Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What does it mean to be Anglican?

In my most recent post I join with many Anglicans who think that its difficult to be 'Anglican' and subvert our orders of ministry as hitherto understood. But there are many other challenges these days concerning what it means to be Anglican. Bosco Peters in a recent post [latter addition: raises questions which could be construed as offering support to] a thesis congenial to many that the Anglican church is logically committed to blessing same sex partnerships, indeed should allow such partnerships to be called 'marriages'. I disagree: as Anglicans we have defined marriage through our liturgies through the centuries as a relationship between a man and a woman - the fact that (say) the emphasis on the procreative potential of marriage has changed does not diminish the significance of marriage as that which joins the diversity of male and female into 'one flesh'. Further afield, as various machinations, almost daily, take place on the North American stage, towards the establishment of a new Anglican province there, the sense that being Anglican is about being 'catholic' (as well as 'reformed') is taking a battering.

But yesterday I was privileged to be part of a eucharist in Bishopdale Chapel (here in Nelson - the chapel was once the chapel of the Bishop's residence in Nelson, now it is a chapel available for occasional services), held as part of a gathering of diocesan secretaries from Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia. Together, saying the well worn and worthy words of the Gloria, Creed, Lord's Prayer, hearing the Scriptures, praying, and breaking bread together, we affirmed this at least about what it means to be Anglican: it is to worship God together with words and actions which join us with the prophets and apostles, with all the saints, and with Jesus Christ, united under one ordained president, but without accretions and additions unfounded in Scripture.


liturgy said...

Thank you for highlighting my post. One point of clarification:

You may very well be correct that what you write is the logical outcome of my pointing out that the (NZ Anglican) Church is quite happy to term as “marriage” those ceremonies that involve no intention to commit to permanence or sexual exclusivity, and have a pre-nuptial agreement, and intend not to have children (until recently all understood as integral to Christian Marriage?), but what you term as my support for a thesis are your words and conclusions – not included in my post as mine.

Do you accept that those “married” by the state in NZ and not by the church are “married”?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Liturgy
Fair enough, you may have not been arguing in a direction I gained the distinct impression you were arguing towards!
I am not at all sure that we NZ Anglicans typically use the term 'marriage' for ceremonies in which there is no intention to commit to permanence etc (though knowing some of our more interesting colleagues, I suppose anything is possible); and certainly do not think that the wording of our marriage liturgies is intended to be applied to relationships at such variance from Christian tradition about marriage, allowing that currently we generally have less interest, though not 'no interest' in procreation.

I accept that those "married" by the state in NZ and not by the church are married, providing marriageable intentions are intended (cf. those instance where people go through the form of civil marriage for the sake of (say) a work permit); yet that marriage may be brought before God for public prayer, and consequently might be felt to be a more complete marriage for having that prayer.

But I somehow feel this answer will not suffice .... :)

liturgy said...

“Traditionally” marriage was
(a) between a man and a woman
(b) for life (later moderated to – intended for life)
(c) exclusive
(d) for children

The church added
(e) being baptised made the partners ministers in the sacramental action of “Christian Marriage”

The (NZ Anglican) Church, of course, dropped (e) – let’s leave that to one side.

The NZ state removed all (b-d)
yet you are happy to call the resulting (a alone) “marriage”. I am not aware of any protest or heat connected with the dropping of (b) to (d). But retaining and requiring (b) & (c) whilst dropping (a) has resulted in very significant turmoil.

If the logic of my points leads you to the conclusion you make…

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Liturgy
The state may have dropped (b)-(d) but an (a) couple at the registry office committing themselves for life, exclusively, and for children are being married. Of course, if I met a couple walking out of the registry office who declared that one of (b) to (d) was not intended but wanted me, nevertheless, to bless their "marriage" I would consider the request carefully rather than say 'yes' to it automatically.
(The tricky, if not interesting question concerns an intention not to have children. Aunty Helen and Uncle Peter apparently had such an intention and I very much hesitate to deem them 'not married'. Perhaps in their case we might recognise a higher purpose (so to speak) where their choice to not have children was pro patria (and not, say, purely for the hedonistic pleasure of sex detached from consequential responsibilities for children)). ... not that they were likely to have asked you, or me, for a blessing on their marriage!!

Your remark about 'turmoil' implies (in my reading) that (a) might be of the same level of importance as (b) to (d). I rate (a) as a necessary condition for marriage.

liturgy said...


When you "rate (a) as a necessary condition for marriage" do you not rate (b) and (c) as a necessary condition for marriage?

You appear to be missing my point in switching from "state" to "registry office" (I don't know how many marry in a registry office - hence my use of the word state).

