Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Way Forward: Section 12: A Critical Review (9)

[The full report is accessible here. The section under discussion in this post is accessible here (12). In these posts I am aiming to work my way forward through A Way Forward report, posting on a new section each Monday in the weeks before General Synod, May 2016. Pagination refers to the PDF version of the report.]

Before we begin this week's review

I commend to you a blogpost by Trevor Morrison, entitled Two Ways Forward. His opening is brilliant and unerringly focuses all our minds on where our church needs to go at the forthcoming GS (his emboldening):

"Two ways forward lie before the Anglican Church in the province of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. One way is to adopt the recommendations that have been made in the report of the Working Group that was formed in consequence of Motion 30 as agreed at the 2014 General Synod / te Hinota Whanui. To choose that way is to choose to divide our Church. There is not the slightest possibility that conservative parishes and clergy will agree to remain part of a body that had accepted the recommendations framed as they are in the Working Group’s report. Nor could any conceivable amendments make the recommendations acceptable. 

The other way is to analyse why the Working Group has got it so badly wrong and to start again and do it right this time. I hope that that is the path we follow, and so I offer my own preliminary analysis here."

The essence of his critique is that GS 2014 and Motion 30 were a hopeful starting point for finding and forming two integrities in our church on the matter of blessings, but AWF provides no fulfilment of such hopes. Not least, Morrison highlights, in my words, that AWF's failure is because it does not demonstrate an understanding of what a "conservative" integrity would look like even as it effectively argues for and seeks to establish a "progressive" integrity alongside of which conservatives are thrown a few bones such as the ability to refuse to undertake blessings.

This, among other points well made, is an astute one (this time my emboldening):

"The report that the Way Forward Working Group has produced contains some useful observations and findings. Nevertheless, it shows signs of the pressure of time under which it was produced. Its preliminary sections are one-sided, representing the view of the majority who are in favour of the blessing of same-sex relationships and failing to give respectful acknowledgment of the views of the minority who are not. If the Working Group’s recommendations are to form the foundation of the ongoing recognition of two integrities within the Church, surely its own proceedings and report should have modelled that very thing, but they do not."

I leave it to you to read the whole of his post. Better still, circulate it to your GS reps!

Section 12

First, I repeat my questions noted in last week's post:

"- why beat about the bush, why not name the rites so that we are clear which is which in respect of same sex civil marriages and differently sexed civil marriages, rather than "Form 1" and "Form 2" and use your magnifying glass to work out the difference between each?

- are they too wordy?

- do we get to trial them (as part of a considered process, likely longer than two years, in accord with how previously we have done good work in adopting new rites)?"

Secondly, I pick up a point made here (in comments, and, sorry, can't remember all who have made it in respect of one issue or another), that it is more than confusing, it is dangerously verging in disingenuity to proclaim in AWF that no change is envisaged to our doctrine of marriage and then to recommend acceptance of "proposed rites of blessing" that include the phrase "civil marriage" in their title, and include the word "marriage" in their main contents. There are at least three criticisms to consider at this point:

(1) To (Christianly) bless a civil marriage for which civil marriage is a necessary condition while also distinguishing "civil marriage" from "Christian marriage" looks awfully like blurring any meaningful distinction between a blessed civil marriage and a Christian marriage.

(2) To require the blessing of a civil marriage in order to consider one or more of the couple in respect of ordination or licensed ministry position to be "rightly ordered" is a change to our current doctrine of marriage because currently we consider a civilly married person (with or without blessing) to be rightly-ordered. 

(3) To require the blessing of a civil marriage in order to consider one or more of the couple in respect of ordination or licensed ministry position to be "rightly ordered" is a change to our current doctrine of marriage because it introduces the idea that a priest is requisite to a couple becoming married (i.e. "properly married in the eyes of the church") when hitherto we have understood that the couple marry themselves before God (with priest and witnesses attesting to this public marrying, and priest praying for the marriage to be successful. I may not have expressed this criticism well and you may be able to do it better.

