Monday, March 21, 2016

A Way Forward: Section 5: A Critical Review (4)

[The full report is accessible here. The section under discussion in this post is accessible here. In these posts I am aiming to work my way forward through A Way Forward report, posting on a new section each Monday. Pagination refers to the PDF version of the report.]

I continue this series in the belief that the unexamined report is not worth having. I am having some interesting conversations "off blog" as well as those in comments here and on Bosco Peters' Liturgy blog, especially in this thread. As a result of those conversations I want to acknowledge that at times my critique may not sufficiently acknowledge the constraints of the working group (e.g. constrained by Motion 30 to come up with a "process and structure" rather than do theological work), though I also maintain that when any such constrained report has sections with words like "theology" and "doctrine" in their titles, then theological work, no matter how concise, is being done.

Section Five - An Introductory Comment or two

This section is entitled, "An accompaniment to the proposed schedule" which means that it is an enlarged theological explanation of the "schedule" (i.e. explanatory comment/essay added to a canon in order to set the rule made in a theological framework) which is proposed for the proposed canon concerning blessing of civil marriages. Later, in Section 10, we get the actual proposed schedule. Thus there is a certain awkwardness in the placing of this section: it flows from the previous "theological" sections but it should be read just before or after Section 10!

In summary, as the section itself explains, "This section explains the schedule to the proposed canon permitting a liturgy to bless those who have entered a civil marriage." 

At precisely this point, however, we need to ask what the report means by "bless those who have entered a civil marriage." If the report means that civil marriage (different genders, same genders) is more or less theologically the same thing, then Section Five works quite well as an explanation for blessing civil marriages, not least because it seems to blur any lines of theological distinction between blessing a same-gender civil marriage and blessing a different-gender civil marriage. 

But if the report means that civil marriages bear some theological distinction between same-gender marriages and different-gender marriages then this section does not maintain that distinction. Why might we think that, at least in one or two places, the report does make such a theological distinction?

(1) The very fact that the report and its recommendations provides for dioceses to choose not to bless same-gender civil marriages implies that it understands that some in our church make such a distinction.

(2) p. 9 says "The group's proposal (in line with its commission) to propose a service of blessing of same-sex relationships does not (in the view of the majority of the members) impact the current doctrine of marriage. It is accepted that the blessing of a relationship has some similarities with the rites of marriage, but even as the two are alike in many ways they are not the same. Neither would a doctrine of same-sex relationships be the same as the doctrine of marriage."

(3) p. 12 acknowledges that what is proposed by the report and its recommendations "will fall short of some Christian same-sex couples' hopes because they cannot be married 'in church'."

One difficulty associated with the question of the report's understanding of "civil marriage" is what that understanding means for "marriage." Repeatedly the report takes pains to line up with Motion 30 and assert that no change to the "traditional" doctrine of marriage is envisaged, but the report envisages a change to (at least) our understanding of civil marriage between a man and a woman. Formerly such a relationship was considered, by the traditional doctrine of marriage to be a valid (in eyes of God as well as in eyes of the state) marriage resulting in a rightly ordered relationship with respect to ordination/appointment. The underlying theological point being (H/T Malcolm Falloon and comments made at ADU recently) that in marriage the couple marry each other: the priest/bishop does not marry the couple. If the recommendations of the report are accepted then this "traditional" acceptance of the validity of civil marriage will no longer be the case. Thus (despite, I am sure, the best intentions of the working group) our doctrine of marriage is changed by this report and its recommendations, if they are accepted.

So, I acknowledge, in what follows, that I am not overly enthusiastic about what I read in Section Five because I find it confusing, relative to what the report's presupposed view on marriage is. However I am but one cog in the many wheels of our church. The question is whether multiple readers of this section are enthusiastic about it. Is it clear? Is it persuasive? I look forward to your comments.

Outline of Section Five

Preamble (p. 13)
1. Love (pp. 13-14)
2. Union (pp. 14-15)
3. Covenant (pp. 15-16)
4. Gift (pp. 16-17)
5. Household (pp. 17-18)

Causa Brevitatis

I do not have all the time in the world, so I am not hereafter engaging in a comprehensive critique. Your comments may well fill out the missing bits.


Two key points:
a. There should be teaching about "blessing of marriages that were not conducted by a Christian minister". Yes! 
b. The preamble clearly states what is going on re such blessings in the life of the church: "... and who have not received a formal pronouncement of the blessing of the God we know in Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Church offers and announces that blessing for five primary reasons:"

But here is a great difficulty. Precisely in the preamble the report refrains from distinguishing between the blessing of a civil marriage between a man and a woman and the blessing of a civil marriage between two people of the same sex. But the former is not a matter of controversy in the life of the church. The latter is a matter of controversy in the life of the church. 

On the one hand (a point impressed on me in one of my conversations this past week) the working group was not tasked with sorting this controversy by going back to first theological principles etc on the matter. 

On the other hand, because the matter is controversial, a report proposing a schedule (i.e. a theological explanation) and an explanation of the schedule could be expected to offer something in either the explanation or the schedule or both which offers some sense of how "the blessing of the God we know as Trinity" can be offered for that which some/many in "the Church" (let alone many other churches) do not think can be offered. I do not find much of the latter in this section. But there are some signs!

