"This understanding of marriage is rooted in the Bible and developed in the Church’s tradition: it is revered and respected in its sacramental character, embodying, as it does, natural law and the growth of holiness. Christian marriage is not simply a corporeal contract between two individuals: it is in its nature a union of one man with one woman. Holy matrimony is a natural institution predisposed to the purpose of making of “one flesh”, which reflects the covenant relationship between Christ and his Church. This is “doctrinal coherency”: so much flows from it (and proposals to redefine it [see Appendix 1]) that there is a risk of mistaking the earthen vessel for the treasure it contains."
Wednesday 1 February: My attention has been drawn to this robust response to the bishops' document. I do not find it especially convincing ... are we in an analogous situation to Luther's Europe?
And (my bold):
"And in the dimness of that provisionality it becomes apparent that there is simply no corporate appetite or collective belief in the right to amend Canon B30. And since Anglican polity determines that there can be no liturgy which is contrary to the teaching of the church – we pray what we believe – there will be no development of same-sex marriage blessings. The reasons couldn’t be clearer ..."
I invite you to read the whole post (and/or bishops' document) to find out what those reasons are. Spoiler alert: unity is involved!
ORIGINAL Here are three scenarios which seem to be in play at the moment around the Anglican Communion. Any of the three might be in play for ACANZP though our General Synod discussions to date have been focused on Scenario 3.
Scenario 1: Stick with the doctrine of marriage (notably, a blessed sexual relationship uniting a man and a woman in a bond for life) as taught in Scripture, continued in the tradition of the church, while making accommodation to one degree or another for the presence in the life of the church of partnered gays and lesbians. See further below.
Scenario 2: Change the doctrine of marriage (to equalise heterosexual and homosexual marriage) and take the consequences (i.e. that people will leave either for other churches or to form a church which maintains the previous doctrine of marriage or both; yet some may stay, seeing what unfolds). I think this is more or less TEC's situation: "more or less" because, as I understand it, TEC has not formally changed its doctrine of marriage while effectively changing it by formally providing liturgies for gay marriage.
Scenario 3: Change the structure of the church in order to provide two ordered contexts in which some effective difference in understanding of marriage is possible within the one church. A sticking point here (as I interpret things) is that we Down Under are uncertain whether to moot something akin to Scenario 1 (e.g. no change in doctrine of marriage but blessing of same sex partnerships is possible) or Scenario 2 (change doctrine of marriage in one of the contexts and hope the other context will actually live with that).
What I find interesting, even over this past weekend reflecting on some responses to a report I mention below as well as to a Twitter exchange between some colleagues in ACANZP, is that there does not seem to be a Scenario 4 in play:
Scenario 4: respect for the church maintaining its doctrines means that those wishing to equalise marriage (homosexual, heterosexual) form a new church in order to enshrine a new doctrine. Why not, I ask?
Scenario 1 is now in play in the Church of England. The bishops of that church have published a report which is summarised in this press release (for link to report and for release, go here): my bold,
"The Church of England’s law and guidance on marriage should be interpreted to provide “maximum freedom” for gay and lesbian people without changing the Church’s doctrine of marriage itself, bishops are recommending.
A report from the House of Bishops to be discussed by the Church’s General Synod next month upholds the teaching, recognised by canon law, that marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman.
But it also concludes that the current advice on pastoral provision for same-sex couples - which allows clergy to provide informal prayers for those marrying or forming a civil partnership - is not clear enough and should be revisited.
It also calls for a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” for lesbian and gay people and those attracted to people of the same sex throughout the Church of England.
The paper recommends that bishops prepare a substantial new teaching document on marriage and relationships to replace or expand upon documents drawn up in the 1990s.
And it calls for new guidance to be prepared about the kind of questions put to candidates for ordination - irrespective of their sexual orientation - about their lifestyle.
It also speaks of the need for the Church to repent of the homophobic attitudes it has sometimes failed to rebuke and affirm the need to stand against homophobia wherever and whenever it is to be found.
The report from the House of Bishops attempts to sum up the Church’s position after a two-year process of shared conversations on the subject of human sexuality, involving clergy and laity."
Of course there is a host of reaction, helpfully captured by Thinking Anglicans here. I particularly commend two blogs listed there for consideration, here and here. I also commend this post.
Here be my thoughts (without having read every word available to us):
a. There is a powerful movement amongst commentators and commenters for change to the doctrine of marriage, yet that power does not rest on theological authority in Scripture and tradition inspiring or requiring such change. I detect little ecclesiastical self-awareness of the change to the nature of the church which would be consequent on changing the doctrine of marriage (let alone change to the membership of the church as it flies apart into schism).
b. Thus (1) I admire the C of E bishops for standing firm. and I admire them for clearly knowing that doctrine is doctrine and that pastoral responses to people's varying situations require the maximum possible mercy and compassion within the constraints imposed by doctrine.
c. Thus (2, despite 1) I wonder if we will never hear the end to this matter until we actually have some form of Anglican church in which gay marriage is doctrinally equal to straight marriage.
d. Frankly, it would be theologically better for such a church to be a new church with both a new doctrine of marriage and a new doctrine of authority than to take the old church with its doctrine of authority and pretend that the new doctrine of marriage fitted that doctrine of authority. But I support fully our current Down Under attempt to avoid a "new church" if at all possible by restructuring our current church.
e. Incidentally the protests against the C of E bishops deciding what they have decided are very revealing: they show an episcopal church in which some members are restless about its episcopate even when the episcopate does what the episcopate is meant to do which is to uphold the doctrine of the church. If that is not a contradiction, I do not know what is!
I am interested in your comments on the specifics of the C of E situation. I am not interested in any comments about the Anglican church there or here going to the dogs - we have had plenty of such comments here and there is no need for repetition.