Thursday, August 1, 2013

Marriage Moral Maze: Has anyone who entered managed to get out?

Perhaps the strongest argument for the existence of God is that creatures otherwise hypothesized as evolving from sludge have a moral compass. But right now, on the matters of marriage and human sexuality, the compass is spinning wildly. Are Christians becoming lost in a maze of complexity about what marriage means, to whom it applies, and how marriage difficulties are to be solved?

Exhibit One: the Rt Rev James Tengatenga is the Chair of the Anglican Consultative Council. He has been the Bishop of Southern Malawi but now wishes to take up a position as an chaplains' dean within Dartmouth College, USA. As Bishop of Southern Malawi he is on record as saying things in keeping with (let's describe it as) the conservative approach to morality of African Anglicanism (minus ++Tutu, who may not be in heaven with you and me). As a candidate for office in a (seemingly) liberal US college, +James has stated a new, having evolved position on homosexuality. So far so good. People (a) change their minds, (b) state positions in keeping with their office and its expectations. But, according to George Conger, this is not good enough for critics in Dartmouth College. His new position is 'too ambiguous'. In some circles, moral ambiguousness is a virtue, in others it is a vice, when we misunderstand which circle we are in we are in a moral maze from which we may not escape!

Exhibit Two: Pope Francis I, lauded here and in many places for the tone of his comments about gay priests in a recent high altitude interview, has not resolved the moral maze created by the dilemma of upholding church teaching while riding with the expectations of the changing societies of the 21st century. Cardinal Dolan of New York does a great job of interpreting the situation here.

Exhibit Three: again, Pope Francis. Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith makes an astute point that the most significant thing Francis said on the plane interview was about marriage and divorce. But read Lucie-Smith's article slowly, and then some of the comments that follow. Generally, the RCC position on "divorce and remarriage" is canonically simple: there is only one marriage union per couple's lifetime, so any attempt at a 'new' marriage after (civil) divorce requires the nullity (i.e. it did not exist) of the previous 'marriage.' Canonically speaking, there is no canonical possibility of divorce-and-remarriage. Punctuationally speaking, noting various scare marks above, the situation is not simple! What is marriage in contexts where civil and canonical law collide?

The Pope's remarks acknowledge there is a moral maze concerning marriage, divorce and remarriage. Some commenters' remarks at the end of the article, concerned that they may be more 'Catholic' than the Pope (!!), attempt to get out of the maze by restating the essential simplicity of the current canonical situation. But the commenters are not bishops and the importance of the issue is that the Pope is clearly going to attempt to do something as he meets in conference with his bishops about a situation in which many Catholics are either denied the sacrament of communion or conscientiously refrain from participating because of their marital situation or un-canonically receive the sacrament.

ADU has a modest proposal to contribute to solve the moral maze. (1) Church leaders will refrain from public pronouncements. (2) All eucharistic services will cease for the time-being while we concentrate on hearing God's Word and praying together. :)


Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, I cannot believe your are seriously suggesting that the Church cease celebrating the Eucharist (which we do on a daily basis at St. Michael and All Angels, Christchurch) in order to 'concentrate on hearing God's Word and praying together!

Is that not what we are doing at the Eucharistic Celebration anyway? At least, this is what we are doing every day at Saint Michael's.

Maybe this is why many in the Church are not 'hearing God's Word'
They are not celebrating it often enough! That may be the root cause of the present malaise in the Anglican Communion.

Peter Carrell said...

A cessation of communion would help the RCC at this time. Anglicans could show their sympathy ...!

Andrei said...

You are getting entangled in the confusions of "modernism" - Peter.

Let's forget the "gay" nonsense for a minute, a modern obsession arising from an over indulged people who have not known hardship for several generations and think they are entitled to whatever they want whenever they ask, nay demand it.

But let's talk of divorce and receiving communion and begin by noting that actions have consequences - that you may be held accountable for your choices in this world is of course an anathema to the self indulgent modern western mind and cannot be allowed to stand.

But be that as it may - in the real world virtually anybody who presents themselves for communion in a Catholic Church will receive it, Catholic or not. divorced and remarried or not etc but Catholics believe, whether you do or not, that receiving communion when in a state inappropriate to do so will have serious consequences for those that do and that one of those things that may make it inappropriate to receive communion would be the violation of your marriage vows. So the divorced now remarried could present themselves for communion and how that would be handled by a priest who became aware of that situation would depend entirely upon that priest, of course

The secular state has made divorce a trivial matter and in fact with gay "marriage" has now reduced marriage to being an exercise of almost total pointlessness beyond an often kitsch ceremony frequently marked with trite and banal marriage "vows" followed by a party where wedding snaps may be taken.

