Thursday, June 11, 2015

Definitive Communion split coming over marriage? [UPDATED]

I am posting quite a bit on one issue these days. One reason is that I am preparing for a series of workshops in our Diocese on Motion 30. Another reason is that a landmark TEC GC is coming rapidly into view, and there is a lot of posting on that to keep in touch with.


Since first posting quite a lot of material has popped up on the internet ... including:

Responses to Tony Campolo coming out as an evangelical supporting same sex marriage: here and here. Added: I do not hold in any way shape or form with Stand Firm/Matt Kennedy's pronouncement from some assumed position on high that Tony is an anti-Christ. Are we going to call anti-Christs those who deviate from the teaching of Jesus to support the remarriage of divorcees? Are we going to call anti-Christs those who deviate from us Anglicans on creedal matters (such as the Eastern Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox)? Are we going to call anti-Christs those who break fellowship with us Anglicans because we have ordained women?

From across the Ditch, Bishop Ian Palmer of Bathurst speaks out against 'equal marriage.'

My initial paragraphs below about TEC crossing a rubicon should now be updated to note a decisive move towards that same rubicon by the Scottish Episcopal Church. Read all the links on Thinking Anglicans. I must say they have a novel way forward which had not appeared on my radar: changing their marriage canon by removing words rather than adding words. Does that make a difference to (e.g.) my way of thinking? Yours? (Response now from Scottish Evangelicals, here)

Mark Harris at Preludium has a robust post, well worth reading IMHO, on the many weaknesses of many attempts to theologise about marriage. His robust reflections include reflections on for/against material linked to below concerning the run up to TEC's GC in July. But he also recognises that he goes a little too far in the dismissive direction and in a subsequent post backtracks slightly re Craig Uffman's and others' recent contributions.

An important point is made here by David Roach.


One of the least controversial observations Anglicans can make as we contemplate Anglicanland shifts and turns on marriage is that a rubicon is coming.

That rubicon is whether an Anglican church via canon and liturgy understands marriage to be between a man and a woman or between any two persons.

Proposals going to this July's TEC General Convention, if passed, would take TEC across that line to marriage being between any two persons. I am not aware of any other Anglican church which is already across that line or any other Anglican church which has such a proposal before it.

If TEC crosses this rubicon, will the Communion be irrevocably split? (Yeah, yeah, I know many readers here already think this has happened!!)

Consider this: when Gene Robinson was consecrated bishop it was able to be argued that he was only the first openly gay bishop, that there had been many before him in other Anglican churches.

But if TEC agrees to the Taskforce's proposals then it will definitively be the first and only Anglican church to differentiate its canon on marriage from all other Anglican churches. It would have no claim to say it was merely being honest about what other churches have fudged. It would have no claim to being co-holders of a common doctrine on marriage with other member churches of the Communion.


It is interesting (and time consuming) reading the back and forths of arguments for and against change (see links below with reference to TEC's current situation).

I want to suggest a missing element to the argumentation.

First, let me characterise the back-and-forth of the arguments:

forth: Marriage is this and it is that and same sex marriage doesn't match those requirements.

back: Yes it does because (e.g.) procreative potential is not a requirement since it is not met in the case of an older couple and (e.g.) difference between partners is met because, well, every partner to a marriage is unique and thus different to the other partner.

forth: well, you can't change the doctrine of marriage

back: but you have done because (e.g.) you have allowed contraception to deny the procreative potential of potentially procreative couples and you have permitted the remarriage of divorcees, so you should allow one more change to remove the requirement that a marriage involves a man and a woman.

The missing element, I suggest, is that it is very difficult to discern in Scripture three things pertaining to arguments that the church may vary its teaching on marriage.

(A) That the authority of the church to vary anything in marriage extends beyond pastoral consideration of the grounds for divorce and subsequent remarriage.
(B) That the difference between men and women in respect of marriage is incidental because the important differentiation in marriage is between two (intrinsically unique) people. (See the end of Craig Uffman's article below where Tobias Haller is cited on differentiation).
(C) That Scripture has to yield an answer if we keep pressing it to give a reason why it is the biological difference between men and women which is decisive for marriage being restricted to heterosexual couples.

Let me expand briefly on A, B and C.

(A) There is not much authority here at all for the church to exercise, but there is a sliver as we see some variation between the way Matthew, Mark and Luke express the words of Jesus on remarriage after divorce, and what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7. Absolutely we can argue that some churches (Protestant, Eastern Orthodox) have exercised authority beyond their brief; and we can argue whether the Roman Catholic approach to annulment is something envisaged by Jesus or not.

(B) As a priest of the church of God, I look for an assurance from Scripture and the church's teaching through the ages, that God does bless same sex partnerships. I do not find that assurance via what is a special pleading, that biological difference is incidental to God's blessing of marriage.

