Thursday, June 12, 2014

It is more complex than sorting the constitution

Here is the thing. ACANZP is a church with a challenge, or three.

As posted two days ago, we have a constitutional challenge: how can we be faithful to God and the gospel as our constitution requires of us?

Yet we also have a pastoral challenge: how can we care for all people in our midst, to say nothing of many others we hope will join us as they discover God's love for them, when "all people" includes people with varying views on what the gospel is?

Over the last eighteen months or so I have become more aware than ever before that the question of our response as a church to gay and lesbian people is complex from a pastoral perspective. It involves gay and lesbian members of our church, gay and lesbian people not in our church to whom we wish to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, members of our church who are parents and other relatives of gay and lesbian sons and daughters. No doubt that is an incomplete summary.

Noting these groups of (especially) concerned people (in my estimation) multiplies the number of people whose hearts are burning on these matters well beyond the statistics of 'somewhere between 2 and 10% of the population are gay.' Would it be fair to say that 40% of members of our church are urgently concerned about where our present and future response to homosexuality is heading because it directly affects whether they feel their sons/daughters, nieces/nephews, best friends are welcome in our church and our church is not a church defined by negativity to gay and lesbian people?

In other words - here I offer a surmise from my conversations - we are a church of a wide variety of views and concerns which at least encompasses the following range of views (in no particular order of perceived allegiance or priority): some views are set out in an anticipatory way as what some might think several years hence, should change occur:

- Our church must be faithful to Scripture and tradition and that means no blessings of same sex partnerships and certainly no change to doctrine on marriage.
- Our church must be faithful to Scripture and tradition and that means blessings of same sex partnerships if not change to doctrine on marriage.
- Our church should be a place where we can get along with our range of views. I don't want to see anyone have to leave who is otherwise following their understanding of faithful discipleship. If that means some pastors will bless and others will not, that is fine by me.
- We (say, parents of a gay son or lesbian daughter) understand that our vicar in good conscience will not bless same sex partnerships but we do expect her to keep views on these matters out of the pulpit, not least because our familiar parish church should be a safe place for our son/daughter and partner to visit when home on holiday.
- We don't approve of blessing same sex partnerships but understand our vicar feels differently and has the bishop's permission to conduct such blessings. That's fine but we expect the vicar not to preach on these matters as we are not alone in our disapproval and there is no need to foster controversy in our parish.
- I know that orthodox ecclesiology would say otherwise but basically I am OK with our diocese following one way on these matters while the neighbouring diocese is doing the opposite.
- We are not at all happy with the relationship our son has formed with another bloke but now there is a baby in their family and talk of baptism. It would mean the world to us if our vicar could see his way to baptising the baby ... he has done it before, you know, for an unmarried couple, so why not for this relationship?
- We understand that support for same sex partnerships is widespread in our church but we long for a better understanding, celebration even, of those gay and lesbian Anglicans who quietly believe that they should be celibate in response to what they read in Scripture. If the Anglican church is a place for all, why isn't there a visible place for the celibate?

There are at least two other groups to acknowledge at this point:
- those who have left, are leaving or will leave if nothing changes (i.e. status quo remains)
- those who have left, are leaving or will leave because something changed with Motion 30 and it is a safe bet - arguably - that more change is coming.

When we think about the concerns in our families, both natural families and parish families or communities, worrying less about the constitution and more about how we offer love and support to one another, our challenge is to work on how we accommodate such a range of differences which do not categorise neatly into "this group will be happy if we make changes X, Y and Z" and "this group will be happy if we make no changes at all."

This last observation is especially pertinent when we acknowledge that many parishes experience a range of differences within themselves. We can no more divide such parishes into two parts than we can divide most episcopal units in our church.

There is no counsel of despair in my mind as we acknowledge the reality of our 'messy church'. Inevitably we are human communities, which always have a range of differences within them and which are always seeking ways to maintain common ground within diversity. Life is complex and the church is not an exception to this rule!

In my next post, nevertheless, I want to make some observations about some of the rules office holders are bound by in our church, and what changes might be required if we are to be a church which holds together rather than falls apart.


Michael Primrose said...

Hi Peter,

You ask the question, in part, as to whether “our church is not a church defined by negativity to gay and lesbian people”, or to remove the double negative, “Is our church a church that is defined by a positive attitude towards gay and lesbian people?”. However, it is a question for which you do not appear to offer an answer.

Could I possibly ask you a couple of questions in return?

Will the Service of Recognition, that is being offered to same-gendered couples, who have been united in a civil union or State marriage, be only given to those couples who are in a celibate (right ordered), monogamous, life long relationships?

