Monday, November 15, 2010

Play with Marriage and Divorce is Likely to Follow

It was a lovely wedding on Saturday - see 'Perfect Day' below - and the weekend turned into a rich experience of Anglican diversity as Sunday morning's worship was experienced in a lively, informal, family communion service in a suburban parish, and Sunday evening's service was a pitch perfect choral evensong in the Cathedral. A thread through the diversity was the commonality of doctrine pervading the three services, all sermons (only one of which was delivered by moi) being orthodox in interpretation and application of the Scripture readings.

The Communion's life as a common entity of connected Anglicans around the globe is not threatened by many manifestations of diversity within our common life, but it is affected by some. Much as some Anglican pundits seem averse to doctrine featuring in any account of that common life, in the end what we believe does affect the Communion. ACNA, for one instance, is not admitted as a member church because we do not believe (or do not yet believe!) it possible to have two distinct Anglican members of the one Communion drawn from the same geographical region. The Communion itself is not yet drawn into greater communion with the Church of Rome because a uniting belief of Anglicans is that communion with the Bishop of Rome is not a prerequisite of validity of sacramental ministry.

So emerging reflections on a recent decision in the Diocese of Toronto have drawn me to consider a post made recently but overlooked by me. Two concerns arise. Is the doctrine of marriage, as understood commonly by Anglicans, capable of fundamental change (i.e. marriage is a man and a woman to marriage may be any combination of man/woman, man/man, woman/woman)? May Anglican polity change fundamentally so that obedience to the decisions of bishops can trump obedience to Scripture as received by the whole Anglican Communion? In the post below, assuming its representation of the promulgation of the bishops in Toronto is accurate, it is strikingly revealed that the bishops do not have the confidence to take their desire for change even to their diocesan synod to endorse a decision for change. Read for yourselves what Catherine Sider Hamilton and F. Dean Mercer have written. If they are correct in their reading of the situation we have a diocese of the Communion playing with marriage. We should not be surprised if this play becomes yet another blow of the wedge in our Communion life leading to divorce!

"On September 14, 2010, Archbishop Colin Johnson ordained priest in the Diocese of Toronto a woman married (by civil law) to another woman. On November 3, the College of Bishops issued “Pastoral Guidelines” for the formal and liturgical blessing of same gender commitments in the Diocese of Toronto.

These actions are problematic both in their content and in their form.

The first action contradicts the doctrine, discipline and worship of the church and disregards its marriage canon. The second does one of two things. In one case, it gives the church’s formal blessing to a civilly married same-sex couple. In the other, it blesses a sexual relationship that is not a marriage. In either case it departs from the historic teaching of the church and its moral vision, both as to the nature of marriage and as to the role and limits of sex.

The bishops have described both actions as pastoral. But in fact they affect the doctrine of the church. The ordination of a person in a same-sex marriage hallows that marriage and names it the ideal, a worthy example for all to follow, properly belonging within the Christian definition of marriage. This is to challenge the marriage canon of the Anglican Church of Canada. This is an act, that is, with concrete legal and doctrinal implications.

Likewise, to bless a civil same-sex marriage in a service complete with scripture readings, hymns of the church, and (if the couple wishes) a Eucharist, is to declare this a Christian marriage. There is no distinction between a civil same-sex marriage blessed in a church and a civil heterosexual marriage blessed in a church. To be sure, the guidelines prohibit the exchange of marriage vows and rings; but the couple has already exchanged vows and rings before a magistrate. If the nuptial blessings currently printed in the prayer books cannot be used, what of that? A new blessing can be written.

If the couple is not civilly married, then we are blessing sex outside of marriage. Whatever the current social mores regarding sex, this is a formal innovation in the church’s ethical teaching and practice.

These are not pastoral actions. They strike at the heart of the faith that has been handed on to us, and at the Christian moral vision regarding sex and marriage.

Indeed, far from being pastoral, these actions are pastorally irresponsible. They introduce substantial innovations in the teaching and moral practice of the church without adequate preparation for the people of the diocese, without adequate theological rationale, without public defense. Further, they put clergy in an unenviable position. Clergy are bound to be loyal both to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them, and to their bishops. The two are now in conflict.

Is this what it means for the bishops, chief pastors, to shepherd the sheep?

In all this, it is perhaps the failure of truth that is most damaging. It is not just that the bishops have introduced doctrinal and moral innovations under the guise of “pastoral response.” It is also the way they have done it. For the sake of public peace, the bishops have proceeded without synodical debate, without public defense, so quietly – in the case of the ordination – that, though due process was followed, virtually no one except those present at the ordination knew that it was occurring. The bishops in this way have sought to prevent public opposition and have avoided public explanation. Surely actions carried out thus in disregard of the Christian calling to speak the truth in love cannot lead us into the truth."


liturgy said...

