Thursday, May 1, 2014

Why I think I could live with Same Sex Blessings

There is no doubt that tremendous energy is building up in our church as we head towards General Synod. I hear, on one side, of folk bursting a boiler for decisive change in our church. On another side I hear of folk for whom just about any change will precipitate departure.

While I have already below contributed my six steps for a way forward, on one matter, being a conservative and living with bishops exercising the option of permitting blessings of same sex partnerships, I want to offer a little more thinking. It might help some to stay. But I use the word 'think' in the title to the post to reserve the option of continuing to think through the situation.

In what follows I acknowledge that some of my words below are heavily influenced by the thinking of others commenting here and speakers and writers within our church whom I have encountered in events such as our Hermeneutical Hui.

In the six steps posted below I suggest we steer well clear of changing our doctrine on marriage in favour of incorporation of gay marriage. My first reason for doing so is that to make such change puts a pastoral obligation on all clergy which would lead to division in our church since not all clergy presently are prepared to take on that obligation but a second important reason lies alongside that: to change our doctrine in that way would be to require many clergy and laity sworn into office to declare allegiance to a doctrine they do not wholly subscribe to.

To permit bishops to exercise discretion in respect of their priests blessing same sex partnerships would be a different step. No change of doctrine would be required and no pastoral obligation would lie with clergy to perform such blessings because this would not be embedded in our formularies.

Nevertheless such a step would be a step too far (as I understand it) in the eyes of some clergy. One reason would be that even to publicly admit such a possibility as a formal aspect of church ministry would be to change our teaching on homosexuality. Another reason would be that it would be seen as a step along a 'slippery slope.'

Why, nevertheless, do I think that I could live with this option being agreed to by our General Synod?

(1) It is consistent with other matters in our church in which 'two opposing' views sit side by side (while not being enshrined in our formularies). Thus, for example, we have pacifists who oppose military service and we have Anglicans serving in the military, including ordained chaplains. On a related note we can observe that some among us seem willing to take part in blessing military equipment that might be used to kill people and others among us are opposed to that participation (even if we are otherwise in favour of military service).

There are different views on abortion/euthanasia in our church: in some cases, perhaps, such differences are part and parcel of a set of 'conservative' or 'liberal' views on a range of matters; in other cases, the differences will represent different experiences of the raw realities of life in which simple solutions to complex problems do not seem possible. I mention the latter as a reminder that it is relatively easy to dismiss 'the other side' when we operate in binary terms and a bit harder to do so when we recognise that pastoral and theological integrity are being held in great tension in the face of human complexity. On all these matters, incidentally, it is possible to continue to debate together what the Bible and our tradition mean.

(2) It offers a way forward for members of our church who in good conscience before God see good coming from blessing the relationship of two people who wished to live a faithful, committed, stable partnership and who question with great integrity why our church permits priests to remarry divorced persons beyond the narrow exceptions envisaged by our Lord but will not permit the blessing of relationships between two people of the same gender who desire to publicly express their faithful, lifelong commitment to each other.

(3) It involves no compromise in my own beliefs about marriage and human sexuality. Nor does it require me to stop debating issues (see 1 above).

The next reason is worth consideration but perhaps it is a separate thought, unnumbered because on its own relative to the above three reasons:

(x) In a society in which increasingly (it would appear) there is widespread tolerance for same sex partnerships and, since recently, for gay marriage according to the law of the land, this option would enable us to say, "we are a church with mixed views". That, I suggest, is better than the two alternatives of either saying, "our church is utterly opposed to what many favour" or "our church is completely in favour of what society tolerates." Both the former and the latter - I suggest - make hearing the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ harder than it needs to be. Why should the 'average' secular citizen in our land pay heed to a church which (no matter how much we deny it) looks like it is either 'anti-gay' or 'no different to the surrounding culture'?

What about the 'slippery slope' or 'Yes, Peter, blessings now but nek minit change to doctrine of marriage?'

Two thoughts: first, it is only a 'slippery' slope if it is a slope with a downward gradient. Some might say that this GS is the liberals last hoorah. The increasing decline in congregational numbers means the larger churches (mostly conservative) come to the fore, including through synod representation. That is, what looks like a downhill slope now is likely to become an uphill gradient that will not permit further change. Secondly, go back to my post below re six steps. The first is a moratorium on change to our doctrine of marriage for a period of twenty-five years. At that point everything should be very clear for our church. All will accede to a change peacefully. Or not.


Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, while acknowledging your eirenic stance in even thinking of entertaining the possibility of Same-Sex Blessings; might I draw attention to the fact that this would hardly impinge on the extant Doctrine of Christ.

One matter that does impinge on that sacred Doctrine, is the fact that in ACANZP, we who believe in the Presence of Christ at the Eucharist are living with those who do not believe in the catholic understanding of The real Presence

This is a truly doctrinal matter, on which we seem able to co-exist with one another in the Anglican Communion Churches. Why is it that a matter not touching on the doctrine of Christ, Himself - the adiaphoral matter of Same-Sex relationships, should be something that divides us?

I would like your opinion in this.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
I think there are various differences.

(For the sake of argument I will assume that we have different theologies of the eucharist, roughly 'Protestant' and 'Catholic' but in practice it might turn out that on the eucharist there was not such great difference).

1. You and I can attend the same eucharist, say the same words, and think different things are going on. That is, the words of the eucharist, agreed to by our GS, an authorised service you and I both agree and declare our willingness to use, do not divide us. A change to the doctrine of marriage would include a change to the services of marriage in our prayer book, as authorised services, and you and I might then not be in agreement that we were under an obligation to use these services if requested.