If a same-gendered couple, of their faith community, who were previously united by the State, were not in fact celibate, i.e. were indulging in sexual relations together, would their local member of the clergy be correct in refusing to hold a Service of Recognition for their relationship?

Does the Service of Recognition, offered by a member of the Clergy, simply apply to any same-gendered couple of their faith community, who are united by the State, without any presumptions as to their personal celibacy, their monogamy or the possible length of their relationship?

Finally, why would, or should, any LGBT member of the ACANZP, who retains a shred of self respect, bother remaining a member a Church after such a gratuitous put-down from the General Synod?

Michael Primrose, Christchurch

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Michael
On the initial question you raise the answer might be that it is too early to tell.

In answer to your questions (as best I can, on the the information available to me re 'service of recognition', and on the assumption that requisite permissions have been granted):

1. No.
2. A member of the clergy is not compelled by Motion 30 to offer a service of recognition upon request.
3. I would be surprised if clergy said Yes to leading a service of recognition if a couple openly declared they were neither monogamous nor intending their relationship to be lifelong. On celibacy or not, see 1. But I sense your question might involve a further question about the church's understanding of what a service of recognition might presume and/or entail ...
4. I think +Kelvin Wright has some wise words to say at Available Light in response to your comments there. My own comment would be that if either all LGBT members leave ACANZP or all conservatives (on this issue) leave ACANZP because of Motion 30 then the hours GS spent on the motion and the considerable build up beforehand via the Ma Whea Commission will have been in vain.

Michael Primrose said...

Hi Peter,

Thank you for your answers to my questions, but I’m not sure they leave me with a clearer idea of the situation

According to your answer to Question 1, the “Service of Recognition” is not purely limited to same gendered couples, who have been united by the State, who are in a celibate (right ordered), monogamous, life long relationships. However in answer to Question 3, you state that you would be surprised if clergy said “Yes” to leading a service of recognition if a couple openly declared they were neither monogamous nor intending their relationship to be lifelong.

Therefore the same-gendered couples who could be offered the “Service of Recognition” would only be those couples who were both life long and monogamous. This only leaves celibacy (right-ordered) or lack of it, as the sole area in which couples could vary in order to give the broadness required for your answer to Question 1.

Now in the Ma Whea? Commission they discuss the nature of right-ordered relationships

“B.4.2.3. A third element of the nature of the union (in marriage) and the totality of it is that it is in this context, and this context alone, that we believe sexual intimacy can happen – this is how a sexual relationship should be rightly ordered. Such intimacy is not required in a marriage but, because sexual intimacy catches us at our most vulnerable and most at risk of exploitation and
misunderstanding, a relationship that presupposes the permanence and faithfulness of a lifelong union is appropriately the right relationship for such intimacy. Given same-gender couples enjoy sexual intimacy; it is in the context of a union that this should occur.”


“E.4.3. A significant further matter arises. Can this Church authorise a blessing of any intimate sexual relationship that is not marriage?

The existing doctrine of this Church is unquestionably that right ordering of a relationship that includes sexual intimacy is within marriage and nowhere else.
Thus, for example, this Church has insisted its licenced office bearers are to be either married or celibate and this is the meaning of ‘chaste’ within its canons. Marriage alone is the covenantal relationship given for the expression of rightly ordered sexual activity and intimacy, and thus ‘was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication’. All other forms of sexual intimacy are not accepted as rightly ordered.

This doctrinal stance is deeply embedded in the Church’s theology and practice. It seems clear that for this Church to authorise another form of sexually intimate relationship alongside marriage would be a departure from received doctrine. As earlier in relation to marriage, the Church can change its mind, the question
becomes ‘should she?’”

Since the Church is not suggesting that marriage could be offered to the same-gendered couples and also the Church does not recognise the sexual intimacy between couples outside the bonds of marriage, then the only right-ordered relationship that could be recognised by the Church in this case, would be that of same-gendered couples who, not being officially married in the eyes of the Church, could only be and remain celibate.

Therefore, if according to the Commission report the only right-ordered relationship that same gendered couple could indulge in was a celibate one, and clergy would probably refuse to offer a “Service of Recognition” to couples that were neither monogamous nor life long. Then surely the answer to my first question is “Yes” rather than “No”

A “Service of Recognition” could only be offered to those same gendered couples, who being of the faith community, and who being previously united by the State, were celibate, monogamous and lifelong in their relations.

Michael Primrose, Christchurch

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Michael
There is an important sense in which what the church seems to be up to in this process is squaring a circle, i.e. it may not be able to do so.

