Monday, June 11, 2018

Questions and Answers re ACANZP after Motion 7 (29) at GSTHW, May 2018

The following is a document I have written in response to some questions which a colleague has raised with me. The responses are personal (I am writing as one priest, as one member of General Synod, not on behalf of, e.g. the Diocese of Christchurch). I may be wrong. I am biased, in favour of making what we decided work. I am keen to see parishes engage with Christian Communities (CC) rather than contemplate departure.

A question of protection for individuals and individual parishes when there is disagreement with the bishop

In principle, a willingness to live within this church, under its 2018 constitution and canons, and, for licensed ministers, under the authority of the local bishop, will first mean a willingness to live with disagreement generally and secondly be the grounds on which disagreement with the local bishop is worked out.

Prior to Christian Communities being formed, and even if a licensed minister did not join a Christian Community after formation, every minister has “protection” because no minister can be disciplined (let alone have their licence taken away) for continuing to believe and to teach what has been consistent with the Doctrine of Christ expressed through the formularies. A disagreement with the local bishop is a disagreement but it is not grounds for the bishop to change his or her attitude or approach to any licensed minister under their authority.

Adequate protections under CCs now and in the future?

Such a question begs another question, what is meant by “protections”? Given the general thrust of what has been decided is to protect (e.g. from discipline) those who teach against (or for) same sex blessings, the question of protection is likely to be about future ministry rather than present ministry. Can a parish be guaranteed succession in ministry so its next vicar or priest-in-charge shares its values and theological commitments? Where that parish is part of a Christian Community which itself has such values and theological commitments, that guarantee can be given. Will a new candidate for ordination from a parish in a Christian Community be accepted for ordination (all things re call/gifts/experience being equal)? The legislation does not insist a bishop accept any candidate for ordination. But we could ask, why would a bishop (or the bishops generally) starve Christian Communities of ordained ministers? Any such policy would be self-defeating for the bishops who usually like to see parish vacancies filled rather remain annoyingly vacant.

How will individuals and parishes be treated if they decide they are unable to remain part of ACANZP?

If Anglicans, including licensed ministers are no longer able to be part of ACANZP, there is general goodwill for the process of departure to be handled with practical love, grace and generosity. Those departing, conversely, should understand that the responsibilities of ACANZP continue to include provision of ministry in ministry unit territories from which Anglicans are departing, even when departure involves formation of a new local church.

Is theological work yet to be done which might address questions such as whether a service of blessing of a same sex civil marriage is scripturally supported? (Thus, might we move from such services being excluded canonically from being consistent with the constitution?)

Yes. Currently there is no specific plan for this work to be done. But such work would build on a series of hermeneutical hui and theological hui held in ACANZP within the past 10-12 years. It would likely require a willingness on the part of the church to acknowledge that such work should be done and would be welcomed with an in principle willingness to agree to its outcomes. The current situation of not requiring services of blessing to conform to the constitution is a recognition of division within our church about the scriptural basis on which such services might be welcomed.

On the specific question of whether GSTHW 2018 has contradicted Article 20, the answer requires a determination – if one was formally sought – by the appropriate doctrinal and legal bodies of our church.

I’m confused over the comments “no one was happy with motion 29” – yet you also say that “many clergy and laity believe that blessing same sex relationships accord with Scripture

OK, so “no one” might be an exaggeration (since I am pretty comfortable with it!). The point made at GS along those lines was that we were not pretending that Motion 7 (29) was a motion which in all its parts a reasonable number of people were happy with. Few if any are happy with it as a whole and many are unhappy about specific proposals BUT, also the point made at General Synod, it is a proposal that a majority were likely to vote for; and we did.

Yes, at the core of the motion, is an acceptance that many clergy and laity believe that blessing same sex relationships accords with Scripture, and thus GS is confident that a majority vote for the principle at the core of the motion, that permission might be given for blessings, is a majority representative of our church as a whole.