2. I could be asked to take a eucharist in which you were a participant. I say the words and mean one thing, you hear the words and think another, together we are one Anglican congregation united in acceptance of an authorised service, and, we might also say, agreed that we are disagreed on 'what is going on' in the service. However it would be rank hypocrisy and bad manners for me to (say) conduct the marriage of a same sex couple according to an authorised service of our church while thinking in my heart that they weren't being married and that God was not blessing their relationship. But once such a service was authorised I do not see how I could make declarations about use of authorised services and submission to the authority of GS and then refuse to conduct such a service upon reasonable request of two parishioners. Thus I, and, I believe, many colleagues would need to part company with the church at that point.

Bryden Black said...

Thanks indeed Peter for the spirit of eirene. My question: does it resemble Jn 14:27? Or does it dissemble? For I’d only point out two things:

1. Even the Canadian St Michael’s report did not, as Ron has suggested, consider the issue of blessing same-sex relationships “adiaphora”, since it touches directly upon a theology of marriage. This we both understand - thankfully!

2. Thereafter, I would draw your attention once more to Ephraim Radner’s essay entitled “BLESSING: A Scriptural and Theological Reflection”, to be found here:

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bryden,
Good point about John 14:27!

1. Indeed, not adiaphora.

2. If I understand Ephraim Radner's own position, he is willing to continue to serve in a church which agrees to such blessings even as he strongly and eloquently disagrees.

Bryden Black said...

Do you think ER's stance as expressed is coherent - enough? And if so, why?!

Peter Carrell said...

It is coherent enough because it keeps discussion of 'blessing' centred on God.

But when he writes, "The question, obviously, has got to get way beyond the silly claims that “the Church blesses all kinds of things – fox hunts and submarines – why not this?” Because, as we have seen, the Church ought not to bless all things, if in fact some things are not aspects of the creative purposes of God’s life-giving and life-extending character and will and do not accord with God’s “command”. " he precisely makes the point that we do have different points of view in our church about 'blessing' and what may be blessed.

Thus the question I am focused on is whether different viewpoints about blessing can be accommodated in our church outside of the pages of constitution, prayer books and canons (which is where, as far as I can tell, blessings of foxhunts, submarines, etc lie).

Bryden Black said...

Fair enough in what you cite. But is that all? For you see, Peter, I do not agree you have concluded as ER does ...

His first conclusion: “I am not of the opinion, then, that churches or dioceses or synods should order the “pastoral response” of individuals to gay relationships, precisely because I believe these are intrinsically individual discernments and internal matters of private conscience and should be treated as such.”

Second and final conclusion: “What our thought experiment [his entire essay] here brings out is, finally, this aspect regarding blessing that perhaps needs most clearly to be stated in the midst of contested aspects of the action: To bless is a resolutely corporate and public thing to do, because it is at base a confessional thing to do, that is bound to a particular claim about who God is and what God does. And “confession” – homologia – is something that we do before the world, clear about who God is and what God has done in Jesus Christ, the truth upon which we stake our lives: “Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ”(1 Tim. 6:11-13). It is interesting that in this discussion of public witness, Paul does indeed link the central profession of faith precisely with God’s “life-giving” reality – who gives life to all things – even as this is given in Christ Jesus’ own redemptive form. One blesses what one confesses before the world and for which one gives away one’s life. Nothing less.

This gets us back to the original notion of blessing as barak, God’s blessing as God’s giving himself away before us, out of love – creating, sustaining, redeeming. Blessing is at the heart of God, and therefore admits of no uncertainties.”

And so, if GS, our public body to which technically clergy are beholden, does conclude ACANZ&P is to “bless” same-sex relationships under certain circumstances, then how does this not amount to a “confession” about a deemed “certainty” ...?!

Peter Carrell said...

At risk of splitting canonical hairs, our church resolving that bishops may choose to permit individual priests to follow their conscience re offering blessings to same sex couples (as to fox hunts, as to submarines, as to a new school gym) is not 'ordering' anything.

Further, while I agree with ER re the public, corporate character of blessing, and it involves a confessional element, such blessings (according to my scheme) would involve the confessional element of those so inclined to confess, but it would not involve the confession of this church, it not having changed its theology as formally written down.

But, to side with you in part, I agree that ER makes the point that there is more to 'blessing' and our understanding of it than might meet the eye ...

Anonymous said...

Good afternoon Peter

All I want to say is that I appreciate your considered thinking about this issue.

Cheers - Chris

Bryden Black said...

If the GS does indeed go down this road, what they will have achieved will be this: the clearest division yet regarding two gospels - which is what many of us have been saying, ever since the start of this ‘thing’, we are actually dealing with. How do I conclude this? Consider a key part of the ER conclusion:

“... because it is at base a confessional thing to do, that is bound to a particular claim about who God is and what God does. And “confession” – homologia – is something that we do before the world, clear about who God is and what God has done in Jesus Christ, the truth upon which we stake our lives.”

Now; if that is an ‘eirenic’ gesture, to precipitate this form of division within a single body, then ...

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks, Chris!

Peter Carrell said...

At risk, Bryden, not of splitting canonical hairs this time, but of sounding like a cracked record, would 'the clearest division yet regarding two gospels*' be a bit more clear than currently, or as different in clarity as, say, noon daylight and twilight on a grey day are?

*'two gospels' can offend some readers here - if it does, think of the gospel being proclaimed by our church in two forms so far apart that it tempts commentators to speak about two gospels :)

Father Ron Smith said...

Regarding something really important - the doctrine of Christ in the Eucharist - those of us who believe He is truly present are not aware of Christ's absence - even though others may not believe he is there!