Thirdly, the introduction of a formulary for such blessings demonstrates that our church thinks this is a matter of our doctrine but the simultaneous introduction of a canon which permits dioceses to choose whether or not they authorise the formulary for use confuses this matter because 

(i) it implies that dioceses may choose which bits of doctrine we believe and which we do not (which seems quite odd!, if not contradictory of Anglican governance);

(ii) it raises the significant question of whether we can via a canon do this kind of dividing of the church into two integrities on this matter: 

on the one hand a canon is easily changed, at one sitting of GS, without recourse to the dioceses* and thus such a decisive piece of governance is always at risk; 

on the other hand it is very, very arguable that we cannot actually do this kind of "canonical" shaping of our church, since the precedence for doing so (re canons currently governing aspects of marriage) is on shaky legal/constitutional ground (so Bosco Peters) and the logic of doing so is non-existent (how can a canon trump a formulary when one is of lesser legal weight than the other?).

**AWF does helpfully ask that GS offer a "twice round" process on this particular occasion to the canons it proposes so that they will go to the diocese for consideration along with the proposed formularies.

Fourthly, I do not, in the light of the three critiques above, wish to actually examine the formularies in any depth. We need to sort out what we are doing, what we understand marriage to be (and not to be) and work on what it means to be a church of two integrities (i.e. in only one of which would people actually being willing to say "this service reflects what I believe as an Anglican") before we worry about the wording of services of blessing.

But if you want to think critically about the formularies, as presented in AWF, then I suggest, as above, asking these questions:

- are they too wordy?
- should we be approving formularies without trial?
- do they get the relationship, important to Anglicans, between "liturgy" and "scripture" correct, with special reference to scripture informing liturgy? 
- what are they blessing? (e.g. note at the top of p. 34 = second page of Form 1 the emphasis on friendship, "best of friendships": if we are blessing friendships, does that provide a way forward?) 

Can We Be Constructive About A Better Way Forward?

I think we can and I suggest that the formation of FCANZ could be significant in finding that way forward. Come back Tuesday, and I will explain  ...


Anonymous said...

Peter, were "Form 1" and "Form 2" used to allow heterosexual couples to choose the unisex rite? I have often thought that the consequential disagreement is not the noisy one between those for and against SSB, but the silent one between those feminists who can only tolerate a unisex vision of marriage, and those of us who will not sever the link between human biology we experience and the Church's talk about marriage.

Bowman Walton

Peter Carrell said...

I don't know the answer to your question, Bowman!

Father Ron Smith said...

"There is not the slightest possibility that conservative parishes and clergy will agree to remain part of a body that had accepted the recommendations framed as they are in the Working Group’s report. Nor could any conceivable amendments make the recommendations acceptable. "

Ah, well, that's it then. All done and duated - in the meantime....The Eucharist is celebvrated and people are being fed in ACANZP - with or without the dissidents.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
The overall thrust of Trevor Morrison's post is that a different framing of starting theological common ground and consequential recommendations could lead to acceptable recommendations.

It is not only conservatives who are finding AWF, as it stands, objectionable. So, no, I don't think things are "all done and dusted".

Liturgy said...

[Part 1 of 2]

Thanks, Peter, for your systematic analysis, and for pointing to some of my evolving thinking also.

One of my on-going concerns is the disproportionate energy that we as a church, and worldwide as a communion, are expending on this – in the face of climate change, child poverty, growing gap between rich and poor, refugee crisis, war, ecological issues, natural disasters, ageing and declining church attendance, poor Christian leadership formation, and increasing complexity of ethical issues – to name a few concerns.

The years, papers, meetings, books, blog posts, and so forth, have not seemed to bear much positive fruit. I do not even think that most of the discussions, at an ethical level, have produced useful models that can be translated to other, possibly more pressing, contemporary ethical issues. The advantage of the RC Pope-Francis-pastoral-approach within a consistent Natural Law ethical framework is that it presents principles that can be used when looking at, say, human genetic modification, memory-enhancing drugs for ordinary people, and other such issues now on the horizon.