1. Love (pp. 13-14)

I find this section odd in places. I have no idea, for instance, why this section takes time out of explaining love as a reason for God blessing a relationship to make a teaching point about the difference between "self-giving" and "self-sacrifice." The point of this section is not to teach what love is but to teach why God blesses a loving relationship. A pertinent but overlooked text is 1 John 4:16. I suggest a stronger case could have been made in this section for God blessing any civil marriage, because such a marriage demonstrates the willing intent of two people to be bound together in love for life. If there is any aspect of a same-sex relationship which any Christian of any persuasion could contemplate (especially on the basis of 1 John 4:16) God blessing, it is the (faithful, stable, permanent, lifelong) love between the two.

2. Union (pp. 14-15) Since my original posting a few hours ago I have decided to revise the "tone" of this section of my review in a more diplomatic direction. The substance of my critique is unchanged.

It is a challenge to give credit to this part of Section Five. 

A. I find it difficult to give credit here because in the present controversy it is a challenge to credit that:
- there is citation of certain scholars but not of others; 
- there is bold pronouncement without argument that "the Genesis texts are freighted with more weight than they were designed to bear" and "To go to them to discern what God's will for us in creation is always fraught."
- the bold pronouncements made about the Genesis texts are then followed by "However, we can recall that the problem in Genesis 2 ... and it was this that gave rise ...". Ironically, Genesis texts are made in the same paragraph to bear weight as God's will for creation is discerned.
- all this in a report studiously trying to avoid theological foundationalism!!!

B. The bottom paragraph on p. 14, governed alone in terms of scholarship by just one scholar, makes the controversial claim that despite Genesis 2 and its problem of aloneness being met by the solution of the creation of the "other" sex, "we can see that this desire looks beyond the surface of a binary, heteronormative world. It is expressed not in finding a partner of the opposite sex but a partner of the apposite sex." Oh, such a neat aphorism: "opposite ... apposite"! But this play on words, is it in fact supported by the text of Genesis 2? By what Jesus himself makes of Genesis 2? What scholarship - apart from Trible - underlines the aphoristic conclusion? What argued resolution of the controversy in scholarship over such a move is exhibited by the report?

Incidentally, none of my concerns are assuaged when, over the page, 15, the final paragraph cites Ephesian 5 as though it too is gender neutral.

In the end, the great weakness in the discussion on "union" here is that it avoids discussing the question of whether there is a distinction to be made between the union of male and female (union of difference) and between the union of male and male or female and female (union of sameness). 

If we say there is no distinction to be made, then what are we to make of talk of "bodily union" (as this part of Section Five) because that means we are talking about union which unites bodies as well as hearts and minds, and there are differences between uniting two sexually differentiated bodies and two that are sexually indifferent to each other. If we say there is a distinction to be made, then this part fo the report does not make it.

3. Covenant (pp. 15-16)

OK, please call me fussy, but this, a bit like the section on love, is somewhat odd to my logical tastes. Logical tastes: why distractingly sidetrack in the second paragraph into talk about "unequal power"? Why not start with and stick with the point further down the paragraph about God's covenants with God's people being exercises in grace (as all the covenants are, not just the new covenant of redemption)? The point of this explanation is about covenant as reason for God's blessing, not general teaching on the character of covenants. Thus the words towards the bottom of p. 15 represent a strong point about covenant: when we enter covenants as a sign of our mimetic constancy, one person to another, we offer something which is godly. 

4. Gift (pp. 16-17)

There is some marvellous writing in this section, inspired by the greatness of Rowan Williams' deep insight into "desire". I am not sure what it adds, however, to the sections on Love and Covenant. 

More importantly, it exalts "desire" in respect of loving relationships without anchoring "desire" to the ordering of relationships. When the report writes, "It also places desire not as some aspect of our lives that in order to be holy needs to be channelled toward some worthy instrumental purpose (for example, procreation), rather, our desire for each other can simply be for the joy and delight of each other and this is the divinely purposed end of desire", we can imagine a couple having an adulterous affair saying "Amen" (because their desire for each other is for the joy and delight of each other (and, presumably, takes great care to avoid complicating instrumental purpose such as procreation).

Again, the point can also be made, that the citations made in this section are loaded in one direction.

But, to end on a positive note, the sections on Love and Covenant potentially chart a plausible way forward to blessings of all civil marriages.

5. Household (pp. 17-18)

I just hate it when any part of the church, be it individual or group, writes about the Bible in a manner which belies plain aspects of reading the Bible. So the first paragraph here on p. 17 talks about Ephesians 5 as though it is gender-neutral when it speaks of marriage and household. Yeah, right!

I just find it a little odd when any part of the church, be it individual or group, writes one thing in one section and another thing in another section ... so in part 4 of this section we find eloquence about desire fulfilled, now in part 5 we find "parallels between the monastic life and the married life." Further, "We can speak of marriage as an ascetic vocation." Maybe. But the monk knowingly embraces a life in which particular desires are not going to be fulfilled and the engaged person embraces through marriage a life in which particular desires are going to be fulfilled. Yes, with respect to the Evdokimov citation, both forms of life are for sanctification. But, again, the logician in me says, What purpose is forwarded by this (arguable, controvertible) comparison between monasticism and marriage?