Now, if we can accept that why can others not accept that God may truly be present in a Same-Sex Union?

At issue, in both cases - though in different formulation - is the question of true presence of Christ.

Anonymous said...

Ron, I don 't think there's an Anglican on the planet who believes that Christ is 'not there' when the Holy Communion is celebrated. Just because we don't articulate it the way Anglo-Catholics do doesn't mean we think he's 'not there'.


Bryden Black said...

What is clarified Peter, IMHO, is due to the cessation of the murkiness of mist and low cloud obscuring any view of the mountains, versus now, due to GS sanctioning (I use that word as opposed to the formal catholic “ordering”) such “blessings” at all at all, the view akin to Lake Pukaki with Mt Cook/Aoraki behind on a sunny day: our “particular claim[s] about who God is and what God does” have become really rather disparate. This distinction is based on the sorts of logic lain out at some length in my piece on the other thread regarding language and grammar and their referents, a Christian anthropology, and epistemology.

If there is offense, it is driven entirely by the case presented by ER re the Biblical understanding of that word “blessing”! Or are we really now in the world of humpty-dumpty and “glory” (as I think hogster suggests on that other thread)?

Where it differs from the sorts of variance Ron is recounting re the Eucharistic Presence is that traditionally sacramental matters, like the mode and timing of baptism, as well as theories surrounding the form of Jesus’ presence (receptionist, transubstantiation, etc) are not on a par with creedal or core matters. And if we don’t think such things as anthropology and Trinity involve these latter, then I have to conclude humpty-dumpty rules (see too once again Edith Humphrey’s and Philip Turner’s rationales).

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Bryden,
I am reminded of Isaiah 51:1!

Bryden Black said...

Love that text! Might that be Cook or ... Aoraki?! ;)

Undergroundpewster said...

Your approach seems to be applicable to a clergyman relating to another clergyman at a a separate parish. From a layman's perspective, the problem we have is with the clergyman of our parish performing same sex blessings when the congregation is split on the issue.

I wonder how your approach would work when a rector and assistant rector of the same parish differ in their views, and one offers to perform ssbs while the other won't.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Underground Pewster,
Is the problem(s) you refer to any different to a parish split over (say) remarrying divorced persons, the priest wearing a chasuble (or not wearing one)?

Put another way, a priest (I believe) is called to hold his or her parish together, to be an agent of unity and reconciliation. A parish priest or team of parish priests need to work out what unity and reconciliation means and how to achieve it. (In my experience, and on other issues rather than the ones discussed here, it is a very difficult challenge to be such an agent).

My proposal effectively offers no guidance about whether a priest (otherwise permitted by the bishop to offer blessings) should or shouldn't proceed to do so. I would suggest caution. Managing change in the church, as certain lightbulb jokes remind us, is always a challenge.

Chris Spark said...

Without engaging the wider issues (as I sort of already have), just to briefly comment on point (x) re the need to be wary of being anti gay.

While I see where this is coming from, it seems completely wrong headed in its approach to a real problem.
That's because the church has always been SEEN as anti many things that society didn't like. It has been seen as anti-Roman Empire (which at the time was not at all popular), anti Jewish, anti progress etc (and I don't when it actually acted in these ways and was out of line with the gospel, I meaqn when it was seen as such by the very content of the gospel).
More recently it has been seen as anti-Jewish (esp in the way the Gospels are written, eg recently in a NZ made documentary as leading to Nazi-ism!) and anti-Muslim/Buddhist and other faiths.

The truly Christian response to this throughout is not to change position, but rather to continually and patiently explain, through misunderstanding and over a long time, the nuance of the church's position, the true beauty of the admittedly radical Christian world view, but why it ends up as better for all, even if in whatever the current cultural climate is, it is hard to see at first. Showing how the gospel is actually for all people, and not anti anyone.
This is long hard work, and misunderstood and misrepresented, done by failing people. But it is the Christian response (I think of Justin Martyr as an example re Roman Empire, just to make one illustration).

Anonymous said...

Chris, I quite agree that the nuances of the radical Christian view need to be patiently explained and even developed over time, both as a matter of apologetics and within the Christian community itself.

This may well involve a change in our own commonly accepted view of what's right. Our views have certainly developed over time in respect of women's position, slavery, remarriage of the divorced and so on. Meditating upon and expounding the central Gospel themes of justice and mercy can and should change our minds about 'how things have always been done'.

We would hardly claim that the practice and understanding of the church has always and everywhere been in tune with God's mind. We are surely continually compromised by the sin and injustice of our own culture, and it takes time to discern that and separate ourselves from the unloving, unjust practices that we have uncritically upheld.

I believe in all conscience that the Church's opposition to same sex relationships will eventually be understood as analogous to our opposition to women's equal participation in the church and even our historic acquiescence regarding slavery.

Eventually the imperative of the gospel towards love and mercy in all things will trump our collaboration in society's oppression of women, people of colour, gay people, divorced people and so on. Even when this or that verse appears to show it as God's will that such people should be singled out for sanctions.

Marnie Barrell

Father Ron Smith said...

"This is long hard work, and misunderstood and misrepresented, done by failing people. But it is the Christian response (I think of Justin Martyr as an example re Roman Empire, just to make one illustration)." - Chris Spark -

And, in the other direction, think of living martyrs to their faith in a loving inclusive God - like Hans Kung & Teilhard de Chardin - for instance. And the Roman Catholic Church had/has a problem with their theology, too.

You don't necessarily have 'right' on your side, Chris; when there happens to be other - equally valid maybe - points of view.

My understanding on the Blessing of Same-Sex relationships, is that the Church is not intent on forcing any clergy-person to carry out such a function. Not does the State force the Church to be compliant in this issue. This is where the individual conscience must take responsibility.

