Wednesday, September 23, 2015

This might be important

Canadian Anglicans have published this report on marriage and changing their canon.

As I understand it, if their General Synod approves their recommended change to their marriage canon, the Canadian Anglican church would both approve same sex marriage AND approve opt outs ranging from diocesan synods prohibiting solemnizations of same sex marriage in their dioceses, to bishops so prohibiting, to congregations so prohibiting, to clergy being free to decline. Cake. Eat. Is it a way forward?


Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, while not having read far into the extensive document you have here provided, I did notice this piece of wisdom from the introduction:

" It was also mandated to prepare documentation demonstrating how such a change in the church’s traditional teaching on Christian marriage could be understood to be scripturally and theologically coherent".

I note also, from further reading, that the indigenous Canadian Church, though they may not agree with the prospect of the solemnisation of Same-Sex Marriage for themselves, they would not want to break off relationships with the majority membership of the A.C.of C. by vetoing such arrangements; noting that there would be provision for conscientious abstention from participating in such an arrangement.

Bearing in mind the amount of time spent in theological and social reflection by the Canadian Church in consideration of this important topic - as part of their acceptance of Gay people as part of the community of the Church - it is important to recognise that there is no intention to apply dogmatic force to comply with a requirement to actually marry same-sex couples in the suggested legislation, There is room for individual consciences to be respected on this issue - bearing in mind the fact that, no clergy are forced to carry out the marriage of divorcees if their conscience will not allow such action.

That principle - of not being forced to preside at the wedding of divorcees - might surely be applied, in kind, to this new situation.

(n.b. may I be so bold as to suggest that the Indigenous Anglicans of the A.C.of C. seem to be much more ready to 'stay with their fellow Anglicans' on this issue, than, say, the ACNA crowd with TEC). This seems far preferable to the unwillingness of Anglican Churches to 'love with' other Anglican Churches whose policies are different.

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter, In my last sentence, I 'wrote the word 'love', when i should have written 'live with'. However, on reflection, maybe my inadvertence had a deeper meaning!

Brendan McNeill said...

Amos 3:3 comes to mind, although I suppose there are a variety of way to interpret this verse. :-)

Anonymous said...

No, Peter, although this ACC report has its winsome features, the way forward is one that none of the usual combatants seems to want: recognition that, by God's ordinance, (a) states legislate civil order for justice and peace; (b) states register couples; (c) churches should offer prayers for all of their members; (d) whether those prayers mention sexual differentiation depends on the couple, and (e) synods cannot make egalitarians of complementarians or vice versa.

In a balanced Anglican province, clergy should be clear to all that any actual marrying is being done by the local magistrates, but that they do offer public prayers for all members entering a new state of life. These prayers should primarily recall God's promises in baptism and draw from the scriptures whatever wisdom is helpful in the new stage of life. Those to whom Genesis or Darwin are especially inspiring should offer prayers and hear scriptures that say more about sexual differentiation (eg Tom Wright's comments on it as a theme in scripture). Those more exhilarated by the prospect of strict contractual equality should instead pray and read about that (eg TEC's TFSM report). This difference should be warmly accepted as the reflection of personal and family histories that it is. A choice of authorised rites should accommodate it.

This solution reframes the problem as one of the church's duty to the state's conservation of public order. No state has asked Anglicans to fathom the mysteries of sexual orientation on its behalf. Rather, the UK PM argued that including the last few percent of Britons in marriage would strengthen the institution. The US courts ruled that couples were equally entitled to the protection of Federal and state laws. Anglicans have traditionally preferred a Protestant view that in marriage churches solemnise what the state recognises. The vast majority of Anglicans on both sides of the debate are well within that tradition.

A solution grounded in political theology eschews any attempt to use rules about weddings to legislate mores for all couples in whole societies or to award either side final victory in the culture wars. In taking such moves off the table, it eliminates the prospect that either pole of opinion will be altogether defeated. Indeed, it enables fresh pastoral creativity at both of them that is sorely needed.

Why do we fight? Because we want to. Why do we want to? Because fighting fills a void; because righteous zeal is a pleasurable emotion; because we think we will win. But in Christ, most of us have no void to fill. Unity is more pleasurable than zealotry. Neither side can win without alienating support that we need to survive. Happy warriors hate this political solution, I suspect, because they so badly want a cultural win. But after exhausting every other alternative, Anglicans will turn to it.


Bryden Black said...

Initially at least, I quite liked this avenue, Bowman. Thanks for the ideas.

But then I ran a thought experiment: what abt the state that was Germany 1933-1945?

Just so, there are states and there are states, just as there are laws and there are laws. Where “religious institutions and states” have, due to history, become so embroiled within each other - as with Christendom type nations - then of course “culture wars” take on a particular bent, with in our present case churches vying for a certain form of power, wanting to exploit the state’s apparatus for their own ends (one way or another).

The difficulty I really see is that the political culture of many a western nation is imbued with a residual Christian ethic: citizens derive their mores via a sense of the human person which ultimately derives from the Christian account of the world. Yet, far more stridently more recently, just such persons have autonomously turned their backs away from this account, aspiring to secularize their world(s). As Alasdair MacIntyre has brilliantly suggested, we are therefore left with echoes of forms of mores that actually mean one thing to some people and really rather different things to others; the original context for key forms of moral discourse has simply evaporated - while some key words hover around still, to be ‘filled with meaning’ as one wills. Nobody wins - but the state’s now form of positive law ... And Western Christians have yet to disentangle their hearts and minds from this confusion.