I also find, logically, that the shift in these paragraphs (over into the first on p. 18) is actually away from "household" and towards "discipleship." The two concepts are not necessarily the same. In fact, by the end of the section, we are talking "sanctification" rather than "household."

Then, at the top of p. 18, as highlighted here sometime back by Bryden Black, it is incredible that Pius XI's Encyclical On Christian Marriage is cited in support of the discipleship aspects of married life. No papal encyclical ever has endorsed, or implied by indirect hint endorsement, of any kind of same-sex partnership, let alone a blessed one. Why co-opt the encyclical in this present context? Yes, the citation is useful around what it claims is the "chief reason and purpose of matrimony" but even then, the larger point of the encyclical concerns marriage being open to procreation (in, apparently, direct opposition to the 1930 Lambeth Conference endorsing the use of contraception), so to excerpt this particular citation is to fail to honour the larger point of the encyclical. (Academically, the problem could be that the writer is citing the encyclical from another writer, Rogers, as indicated in footnote 29, and thus perhaps the encyclical has not actually been consulted ...).

So it is perhaps a picky point, but I am left wondering whether "Household" is an accurate title for this section which could even better been titled "Sanctification." 

Although the report does not provide a separate heading such as "Conclusion" for the final two (or possibly three) paragraphs on p. 18, I take these last two paragraphs to constitute ...

"the Conclusion to Section Five."

Perhaps rather than "critique" this section with its interesting moves re who is blessing what, and what "blessing" means re asking for as well as announcing God's blessing, let's leave this section for you to comment on, dear readers!

Does it make sense re "blessing"?

What does it mean to be "fully alive" to the glory of God?

(How would we know that?)

My overall conclusion

This is a patchy section. Good in parts, odd in parts, distracting in parts. Can we find the good here (perhaps in the parts on Love and on Covenant)? Can we agree on what it is that might constitute a theological basis for blessing same-sex civil marriages?


Father Ron Smith said...

"If the recommendations of the report are accepted then this 'traditional' acceptance of the validity of civil marriage will no longer be the case. Thus (despite, I am sure, the best intentions of the working group) our doctrine of marriage is changed by this report and its recommendations, if they are accepted." - Dr. Peter Carrell

I agree with your specific point here, Peter; that the Anglican Church has never officially considered Civil Marriage to not be a valid Marriage. If Motion 30 is going to reqauire Anglicans to have their Civil Marriage Blessed in church, that would be new provision and a distinct disciplinary measure. Does the Church want that?

Though clergy may have liked all marriages for Anglicans to have been contracted in a Church Wedding, there has never been any official discrimination against Anglicans whose Marriage has not been solemnised in Church. To my knowledge, no-one has ever been refused access to the Eucharist because of their Civil Marriage - although, I cannot rule out that possibility in ALL Anglican Churches.

If the intention of Motion 30 - to Bless Same-Sex Marriages already contracted by the State - is properly understood; it will allow faithfully-intentioned Same Sex Couplss, who are already legally married, to receive - not the blessing of the Church, but the Blessing of God, which is what couple seeking affirmation of in their legally contratced relationship relationship of Civil Marriage. Such acceptance would allow for the approbation of God's preference for monogamous, faithful and loving relationships recognised and affirmed already by society.

This seems to me no more capable of being misconstrued by conservatives in the Church as the Marriage of divorcees.

Bryden Black said...

In many ways Peter this is the heart of the Report; and this despite the fact its apparent focus is a sought change in the formularies, i.e. new rites of blessing, and despite the fact that the possibility of this change was the goal of the brief from Motion 30 for the WG to achieve. I make this claim as our formularies reflect in Anglican culture our theology, our organizational ‘ideology’, if you like, in generic terms. And this ‘theology’ is exactly what Section 5 tries to present through an elaboration of the Schedule, as you state, of Section 10.

My bottom line re this Section 5: a veritable curate’s egg. While there is much that might be promising - talk of Gift, and the focus upon Household for example - its setting, which you have well spoken about, is most curious, and even as you say, fraught with some key illogicalities. More curious still is the fact that this WG ventured onto this terrain. Now; in fact they - or someone - had to: in order only to substantiate, to try to substantiate, those very novel formularies which was the due goal of the WG (as described above in my first para). I.e. it’s a real chicken and egg game they are trying to play here - which they don’t quite manage to pull off, IMHO. Nor frankly were the members of this WG AS SELECTED equipped to establish this. Nor would I also suggest did the prior Group pull it off, the supposedly equipped Commission, that on Doctrine & Theological Questions, whose Report was published in March 2014. If that’s the best this Church can produce, then we deserve our present ideological fate. [Any who wish to read my own 15 page critique of April 2014 is welcome to have a dropbox link.]

All in all, I’d offer (for starters; I’d imagine the comments will number far more than 100 when all is done) the following links from overseas:

Father Ron Smith said...

Sorry, Peter, syntax sometimes gets lost to typing infacility. My final sentence (at 9.06pm) should read: "This seems to me no more capable of being misconstrued by conservatives in the Church than the Marriage of divorcees"

Anonymous said...