Responding to your current post, Peter, I need to clarify and disagree with a couple of points you make. This IS a change in doctrine – that’s why the proposal requires going down the formulary route. Your “thirdly (i)” IMO is incorrect: “dioceses may” NOT, in fact CANNOT, “choose which bits of doctrine we believe and which we do not.” Once the formulary passes – that is a doctrine of our church, to be held by all licence holders in our Church. The proposed canon purports/intends to limit the putting into practice of that doctrine. So the “two integrities” that you write about are not differing in belief – they are differing in practice. Your suggestion of allowing the formularies to be trialled (as allowed by our Act and Constitution) brings up other interesting questions: would/could the trial be limited to those dioceses as suggested in the proposed canon change? Would you have the canon, then, passed prior to the formularies? Ie. at this meeting of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW)? Without the referring the proposed canon back to dioceses/amorangi (a referral which is novel, not required, and, of course, doing such referring may not pass at GSTHW). You also intimate that we can end up with the formularies for all being passed, and the canon (noting its unfounded components below) not being passed. And of course, even if the canon passes at one GSTHW, it can be rescinded or altered at a future meeting of GSTHW by a simple-majority vote at one sitting.

Liturgy said...

[Part 2 of 2]

I would have hoped for a proposal modelled on how Anglicans in NZ deal with blessing the union of heterosexuals if one or both is divorced. If the couple, in conscience (in the face of the biblical texts about this), see themselves as free to marry, and if the priest or bishop, similarly in conscience, is prepared to officiate, the church “allows” this ceremony. But now these discussions have helped me realise that our half-century practice of marrying divorcees is without appropriate foundation (hence my reason for placing “allows” in scare quotes), and that that is the reason why it cannot be used as a model for committed same-sex couples.

The proposal also “makes a significant change” to our doctrine of marriage – marriages not blessed by an Anglican priest or bishop will be judged as not a “rightly-ordered relationship.” I put “makes a significant change” in scare quotes, because IMO the proposal does no such thing as, for this change, it does not use the appropriate process (ie. this, like the marriage of divorcees, needs to go via the formularies route).

With all these discoveries, our integrity as a church is now on the line: we have acted without proper foundational process for (the majority) heterosexuals (2.6 and 2.9 of our Marriage Canon are without foundation), process that we now demand occurs for (the minority) homosexuals.

I have, for many, many years now, called for a re-examination of our liturgical agreements from the ground up (what is required, what is allowed, what is forbidden). A unanimous motion from our diocesan synod years ago supported my call. We still await this review. This debate is set within that context, and the new discoveries only intensify the need.

Easter Season Blessings


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
I feel the need to keep reminding you that the energy being put into this issue arises because some of our church are pushing for a change which others do not see justified. If those pushing for change either ceased to push for change, or came forward with a clear justification which was well received the energy would go out of the matter in a minute. However, for decades now the push for change has persisted and shows no sign of ceasing.

You write,
"Your “thirdly (i)” IMO is incorrect: “dioceses may” NOT, in fact CANNOT, “choose which bits of doctrine we believe and which we do not.” Once the formulary passes – that is a doctrine of our church, to be held by all licence holders in our Church. The proposed canon purports/intends to limit the putting into practice of that doctrine. So the “two integrities” that you write about are not differing in belief – they are differing in practice."
My response is this:
1. Technically you are correct re dioceses not choosing what they believe; but the substantive point I am making, albeit not too well, is that dioceses being given a choice about putting into practice a doctrine is effectively about a decision of the diocese as to whether it does or does not believe the doctrine. (In other words, AWF, no doubt well intentioned, is very, very muddled in the "diocese-by diocese" choice it envisages).
2. There will be a schism if our church persists in proposing and pushing for an agreement a formulary which it knows many will not be able to declare that they believe it. (Hence my support for exploring your proposal that any such formulary have a crucial "may" in it, as I see a difference between "this is what this church believes and so you must also" and "this is what this church permits members to believe and so you may also.")

Liturgy said...

Thanks, Peter.

And I feel the need to keep reminding you that there was nothing like this energy expended when those pushing for a change for the majority (heterosexuals) were the subject. So much so that it now appears that we haven't even bothered to allow for the blessing of committed opposite-sex couples where one or both is divorced in the manner that our own agreements require! And before the two-wrongs-don't-make-a-right group start - good luck finding a single person who has challenged that.

Correct me if I am wrong, Peter, but you were the one who repeatedly argued with me saying that it may be possible for a canon to limit a formulary in the manner of the proposal, to the point where I, giving you the benefit of the doubt, retracted my certainty that it could not. Now you seem to me to be seeing what I was initially saying: as far as I know, there is no constitutional agreement that a canon can act in this manner; as far as I know, there is no explanation of this point in the proposal; as far as I know, there is no precedent in our history to use as a model; and as far as I know, the only canon that limits a formulary has parts where it does so without foundation.