And while you may not agree with the Catholic Church granting annulments they do at least have the singular virtue of being difficult to get and only after a long drawn out process - thereby reinforcing the notion of marriage as a permanent and life long union.

Peter Carrell said...

I agree that actions have consequences, Andrei, and I would never advise someone as wilfully selfish as some presumed examples in your comment to take communion without repentance.

The fact is that life is messy. There are thoroughly married Catholics who find themselves on the wrong side of the canonical line for whom the canons are currently unhelpful. Are they to remain fearful of the consequences of receiving communion lest they offend ... Who? God or the canon lawyers?

I salute the RCC and the seriousness with which it takes marriage and marriage vows. I do not salute the way it's rules keep save, grade-filled Christians from communion. One of whom is myself.

Andrei said...

Peter it will have been within your lifetime in order to receive communion in an Anglican Church you had to be an Anglican - you will know better than I when the change that opened communion to all? was made.

And could a practicing Jew, Muslim or Hindu receive communion in an Anglican Church?

You have expressed your hurt before that you cannot take communion when you attend a Catholic Mass but why? You could of course do it by violating the rules of that Church but you correctly wont do that, Or you could choose to become a Catholic and agree to abide by the rules of that Church, but you don't, I assume, feel comfortable with the theology of that Church. You have free will and freedom of action but that does not extend to making the Catholic Church conform to your will and desires.

The Church is about shaping and molding us to reflect God's image and not something for us to to twist and warp to conform to meet our own desires or wishes nor to gain the approval from society at large, which when it comes down to it is hostile to the Church anyway

Anonymous said...

As a counter proposal, I wish to advocate that we desist from reading the Word of God or attempting to interpret the Holy Scriptures in the form of sermons, homilies or reflections - at least until Advent Sunday.

The reading of Sacred Scripture just poses far too many exegetical and hermeneutical issues for the post-modern brain to concentrate on or handle. As for sermons, these days they are used to push various socio-political wheel-barrows and rarely assist in deepening our faith in Christ or enkindling our love for him.

No, let's just partake of the Holy Supper of the Lord in obedience to our Saviour's command. Let's set forth 'the visible Word' and celebrate 'the sacrament of our redemption by Christ's death' (as the Articles of Religion so aptly describes the 'summit and source of the Christian life').

Taking a break from intellectualising, eisegesis and attempting 'to eff the ineffable' will do Christians, especially those of the Anglican Communion, the world of good. We could then at last enjoy some prayerful silence in our worship - both before holy communion and afterwards. In that silence, we may just hear that still, small voice speak to us as 'we dwell in Christ and Christ in us.'

Those Christians who don't feel prepared or ready to receive holy communion at our Word-less Eucharists can make an act of communion by desire - something I do whenever I worship with my RC sisters and brothers or attend Anglican worship unprepared or unreconciled:

"I believe Lord, that you are Christ, the Son of God, who came into this world to save sinners. I believe that you feed your faithful with your body and blood in the Holy Eucharist. Although I may not receive you in your holy mysteries today, I pray that your Holy Spirit may enfold and embrace me in your love, granting me the peace and the strength I need and an abiding trust in your gift of eternal life. Amen."

(Thanks to the Orthodox Liturgy and the 1989 NZ Prayerbook).

Keeping another church's canon law is an exercise in Christian courtesy and God won't let those who seek him miss out on his 'grace and heavenly benediction'.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei
My primary point re the RCC and communion (in the context of this post and thread) is not about the general right of churches to organise themselves re who receives and does not receive communion. (Your citation of the Anglican situation until [I would say] about three decades ago is indeed a pertinent reminder of this general right).

Here my point is rather about the knots RCC canon law seems to get itself into. Two examples being: (i) where some divorced and remarried bona fide Catholics find themselves in respect of receiving communion [the primary concern here];
(ii) where some Protestants find themselves in today's RCC which is a church which (in my experience) welcomes me to work alongside it in ecumenical endeavours in which we all appear to respect one another as true Christians; occasionally invites me to address it in speech; yet, despite these wonderful welcomes, recognitions and invitations, canonically cannot include Protestants in fellowship at the table of the one Lord of all Christians.

Andrei said...

I guess Peter your understanding of the meaning of communion and that of the Catholic Church are different...

And the understand of marriage in the Catholic Church and that of the modern secular world are clearly at variance where we read today. for example that the marriage of Charles Saatchi was dissolved in a process lasting mere 70 seconds, this being Mr Saatchi's third marriage and Ms Lawson's third marital type arrangement - hey ho and off we go.

