As usual, this post (and next Monday's) is not primarily intended to rehearse familar arguments on That Topic - arguments familiar from many posts here at ADU through the past fifteen years. It is intended to explore the situation/debate the Church of England finds itself in, and the situation the Anglican Communion finds itself in as responses are made to recent news in England, especially as the CofE General Synod meets soon and the ACC meets soon after in Ghana.
So the English bishops have published their decision about the blessing of same sex couples (but not their relationship per se) and people are ripping into it, for example, here from a conservative point of view, with no less than 8 reasons why the proposals are undeserving of acclamation.
Then, one famous London parish, having already announced that it is in broken fellowship with the CofE, has updated their concerns in a letter to the Bishop of London. Of course views opposing the several conservative takedowns of the decision can also be found, arguably led by Jayne Ozanne.
And, with an intriguing phrase when discussing sexuality, there is a charge that the English bishops have an "Orwellian position" on these matters. Excoriation of English episcopoi unites the condemning critics but won't unite the church!
A considered conservative view from within the CofE house of bishops has been published by Bishop Ric Thorpe - here. Needless to say criticism of this is observable on social media. (For a considered critique, you may wish to follow a thread on Twitter which begins here.)
Also put out by another bishop, Jill Duff, is this.
Then there are exchanges I see which go like this:
A: It is not very loving to argue against the bishops' decision and deny blessings to LGBTQi couples. How dare you?!
B: It is not very loving to disregard the teaching of Jesus. Are you a real follower of Jesus?!
1. There is a lot of material (see above, e.g., re the +Ric Thorpe-led view) which restates the doctrine of marriage for men and women, for people able to enter into heterosexual marriage. That is helpful - to be reminded what is taught in Scripture about marriage.
1b. It may or may not be necessary to do so to keep marriage ringfenced for heterosexuals only, but the implication here is that there is no need for discussion about how the church responds to and supports
(i) any same sex couple who wish their partnership to be affirmed in the context of church (in this case, in the state church of England);
(ii) same sex couples in which one or both partners are members of the church and who wish their partnership to be affirmed in the church;
(iii) the question, if "marriage" is to be denied to a couple, there is any "status" possible in the eyes of the church for two people not in heterosexual marriage who yet wish to make a lifelong commitment of love similar to the commitment made in marriage.
2a. Is it plausible, is it reasonable for a significant part of the Anglican church (in England, elsewhere) to effectively say, No. No. And No? On what basis in the teaching of Jesus can we say that Jesus teaching against divorce between a man and a woman married to each other was also making a pronouncement about the desire of two people of the same sex to live out a public partnership of self-giving love to one another?
2b. In another words, it appears challenging to find discussion in the current situation of the CofE of BOTH "Yes, this is all that Jesus and Paul say about marriage between a man and a woman, and it is good" AND "Yes, we have a reasonable hermeneutical task before us in order to respond with care and consideration and formal respect to couples who are not composed of a man and a woman."
3. Yet, taking a different line, is there too easy an assumption that because the majority of Brits want it, because parliament is cross the state church of England is not changing its doctrine of marriage to explicitly permit the marrying of same-sex couples in CofE churches, and because justice/love/fairness demand the arc of the universe and the CofE align, the bishops can easily, should readily agree to propose such change to the General Synod?
4. Taking up Dr Jonathan Tallon's thread on Twitter, noted above, (or his book which he links to, Affirmative: Why you can yes to the Bible and yes to people who are LGBTQI+), a lot depends on whether "marriage" in Christian understanding only applies to marriage between a man and a woman. Can we vary Christian understanding so that the definition of marriage focuses on matters of self-giving love, lifelong commitment and vows to such effect made before God?
5. And I note, you may have noted, that the Gospel reading for yesterday was Matthew 5:13-20, including:
For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches other to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Who is great in the kingdom of heaven? (From above): A or B?
5. I see some angst over (and/or difficulty in explaining) the difference between "civil marriage" and "[Christian/church] marriage": is not marriage, marriage? Has not the church accepted that I am married if I am civilly married? The answer is, of course, Yes and No for the CofE. Remember: Charles and Camilla could not (at that point in time re divorce/remarriage/church] have their wedding in a church but they could in a registry office with a blessing in a church afterwards.
6. Cue - I think - merit in churches conducting no weddings (let the state register what the state makes laws about), but only blessings of couples who have married (and doing so at the bishop or priest's discretion re their own convictions). Might CofE, ACANZP etc yet end up like European churches?
7. Christian marriage as a concept can be surprisingly robust against change. Let me tell you a story from the annals of ACANZP. Some years back (the General Synod in 2004?) a proposal came to loosen the requirement that one of the parties to a marriage conducted by a priest or bishop must be baptised. The arguments, in my recollection, went something like this:
- priests and bishops are asked to conduct weddings of couples who are not in fact Christian (or only vaguely Christian) and, in a post-modern, secularised world, it is missionally appropriate to be able to say Yes and not No to such requests;
- but the requirement that one of the parties be baptised is a sticking point in a world in which young adults now turn out to have not been routinely baptised as previously in the days of yore = Christendom;
- ah, but doesn't that make the request for marriage an evangelistic/disciple-making opportunity so that it is for the priest or bishop to work with the requesting couple on how they might become Christian in order to enter as Christians into Christian marriage?
- and, while we all understand that many people say "I am Christian because I live by Christian values or similar", isn't baptism the basic, objective measure of who is actually a Christian?
- that is, we cannot easily move away from the requirement for baptism without undermining our understanding of the significance of baptism;
- well, said someone or someones, life is not always chronologically tidy, what if we agreed to an amendment such that we marry a couple where there is an intention on at least one of the couple to be baptised, even if the baptism takes place after the wedding?
Thus: Title G Canon III Section 1:6:
"The minister shall ascertain that at least one of the parties to the marriage has been baptised or is intending to be baptised provided that the minister may waive this requirement in unusual pastoral circumstances in consultation with the appropriate episcopal authority."
(Resolved in 2006 when I wasn't a member of our GS, so my memory of the arguments must stem from a discussion at the Synod before.)
Naturally we can have a discussion about whether this loosening of the requirement for baptism was or remains justified, but my point here is that, when the apparently obvious move in a changing world was to simply abolish any such requirement, close evaluation of the matter yielded a resilience to the doctrine of Christian marriage in our church.
Noting that what the English bishops have decided is understood to require no further synodical resolution, the question is in the air: will the CofE make yet make formal, canonical change to its understanding of the doctrine of marriage (as some are proposing)? We will watch with interest.
A week is a long time in blogging but I think part two of this post will look at the question of sexual differentiation in marriage and whether it is a sine qua non for "Christian marriage." But the most importance consideration, perhaps, will be whether we can be a church which can include those who understand faithfulness to Scripture in one way and those who understand it in another way. Let's see ...