I also suggest it will take some three generations for this latest form of social experimentation to run - with or without “prayers for these new states of life” (but why would one merely endorse some rather than others ...? Christians have never endorsed all forms of living) - before significant results emerge (viz Bruno Bettleheim’s Children of the Dream re a very different scenario).

Bottom line: Western Christians need to revisit the works of the Early Church Fathers and Mothers to learn again to sift discerningly their cultural environments, to “spoil the Egyptians” where we may, or to expunge the gods of Egypt where we must. Which means we’ve to learn again by what sorts of criteria we are truly meant to live.

Jean said...

Hi Bowman in reference to your above comment:

At present the difference down under is Christian Minister's legally perform marriages as do secular state registered marriage celebrants; so local magistrates pay no part except in granting a marriage license and receiving the piece of paper once signed after the ceremony. It is also one of the reason's the Church in this corner of the world does to some degree have to work out where is stands in relation to perspectives on sexual orientation; they are involved in the authorisation of marriages. And why to preserve for clergy the freedom to act according to their own conscience before God, is upheld quite strongly.

There has been suggestions here that the clergy 'give up' their legal rights to marry and take on a different role of blessing a marriage of christians who desire it.

As for complementarism versus egalitarinist values in marriage, I would think it a pretty safe assumption that Kiwi's in general and Kiwi Christians are already quite accepting of the existence of both views, though perhaps our nation tends towards the later being generally egalitarian in nature.

All the Best

Anonymous said...

Yes, Bryden, mores that crystalised in a gospel matrix are now in a very different solution. I like the way you have described that.

German marriage legislation 1933-1945 trangressed the order of creation; Christians resisted it on that basis (Barmen Declaration). States that are leaving marriage as we have known it intact but are extending its rights to a few marginalised citizens do not appear to be an analogous threat. Nevertheless, I have suggested that marriage rites present created order and covenantal partnership as we find them in scripture. In light of all that you say, that seems wise.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Jean, for your interest and comment.

The system that you describe is also used by American states. Although some nations such as France have separated the secular and sacred phases of marriage, you may have described the majority practise. Under either system, the central problem of all marriage is the same-- somehow, a changed relation between two people with natural consequences has to become an acknowledged social fact so that those consequences can be in good order.

To that end, after a millennium of informal family ceremonies, clergy in the West began to 'solemnise' marriages by eliciting public promises and recording the witnesses to them in registers accessible to literate third parties. The informal family ceremonies survived only in the father's presentation of the bride. But as an antiseptic to social pathologies 'solemnisation' may have been the most successful feat of social engineering in history.

The somewhat prosaic business of the English marriage service reflects its social function better than any coherent theology. This is because the change in the relation of the couple has been hard to explain as religion. The Western church struggled to integrate this innovative practise into its sacramental system, and Reformation churches retained 'solemnisation' as a civil ordinance. (Weddings in the East have an altogether different history, reflected in an altogether different form.) Nevertheless, both Catholics and Protestants have given it a religious dress that induces compliance and makes the moment teachable.

All this is still done, as you say. But as I think we all realise, the appealing stagecraft of it has somewhat obscured the reality backstage: officiating clergy have long been forwarding data to a public registry maintained for the public by a bureau of the state. Today, as a millennium ago, officiating clergy serve their communities as witnesses to something that couples do to make their changed relation visible to all.

Although conscience clauses for clergy are wise, it is not clear what they actually do for a witness. Clergy can find couples to be ineligible for registration (eg degrees of kindred and affinity) but the conscience is not involved in a finding of fact. Witnessing Jane's and Robert's signification that they have changed their relationship does not mean agreeing that Jane and Robert should have done this. Perhaps Jane should not have broken off her engagement to Alfred? Is Robert really ready to settle down? Signing a certificate that Jane and Robert have done what the Kingdom of Cockaigne recognises as a sign of marriage makes no representation about whether the couple should have done it, only that they in very fact did do it.

If clergy down under are uncomfortable with this limited role, they are not the first to detect a gap between what 'solemnisation' does and what Christians care about. Theologians half remembered for a thousand years would agree that, yes, a community with some wisdom to impart and a great mystery to celebrate should be doing something more than taking names, asking questions, and signing forms. And the far more Christian ceremonial for marriage in the East points to the depths that await exploration. To engage these deeper questions, however, we need to distingush marriage itself from its registration.


Bryden Black said...

“Nevertheless, I have suggested that marriage rites present created order and covenantal partnership as we find them in scripture. In light of all that you say, that seems wise.” Anon Bowman.

In a recent (unpublished, so far) critique of the ACoC “This Holy Estate”, I have questioned precisely your description: re “created order” and “covenantal partnership” as “scripture/al”. True; the Canadian document goes to some lengths trying to establish their case to legitimate these descriptors, and notably along the lines of “the Gentile analogy”. Unfortunately, their exegesis and methodology is seriously wanting in the end, IMHO. And unfortunately too, this ADU blog is not the place for a 12 page PDF to demonstrate how this might be the case ... It’ll surface here in NZ in due course re our own present time of “conversations”.

Jean said...

Hi Bowman

Wow you really know your history : ) ...

I can see there are definite llimitations in how marriage is currently carried out in the Christian Church in terms of it's brevity and perhaps lack of depth when it comes to things spiritual, depending upon who is getting married! I think (although not being clergy I can only speak on supposition) the suggestions downunder regarding the separation between marriage registration and Christian religious marriage ceremonies has been more related to the current controversies regarding sexuality and thinking this might be another approach; considering other faith groups leaders who don't have the authorite to solemise marriage by law have to seperate the two.

Yourself and Peter will no doubt me more versed at educating us how the original Christians performed and celebrated and perceived marriage...

All the best,