After all, no clergy-person in ACANZP is forced to marry divorcees - a similar issue.

Chris Spark said...

Marnie, thanks for that - I guess though you are actually saying you disagree with me, rather than agree.

And it sounds like perhaps the key point of disagreement is the trustworthiness of the Scriptural expression of God's goodness in the gospel. I certainly think the church (and different parts of the church) has gotten and no doubt does have it wrong at various times and ways, but I do think that where God has expressed himself through Scripture as to how his love and gospel works out, then even 'this and that verse' is trustworthy, so long as understood in biblical context (in an Article 20 of the 39 kinda way).

And that trustworthiness means it is good for us, and helps shape our view of what justice, love and mercy truly look like. (note that there are a number of homosexually oriented Christians who see it the same way)

It is radical, but that is the radicalness of the gospel as far as I can see - and I think, by the way, I need reshaping as much as anyone.

Father Ron Smith said...

For me, Chris, as a minister of the Gospel, the true 'radicalness', as you call it, of the Gospel lies in its story of the redemption of sinners. This depends, not on our perceived worthiness or even our goodness, but upon that of God.

"Lord, I am not worthy...." is my only approach to the amazing grace of our redemption.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron, You write a perfectly good comment but with an objectionable first sentence, because you leap from words a commenter says to a conclusion that is your speculation not their implication. Accordingly a touch of moderation.

"Reading Chris Spark's latest comments [I wish to remind readers] that the Holy Spirit may have conveyed to the Church and the world since the canon of Scripture was settled centuries ago.

[Without that reminder we may have a] problem with the fact[]: that the world does not find any relevance with a Church that denies the progress made in human values since the Bible's texts on slavery, patriarchalism and the subjugation of women were set down as appropriate working models for 21st century society.

While the mission of the Church is blunted by the 'sola-scriptura' school of theological [] trying to maintain a strangle-hold over the propagation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world of today; souls are being turned away from Christ's redemption.

In his calling of the Roman Catholic Church to renewal at the Second Vatican Council. Pope John XXIII was trying to open up the Church to new revelation - on how the Church was to become relevant in a rapidly changing world. His revolutionary insights, however, have been sadly blunted by those in the Vatican who saw control moving away from its established magisterium. Hopefully, the reign of this present Pope Francis will bring more light into the process of risorgimento, which was the vision of Pope John XXIII.

The Pope, for Protestants, has been replaced by the Bible - the first guide-book for both Jews and Christians, to set them on the road to further enlightenment: "When the Spirit comes..." said Jesus, "He will lead you into all the truth". The Spirit is still leading us into that truth - if only the Church will listen.

Pope John's "semper reformanda" still needs to be the watchword of the Church - if we are to become, like Mary, the handmaid of the lord in our day and age.

Jean said...

Hi Peter

I was wondering although a blessing may not be part of the doctrine of the church, it surely has biblical principals attached to it. From your theological study what is your understanding of the spiritual implication of the act taking place when a person/people/place is blessed under the banner of Jesus.

Best wishes

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jean,
I would say that when a place or person or people in a relationship are blessed by a priest/minister we are asking God to bless (bring joy, well-being, protection and fruitfulness) to that which is being blessed.

By implication we are claiming God's support and approval of the blessed one/thing. Thus I would struggle to bless a battleship but could bless the people who plan to sail in her.

(Incidentally, I would also want to be alert to the distinction between 'dedication' (handing something to God for God to use to God's glory) and 'blessing': do we dedicate or bless an object? Is it in the power of parents, say, to dedicate a child? Should the child be blessed instead?).

I acknowledge that another line re 'blessing' is to think of it as 'giving thanks'(see Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 re bread and cup at eucharist).

Spiritually 'blessing' is significant. My point in the present context is not that permitting blessing of certain relationships is, in itself, a lesser action than conducting a marriage (assuming the blessing is indeed the blessing of God) but that it might offer a way for the current doctrine of the church re marriage to remain untouched, unity of the church to be enhanced, and an offering of spiritual blessing be made to those seeking it by those whose conscience convicts them it is possible.

Jean said...

Hi Peter

Thanks for that clarification. I had read the post you wrote and was mulling it over and then debated whether the spiritual significance/meaning in the act of blessing was vastly differrent from that of marriage.

Aside from avoiding the tangle of changing doctrine, giving the significance you place on blessing as above would not therefore, same sex blessing present the same issues as have been debated re marriage for individual priests and churches?

I acknowledge your option gives credence to individual ministers being able to choose whether they bless or not and therefore allows both positions to be practiced while remaining as one church. Although allowing them to choose to marry those of the same sex or not is essentially the same option.

I think it is one way to maintain unity and perhaps this is what is more important at the present time.

Personally my concern is that it indirectly classifies homosexual desire/behaviour as not sinful and through the reading of scripture I am not convinced of this yet. NB:; I would have a similar reaction if the condoning of euthanasia and abortion were debated in the church.

As an aside: re dedication. I am not sure. Dedication (handing something to God for God to use to God's Glory), the definition you use seems to me to be pretty close to what I would think of what happens in Baptism (as done by parents on behalf of a child).

Have a great day,

Peter Carrell said...

Your observations, Jean, are spot on!

To reflect further on a few of them.

(a) "Aside from avoiding the tangle of changing doctrine, giving the significance you place on blessing as above would not therefore, same sex blessing present the same issues as have been debated re marriage for individual priests and churches?"

