Wednesday, July 13, 2016

My "Way Forward" (Part 3)

Oliver O'Donovan, highly respected British theologian, writer and ecclesial luminary, recently spoke along these lines:

"Christian Today has revealed that one of the ways the Church may find a compromise over the issue is through a "pastoral accommodation". This could take the form of an authorised service of "welcome" or even blessing for people in same-sex relationships, but not an official marriage.
Oliver O'Donovan, a theologian who was among the first to propose the idea, told Christian Today "untraditional forms of marriage" had been adopted "without modifying or qualifying in any way the teaching of the church about marriage as the union of one man and one woman for life".
He cited polygamous households in African churches and divorced couples in Western churches as two examples of a departure from traditional Church teaching. He said these models do "not undermine the natural family as a norm, but affirm it, by modelling itself as closely as possible upon it, so the well-designed pastoral accommodation in marriage, designed to meet a quite specific need, will witness in its own way to the normative form from which it derives"." Reported here.
I like what Oliver O'Donovan says and it does accord with where our GS 2016 was heading (retain traditional doctrine of marriage, authorise blessing of same sex relationship liturgy). Broadly, what he proposes is the compromise on the table of our church for our consideration.

But where we got stuck - in my understanding - was around the word "authorise" because the route we took was to authorise-via-a-formulary. There were several (if not numerous) problems with this route. It involved an effective change in our doctrine of marriage (despite language which claimed otherwise), it involved an oddity that dioceses could then choose whether or not they implemented (and thus corporately believed) something set down in writing as part of the common liturgy/belief of our whole church, and it required "civil marriage" as a pre-condition for the service of blessing which simultaneously raised and lowered the "status" of civil marriage between two people of the same gender.

What I want to propose - see next post - is a different level of authorisation of a liturgy of blessing, removing the requirement of a preceding civil marriage and a different level of decision-making regarding who may offer a liturgy of blessing.


Brendan McNeill said...

Hi Peter

With respect to ‘my way forward’ I can’t seem to get Frank Sinatra’s hit song ‘My way’ out of my mind.

And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.

I've lived a life that's full.
I've traveled each and every highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

But first on the subject of compromise (part 2) Neil Kinnock may be an expert, St Paul it would appear is considerably less so. In politics compromise may be a virtue of sorts, but historically it has never been considered a virtue by the Church when it comes to matters of sexual morality.

As to ‘my way forward (part 3)’ you have engaged diminution through redefinition. Let’s not call it ‘marriage’ but rather a ‘service of welcome’ for same sex couples. Or, perhaps let’s call it an ‘untraditional form of marriage’ one that does not modify in any way the church’s teaching about marriage being the union of one man and one woman for life.

See, it was simple, what was all the fuss about?

While I look forward to your next post that proposes a multi-layered understanding of ‘authority’ when it comes to ‘blessings’ I remain doubtful that we can ‘language’ this problem away by pretending it’s something other than it is.

It may be intellectually satisfying at one level but practically it would still mean having to explain to my grandchildren why God has changed his mind about homosexual practice and now wants to bless Bill and Andrew’s same sex relationship in the Church.

Didn’t we agree Peter that same sex intimacy was sinful?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Brendan
In our church we have people who believe that same sex intimacy is sinful (under any circumstances) and we have people who believe it is not sinful (under specific circumstance, such as a blessed relationship). My attempt at a suggestion for compromise is about such a church remaining together, as a church in which each side with its convictions can remain part of one church.

I am not asking myself, or you to compromise your convictions, unless your, or my convictions involve the conviction that the church cannot be compromised.

In that case, there must be schism.

My own long experience of being Anglican is that compromises are involved re being a church which includes people of uncompromising convictions!

Brendan McNeill said...

‘… and we have people who believe that same sex intimacy is not sinful (under specific circumstance, such as a blessed relationship).’

And that belief is founded on what exactly?