The sermons, not all by Anglicans, may have been orthodox, but we both know that not all three services were. IMO, the Communion's life as a common entity of connected Anglicans around the globe may be threatened by the abandonment of our vows and signed promises to adhere to liturgical formularies. Furthermore, should the easy attitude in NZ lead to increased tension, the Act of Parliament connecting our finances to our liturgical formularies is crystal clear where the property, trusts, and finances will go.

There are many examples of overlapping members of the Anglican Communion over the same geographic area. The Church of South India has been peacefully coexisting with the Episcopal Church in USA for many years.

Christianity has never required “communion with the Bishop of Rome” as “a prerequisite of validity of sacramental ministry”. Even the Roman Catholic Church would deny such a teaching.

Making forecasts such as you do here (“We should not be surprised if this play becomes yet another blow of the wedge in our Communion life leading to divorce!”) !”) you recently described as “interesting judgements with an air of pre-judgement which is also known as prejudice!”

Contra your post, it appears that there are strong distinctions being made between such a blessing and the sacrament of marriage, and that your post’s assertion that clergy are being put into conflict between loyalty to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them, and to their bishops appears incorrect. Clergy are clearly being left free to do these blessings or not.

Nothing you present in this post is significantly different to New Zealand’s Anglican provision by our Liturgical Commission, Liturgy for the Blessing of a Relationship 1992, which is allowable under our Worship Template passed by General Synod. The only thing newsworthy is how many years Toronto is behind New Zealand.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
It is good to know there are many examples of overlapping members of the Anglican Communion over the same geographic area. I look forward to the inclusion of ACNA in the Communion soon!

True, Christianity in general has not required communion with the Bishop of Rome as a prerequisite of validity of sacramental ministry. But it does not seem that in the West that Catholics will readily receive the sacrament at eucharist unless from a priest in such communion, nor that my erstwhile sacramental ministry will be accounted as valid (save for baptisms) unless I am in communion with Rome (i.e. converted to Rome, ordained by Rome as if never previously ordained).

The general division of the Communion is already proceeding, and is proceeding as wedges of certain kinds are being hammered into cracks in our life. I am not sure that it is a prejudice to suggest that we should not be surprised to find that action A leads to a more deeply driven in wedge. That allows that the effect might not be as surmised. I would draw a contrast between that and Covenant prognostications which tell us what 'will' happen.

From another article: "Notably, clergy who object to blessing same-gender relationships will be asked to "exercise pastoral generosity" by referring the couples, if requested, to a more favorable priest. The guidelines also state, "It is expected that no one will be excluded from receiving the eucharist or baptism in any parish on the basis of their sexual orientation or their views on the issue of same gender blessings, whether in favor or opposed." " [] Here the bishops are requiring clergy to (a) make referrals they might in good conscience not want to make; (b) to make no distinction at communion between orthodox and heretics. Some clergy may feel that the church's teaching as received means they should not refer and not administer to heretics and thus they are in tenstion with the requirement that they obey their bishops.

I know of no such tension in the life of our church here in ACANZP.

Brother David said...

How many of us here do you consider heretics Peter? Name us please?

Peter Carrell said...

Everyone except me!

Seriously: I personally share in communion with many people who I disagree with, including some for whom I would be in sharp disagreement with their views. Where would I draw the line between 'generous orthodoxy' and heresy? Probably not on views re the blessing of same sex relationships. But I would be loath to say that friends and colleagues in the Communion should not have the freedom to make a distinction between those who subscribe to traditional views on marriage and those who do not.

liturgy said...

1) I wonder, Peter, whether there is not some parallel when a Kiwi priest objects to marrying a couple when one person or both are divorced, the objection being either on the general principal of its being unbiblical, or in a particular specific situation? Would such a priest not “make referrals they might in good conscience not want to make”?

2) I can think of plenty of tensions in the life of our church here in ACANZP akin to your description. When we have time one day, I am quite happy to discuss them privately, but think it inappropriate for me to list any here.

3) I disagree with you. In your clause, “I personally share in communion with many people who I disagree with” – I think the pronoun should be “whom”.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
(1) Yes, there is a degree of parallel. The question of whether there is a whole parallel would turn on the matter of whether clergy in Toronto/here are expected to make such a referral or not.
(2)Are you paying for coffee or offering a domestic cup of tea? :)
(3) I am 'm'ost sinful in my omission of an 'm'!