In what you write a lot seems to hang on whether what the Commission wrote about right-ordered and what the Motion meant by right-ordered are one and the same thing. (Here and elsewhere I have noted some questions about what "right-ordered" means within the Motion's wording).

You are correctly putting your finger of logic on the possibility that to offer a means of right ordering a sexually intimate relationship which is not marriage is a departure from doctrine. This concurs with Glen Young's point re the constitution of our church: it appears to offer no actual scope to change doctrine on fundamental points. (Cue, of course, debate as to what those fundamental points are, but Glen also notes the important role the BCP and the 39 Articles play in the estimation of what makes up the doctrine we have received).

So, I think I am getting your main point - at least, as I understand it, your main point is that a service of recognition is not quite the simple matter which the members of GS thought they were agreeing to when they accepted Motion 30 unanimously.

Michael Primrose, Christchurch said...

Hi Peter,

I am certainly not privy as to what the General Synod were thinking of when they unanimously passed Motion 30 and offered the LGBT members of the ACANZP Church the “Service of Recognition” as a “soft cuddly toy” to calm down their tensions within the Church; neither a marriage nor a blessing, but a possiblity of recognition to pass the time with.

As some of the terms being used e.g. “rightly ordered relationships” were new to me, I was forced to read rather more Anglican literature, Blogs and theology that would usually be my wont. It rapidly became obvious that what was being offered to the LGBT community of the Anglican Church was far more limited than would appear from the initial reading of the label.

Whilst I have no idea about the personal lives of other LGBT same gender couples in the ACANZP Church, I would suggest that the number of couples, that could honestly describe their relationships as being “celibate, monogamous and life long”, in order to pass muster for a chance of a passing recognition, would be rather small. Those couples that do not tick all the boxes get nothing from the Church.

And for this we are supposed to be thankful?

Whilst I am not convinced that the sexual act is the main, or only thing that makes a member of the LGBT community, it is certainly a defining component. It is, of course possible, that one may go through periods of ones life, when one is not being actively sexual, but during that period one does not wonder whether or not one is actually still either heterosexual or homosexual; an hiatus can happen for any number of reasons. However, I would have to say that celibacy is not a usual condition for males or females, of either the heterosexual or homosexual persuasion.

If the Church insisted, and stuck to the fact, that both the man and the woman about to be married had to be celibate, otherwise there would be no marriage, there would be a general uproar. Without being mean spirited, how would clergy determine the truth of the matter save by the word of those about to be wed; after all a politic untruth is well worth a marriage? Why, for the simple act of possible recognition, are LGBT same gender couples to be held to a much higher point of virtue, a higher one than can be reasonably achieved by most of the rest of the community, or the clergy?
As a condition of possible recognition in public service we are now required to be more virtuous that the rest of congregation?

And for this we are supposed to be thankful?

My response is certainly not one of confusion, but rather is one of righteous anger. Anger over being offered a clerical slight of hand wrapped up in calming expressions of contrition and requests for our understanding and forbearance. In the hope of keeping the church together for a few more years, we are treated to a serving of Anglican hypocrisy, in the hope that we will all be so grateful for some crumbs from the High Table, that we will not examine in detail what we are actually being given.

I asked previously the rhetorical question as to why any LGBT same-gendered couple with a modicum of self respect would stay in the ACANZP. Let me answer the question:

One stays to fight!

Michael Primrose, Christchurch

Father Ron Smith said...

I am most interested in Michael's conversation about celibacy/sexual activity.

Is intentionally non-procreative sexual activity OK for conventionally (male to female) married couples? If so, what is the logical argument that should deny the same activity for gays?

This question is asked on the understanding of opponents of same-sex marriage that sexual activity was only meant by God for the express purpose of producing children, which, naturally enough, is normally achieved by cogress between male and female?

Michael Primrose said...

Hi Peter,
Whilst I cannot claim to have any practical experience in the matter, I am, however reliably informed by those who do have such experience, that there are in fact a wide range of perfectly normal sexual activities, that may occur between a married man and a woman, which will not lead, for obvious reasons, to the procreation of children, since they do not involve the physical congress of the couple.

In line with Father Ron Smith’s question, are portions of the ACANZP Church thinking of forbidding any sexual activity between married couples, that will not subsequently lead to the procreation of children?

Even if we are simply to look at, however discretely, the act of procreational sex between a married man and woman of the faith community, who, of there own volition, make use of either, or both male and/or female contraceptives, is it being suggested that this particular activity should also be forbidden? After all, here we are looking at the act of sexual congress purely for the pleasure of the act, without any chance of procreation occurring, which is surely not what some people in our Church would presume that God meant to occur.