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Brendan, I do hope for your sanity's sake, that none of your children/grandchildren turn out to be gay. If that were to happen, would you consider 'Gay Therapy' or Prayer?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Brendan
I hope someone more versed in the arguments can give you "chapter and verse" so to speak, but I hazard the suggestion that the foundation of the argument would be that the love of the loving God supports loving relationships, that the apparent constraints of various biblical texts are based on a shortfall in understanding the dynamics of human sexuality, and, finally, that while there is an ideal in the Bible re sex/marriage, the church has often had to accommodate variations from the ideal (cf. Oliver O'Donovan in the post itself above) and this would be one more accommodated variation.

Brendan McNeill said...

Hi Fr Ron

I want to treat your question with the respect it deserves.

Perhaps the best way to do this is to play you a short youtube clip from a gay man Milo Yiannopoulos who believes quite sincerely that homosexual orientation is predominantly nurture rather than nature, and also admits that ‘praying the gay away’ actually works for many people although the left media prefer not to report on it, and finally (with some humour) suggests he might like to have such prayer at some stage in his life.

Hopefully you are up for 3.08 Minutes that might challenge your presuppositions.

And Peter, accepting that we are by definition followers of the truth, do you personally believe that there is a ‘shortfall’ of understanding with respect to the dynamics of human sexuality as expressed in the Scriptures sufficient to allow the blessing of same sex unions?

If not, why submit a proposition that allows for such blessings?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Brendan
No, I do not personally understand Holy Scripture to offer sufficient means to endorse our church (any church) blessing same sex relationships.
But I belong to a church in which colleagues and friends think differently, read Scripture differently. I may be wrong, they may be right!
To use your language, I am "submitting a proposition that allows for such blessings" as an acknowledgement that I belong to a church in which views differ.
I am continuing to work for the church to hold together despite these differences. It will not hold together if one side refuses to accommodate the views of the other side.

BrianR said...

"It will not hold together if one side refuses to accommodate the views of the other side."

Stand back and look at the larger (geographical, historical and theological) picture, Peter.

1. Remember what Kelvin Wright has said about the catastrophic decline in attendance in Dunedin diocese from c. 10,000 in the 1980s when Penny Jamieson became bishop to c. 2000 today. Anglicanism as a diocesan institution will likely disappear from much of NZ in a few years' time.
2. As North American and Scottish Episcopalianism also rush to embrace the anti-Christian invention of "same-sex marriage" - something entirely unknown in all Christian history - you must see that these denominations are also only mere aging shadows of themselves with no prospects of revival either. The Church that "will not hold together" is Global Anglicanism. Do you want to push orthodox, evangelical Anglicans into schism - and maybe set off a generation of property battles as in North America?
3. Please think logically and church-historically! God's will is not divided and self-contradictory. Either something is pleasing to God or not. Sexual behaviour is *not adiaphora.

Brendan McNeill said...

Hi Peter

I’m fascinated by your response, even a little troubled by it. If I understand you correctly, you are prepared to advocate that the Anglican Church allow SSB even though you believe that it is unsustainable from Scripture, on the basis that some of your friends and colleagues believe it might be sustainable.

As Christians do we have the liberty before God to advocate for something we believe in good conscience to be wrong?

How do you read Romans 14:23 which states that ‘everything that does not come from faith is sin’?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Brian
As you know, the Anglican church in these islands is not large by anybody's standards, and it is considerably smaller than it used to be "when you were a lad"!
By holding together, I am talking about staying together whether we are few or fewer in number.
By holding together, I am talking about parishes staying together when they are quite small, they consist of a few who favour SSB, a few who don't and a bunch who have not yet made up their minds.
By holding together I am talking about the Diocese of Dunedin not self-destructing in the instant a schism takes place.
By holding together I am talking about clergy who don't agree with SSB but won't leave staying together with clergy who do agree with SSB and won't leave staying together with clergy who resent the limitations of SSB because they prefer SSM but won't leave and, I hope, the clergy who disagree with SSB and SSM and seriously think they might leave pausing, and not, in the end leaving.
But, if we do schism, and I realise that may well happen, because I don't think the line I am taking cuts much mustard with those more conservative than me on these matter, then ACANZP will not only be weaker for having divided, I suggest the two (or more) divisions will be quite weak; and, yes, I definitely think a conservative breakaway will really struggle to flourish over the medium to long-term.
So, all in all, if you have not quite got my point yet, I think ACANZP will be better off for finding a way to stay together!