The failure in leadership in allowing this informal teaching (i.e. through past years that loving, faithful, permanent same sex partnerships might be blessed) and practice (i.e. that in previous times, such partnerships have been blessed) to continue informally for such a long period of time.

I do not see a failure of leadership because leadership is an expression of the body of Christ as a whole. It has been clear for a long time – in my estimation, at least since around 2004, probably earlier, to the reaction in 1998 against Lambeth 1.10 – that informally in ACANZP Two Views on same sex partnerships has existed, in some parishes one view being advanced and in other parishes the other view being advanced. For bishops to have sought to suppress one view in favour of the other (except in, say, the Dioceses of Nelson and Polynesia) would have been to invoke a theological civil war and, as a consequence, even more synodical time being taken up with discussion of these matters and the appointment of even more working groups to consider them.

On the matter of “practice”, since the events of 2003 (the ordination of Gene Robinson as bishop and reaction in the Communion to that event), there has been a moratorium in ACANZP on blessing of partnerships and ordination of persons in a same sex partnership. (No doubt some exceptions can be brought up, but generally this moratorium has held. Partly, in my view, out of respect for the feeling of the Communion and partly out of recognition of the need for this church to do work on these matters (which it has done through hermeneutical hui, theological hui, Ma Whaea Commission and two working groups).

Why is it is okay for ACANZP to defy Lambeth?

There is nothing to defy. Lambeth is not an authoritative body which promulgates rules for Anglican provinces to follow. A more accurate question would be to ask why ACANZP is now ignoring the guidance and recommendation of Lambeth resolution 1.10 having hitherto, more or less, followed it. I don’t think it is for me as one individual to attempt a definitive answer, since I assume there are multiple aspects to the answer, but here are my suggestions:

-          Over 20 years questions about general recognition of same sex partnerships in the life of our church have become stronger; and certainly have not abated;
-          We are now, in Aotearoa New Zealand, a nation which has first advanced in civil legislation, civil unions and then civil marriage for same sex couples, and thus the particular question of what formal, liturgical response we might make to civil unions/marriages is alive in a way which was not the case in 1998.
-          We see that across the Communion a variety of approaches are being taken to changes in civil society and in civil legislation and that in response the Communion is developing ways of advancing Anglican relationships which are robust in outlook but which are not about a straightforward division of the Communion into fragments: this seems to mean that we can navigate our way through choppy external Anglican waters as we proceed with our internal agenda re same sex blessings.

The matter of GSTHW contravening our constitution (if you don’t think it has in law, then morally/ethically or in spirit?)

I hesitate to say that GSTHW has NOT contravened our constitution in law because someone might take up a legal case about this and prove me wrong! What I am happy to say is that constitutional matters are not only about words in writing, they are also about the will of the people bound by the constitution. (For instance, the wording of the American constitution offers no literal justification for the proliferation of firearms currently seen across American society but the will of the people on this right to bear arms even when not being part of a militia is so strong that regular massacres do not empower politicians to make much needed legal changes re gun ownership and gun use.) The will of the people of ACANZP, as represented at GSTHW, is for some accommodation to be made between the strict wording of the constitution, the meaning of the Formularies as documents expressing the Doctrine of Christ and the desire to offer permission for public blessing of same sex partners committed to a lifetime of covenanted love for one another.

Has, thereby, the constitution been contravened in moral/ethical or spiritual terms? That seems to be very much a matter of whether one thinks blessings are harmonious with the lifegiving nature of the gospel or not; and that brings us back to Two Views. For myself, I am somewhat agnostic!

If GSTHW has allowed two opposite views to be held, where one individual practices the blessings of same gender relationships whilst another doesn’t because it is leading others in sin, how are we to understand Jesus in terms of Mt 18:6 (i.e. the warning not to place stumbling blocks before disciples)?