What are the full implications of the concept of rightly ordered marriage? The report says, 'In considering the implications of such a blessing on the canons relating to ordination, the group agreed that a rightly ordered relationship is only one that has been committed to God and received the blessing of the Christian Church. This identified a lacuna in the canons -- couples have never been required to have civil marriages blessed in order to be recognised as married by the Church. The group therefore proposes a rite of blessing whereby heterosexual couples who were married in a civil ceremony may have their relationship blessed by the Church, such requirement for a Church blessing not having previously been part of the Church’s canons'. May have or must have? If we are definitely saying thse in civil marriages are not recognised as married by the church then presumably may includes must. Sounds pretty harsh. And what follows - a person married to an atheist by civil marriage seeks ordination - and the atheist partner conscientiously refuses a church blessing - therefore no ordination for this person who is not actually married from our point of view? Or someone has been married by a pentecostal pastor, sees the light and becomes an anglican, and seeks ordination. But did they actually receive the blessing of the church in their original marriage service. A long hunt takes place to track the pastor and check the exact form of words used. And what of our vestrypeople who are civilly - therefore not - married. Must they step down until they are blessed. And perhaps they will take umbrage at our presumption that they have not lived a rightly ordered Christian life. You can multiply the absurdities. I hope and partly suspect i've got this all wrong - because if its right it look like nonsense. Rhys

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rhys
I think you are putting your finger on a "package" of difficulties.
However on the word "may" I imagine the intent is to say:
(1) any couple who would like their civil marriage blessed may have it blessed;
(2) any person offering for ordination in a civil marriage must have it blessed (with a parallel being confirmation: people may be confirmed, those to be ordained must be confirmed);
Then I wonder, re any uncertainty over "validity" of a marriage/blessing, there could be a form of "conditional blessing" similar to "conditional baptism" when there is uncertainty as to whether a baptism in the distant past was (e.g.) in the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit.

Malcolm said...

Hi Peter,

Like Rhys, I find the report's understanding of the relationship between civil marriage and church blessing completely wrong-headed and unworkable.

The root of the problem is the blurring of the distinction between male and female as a theological category. By turning "opposite" into "apposite" the Working Group treats our human existence as an abstract quality that can be considered independently of its primary, normative differentiation as male and female.

Which is why the report ends up producing two functionally identical liturgical forms, that appear to be completely interchangeable. At least it's consistent with the report's androgynous theological perspective.


Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,
I think part of the incoherence of this report stems from its double minded ‘this is marriage, this is not marriage‘ dance. Reflecting on just the first two sections love and union:
I think any even better text to consider on any discussion of love must be John 15 where our Lord defines it for us (especially John 15:10) and links it to our obedience to his commands.
I think the ‘Union’ section gives me my biggest concerns. Their statement “It is certain however that the Genesis texts are freighted with more weight than they can bear” Really??
It didn’t seem so certain to Jesus when he quotes directly from it in Matthew 19.
There is no reference in this section to the human vocation of being image bearers of God in our married union (or in our singleness). Given some recent episcopal musing about euthanasia, unhooking our church from this theological truth will end in tears or something worse.
I asked Bosco and I’ll ask you here Peter:
How can civil marriage + blessing not be marriage?


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Stu
The church can make distinctions between things that look alike.
As someone (on the side of the report and not a critic of it) pointed out to me recently, we distinguish between baptism of an infant and thanksgiving for a child in contexts where ministers of these services find people confuse the two (so the latter service has people invited to be godparents and those godparents think they are at a "christening" ... and may or may not notice no water is used!)

We might also reflect on the difference between deacons and priests, both wear clergy collars, and the difference between them is often a complete mystery and impossibility to explain (without much eye glazing) to a non-episcopal-ordered-church member, let alone to a non-Christian.

Your question has associated questions such as "Should the church make a distinction between a civil-marriage+blessing which is not a "church marriage" and "church marriage"? And, "Can the church sustain such a distinction for more than a year or two?"

But my own question about the distinction is this, "(Acknowledging it is a difficult distinction to make and to sustain), is such a distinction worth making because it enables Anglicans with differing points of view to remain in the one church?"

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter, I agree the church can make those distinctions if they don't conflict with her lords teaching. But when they do,these unsustainable distinctions will divide us.

Peter Carrell said...

That is so, Stu, but (as sometimes said here, also on Bosco Peters' site) there are those who say that we have sustained distinctions re divorce and remarriage where some say that those supporting remarriage are in "conflict" with our Lord's teaching. (Yes, as also pointed out here and there, whether there is conflict with our Lord's teaching or not is itself debated ... but that means a complex debate (i.e. debate plus debate about that debate) has not divided us, and thus raises the question whether we can or cannot live with this particular debate).

Rosemary Behan said...

Where do the Windsor Report and the Eames Commission fit in with all this?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary
It is difficult to see where the report has been influenced by either the Windsor Report or the Eames Commission in respect of one writing influencing another.

It is possible that the spirit of the Windsor Report and the Eames Commission has influenced the working group in their desire to find a way for our church to hold together.

Rosemary Behan said...