BrianR said...

I got your point way back, Peter.

You think the political institution is more important than the Church being "the bulwark of truth" - or you are genuinely agnostic about the moral character of homosexual relations and can't make up your mind. In which case, you are faulting the consensus of church history. Which is it?
Do you remember the words of Coleridge - that a time would come when men would love their sect more than the Church and the Church more than truth?

As for me, I lament the passing of (certain) institutions but it isn't the end of the world. If, for example, the British Labour Party were to self-destruct soon (as it may), I will not shed many tears. Watching the self-destruction of the United Reformed Church (no less than 20% of its size only a generation ago) is a sadder matter for me.
At what point do you survey the ruins and say: 'We took a wrong turning there?'

BrianR said...

"(O'Donovan) cited polygamous households in African churches and divorced couples in Western churches as two examples of a departure from traditional Church teaching. He said these models do "not undermine the natural family as a norm, but affirm it, by modelling itself as closely as possible upon it, so the well-designed pastoral accommodation in marriage, designed to meet a quite specific need, will witness in its own way to the normative form from which it derives"."

If this correctly represents O'Donovan's views, it is very disappointing for such an erudite and careful thinker.
First, polygamy (actually polygyny) was countenanced for African tribes entering Christianity from paganism as a means of protection for the second and other wives. It was never intended as a permanent option but only as a transition (with OT precedents). Second, the possibility of remarriage after divorce has been there from NT times although the later Western church (in contradistinction to the east) developed the idea of the de iure impossibility of divorce (and even in the west there was never unanimity on this).

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Brendan (at 5.53 pm)
Please don't be troubled about me but take the trouble to assess the state of our church (i.e. the state of the whole church, this is not about "some of my friends and colleagues").
Respectfully, I think you underestimate the strength of commitment in our church to have SSB (if not SSM); thus my attempt at a compromise is an attempt to find a way for the not quite equal but opposite commitment to not have SSB to have a proper place in our church.
If this is not possible, we must split.

We do not have the liberty to advocate for something we know to be wrong and I am not advocating per se for something I know to be wrong. I am advocating for our church to find a place or places for people who differ hugely on what they consider to be wrong; and I am doing so on the grounds that we are already a church which has found a place or places for significantly differing points of view on what is right/wrong (e.g. whether it is permissible to remarry after divorce, whether women may be ordained to lead and teach congregations). That is not to say that all such issues are of equal significance/importance/"order" as in first order, second order, but it is to say that the Anglican church has a tradition of finding a way to accommodate difference in views.

Noone I know who is advocating for SSB is advocating for sin to be blessed; they are advocating for what they believe to be right to be blessed.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Brian
No I have no doubts about the wrongness of same sex relationships because I do not see how their rightness is supported by the teaching of Scripture or of tradition.
No I am not supporting the "institutional church" versus some other church which is the bulwark etc: the church is the church, it is simultaneously visible and invisible, institutional and charismatic.
No I don't think sexuality issues are particularly good issues on which to press for the church being the bulwark and pillar of the truth. I assume that is what a number of Roman Catholics think when they cheer conservative Cardinals on who insist that remarriage after divorce means exclusion from the eucharist. No doubt there are shared feelings of righteousness and rightfulness in doing so, but where is the love and care for people living complex lives (as most of us do, including those who seem outwardly most righteous when they go to the communion rail)?