I am not sure what to make of your admission that "technically" I am correct, but "substantively" I may not be?

I am heartened by your re-exploring of my "may bless like this" version of the formulary without the canon-limiting-formulary conundrums. I suggest that such a formulary could be introduced at the same time as a "may bless like this" version of a "blessing of committed couples where one or both is divorced" formulary, so that we deal with both changes to our marriage doctrine in concert.



Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
Lest we argue like two ships passing in the night!
1. I think if GS wished to govern a formulary with a canon it can (as it seems to have done re existing marriage matters) since well, it can; but that is not the same as saying it should not do so because it would be unconstitutional etc. So I am not changing my argument that a canon can govern a formulary as a matter of actuality, especially when not challenged by anyone. What I am swinging to is the view that we ought to act constitutionally and thus I recognise the force of your argument that we should act constitutionally.
2. Let me put the "technical"/"substantive" point a different way. Suppose AWF is passed in toto, as it is currently written; then, subsequently, the Diocese of X does not authorise the blessing formulary for same sex civil marriage. I then imagine that a member of that Diocese will(incorrectly) say "We don't have that blessing here because we don't believe it to be true" rather than (the correct) "We have to believe what that formulary says because that's what our licences require us to adhere to, but, praise the Lord, we cannot actually use the formulary."
3. Am working a bit more on the "may" in my next post.

Liturgy said...

The only thing I would "argue" about in your last comment responding to me, Peter, is the word "argue."

I think this is a conversation, part of several conversations around this topic. Because of conversations like this (with you), I have publicly changed my understanding significantly (as you know), and am quite prepared to see my ideas clarified (and/or changed) further.

So "argue" comes quite a way further down my understanding of the spectrum we are on: ... converse... discuss... debate... argue...

A point about my (above) spectrum is that I think it correlates to the light - heat spectrum. On the internet, the dial seems to automatically drift to the heat end. And especially on this subject. At which point there is less and less clarification of ideas and certainly little change. And now you see what I did there: I looped back to my original point in this comment.



Peter Carrell said...

Ok, Bosco, lest we converse like ships slowly making their way through the gloom, wary of icebergs. In which case the heat may help melt the obstacle!

Brendan McNeill said...


Can I suggest that the Anglican church is ‘wasting so much energy’ on this matter because it lacked the courage to correctly call this ‘theological novelty’ we know as Motion 30 for what it was right at the outset.

I have heard a visiting Anglican Professor attempt to conflate homosexual relations with disputes about eating and drinking and observance of days. Then to state that the Kingdom of God is not about meat and drink (and by inference, homosexual sex) but righteousness peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

He went on to advise that what was really important was not so much the matter that divides us, but that each party in the dispute had arrived at their views sincerely. (oh dear how Anglican!)

That we should not focus on these ‘differences’ but rather agree to disagree, while living together under the supremacy of Christ. Then at question time when asked what it meant to live under the Lordship of Christ, being unable to answer the question.

But then you were at that meeting, and from memory introduced the speaker.

Clearly the Apostle Paul failed to example the same Anglican politeness exampled by our Bishop to this visiting Professor when it came to matters of sexual immorality within the Church: 1 Corinthians 5.

But then according to our visiting Professor, loving homosexual relationships are a relatively modern phenomenon, and by inference unknown to those who authored the Scriptures.

If only Paul had known they existed, perhaps he would have created a formulary for the blessing of same sex relationships and saved us all this bother.

But then that’s just conjecture.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Brendan
You can suggest that but it won't get the current debate very far because the Anglican church you think lacked courage doesn't exist. What does exist is an Anglican church which has contained a variety of views for some time now.

I recollect Chris Marshall's talk a little differently. In respect of homosexuality he said some things but he also said at one point that he had not made up his own mind on these matters, so I don't take his talk as any kind of "last word" on the matter. The main thrust of his talk, of course, was on the question of whether we might find grace to live with disagreement on homosxuality in the spirit of Romans 14-15.

Again, I think he set us up to think more about this rather than offering us a final "this is what you should do" word. But others will have heard him on that "main thrust" in a different way, so I am not giving you the 'definitive interpretation'!

Politeness does count for a lot in this world, I have often found; and I have always found that impoliteness has gotten me a rebuke from all parts of the Christian spectrum!