Your last comment cannot be true I'm afraid Peter. I remember clearly sitting in a room [and it's in the report] with Archbishop Eames, who assured me that those of us who do not support the ordination of women [second order issue that it is] would ALWAYS have a place in the Anglican Communion. Please tell me who is ordained these days who believes as I do?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary
You know I can't tell you that :). (That is, I can't tell you what others believe about "second order" issues because that is for them to disclose or not to the reading public).

I don't want to be too picky, Rosemary, but my last comment included the word "possible" which means it would be pretty hard to prove it was not true. To prove it not true, i.e. that there was no influence, would mean that we heard from the members of the working group as to what previous Anglican reports and commissions were (and were not) on their minds during their deliberations. To date they haven't said anything to that effect.

Jean said...

What doesn't sit well with me is, as you infer Peter, the removal of the obvious from scripture. Particularly in this report the purposeful absence of reference to male and female in the Genesis description of partnership and in the union which mirrors the union of Christ and His church.

While covenant and love appear to me as inherent to the Christian way of being I think if a perspective or 'way forward' differeing from what has been is proposed then to be genuine it must be argued,discussed, wrestled with and proven sound without removing from scripture what is in it. To my knowledge the differing voices on the debate re women teaching sought to understand and determine the meaning in context of difficult passages such as Paul's 'and do not let women teach.' As far as I know there was not consistent thought formed by simply deciding not to discuss or include this part of a verse. I do not know if it was similar re divorce and re-marriage (before my time : ) ).

Bosco's proposed 'way forward' is practical and workable and based around a model already existing. But (there is always a but) how can we (the church) endorse a report or even Bosco's proposal with a clear premise of find a way forward while not looking into theological underpinnings? It is also, as you pointed out Peter, not so; the report does contain theological references albeit from a very select vantage point.

As mentioned before I have yet to be persuaded by information surrorunding this ethical and scriptural issue as to the biblical soundness of blessing or marrying same sex couples. Although I empathise with the pain and the struggle of those whose desire is to have such relationships endorsed by the church. If I am going to jump it will only be so from a platform that fully engages with God's word.


Anonymous said...

Grist for the mill from Wesley Hill--

Bowman Walton

Peter Carrell said...

Acknowledging, Bowman, that Wesley Hill is alive and alert to challenges re his conception of "spiritual friendship" that is akin to (we could say) "marriage without sex", nevertheless I agree with you: what he writes is "grist to the mill", especially at ADU where I have - as you know - previously mused that a theology of friendship might be a more fruitful way to consider same-sex relationships within an orthodox framework of a church seeking to be both pastorally sensitive and theologically orthodox.

I shall add his blog to ADU's blogroll!

Father Ron Smith said...

And, Peter, as we are all aware, there were art least two 'spiritual friendships between to male persons in the Bible. The first was that of David and Jonathon, listed (in the Scriptures) as being 'above' that of David's (obvious) "love of women".

The second was that of Jesus, himself - with the 'Beloved Disciple' John, who, in today's readings from Scripture, laid his head on the breast of Jesus at Supper. These are, most surely, Blessed same-sex relationships. I do believe there are some such relationships around today, that God would surely have blessed.

In answer to any criticism of my suggestion here, I would eacho the saying "To the pure, all things are pure".

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bowman for the link to the Spiritual Friendships site.
It strikes me Peter ( and Bowman) that celibacy is indeed a significant omission in this way forward report? And perhaps why they have failed to ( in my mind at least) maintain a coherent distinction between marriage and gay relationships?


Anonymous said...

"[W]e misunderstand celibacy if we think of it as a willpower-fueled project of self-improvement. Of course celibacy involves intense self-discipline and self-control, but it’s fundamentally for others — for love.". Wesley Hill


Anonymous said...

Stu, I agree.

The moral error that confuses some on both sides is that of believing that sex is the most valuable association between persons. Some who implacably favour church SSM err in seeing any expectation of sexual restraint as an unfair denial of an ultimate good. Some who just as implacably oppose church SSM make the same error of making MWM more normative for every individual Christian than it is. The coherent ethic for each and every actual Christian is aspiration to a spiritual fellowship enabled by Christ which some enjoy in greater measure as unmarried or even celibate Christians, and which others honourably enjoy differently as they fulfill the creation mandates of Genesis 1:28 and 2:18 in a churchly home.

But of course everyday church life has this entirely upside down. The one point on which homosexual critics of "heteronormativity" and the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution I.10 agree is that the Church has slighted the unmarried state to the damage of myriad souls. Both are correct. Naturally, I would invite the former to a second agreement with the latter: given that to be a Christian at all is to identify oneself with Christ, the wiser path for single souls is not recreational sex but a chaste association in Him.

Several things contribute to our confusion, but three are especially prominent--

(a) Our secular societies have absorbed some true insights from Darwin and Freud, but of course not the no less true insight of St Paul into the relation of the old man and the new one in Christ. I find that churchly voices that echo only the worldly ones have generally not understood St Paul. Those on one side never really studied him; the other side studied him and got it wrong.