There could well be debates within (say) individual dioceses about whether the local bishop should permit clergy to so bless because the Vicar of St X might object to the Vicar of St Y performing blessings which are disputed. (I am not going to attempt to say what bishops should do in such situations. But I observe that we appear to have a diocese or two which are pretty united on wanting to have such blessings and at least one diocese united in not wanting such blessings).

The key difference then pertains to what clergy are being asked to 'adhere' to when they sign declarations re what 'doctrine' we will teach as the doctrine of the church.

(b) "Personally my concern is that it indirectly classifies homosexual desire/behaviour as not sinful and through the reading of scripture I am not convinced of this yet. NB:; I would have a similar reaction if the condoning of euthanasia and abortion were debated in the church." I think this is so. My response would be that irrespective of what GS decides we already have many clergy and laity (some of whom comment here) who "classifies homosexual desire/behaviour as not sinful". That is, we are already a church of mixed views and one question before us is whether we allow our 'practice' to some degree to reflect this situation.

Father Ron Smith said...

"(b) "Personally my concern is that it indirectly classifies homosexual desire/behaviour as not sinful and through the reading of scripture I am not convinced of this yet."

- Dr. Peter Carrell -

Nor am I convinced, Peter, that all presenting heterosexual desire/behaviour is not sinful - by the same scriptural criteria.

Somehow, the Church has to come to a mutual understanding of the fact that the presence of homosexual desire in a person is not morally different from heterosexual desire in another person. How they live with their desire/behaviour is a matter deeply personal to them.

Once we all have come to that mutual understanding of the presence of inherent sexual desire that is natural to a particular person; we may then begin to assess the morality of what you have mentioned as 'behaviour - bearing in mind that rules made in Scripture were not informed by the modern understanding of gender and sexuality.

Jean said...

Hi Ron

Just to be clear the comment you quote as Peter's was mine from a previous post - wouldn't want him to take the flack for my statement : ).

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jean
To go back to your comment re dedication/baptism:

my questions are: has the NT moved on through baptism from dedication (in the OT)? Is baptism a dedication to God or a reception from God (of grace, new life, redempetion)?

Caleb said...

Peter: You argue very well for your suggestion. I'm not sure whether I agree with it or not - I can't think of any 'ideal' solution to the church's current mess, and even trying to think of one reminds me why I prefer to restrict myself to thinking about ideas than the practice of those ideas in the really existing structures of the really existing church - ideas are much easier!

I do have one minor qualm re: your point x... There is a lot of middle-ground between "our church is utterly opposed to what many favour" or "our church is completely in favour of what society tolerates." Certainly your "we are a church with two views" occupies this middle ground. But so does "we don't see gender as morally determinative when it comes to sex, but nor do we feel the need to approve of or tolerate all 'homosexuality' any more than we feel the need to approve of or tolerate all 'heterosexuality'... we are completely opposed to much of our society's views on sex, e.g. (a) patriarchal society's stereotyped ideas of gender roles and 'gender complementarity,' (b) the idea that one is only fully human when sexually active, (c) effectively treating sex as the ultimate fetishised consumer commodity, which all insatiably desire, which has no lasting negative consequences, and which cannot be opposed or denied so long as it is traded by consenting individuals."

In any case, your two options are too simplistic about what "society" thinks... It fails to take into account the fact that opposition to homosexuality is just as much a product of our society as tolerance of homosexuality or advocacy for LGBTI rights are (because our society is a patriarchal one characterised by gender binary and gender stereotypes, as well as being an individualist one characterised by liberal tolerance and some degree of sympathy sympathy for minority groups' identity politics).

Re: Chris... "the key point of disagreement is the trustworthiness of the Scriptural expression of God's goodness in the gospel" - Nope. The key point of disagreement is interpretations of the Scriptural expression of God's goodness in the gospel. I can't speak for another commenter, but as a fellow reader of Marnie's comment, nothing in her last sentence indicated that she is distrusting Scripture or the gospel - it indicated that she favours a different interpretation of Scripture/the gospel to that which seems to be indicated by anachronistic face-value interpretations of "this or that verse" today.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Caleb
I accept that life is more complex. I don't have time this week to 'argue the toss' on the observations you make but there is (to agree with you) much to reflect on re what 'church', 'society' thinks and does about these matters.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Once again you make a perfectly good comment which is marred by one line. Hence,

"Caleb, I wholeheartedly agree with your opinion - vis a vis a comment of Chris - that "the point of disagreement on most of the content of this thread is how to interpret the Scriptural expression of God's goodness in the Gospel".

Interpretation of Scripture is the crux of most of the arguments here - and in the Communion at large.


One of the Baptismal gifts - in my opinion - is that of discernment. How we use that discernment may be crucial, in our acceptance or rejection of other people's academic protestations.

What I have removed as an objectionable is a comment which attributes laziness to commenters here because they cite others. For goodness sake, Ron, what do most biblical commentaries consist of?!?!? Lots of citations of previous commentators ... citing another person's thinking is a time efficient way of offering a viewpoint. That is fine.

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter. Have you ever thought of taking up a new career as a ventriloquist. I cannot but admire your skill at interpreting what I have to say. Sadly, not always very effectively. However, your blog!!!

Father Ron Smith said...

In my day, Peter, they used to call the over-quotation of other people's academic musings 'plagiarism'.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
When I haven't acted as 'ventriloquist' I have tended to have people objecting to being commented upon rather than having their comments commented on.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Plagiarism only occurs when the citation is unattributed.

jean said...

Hi Peter in response to your post (quoted as a few conversations have ensued since then : ) ):

"To go back to your comment re dedication/baptism:

my questions are: has the NT moved on through baptism from dedication (in the OT)? Is baptism a dedication to God or a reception from God (of grace, new life, redempetion)?"