Anybody who receives a sacramental church wedding in the Catholic Church will receive instruction in what that means before standing before the Altar together and will be well aware that this is expected to be a permanent and life long relationship. And if, because life is messy at times, to use your words that this fails to materialize and that they choose to try again with a new partner that this new relationship will not receive the sacramental blessing of the Church.

Remember the old saying "marry in haste, repentant at leisure" - in this world we make our choices in life and realistically we have to live with them and negotiate the consequences they bring to us.

Once upon a time divorce was shameful and when it was shameful it was also rare. People for the most part made the best of it and almost certainly worked harder at making their marriages, "for better or for worse" work.

In these self indulgent times we expect everything to be a bed of roses, feel offended if our life (style) choices are not validated by everyone without exception and our actions to be consequence free if those consequences are not to our liking.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei
No one should marry in haste!
In my mind are not the SaatchiLawsons of this world but the people, I assume you know some, who are our friends and family who made wise choices about whom they would marry but later sin took hold, bad stuff happened and our friend or family member has had little or no choice about the end of their marriage.

Andrei said...

I assume you know some, who are our friends and family who made wise choices about whom they would marry but later sin took hold, bad stuff happened and our friend or family member has had little or no choice about the end of their marriage.

Yes Peter I do, of course.

One woman I know. a Catholic as it happens, had her husband abandon her for another and she refused to accept the divorce papers which were eventually served upon her in her own home by the bailiff, an official of the court.

Of course she has remained true to her marriage vows, even if her (ex) husband hasn't and thus can take communion with clear conscience.

We live in a fallen world and we are all in one way or another given our own crosses to bear.

Fifty years ago when getting a divorce was hard and hoops had to be jumped through the tale related above may not have happened (probably wouldn't have by the statistics) and the marriage that failed might well have persisted.

Whether or not the people I am thinking of here would have been "happier" as a result is unknowable but neither are particularly "happy" people where they have arrived.

The thing is life is hard and unfair for most people and bad things happen to people who do not deserve it.

Most people I know in long term marriages have had rocky bits and have worked through them rather than bale out (which often is from the frying pan into the fire)and come through it with stronger and better relationships.

Andrei said...

Well this didn't take long to happen - not very long at all.

“It is a shame that we are forced to take Christians into a court to get them to recognise us.”

He added: “It upsets me because I want it so much – a big lavish ceremony, the whole works, I just don’t think it is going to happen straight away.

“As much as people are saying this is a good thing I am still not getting what I want.”

Father Ron Smith said...

Apropos of the over-used term 'ad hominem. I notice, Peter, in today's Christchurch Press, an excellent note by the Editor which might be helpful to all of us on this site to recognise the fact that, to avoid 'ad hominem' being directed against another commenter, one may address the blog host - rather than the commenter - about what one may consider to be the perspective of the other person, in terms that are not abusive, but clearly critical. Would that suit you on your blog?

I note, also, that the Decication of our new Cathedral may be taking place on August 15th - a rather auspicious date on the calender of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church - that of the Assumption of the BVM (for R.S.'s) and the Dormition of Our Lady ( Orthodox). This could be a really ecumenical augury for the Churches here.

Anonymous said...

Fr Ron Smith would appear unduly optimistic. Catholics and Eastern Orthodox do not recognise anglican orders or eucharists. Because the validity of anglican apostolic succession is disputed (a nullity in Catholic teaching), the anglican bishop of Christchurch will not be viewed as canonically consecrated. Then add to the mix that the two first millenium churches only ordain men. Ecumencal augury because of a date? We live in hope.


Peter Carrell said...

Moderated comment from Ron:

"... The truth is that when a former Pope gave his episcopal ring (The Fisherman's Ring) to a former Archbishop of Canterbury, there was at least some tacit acceptance of their dual stewardship of ministry.

Also, in my time, I have received eucharistic hospitality from both R.C. and Orthodox clergy with their full understanding of my situation as an Anglican priest. In private talks with some of them, I find there is much more charitable consideration of the actual position than some might think - on both sides of the equation.

Then, again,[we need to understand], is that, although the official dogma about the nullity of Anglican Orders has not been rescinded, there is much greater understanding of the actual fact that the Eucharist is Christ's own Sacrament - not dependent on any papal or other magisterial jurisdiction. Otherwise, why would the Vatican continue with the sort of relationship it has with our very own representative to the Holy See - Archbishop David Moxon?