(b) Although recognised in the Thirty Nine Articles, the single state falls into a congenital blindspot for Anglicans. At the time of the Reformation, celibacy was very closely associated, not with the ascetic theology of the fathers (eg desert fathers in the East, St Jerome's letters to virgins and matrons in Rome), but with the mistaken late medieval understanding of penance in the West. In Germany, preaching the gospel had the natural effect of emptying the monasteries just as it dried up demand for indulgences, and in England, when Henry VIII dissolved monasteries to redistribute their wealth, many of them had become somewhat corrupt. The Oxford Movement began a revival of celibate priesthood and monastic life, and evangelical missionaries were often virtually celibate, but the wider church has not seriously reflected on their examples of chastity to achieve a modern ascetic theology. Interestingly, those theologians who have spotted this lacuna and written something interesting about embodiment and sexuality have all been women. Margaret Miles and Sarah Coakley come to mind.

(c) Although the status of women in society is only tangential to this issue, the polarisation of opinion about it (eg egalitarian v complementarian) has constrained serious churchly discussion of sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular. However, as memories of the 1960s and 1970s recede, ideas may be exchanged more freely in a less polarised Church. I have wondered sometimes whether a global dialogue of Anglicans under 40 would make more progress than one ruled by the very old.

If you can get your mind around all this, empathy with the several sides of this debate becomes much easier. And on Maundy Thursday that is not a bad thing.

Bowman Walton

Bryden Black said...

I wonder too Peter why the WFWG don't include the likes of Wesley Hill's Washed and Waiting (Zondervan, 2010) or Spiritual Friendship (Brazos, 2015). Actually, there are multiple books they shld have cited and did not. One wonders why - well; not really!

TrevDev said...

Having time this Easter Sunday, I have started on the onerous task of getting my head around the working group's report. To that end, I have read at one sitting all four of ADU's "critical review" posts, and all the associated comments. As a result of that exercise, I think that five comments between them contain the germs of the only way forward that might prevent schism in our communion. They are:

Comments on "A Critical Review (3)"
Bowman Walton, March 15, 2016 at 4:56 PM
"What appears to be needed first is a thoughtful report that discerns a best pastoral response to civil SSM that does not rely on any new doctrine at all. Traditionalist interest in making a more widely credible counter-proposal may be stimulated by that exercise."

Peter Carrell, March 20, 2016 at 10:52 PM
"I wonder if God is approving of two people willing to commit to faithfulness when alternatives are not only celibacy but also promiscuity. Not so much MORAL approval, as though God changes his mind, but a form of pragmatism (perhaps as formerly exercised relative to biblical instances in respect of the polygamous patriarchs). I know as a father I would prefer my child to live in lifelong faithfulness to one partner (even if never formally marrying) than move through a series of relationships. Even Jesus in John 4 seemed strangely reluctant to discipline his new Samaritan apostle for both her past and her present "dis-ordered" life (by, ahem, ecclesiastical canonical standards).

"So, to the matter of two integrities, divided as they are according to human judgment: what if there is a chance that God is looking at these matters through some different lenses, asking questions which frame the matters differently to the way we are doing?"

Peter Carrell, March 21, 2016 at 3:57 PM
"Some kind of acknowledgement, prayer for, even blessing of two people in a same sex partnership who have committed themselves to one another, with love and in covenantal terms, as a way of the church community acknowledging that, whatever its members may think about such a relationship, it is not going to pretend the relationship does not exist and it is not going to deny that some good exists in any human commitment to love for life."

Bowman Walton, March 22, 2016 at 8:46 AM
" is not the blessing itself that is forbidden, but the intention of using it to influence the opinion of others."

Comments on "A Critical Review (4)"
Bowman Walton, March 25, 2016 at 3:01 AM
"The moral error that confuses some on both sides is that of believing that sex is the most valuable association between persons. Some who implacably favour church SSM err in seeing any expectation of sexual restraint as an unfair denial of an ultimate good. Some who just as implacably oppose church SSM make the same error of making MWM more normative for every individual Christian than it is. The coherent ethic for each and every actual Christian is aspiration to a spiritual fellowship enabled by Christ which some enjoy in greater measure as unmarried or even celibate Christians, and which others honourably enjoy differently as they fulfill the creation mandates of Genesis 1:28 and 2:18 in a churchly home."

I will add some thoughts of my own in a follow-up comment.

Trevor Morrison

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Trevor.
Your discernment is impeccable!

Anonymous said...

Parador is intrigued; Cockaigne, wary.

Bowman Walton

Father Ron Smith said...

I think that, in all fairness, celibacy ought be left to celibates themselves to celebrate. It is not for the married to pontificate about celibacy. Christ is Risen, Alleluia!

Peter Carrell said...

The point, as I understand it, Ron, is not whether celibacy is being commended by married folk or not, but whether we might expect a report of our church for our church to be broad enough in its understanding of Christian discipline re sexuality to have mentioned/discussed celibacy.

(I recognise that one answer to that question is that the group was commissioned to talk about blessing of relationships).

Bryden Black said...

A Happy and glorious Easter to you Bowman (from a Latin western perspective naturally! See and the next link).

I want to seriously commend your comments on the single life @ March 25, 2016 at 3:01 AM. Having read some time ago Jana Marguerite Bennett’s Water Is Thicker Than Blood: An Augustinian Theology of Marriage and Singleness (Oxford, 2008), towards the end of which she details the many varieties of “households” possible within the Household of God, the Church, I have been struck by the absence of this feature of the debate whenever we have got bogged down in our respective, embattled ‘corners’. Indeed, our “benign therapeutic individualism” - as it’s now termed! - gravitates far too quickly to embrace ‘couples’ only the moment we speak of a “theology of companionship”, as if we cannot envisage sharing our lives more broadly in intentional, ecclesial ways. More grist for the imaginative mill me fancies!