In my most likely very non-theological musings : ) if done on behalf of a parent for a child, and if baptism infers we have now 'died to self' and 'live for Christ' - the essence of both strikes me as being a 'belonging to God'.

However, I do realise the reference to dedication is somewhat limited in terms of biblical reference and was used in the Old Testament (e.g. in the case of Samuel). And that it has been re-instated mostly by christians who prefer adult baptism, and as such dedicate their child to God for His care until such time as they choose their own path.

Being a baptised as an infant Anglican (oh my gosh who did that!); I have looked at the voices of all sides adult baptism, infant baptism, dedication, confirmation; and decided theology aside what appears most significant is a child is committed in some way to God as an infant and then as an adult makes a public declaration of their own personal belief in Christ.

Here-endeth my ramblings for the moment. I just realised theology aside is probably a brave thing to say on your blog - smile.

Have a good day.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jean
(Respectfully) to write what you write above is definitely 'theological' and not 'non-theological'!

Obviously baptism is a 'large' subject and perhaps I should post separately on it sometime. But one quick reply here is to acknowledge that there definitely is an implicit dedication within baptism (i.e. parents bring the child to the house of God; or the adult comes with a presenter who presents them to God). Whether a baptism is an explicit dedication when the liturgical words emphasise God's gracious love for us is then a question.

Jean said...

Hi Peter

Smile - what is the definition of theology? Perhaps I understate my musing as non-theological as it always appears (to myself) that my level of understanding falls a bit below the depth of others comments : 0 ....

Do you mean explicit only by the liturgical words used? I would have thought the idea/understanding of Baptism in scripture a dedication of one's life to God through Christ, is explicit.

Anyway don't want to side track the blog onto this topic which is one of mere curiousity.... so feel free to reply another time

Peter Carrell said...

I much prefer, Jean, sidetracking from sexuality to baptism than the other way ...

One quick set of comments:

Off the top of my head I cannot think of any explicit words in our baptism service where either priest or parents say, We give this child back to God.

With our alternate non-baptism service in the prayer book, we have very carefully called it a service of thanksgiving for a child, i.e steered well clear of the language of dedication and deliberately invoked the language of thanksgiving for God's gift to us.

Bryden Black said...

Hi Jean: “what is the definition of theology?” A classic one is just this: “faith seeking understanding”. This definition is derived from the second century BC Greek translation of Isaiah 7:9 (which differs somewhat from the standard Hebrew version), “If you do not believe, you will not understand”, which in turn was translated into Latin at the end of the fourth century AD. Thereafter, Augustine, who wrote in Latin, was very fond of this verse and used it often: “Unless you believe, you shall not understand.” His practice gave rise to the expression, “faith seeking understanding”. All of which means: every Christian is some sort of theologian. Go to it! Enjoy!

Jean said...

Thanks Bryden those origins are interesting..., you are a good source of information! Much easier than google. So really once you believe understanding comes, and the modern interpretation of theology is discussing the resulting understanding : ) ....

Peter it is also interesting the wording used in services of baptism and thanksgiving.

What I was trying to get act was not so much that words were explicit but surely the act of Baptism itself is explicit of coming under the rule of/being dedicated to/belonging to Christ. As in the Old Testament days when people were baptised when they chose particular emperors as Lord.

Hope the sun has been shinning up your way today...


TrevDev said...

It is obvious that there is going to be no meeting of minds before General Synod on the issue of same-sex blessings. The more immediate concern, therefore, is how to avoid schism.

Christ our Lord prays for the unity of the Church. Both those who hold to the orthodox understanding in the same-sex blessings debate and those who are creedally orthodox but have a different opinion, owe it to each other and to our Lord to do their utmost to avoid schism. I hope that all sides are agreed that division should only occur over an issue where the gospel itself and the doctrine of God are threatened, so I would like to examine the present debate in those terms.

1. It seems to me that people on each side are implicitly accusing the others of wilful misreading and mishandling the relevant texts. Those in favour of same-sex blessings offer thoughtful arguments that contend that the “abomination” texts of the Old Testament and Paul’s words in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 apply to homosexual practices in particular social contexts at particular times. Those on the conservative side find those arguments unconvincing and prefer an Occam’s-razorish adherence to the prima facie meaning of the texts. The “blessings” side see this as obtuse rather than principled and want to drive the issue forward even at the expense of not carrying the conservatives with them. The conservatives, however, see the arguments for blessing as expedience-egesis rather than exegesis and think that the other side is not handling the revelation of God with straightforward honesty. While contributions from both sides to the various blog debates are generally phrased eirenically, I believe those undercurrents are nevertheless perceptible.

I hope, therefore, that both sides as they continue this dialogue will commit to seeing each other in Christ and rejoice in their common faith in the Saviour and drop any attitude that impugns the other.

2. The conservative side believes that any change in the Church’s attitude toward same-sex relationships subtracts from the doctrines of the holiness and immutability of our God and therefore changes the gospel itself. The "blessings" side, however, thinks that the conservatives are subtracting from the grace of God by not seeing that this development was - as they think - intended by God as part of the plan of salvation.

I would ask the "blessings" side, "When a conservative pastor counsels someone of homosexual orientation that they must remain celibate if unable to enter a heterosexual relationship, is that counsel so contrary to the gospel that you must excommunicate the pastor for it or at least defrock him/her?" – for that would be the effect of making your view the official position of the Church. And I would ask the conservatives, "Is the 'blessing' view so inimical to the doctrine of God and the gospel that you cannot continue in fellowship with those who hold it? Will a profession of faith made by someone who has heard the gospel from a minister who blesses same-sex couples be therefore a false profession? Will the blessing of same-sex couples inevitably lead to a break-down of the Church’s standards of holiness in regard to heterosexual relationships and business dealings and sobriety, etc, or are those safely independent of the same-sex question?"

