[The full report is accessible here. The sections under discussion in this post are accessible here (10), here (11) and 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
I gladly alert you to the following posts by Bosco Peters where he raises significant questions about the process of our church in the past and in the run up to this year's General Synod. I myself am pondering the issues he raises, and any insights are welcomed (first at Liturgy itself) but also here (in particular as it relates to the contents below).
Divorce, Remarriage, & Blessing Same-Sex Couples
The second post has nothing directly to do with A Way Forward but it is a very useful reminder that there are other IMPORTANT issues coming before this year's General Synod!
The End of Confirmation?
Section 10 is the "Proposed Schedule to Part B of Title G Canon III"
Section 11 is the "Proposed Motion for General Synod / Te Hinota Whanui 2016"
Section 12 is "The Proposed Rites of Blessing"
To a considerable degree we have already critically reviewed this schedule in our review (here) of Section Five.
This section does nothing to assuage the concern of many in our church at this time that we do not know that God blesses same-sex partnerships. The preamble to the schedule rightly says,
"The tenor of formal blessings offered in public worship is plain: it is God who blesses, so the bishop or priest and the assembly are both seeking and announcing God's blessing upon some person or persons. These blessings are not the Church granting God's blessing, but declaring it. This involves confidence and trust that God is pleased to bless that which the church blesses."
JUST SO, AND SO SAY ALL OF US!
But, but, but, but, how do we know that God blesses something which (to be diplomatic) we hitherto have thought God does not bless?
The next sentence is the report's stab at an answer,
"In the case of blessing a married couple, that confidence is expressed in recognising God's blessing already at work in the couple's lives and rightly asking for God's continued blessing".
This is followed up by "five primary reasons" for announcing the blessing of God on all legal marriages contracted "in a setting other than the Church". The reasons, as outlined here, are a concise expression of those given in Section Five. They are: Love, Union, Covenant, Gift and Household.
There is nothing here which voids the criticisms of Section Five.
There is nothing here which tells us how we recognise God's blessing already at work in a couple's lives. There is nothing here which distinguishes (say) a polygamous or incestuous relationship (each of which is capable of "love, union, covenant, gift and household") from a marriage between a man and a woman. Finally, there is nothing here which answers the question if the Bible speaks negatively of sex between two same gendered persons what biblical grounds do we have for now blessing a civil marriage between two same gendered persons.
In other words, if this is to be a Schedule to Part B of Title G Canon III, that is, to be a record of the church's teaching on "blessing of civil or non-Christian marriages" then it is not yet of the substance that could reflect the heartfelt if not "headfelt" agreement of the breadth of our church.
Incidentally, in the cited phrase above, "non-Christian marriages", what does that mean?!
I think it means "marriages contracted in places not presided over by a Christian minister"because, surely, the blessing we are talking about is a blessing to be given to married couples one of whom (at least) is a Christian!
I suspect that some of us would be happier if we were talking about "praying for" a couple rather than "blessing" a couple: if in conscience a same sex Christian couple civilly marry and then come to the church to be prayed for, would a pastor not want to pray for the couple? For instance, that, whatever we make of their choice before God, we pray for their love for each other to increase, for their covenant with each other not to break, and such like.
I have no particular comment to make on the proposed motion since it is what it must be in order to attempt to forward the report and its recommendations in the synodical life of our church.
I am going to attempt to have something decent(ish) to say about the proposed rites of blessing next Monday and (possibly) the Monday after that. But here it may suffice to say:
- 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)?