Malcolm said...


I notice that Karl Barth appears in the Bibliography, but does not appear in any of the footnotes. Is this just name dropping, or can anyone discern his influence on the report?

I would have thought that Barth, of all the authors listed in the Bibliography, would have been the most unsympathetic to the theological rationale of this report. After all, he did tend to place a lot of weight on the Genesis texts. Do you think the report has Barth in mind when it warns us of the fraught nature of these texts for discern what is God's will for us in creation?


Peter Carrell said...

I don't know enough of Barth (let alone of the specific work cited, The Humanity of God) to know where and how his influence may have shaped the report. In any case, I would want to see an explicit discussion before I made evaluation of that claimed (or perceived) influence being for good or for ill; in fair comment or in misunderstanding: Barth wrote so much, and sometimes changed his mind, so one can vaguely claim all sorts of things re Barth. Unless specific referenced discussion is engaged with, it is difficult to comment on Barthianism in the report!

Anonymous said...

A Blessed Easter to you too, Bryden! And thank you for kind words.

Apart from diverse experiences of friends and communities of friends in Christ, my comment was at least consciously informed by the treatise on Spiritual Friendship by Aelred of Rievaulx, the inspiring example of the beguines of the C12-16, and the still current Orthodox ritual of blessing houses and praying at their icon corners. But judging from your praise and the reviews online, Jana Marguerite Bennett's book could well shed light on all of these influences.

Last Easter, I watched one of this country's best known *emerging churches* slide into crisis and emerge by summer as, of all things, an inner city residence and garden for young Christian gardeners inspired by Wendell Berry, Dorothy Day, and Jean Vanier, among others. Beyond *emerging churches* and *missional churches* and far beyond denominations may lie the new beguinages of the C21.

Bowman Walton

Malcolm said...


It is just that I have been wondering whom the report has in mind when it criticised those that freighted Genesis with more weight than it can bear.

Certainly Barth relied on the Genesis texts: “the description of the first man in the two creation stories points decisively to this differentiation and relationship.” (CD III/4, §54.1) It’s pure speculation, I know, but Barth fits as a dialogue partner for the report even if it was not intended – and there must have been some reason to include him on the Bibliography!

The report speaks of God’s desire for the “first earth creature” to have a “fit companion” that “looks beyond the surface of a binary, heteronormative world.” [A Way Forward, pg16]

Contrast this with the view expressed by Barth.

“Man never exists as such, but always as the human male or the human female. Hence in humanity, and therefore in fellow-humanity, the decisive, fundamental and typical question, normative for all other relationships, is that of the relationship in this differentiation.” [Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, III/4, §54.1 (p117 in the T & T Clark edition)]


Bryden Black said...

Yes indeed; I am familiar with Aelred, Walter & Gratian - and Cicero! All further grist for the mill of a rejuvenating social imagination - one example of which you also give us with fascinating candour!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Malcolm
The report may have you and me and similarly-minded thinkers in mind when it says that Genesis is asked to bear more freight than it can!

Bryden Black said...

These citations of Barth before us makes me turn to Malcolm’s puzzlement at finding Barth in the Bibliography. I agree Malcolm; your extracts alone seem pretty firm evidence. I’d also go further and fill out the context for your brief summary:

The first and typical sphere of fellow–humanity, the first and typical differentiation and relationship between man and man, is that between male and female. In theological ethics it deserves special consideration if only because, in its crucial expression called marriage, it is shown in the Old Testament to correspond to the relationship between Yahweh and His people and in the New to that between Jesus Christ and His community. Furthermore, the description of the first man in the two creation stories points decisively to this differentiation and relationship [your brief quote]. By the divine likeness of man in Gen. 1:27f. there is understood the fact that God created them male and female, corresponding to the fact that God Himself exists in relationship and not in isolation ... the God who is no Deus solitarius but Deus triunus.

Even if Barth has said earlier (in CD III/1): “There can be no question of anything more than an analogy. The differentiation and relationship between the I and the Thou in the divine being, in the sphere of the Elohim [i.e. between Father and Son], are not identical with the differentiation and relationship between male and female.”

As for the Bibliographical reference to The Humanity of God: yes, it’s odd. Though perhaps it’s a reference to the last essay in that (English) collection, “The Gift of Freedom: Foundation of Evangelical Ethics”, where the emphasis is upon human beings’ own freedom as the freedom given by the Lord God whose own divine Freedom elects humans as His partners before Him. Yes; a real stretch, since Barth’s ‘ethics’ has far more to say than merely countering an ethic of existential self-realization, as it addresses human beings in their moral response to the Lord who has spoken in His Word to establish precisely “a communicative presence” (Webster). Perhaps Andrew Burgess, who studied Barth under Webster, and who was a member of the WFWG, can shine some light on all this ...!

Malcolm said...