In your registry office story - exclusivity and the intention for life are not part of the registry office ceremony. If they are present, they have been added by the couple. The institution that your registry office calls "marriage" does not have exclusivity and the intention of life-long in its definition. What do you call what the NZ registry office calls "marriage"?

Peter Carrell said...

Hmm, Liturgy
My logical faculties (such as they are) are being stretched here!
Yes, I would also rate (b) and (c) as necessary. If they are not mentioned in the ceremony at the registry office I would nevertheless be inclined to trust that a registry-office couple so married intended (b) and (c) unless they attested otherwise. (Why, apart from securing a passport etc, would a couple bother with any kind of wedding ceremony if not intending to be fully married?)

I think I am still inclined to call a registry office marriage a marriage, acknowledging shortfall in wording required. One reason for doing so is that a registry office married couple are treated as fully married in respect of the law of the land. Another reason is that, given a couple, these days, could choose to enter into a civil union, there is presumably some marriage intentions involved in choosing a marriage through the registry office.

liturgy said...

The reasons why logical faculties are being stretched here, I suggest, is because the church has in fact not worked towards a well-developed, consistent theology and understanding of marriage (see my post).

Christian concepts still bleach into our post-Christian culture. There are folk-religion remnants of celebrating the incarnation in our culture’s celebration of “Christmas”. There are remnants of the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection in our culture’s celebration of Easter (though even less).

That there are folk-religious remnants of (b)-(d) bleaching into your experience of and assumptions about our culture’s celebration of “marriage” hence does not surprise me. That you distinguish civil unions from marriage as if they have a different understanding of (b) and (c) means you have missed some of the point of this development within our country. A civil union has no such difference of intentions as you write.

That the church has not reacted to the removal of (b)-(d) from our state requirements and definition of “marriage” but rather has allowed this to bleach into our own understanding, and only begins to yell “foul!” when (a) is questioned underscores prejudice rather than a strong commitment to a well-articulated understanding of marriage.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Liturgy
I am not as clear as you are about civil unions and (b): I thought one advantage of a civil union was that if it ended one does not become divorced! But my point rests less on whether civil unions do or do not have intentions (b) and (c) but on a variety of presumptions and assumptions being brought to marriage whether in a church or in a registry office such that 'marriage' via either location may well be a proper marriage.

As for the church continuing to adhere to (a) as a 'prejudice'. Not at all. The church's understanding of marriage is not that crazy! We have always been clear that marriage is between a man and a woman (agreed with the state), for life (accept that the state has chosen not to insist on that, but would struggle to accept as 'married' a registry office couple who declared they were not married for life, ditto re exclusivity ... intention for children, as already noted by me, this is an area of some difference of opinion within the church.

liturgy said...


We have not had a “divorced person” in NZ’s legal/state understanding for nearly 2 decades. Since 1980 we have had "dissolution of marriage". Civil unions are dissolved by the same process as marriages.

You continue to jump to conclusions by filtering things through your presuppositions.

I did not say that “adhering to (a) is a prejudice”. Prejudice is evident in not having commented, or even noticed, and still not noticing (!) when the word “marriage” began to be applied to something where nearly all of the elements of its earlier understanding were removed – but suddenly stirring up quite significantly when one element is being questioned.

I had the opportunity to run this thread past a lawyer specialising in NZ family law who commented that my points were a clear, correct, and simple summary of our current situation. Your comments might have had some traction two decades ago prior to the Family Proceedings Act 1980.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Liturgy
If its not prejudice then may be it is a 'belated awareness'!
Nevertheless I would still want to argue (even if this is not the direction you are arguing in) that at whatever point in the 'removal' of (a) to (d) of 'marriage' one wishes to assert that nevertheless 'marriage' may not be applied to a relationship between two people of the same gender, one may do so.
I presume your legal friend's implied point (yours also?) is that it would have been more honest of the State some years back to have abandoned talk of 'marriage' and to have begun talking about 'civil unions' (in whatever terms it chose) AND for the church at the same time to have defined clearly what it considered to be 'marriage'.

liturgy said...

Yes, we appear now to be on the same page.
And so have come full circle back to my original post.
A church that has been on a trajectory since 1930 of questioning, softening, and eliminating elements from (b) to (e), cannot protest, without being seen to be prejudiced, when that trajectory leads logically to questioning (a).

Those affirming (b), (c), and (e) may have as much right to maintain that a claim on the word “marriage” is appropriate as those who maintain (a) alone (the position of the NZ state – which you, until now, had been happy to call “marriage”).

I think my contribution to this thread may have run its course.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Liturgy
I shall look favourably upon 1929 as a vintage year for the Anglican Communion!