Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Even Canadians Admit that Squaring Circles Is Theologically Impossible!

In news emerging from north of North America, Canadian Anglican bishops admit they are unlikely to secure a required two-thirds majority among themselves to approve changes to their marriage canon. See here, here or here.

No doubt (from some initial comments on the Thinking Anglicans' site) there will be debate as to whether this is a craven response to the Primates' Meeting or whether other issues are troubling the minds of the Canadian bishops. But it does seem an example of the immense difficulty which emerges in Anglican churches when an attempt is made to change the doctrine of marriage in favour of inclusion of same-sex marriage.

The doctrine of marriage is about the circle of love and affirmation which runs through a man and a woman marrying and the Scripture as well as the Tradition of the church affirming this as God's intended plan for humanity, along with Christ's approval via Cana, and Paul's embedding marriage imagery into ecclesiological vision for Christ's relationship with the church, all of course completely "reasonable" since it helps us humans to propagate in socially safe and secure ways.

Squaring this circle involves changing the definition of marriage from one woman and one man to any two people, invoking Scripture and Tradition in support of this change, with focused attention on selected parts of the narratives involved (e.g. focusing on companionship in Genesis 2 rather than on companionship and sexual differentiation). It is a change of such magnitude that the circle can only be squared in  a theologically responsible manner if the catholic church (i.e. the whole church) agrees that the Spirit is indeed upending and overturning God's own revelation to the church. It is not impossible but it is much, much more difficult than some people (notably some Anglicans) think.

The recent Primates' Communique was not so much a "power play" as part of the catholic church saying that it is not yet obvious, even less agreeable that the circle can be squared. We might also note that a tiny proportion of the global church is considering the attempt to square the circle. In itself that observation should give pause for thought!

My sense is that the Canadian bishops are recognising that the circle cannot be squared and they will settle for an alternative to changing doctrine on marriage, authorising the blessings of same sex relationships.

I am happy to take comments here about the Canadian bishops' dilemma, or about the general situation of the churches worldwide considering change to understanding of marriage. Any comments specific to ACANZP's own attempt to square the circle should be made to yesterday's post. I will not publish comments made to this post which discuss ACANZP's A Way Forward report.


Anonymous said...

Peter, this may be the moment in which effective leadership in matters of exceptionality and marginalisation passes from liberals to evangelicals. For while the problems are real, it is also clear that the rhetoric of liberalism (eg antinomianism, inerrant progress, anti-faith rationalism, church as an instrument for social change, suspicion of discerning bodies, etc) used to support SSM has blown up more bridges than it has built. We need to do the right thing for all kinds of Christians, but old-time liberals cannot show us how to do it.

Bowman Walton

Anonymous said...

Bowman, I agree; but I don't think conservatives are any better. I think Chesterton sums it up well:

“The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types -- the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine. Each new blunder of the progressive or prig becomes instantly a legend of immemorial antiquity for the snob. This is called the balance, or mutual check, in our Constitution.”

:):) Nick

Father Ron Smith said...

"My sense is that the Canadian bishops are recognising that the circle cannot be squared and they will settle for an alternative to changing doctrine on marriage, authorising the blessings of same sex relationships." - Dr. Peter Carrell -

Well, Peter, we all need to reflect on the fact that, if only Anglican Provinces (including the Church of enjgland and ACANZP) had seriously considered the possibility of including Same-Sex Couples Blessing in the Liturgy of our Churches; the whole business of 'changing the doctrine of Marriage' may never have arisen.

I put the responsibility for the present situation firmly on the shoulders of those in the Communion who have doggedly and diligently opposed the whole idea of Godly, committed, monogamous, Same-Sex relationships, such as was accepted by society in Civil Partnerships.

If only the Church, for instance, had accepted the fact that it is better for homosexualy-oriented people (as with the majority of heterosexual people) to choose to contain their sexuality to the establishment of a life-time monogamous relationshop; rather than feeling forced to engage in promiscuous activity because the society or the Church forbids their relating together as life-long committed couples; then there may never have arisen the demand for the right to 'Equal Marriage'.

Factually, though, not even the open-ness to heterosexual people to contain their sexual impulses within a monogamous relationship has actually worked. Look at the incidence of infidelity among 'straight' people. And then, there is the incidence of divorce and re-marriage - WITHIN the discipline of our Churches. Talk about hyporisy!

But I guess that's how we human beings are - ddep down. Hypocritical. And the Church is not immune.

Anonymous said...

Excellent quote, Nick, and I've another for you below. But first a clarification: liberals are liberals, but evangelicals are not always conservatives. I expect today's Super Tuesday voting in the US will have made this shockingly clear by tomorrow. Among monotheists, there is a real, not just a conceptual, difference between a religion and a temperament.

Catholicism and evangelicalism are *religions* that naturally range across a spectrum of opinion from the lefty Catholic Worker or Sojourners Fellowship to the rightly Opus Dei or Focus on the Family. In contrast, liberalism and conservatism are the *temperaments* of those who prefer new and familiar experiences, respectively.

Theoretically, there could be a blessed Anglican province in which evangelicals and catholics are found in equal numbers on both sides when opinion breaks liberal-conservative by temperament (eg the architectural style of a new cathedral). And certainly the Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical churches all have their conservative and liberal tendencies.

But as you know, our conservative catholics began to swim the Tiber after the ordination of women. Progressive evangelicals exist but have not yet found institutional voices in many Anglican churches. So the peculiarity of this moment in Anglicanism is that what should be a richer conversation in at least two dimensions has shrivelled to a one-dimensional one between catholic *liberals* and conservative *evangelicals*.

In that too-simple polarity, each side tends to talk past the other. Liberals insisting that others base deep religious convictions on fairness alone are as persuasive as zebras urging horses to have stripes. Evangelicals insisting that liberals reason with them through close reading of the scriptures succeed as often as ducks convince cats to swim with them. Neither side lacks intelligence; the two sides lack common ground. It may be that liberals better frame policy for the state, whilst evangelicals better keep the faith in the Church.

Now the promised quote, which is not altogether lacking in salience--

“But the Church cannot be, in any political sense, either conservative or liberal, or revolutionary. Conservatism is too often conservation of the wrong things: liberalism a relaxation of discipline; revolution a denial of the permanent things.”

― T.S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture: The Idea of a Christian Society and Notes Towards the Definition of Culture.

Bowman Walton

Anonymous said...

That's a fair comment, Bowman. I had thought that evangelicals were conservative, but of course it will vary. TS Elliot is undoubtedly correct. We do need to do the right thing for all types of Christians lest we become like Prufrock and get stuck in indecision and collect lost chances.