I do not claim to be familiar with all the entries in the bibliography, but the reference to Barth did stick out to me as a thorn amongst the roses! One of the reasons it sticks out is because, unlike the other references, it doesn't fit the agenda of the report. It's also the oldest book on the list, though I'm not sure what to make of that. And why The Humanity of God, rather than Church Dogmatics III where Barth deals directly with marriage?

To match your quote from CD III/1, I add this: "the terms of our enquiry signify certain limits: … a clear distinction between marriage and the mystery of the relationship between God and man, with which it is analogous but not identical, so that its predicates cannot simply be transferred to marriage.” [CD III/4, p183]

I take it from this that Barth would not be happy with confounding marriage with sanctification in the way the report does on page 19 by quoting Eugene Rogers with approval.


BrianR said...

I'm reminded of a certain theologian who shall remain nameless whose modus operandi (it was claimed) was to write his books first to say what he intended to say, then to fill them out with footnotes, something of the order of 'For an alternative view, see Snooks, vol. 16, pp. 134-231' etc' to give the impression he has actually read and refuted Snooks. My own (superficial) impression is that 'The Humanity of God' was chosen as a relatively short book that doesn't actually address sexual ethics or even do any biblical exegesis. Instead it employs that wonderful Germanic magisterial (dogmatic!) tone of asserting rather than proving. But put it on the bibliography and it will looks as if you've engaged with a heavyweight of the 20th century.

Malcolm said...

Dear Brian,

You might be right in your suggestion re Barth's inclusion. But it might also be to give the bibliography an appearance of balance and scope. For, if Barth were removed from the list, the sources have a very recent and experimental feel, don't you think?

Adding him in gives the impression of a longer trajectory of theological thought. One wonders whether the compilers realised how contrary his theology runs to that expressed in the report?


Anonymous said...

From the seventh paragraph down, Christopher Roberts begins to sound somewhat like Bryden Black--

Which makes sense.

Bowman Walton

BrianR said...

As you say, there is no citation of Barth anywhere in the report, and the rest of the bibliography is, for the most part, recent Anglo-American liberalism and rather obscure. One looks in vain for significant ethicists of today like O'Donovan or Richard Hays. It's clear that there was no unanimity in the group, while the prayers linking David and Jonathan and Ruth and Naomi are frankly weird. What is the point they are trying to make in these linkages? That there was a homoerotic dimension to these friendships? That was a common implication some years ago but it's patently absurd. So what is it saying?

Anonymous said...

Peter, Bryden, Malcolm, and Brian, my thanks to you all for many erudite yet soulful comments.

On Barth's Humanity of God. Here up yonder, many liberals of a certain age have this book in their libraries. Bryden has probably nailed the reason why. Barth's emphasises that the Church is not in "happy possession" of the Holy Spirit (eg in dogmatic definitions), and must instead wait for inspiration as Israel waited for manna, trusting in God's providence for the continuity of her life. To one reading this out of the context of the Church Dogmatics, this can seem to lift the weight of past doctrine whilst commending brave existential choice in the present moment. The final chapter of HoG is particularly open to this *dynamic nature of doctrine* misunderstanding. So, counterintuitive as it may seem to us, even the Barth listed in the bibliography is probably not there for balance.

On that bibliography. As you will see at the links below, the same questions about the theological balance of reports on homosexuality have been raised about the TEC reports. The strangest thing about this imbalance is that even those **evangelicals who favour SSM** have been ignored, even though these scholars are explicitly trying to ground their work in scripture and meet the objections of opponents. That is to say that working groups charged with seeking *a way forward* are ignoring the very works that are arguably the least polarising and the nearest to centre ground. The result is *a way sideways*, a bridge from the left bank to the left bank that never approaches the water.

At the first link, you will see that Wesley Hill supplies a list of such overlooked works. At the second link, you will find Craig Uffman's independent attempt to find a scriptural rationale for SSM. These should surely have been consulted by any working group in the Anglican Communion dealing with SSM. All worthwhile investigation begins with a literature search.

Bowman Walton

Bryden Black said...

Great link to that FT article Bowman! I'm happy to be echoed - and more than that, this counter to an otherwise wise avuncular figure of the American Church, WB, has much to ponder. Where WB is right on target with his back cloth depiction of our political economy, and its consequent atomization, the Western Church really needs to listen. I'm forcibly reminded also at this point of Jamie Smith's trilogy on Liturgy and Worship, the third of which comes out in a few days time. Frankly, imperative reading and then implementation by any and all in leadership. For what/Whom truly forms our desires and loves? And how?
Two other things. I've learned - had to learn - from Bill Cavanaugh's similar line that our theopolitical imagination has been hijacked by certain migrations of the Holy, from Church to the State, as if it's the latter that is worth dying for, since the former is a mere private option in a world of hard, technological facts which always trump 'belief'. Yes; a truly dangerous folly, yet believed by all formed via today's plausibility structures of mass consumerism.
Then secondly, a genuinely incarnational faith will embody in practical forms of "domestic church" support to create precisely those ways and means of counter cultural formation which will be robust enough to address our 21C madnesses. Dare I say it - Rom 12:1-2 yet again!!!
All of which I hope displays yet one more time just how gruel like this Report truly is...

Bryden Black said...

Yes again Bowman; you nail Barth's being highjacked ...!