and certainly a truncated marriage when it should be lifelong and not night-long.