(C) As rational creatures we seem to be drawn to argue about the purpose of marriage, the reason for the core features of marriage to be what they are. Thus we explain why marriage is between a man and a woman in terms of their procreative potential. Or we offer analogy between two-into-one-flesh and the Trinity or, following Ephesians 5:22-33, between a man and a woman and Christ and the church. But does Scripture say these arguments are intended to be watertight and if they are not, then we are free to vary our understanding of marriage? No. Scripture connects these insights to marriage but does not actually explain the commitment to heterosexual marriage in terms of them. In the end, I suggest, marriage in the Bible between a man and a woman just 'is'. The coming together of a man and a woman in a one flesh relationship is in itself a matter which pleases God. There is no indication in the Bible that God is pleased when two men or two women come together because they represent some deeper principle of diversity-in-unity being manifested.

In other words, I am wondering in the links below whether some argumentative wood is being missed for the trees.

Nevertheless, this is not the last word. I suggest that the church needs to keep thinking about what mercy and grace means in this brave new world of ours. We may not have the authority to vary the doctrine of marriage, but we do have a mandate to act mercifully. What does that mean in this world of ours in which couples of any gender mix may marry according to the law of the land? What does showing mercy mean as a church when we can understand that two people of the same sex covenanting between themselves to be faithful to each other is better than a casual sex or promiscuous lifestyle? In a number of articles below, which argue that the church cannot endorse same sex marriage, nevertheless I see signs of great willingness to engage with important questions concerning how we then shall live as a church.

For background to my observations above, see the following links:

With particular reference to the forthcoming TEC General Convention:

Tobias Haller here (see below re ATR). Also note this.

(And now, this reply by Jordan Hylden to Haller.)

ATR here re TEC Task Force. Check out Hill on Scripture and the Task Force's approach to it then Anderson extending Hill here).

Also, First Things responding to the TEC Task Force here in a concise version of the longer original ATR essay at link above. (Discussion in the comments is interesting, some arguing that Anglican arguments against the TEC Task Force's proposals are doomed to failure because a Lambeth Conference once upon a time agreed that use of contraception was okay).

Anglican Curmudgeon has a sequence of posts detailing where TEC is heading re proposed changes going to TEC's forthcoming General Convention: onetwo and three.

Craig Uffman contributes an essay here which is imaginative, and worth at least reading the last part re a correspondence with Tobias Haller re difference in marriage. (If that link does not work, go to this link and then try to look up the article from that page).

Scripture and Sexuality essays here.

Other references worth a look:

Jason Goroncy here (re Australian contexts).

A gracious review by Tim Keller (New York) of two recent books by Vines and Wilson making waves around the evangelical world is here.

Ian Paul reflects on Keller's post along with Vines and Wilson's responses to Keller (the links to their responses are in the Ian Paul post.

A number of the links above are included in this Thinking Anglicans post.

Then, re the state of the play among North American evangelicals, note these two stories, here and there.


Bryden Black said...

Thanks Peter for this clearing house operation. Good lines of discussion among all this material which mercifully supplements our own local meagre resources.

Anonymous said...

"...As a social scientist, I have concluded that sexual orientation is almost never a choice and I have seen how damaging it can be to try to “cure” someone from being gay. As a Christian, my responsibility is not to condemn or reject gay people, but rather to love and embrace them, and to endeavor to draw them into the fellowship of the Church. When we sing the old invitation hymn, “Just As I Am”, I want us to mean it, and I want my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to know it is true for them too.

Rest assured that I have already heard – and in some cases made – every kind of biblical argument against gay marriage, including those of Dr. Ronald Sider, my esteemed friend and colleague at Eastern University. Obviously, people of good will can and do read the scriptures very differently when it comes to controversial issues, and I am painfully aware that there are ways I could be wrong about this one.

However, I am old enough to remember when we in the Church made strong biblical cases for keeping women out of teaching roles in the Church, and when divorced and remarried people often were excluded from fellowship altogether on the basis of scripture. Not long before that, some Christians even made biblical cases supporting slavery. Many of those people were sincere believers, but most of us now agree that they were wrong. I am afraid we are making the same kind of mistake again, which is why I am speaking out.

I hope what I have written here will help my fellow Christians to lovingly welcome all of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters into the Church."

Tony Campolo

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Tony,
We need to find a way to welcome all people into the life of the church, even when we are part of the church which cannot see a way forward re same sex marriage itself. Thank you for this helpful comment (and explanation of your own stance which will not win you friends in certain parts of our church).

Anonymous said...

Peter: The Anglican Church of Canada currently has a task force working on revisions to the marriage canon, which will bring its report this Fall. There may be a motion at our General Synod in 2016 - I think there probably will be.

Tim Chesterton

father ron smith said...

Dear Peter, It should by now be quite obvious that TEC occupies a significant role as a prophetic voice within the world-wide Anglican - Communion. This has brought us to the point where we now rejoice in the ministry of women, the understanding that homosexuality is a normal variation in the human condition and that gay people are not wilful dissenters from the sexual norm. We now have the Episcopal Church in North American leading us into a new paradigm of what constitutes the highest form of monogamous relationships - whether of homosexual or heterosexual couples - in the context of a legally-contracted marriage. Each of these new situations would not have been seriouly entertained - either in Church or society in former times.