It is probably therefore clear that I think that Peter Carrell’s suggestion is wise: permit episcopal discretion regarding allowing priests according to their consciences to bless same-sex relationships; do not make any decision regarding recognising same-sex relationships as marriages; and declare a 25-year moratorium on further change, to allow plenty of time for the Holy Spirit to bring us all to a common understanding. For one side or the other to force a precipitate decision would be a huge mistake and far more damaging to the gospel than this gentle programme of patience.

Trevor Morrison

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Trevor!

Bryden Black said...

Thanks Trevor for your considerations. I wonder whether you have encountered this from Ephraim Radner re the nature of Blessings?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bryden
What I appreciate about Trevor's endorsement of my post is that it recognises certain realities about our differentiated but not yet divided and need not be divided church.

Whether or not ER is correct, I put it again that we face a particular 'political' reality here in these islands that is neither North America, the UK, Africa, Asia or Australia.

Facing that reality, what is the way forward?

Bryden Black said...

What do you consider Peter to be the unique nature of our political reality here in these Islands? Surely not the possibility of a Fourth Tikanga?!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bryden
Good question!
No, it does not concern the possibility of a Fourth Tikanga.
What I think is unique (or, maybe better, distinctive) is our smallness (so we are well related across our differences; and any schisms could yield tiny groups), the historical particularity of our relationships as Pakeha, Maori and Polynesian, our tendency towards pragmatic rather than theological solutions.

I could probably think of other things but the hour is late ...!

Bryden Black said...

Working backwards:
Pragmatic is good only if it truly works - and not merely short term (most pragmatic solutions I've used are even deliberately short term).
I've never seen ethnic specificity as the only form; there are others, like cultural exposure by the same ethnic group, and then observing different reactions within that group - fascinating!
As for size: I think we should consult Elijah on that one ...
So; I repeat what I said on another thread: if the ideology undergirding our political practice is shot, then we're in deep trouble.

Peter Carrell said...

You may be right, Bryden; I am not prepared to say that you are wrong!

But I will observe that much as I want our church to be more theological it is very pragmatic and has been so for a long time.

It may be so for a long time to come!

TrevDev said...

Thanks, Bryden, for you May 6, 8:34pm comment. Yes, I had thought about Radner’s words and your own previous contributions to this discussion here on Peter’s blog.

If I have understood rightly, you believe that the arguments from the “blessing of same-sex relationships” side cannot possibly be right and distort the gospel and the doctrine of God so grievously that the Church must declare against them. Further, you believe that to allow discretion to priests regarding such blessings for a period implies that the Church concedes that the blessings after all may be consonant with God’s character, and to even allow the possibility is intolerable.

Those who are impatient on the “blessing” side think, on the other hand, that their own interpretation of the related scriptures in the context of the gracious character of God cannot be wrong, and they would like a declaration in favour of that position forthwith.

My own position is that unnecessary schism is also a grave sin. I believe that both sides can take comfort in the grace of God and prayerfully say, “To avoid schism and to honour your Name by our unity, we believe it best to accept for the next 25 years a situation that each side fears for different reasons dishonours your Name. We ask your forgiveness for the sinfulness of our hearts and the darkness of our minds that makes agreement impossible at the present time, and we ask that your Holy Spirit will teach each one of us over the next quarter-century and lead us in due time to an understanding that all can wholeheartedly embrace.”

I believe that if our Church has this prayer on its lips and in its heart, and people from both sides continue to work shoulder-to-shoulder on matters of common life and shared concerns, the Holy Spirit will indeed take us to that place of unified understanding in respect of how same-sex orientation and same-sex relationships are to be received and handled in our pastorate and in our formularies, to the glory of God - and I don’t predict what that outcome will be.


Bryden Black said...

Thanks for the further clarification, Trev.

As for society’s new sexual experiment, I think your 25 years is far too short a time frame. I have been forced to reckon with the present young children of same-sex partners becoming grandparents as a more insightful time frame, potentially; i.e. some 50-70 years from now.

As for the Church: I have yet to actually see a real, wholesome, cogent theological argument given for either the blessing of same-sex relationships or same-sex ‘marriage’. And by that, I mean something that goes way beyond the mere throwing of “texts of terror” around (say, Rom 1 and/or 1 Cor 6). What won the day in the 4th C was not just a few key texts - though to be sure some did have their due place to play - but as Athanasius put it, a real dianoia; we’d call it today a “root paradigm shift”. And Lewis Ayres, in his Nicaea and its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology (Oxford, 2004), has even more to say, elaborating upon the development of a specific “culture” and habitus. Consequently, where I’ve focused my attentions these past 20 years is in trying to see how it has become just so ‘inevitable’ that folk ‘think’ and ‘behave’ in the contemporary way they do ... That implies we need a story-line, a social script that covers at least 300 years. This does NOT mean we can only revert to thinking and behaving as if the last 300 years don’t count. It does mean we need to sift VERY diligently these past 300 years, like any good missiologists, discerning the good, the bad and the indifferent. And when we do this two things stand out (for simplicity’s sake on a blog):

1. Oliver O’Donvan’s very first chapter of A Conversation Waiting to Begin: The Churches and the Gay Controversy (SCM, 2009), is a vital clue: “The failure of the Liberal Paradigm”. Here he tracks the shift of theology to ethics in the 19th and 20th Cs, a distinctly post-Kantian project. What’s more, this is one the key things that makes NZ’s penchant for the pragmatic so insidious and fatal: we simply have NO truly coherent theological ontology left.