Is coitus interruptus also to be frowned upon by the Church, for whilst the married man and woman are enjoying the act of congress, the intent is to hopefully avoid the chance of procreation? Surely, therefore, this is also presumed, by some sections of our Church, to be against God’s intention for the procreative act

And what, may one ask, is the position regarding those married men and women of the faith community, who are unable either through infirmity or increasing age to conceive? Are the married ill and the elderly to have no fun?

I had thought it was just a foolhardy, and ill-considered, gesture on the part of the ACANZP Church to insist that same gender couples of the faith community, who are in monogamous and lifelong relationships, had also to be celibate. However, to find that portions of the ACANZP Church are also arguing that male and female members of the faith community, who are married, are only to be allowed to indulge such sexual activity that will lead subsequently to the procreation of children, would suggest that they are adopting a remarkably brave position.

Have the faith community actually been consulted on this proposed limitation of their sexual freedom? Are we presuming that married men and women of the faith community will simply and quietly agree to such proposals?

Perhaps certain sections of the ACANZP Church need to realise, as the rest of the world did long ago, that there are recreational sexual activities that do not lead to the procreation of children, but which are mutually enjoyable and enhancing for both members of a partnership. Perhaps, we should understand this fact before we begin pontificating to everybody else, as to who is allowed to do what to whom, in terms of sexual activity?

It would seem that a more thorough, albeit, of course, theoretical knowledge of the practicalities and variations of human sexuality would be of great benefit to certain sections of the Church in the subsequent discussions of this vexed question

Michael Primrose, Christchurch

Father Ron Smith said...

From the beauty and sheer relaxation of a Queenslander villa at Noosa, on the Australian Gold Coasr, where Diana and i are enjoying a respite fron the Christchurch rains; I want to say how much I appreciated Michael's latest contribution to this conversation.

The argument for a 'celibacy-only' relationship for monogamously-coupled same-sex partners does seem rather parsimonious in the great scheme of things.

In fact, one suspects very few heterosexual couples restrict their love-making to intentional procreative activity -although, of course, one cannot know this, objectively.

One other point that seems to have been omitted from the conversation, it that not all same-sex sexual activity is penetrative, which, seemingly to heterosexuals is the 'great tabu'.

However, as one of my happily Civil-Partnered clergy friends in the UK has told me, he regards the jurisdiction of the Church to be barred from bedroom activity, where one's private conscience must hold sway.4527

Michael Primrose said...

Hi Peter,

It may be as a direct consequence of the dank and dewy damps that are besetting Christchurch at the moment, in stark and envious contrast to the warmth and sunlit perfection of the Gold Coast, but there appears to be a miasmic wisp of clerical wowserism floating in the air; the scandalised feeling that somewhere, someone might be having fun.

Whilst the ideas of society in general may have been formed by the perusal of, or based on the anecdotal references to, on-line portrayals of same gender sexual activities, the reality is that most couples would be more than happy to indulge in a relaxing cuddle, a bottle of something decent, and a good book or video depending on their age. There is, after all, the old saying of either Jewish or Russian origin, or both, that states “If a couple places a dollar in a jar for each time they have sex before marriage, and removes a dollar from the jar for each time they have sex after marriage, they will never empty the jar”

The exuberance of sexual gymnastics seems to be solely the preserve of either the thoughts of the young at heart, or those of the prurient.

I would wholeheartedly agree that the jurisdiction of the Church should stop at the door of the bedroom. It would be, after all, intensely embarrassing to have to discuss, with a member of the clergy, the details of what might be described as ones sexual life. Not, I hasten to admit, that I would be embarrassed to talk about anything relating to it, since I am long past the age where one is ashamed of what one does, and am rapidly approaching the more comfortable age of amused enlightenment, but rather that one does realise that some clergy do lead more sheltered lives and might not understand the nuances of the discussion and this may lead to mutual embarrassment.

This may, of course, be the reason why clerical discourses on human sexuality have, at times, such an other-worldly air to them; the lack of meaningful honest conversation.

Father Ron Smith's use of the term "parsimonious" does seem to be a very civilised way of describing the minuscule number of sexual crumbs that are being offered to same gendered couples of the faith, who are both monogamous and lifelong partners; miserly and mean spirited would perhaps be a better description.

Michael Primrose, Christchurch

Father Ron Smith said...

Thanks, Michael, for an amusing hint of realitYy injected into this ongoing comversation. I'm pretty sure you would enjoy the relative air of innocent nejoyment we're experiencing here in sunny Queensland - away from miasmic navel-gazing in the more prurient circles of the Christian blogosphere.

Diana and I enjoyed a naughty gin and tonic with our beach-side lunch yesterday, Joy to all!