Contrary to your despait about this forward movement of the Church, I feel, with Tony Campolo, that the Church will need to catch up with the compassionate leading of the outside world on this justice issue - in order not to lose the support of living human beings on an issue that seems to be set to encourage faithfulness in relationships, rather than acceding to its alternative - which is rampant promiscuity, such as has become rife in the heterosexual world
Faithful same-sex marriages could be an encouragement, rather than a barrier to heterosexual couples. making the same faithful commitment.

Bryden Black said...

One key feature of the ATR and subsequent correspondence between Hill and Anderson is the desire for both engagement with other arguments and courteous reasons for upending their logic. Something we all need I sense ...

MarcA said...

Tony Campolo could have mentioned contraception which has surely had a far bigger effect on a far larger group of people with massive social and moral consequences than the recognition of ss partnerships. I really wish someone had charted in an in depth scholarly way the Anglican path in this matter from the 1880s to 1958.It would surely have some salience with our present difficulties.After all our conservative RC friends would say we are where we are now because of the Lambeth Conferences cautious welcome to contraception in 1930.It is said that this prompted the Papal Encyclical Casti Conubi
Perry Butler... ( have I spelt that right??

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Ron,
I am not in despair though clearly I may have given that impression!
TEC may be showing the way forward here (with Canada, thank you, Tim).
Time will tell.
Nevertheless I would be a bit surprised if the global church found itself following TEC's lead in some great majority. I cannot even see the Communion doing that (maybe Scotland, Ireland, Wales and ACANZP will follow suit ... maybe just Scotland???).
Why not? Because it is engrained in Scripture and tradition that marriage is between a man and a woman. It goes against that grain to say otherwise.
Nevertheless, to reiterate a point I made above in response to Tony Campolo, and to support your point here, to a degree, it is much better for any two people in a sexual relationship to be faithful, loving, stable than to be promiscuous, unfaithful, unstable and unloving. That the church might find a way to support such faithfulness is a reasonable question to ask? I remain unconvinced that changing our 'engrained' doctrine of marriage is something the church is authorised to do.

Jean said...

I think it would be wise for ANZAP to keep marriage and blessing as they stand at the moment. My premise is based on the following:
a) What has happened in countries where churches have introduced blessings or ordination of same sex couples (e.g. US, Canada). It
appears division and more vehemence appears by those holding both views, sitting alongside the verse
a house divided against itself wall fall.
b) The 'next move' in the story, to remove gender from marriage canons to me seems a step where all loose. For sure heterosexual or
same sex attracted, gender is important and seperate from sexuality; to remove this is to take away how God made us.
c) What is the hurry? I understand for committed same sex christ followers their desire is to have their faith involved in a relational bond.
At the same time the possibility of marriage of such couples by law has only recently been made here, it would be unwise to rush into changing the biblical status of marriage in order to keep up with the play, what is the phrase; 'act in haste repent at leisure'. As one article points out blessing is done in the Name of God which points to not wanting to bless what God does not or conversely, not wanting to call unclean what God has made clean. While complete surety may never come, I do believe there may come a time when the certainty about where the Holy Spirit is leading us through the word and revelation is a lot clearer than it is now.
d) There is nothing new under the sun. I do not see the 20th century as particulary enlightened. I think it has been known throughout history that some people have desires for the same sex. I have real questions about their being no mutual same sex non-promiscuous relationships in biblical times such as existed in Assyria.
e) Theology and scripture - the views on homsexuality in scripture appear consistent throughout the Old and New Testament and none are seen in a positive light at the same time they are not seen on their own as the impardonable sin - having heard Vines before I couldn't help but consider his points yet at the same time have the sense it is what he wanted scripture to really be saying. There is no such cohension in the Bible with the issues of Slavery or the role of Women (being always seen in a negative sense). I totally agree with all those who advocate not using scripture to 'bash' those of differing points, nor to conform scripture to experience.

On the other hand:
What an opportunity to take at present to really approach the practical question of Pastoral Care to people who have all sexual preferences. My take is that all our identities are in Christ - in that He loves and desires a relationship with all - not in our sexual preferences. How do we make talking about being sexually attracted in anyway not a taboo subject in churches? For there is nothing that we experience that is not common to man.

I can also understand Tony Compolo's conclusion and acknowledge how he has struggled with his own opinion on this matter especially how rejection can be felt by those who are in stable same sex relationships and desire to also be faithful Christians. How was Jesus able to connect with those who broke 'the law' offering them grace and love, somehow accepting them 'as they were' yet keeping at the same time still upholding the principles they were breaking? What or how can we act more like Him?

Blessings Jean

Anonymous said...

"The General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church has today voted to begin a process for change in relation to its Canon on Marriage. It has therefore instructed the Church’s Faith and Order Board to begin the two year process which may lead towards canonical change. That change would potentially allow the marriage of same gendered couples in Church in late 2017. The option which Synod voted for states:

Removal of section 1 of Canon 31. This option would remove section 1 from Canon 31* in its entirety so that the Canon was silent on the question of a doctrine of marriage.

General Synod also decided to add a conscience clause that ensures that no cleric would be obliged to solemnise a marriage against their conscience...."

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
While I appreciate the service you are providing re the flow of information, I will not publish your comments again unless you supply your name.