2. Anthropology becomes the key; and undergirding that, a whole Trinitarian appreciation of ontology with its duly fulsome Christological mediation of redemption/recreation. My two sections on the other thread, a Christian anthropology and the Fall, were mere introductions; they had to omit the solution; I’d written enough already!

So; Trev, what this all means is that I fully suspect the next 25 years (your time frame) in ACANZ&P will see a dwindling of numbers and the dying of an institution, as we incoherently engage [stagger, like drunks] with mere symptoms of a far, far deeper malaise. Another scenario might be not just schism, but, under the mercy of God, a flowering of thoughtful, loving, powerful disciple-making clusters of people ... On verra; we shall see!

Bryden Black said...

Morning Trev,

I have ruminated some more upon both your latest and my own latest response to that, with the following results.

It strikes me as something we should take serious note of that our present ‘dilemmas’ have arisen in a very particular setting, a single institution (global Anglicanism) where, under one roof as it were, we have seen various eruptions which would appear for all the world to be polar opposites, namely, TEC’s headlong pursuit to accommodate the latest turn in the sexual revolution by endorsing same-sex marriage on the one hand, and on the other, key African provinces’ accommodation for their part (for whatever reasons, like Islam) with draconian legislation against gay people. Nor do we for our part in ACANZ&P get off! For we too are quite probably about to accommodate ourselves as well, but this time to our own penchant for the #8 wire, pragmatic solution, which, frankly, seems to disregard any authentic addressing of the profound theological issues at play. Pace the Report from the Theology Commission to Ma Whea? But I’ve said quite enough elsewhere about that ...

How this has come about is not an idle question. For associated with this question is another: what does it take to cultivate minds and hearts and spirits capable of discerning the sorts of missiological matters I was mentioning last time? In other words, I’d up the ante, and suggest it’s not only a case of divergent folk here in these Islands who do not seem to be able to walk together. We have an entire institution that does not appear to have the wherewithal, in mind and heart, body and spirit, to adequately counter the sundry zeitgeister with which we are contending, as Christians and as a body politic.

So; back to your 25 years. My serious question is this. If - IF - we consider institutional unity something still worth fighting for, what is it going to take to do these two things: (1) pause/stop right here and now; and (2) learn to cultivate those practices and disciplines which would enable us to begin to embrace that key pair of verses, Rom 12:1-2 (with all their contextual relevance: cf. my piece on that other thread, which introduces the epistemology section). Or am I historically merely whistling into a Southerly gale?!

Father Ron Smith said...

Trevor, without wanting to discourage you from sharing your open support of Peter's eirenic position regarding the possibility of ACANZP allowing for the Blessing of Same-Sex Partnerships; I sincerely believe that you may just be wasting valuable blogging time by trying to convert those, who, on this blog who are in heated opposition.

I believe that our host has been willing to hear the theological and existential arguments from both sides of the equation, and has been open to the pragmatic and pastoral arguments, and has shown himself open to what "The Holy Spirit may be saying to The Church" in today's atmosphere of threatening schism.

Despite their anthropological context, the issues of gender and sexuality have been subjected to much more theological and psychological examination than was remotely possible two thousand years ago.

The Church is not so esoteric that it can afford to dwell in ancient understandings of human nature - without absorbing insights given to the world by modern research into matters of human biology and sociology. When the cosmic reality is so very different from that perceived in the dark ages, even the Church must live into the reality of both times present and the future, adjusting archaic thinking to today's realities.

That is, if the Church is to be of any use in the world of today.

Bryden Black said...

“The Church is not so esoteric that it can afford to dwell in ancient understandings of human nature - without absorbing insights given to the world by modern research into matters of human biology and sociology. When the cosmic reality is so very different from that perceived in the dark ages, even the Church must live into the reality of both times present and the future, adjusting archaic thinking to today’s realities.” Fr Ron Smith

Wow! Ron; that’s a real corker of a comment, IMHO. How so?

First off “sociology”. Anyone who has undertaken courses in “The History and Theory of Sociology” will know well that this discipline is not a value-free science. Whence therefore those values?

Then, “human biology”. I once heard a molecular biologist from Aussie, who happened himself to be gay, declare - correctly - that even if they do eventually locate certain genes which appear to be involved in sexual orientation, this most certainly does not mean every instance of these genes determines their bearers to become gay. Our overall human constitution is more complex, as for example Roy Bhaskar elaborates extensively in his philosophy of science.

Next, “ancient understandings of human nature”. Modern understandings of human nature are based on one key thing - that we humans are autonomous, self-positing personal subjects. This is a philosophical/cultural assumption, no more no less. Its history is discernible, should we care to probe it. Au contraire, the Christian Faith would declare human being to be a creature, made in the Image of God, and so of immense dignity, and also accountable to our Creator. Remove therefore these twin classic features of worth and accountability and the entire business of redemption collapses.

So Ron; what do you want to be? How might you want to view yourself? A natural phenomenon derived from pieces of protozoa floating in an indifferent cosmos? Or a redeemable child of the Heavenly Father? The truly sad thing about our contemporary secular, pluralist society is that it has strictly no way of answering these questions; its premises simply do not have the wherewithal - unless they smuggle in elements derived from our historical and cultural past, which is the Judeo-Christian Tradition.

The trick therefore is to be able to discern the true nature of what you term “today’s realities”. They are profoundly ambiguous and so ambivalent - should we care to probe their aetiology and genealogy. Just so, I stand by my recent comments about appraising, from a Christian missiological perspective, precisely what you term “reality”.