I suggest we understand Jesus in Matthew 18:6 as asking searching questions of us all in our public words about same sex partnerships. Are our words creating, for instance, an environment in which young people feel the church is hostile towards them? Are our words leading young people into sin? Into responsible, ordered relationships? Are our words confusing others, inside or outside the church or both? Are our words creating stumbling blocks to hearing the gospel as good news for all people or (in perception) only for heterosexuals?

Questions about the new assent (i.e. declarations required of licensed ministers and office-holders)

There are limited options for changing the nature of assent in a church. If (as conservatives argued in submissions to the working group) it is no longer acceptable to submit to the authority of General Synod then there remains a need to assent to the constitution and canons of the church (otherwise one would be saying the rules of the church do not apply) and to the lawful authority of the diocesan bishop (otherwise there would be no one able to insist on the keeping of the rules). In short, the new assent is a minimum requirement for the good order of the church.

Perhaps there are two related questions here, concerning whether the canons can all be obeyed and whether the bishop has authority when we disagree with him or her.

Canons: no canonical change decided by the General Synod requires any licensed minister or office-holder to change their practice or their teaching and thus no assent to the canons of our church implies possible disobedience later on; providing, of course, that it is accepted that changes to the canons offer the possibility of permission for others to do things differently to previously.

Bishop: a bishop, even one we disagree with, cannot require anything other than lawful obedience to the constitution and canons of this church. A bishop can ask us to use the prayer book and expect us to obey that instruction. A bishop has no power to ask us to desist from using the prayer book and any bishop doing so would be issuing an unlawful instruction. On the specific matter of the blessing of same sex civil marriages or civil unions, no bishop can ask a priest to conduct such a blessing nor ask a priest to desist from teaching against blessings. (By contrast, a bishop can insist that no blessings will be conducted in her or his diocese. The “bias” of the changes are in favour of a conservative approach by the bishops.)

Comments: you are welcome to make comments; and to ask questions of clarity; but I am going to be out of time this coming week re offering responses to points you wish to argue ... but someone else among the commenters may take up the challenge!

1 comment:

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter, thank you for your exhaustive and helpful 'apologetic' referring to ACANZP's recent decision to allow local bishops to give permission for local clergy to Bless legal Same-Sex Relationships - without encumbering those bishops or clergy who have a conscientious objection to taking part, to have to comply.

It seems to me that ACANZP already has a similar process in play - with respect to the conduct of re-marrying divorced persons. No bishop or priest is forced to carry out such liturgical functions, nor is there a threat to a person's ministerial licence for refusing to re-marry divorcees.

The principle involved is, constitutionally and ethically, quite similar to the prospect of either offering or not offering a Church Blessing for a legally constituted same-sex marriage. One would have thought that the same conditions apply to both situations.

However, from the point of view of a strict observance of the Scriptures; only the prospect of re-marriage of divorcees is directly affected by a particular Dominical inhibition. Nothing is said about the Blessing of a legally-constituted Same-Sex relationship - which may or may not be sexually active (according to the individual consciences of the couple concerned.

While the Church has many instances of requests for the re-marriage of a couple who have previously been married; there is not expected to be a similar number of Same-Sex legally-married couples requesting a Blessing from the Church.

The other problem, of course, is the possible association with a 'Theology of Taint' which threatens those in the Church who do not wish to be associated with the prospect of living with fellow 'sinners' in the body of Christ. This suggests that, in the mind of some of our fellow religionists, God would not be disposed to bless a couple whose only possibility for a faithful and loving monogamous relationship is with a person of their own gender.

This 'Theology of Taint' is still effective for some Anglicans in the matter of Women's Ordination. However, our Church in Aotearoa/New Zealand has managed to live through that particular crisis. Can we not live with this one?

Here is a question, for instance, for the Chaplains of our Armed forces: If you can bless a battleship, which is used for armed conflict; why would you not bless the loving faithful relationship of two people whom the law allows to be united in marriage?

Another possibility of maintaing one's person objection to conducting SSB is for the Church to opt out altogether from performing the marriage ceremonies of anyone. This would help solve the consciences of the conservatives while maintaining the peace of the Church.