You’ll be hearing more about this over the next little while, but we’re moving in an Anglican direction.
My wife and I are dragging our kids along (actually it’s not proving to be terribly hard) to the Anglican Church. It is not official yet, but that will come in time. I won’t go into the story of that just now. I’ll start right where we are now. We’ve walked (deliberately) into a Church – and plan to invest ourselves in a Church – that is beautiful, that has heritage, that proclaims the good news, that has a marvellous legacy of great thinkers and examples in the faith, and which, right now, is constantly under pressure to change, and in part due to the dedication and persistence of a few, the cracks are starting to show in the old girl.
Last year the definition of marriage was changed in New Zealand law, enabling same-sex couples to become registered as married. Churches – or at least those on the Government’s list of approved churches – are, fortunately not required to perform weddings for same-sex couples. However, some voices from within some churches want the church to change, and that’s the position the Anglican Church is in: Standing for something above and beyond the changing winds of the cultural zeitgeist, but expected by some to conform to it.
The General Synod of the Anglican Church in New Zealand has made a statement in response to this pressure. The Synod did not give in to the once-again pressed call from a few for the Church to recognise perform same-sex weddings and to regard marriage as something other than the historic Christian and biblical model of one man and one woman. This is encouraging, and the Synod’s summary is simple:
The Church has received and articulated an understanding of intimate human relationships which it expresses through her doctrine of marriage between a man and a woman, and is life-long and monogamous.
We uphold this traditional doctrine of marriage.
I would personally prefer a more overt recognition at every opportunity that this is not only a “traditional” doctrine but a thoroughly biblical one, and therefore a traditional one.
However, news stories were more concerned with another announcement from the Synod. The headline at the Anglican website reads: “General Synod passes a resolution that will create a pathway towards the blessing of same-gender relationships, while upholding the traditional doctrine of marriage.” The Synod “will appoint a working group to report to the 2016 General Synod on ‘a process and structure’ that would allow those clergy who wish to bless same-gender relationships – using a yet-to-be developed liturgy – to do so.” There is more detail, and if you’re interested, go ahead and read the full text of the resolution here.
The sky is not falling. The reality is that the only ministers who would wish to use this novel liturgy, once it exists, to give their blessing to unions that fall outside of biblical marriage are the very same ones who are calling for the Church to change its stance on marriage. Those ministers who continue to hold a biblical view of marriage and sex will continue not to change. God-willing, the liberal wing of the Church will continue, proportionally, to shrink in influence (it is already relatively small in size).
It’s important to appreciate that the push within the Anglican Church for same-sex weddings officiated by the church is not the result of church-wide dissatisfaction with the current practice of the church of only marrying men and women in accordance with a historic Christian and biblical concept of marriage. I suggest that this is a case of the minority over-representing itself with a louder voice, bolstered by interested outsiders. The media are hardly going to beat down the doors to cover the story of a minister who teaches…. exactly what Christians have always taught. Probably the clearest example is the parish of St Matthew’s in the city in Auckland, where the Rev Dr Helen Jacobi is now vicar. Prior to her, Glynn Cardy was vicar. It’s a parish with a self-built and promoted reputation for effectively opposing the Church’s traditional stance on everything from theology (I mean let’s face it, the Creed is just for decoration, right?) to sex and marriage. Before moving in an Anglican direction I’ve commented on that particular church several times, sometimes noting that getting mentioned in the media is something of a mainstay goal (e.g. here, here or here). On its own merits, the sort of rhetoric regularly peddled out by the liberal wing of the Anglican Church on this issue is, with respect, somewhat tired. Helen Jacobi, shortly prior to this Synod, was seen on television expressing her hope (which did not come to fruition) that the church would change and legitimise same-sex weddings, and her comment was “ordinary people in the pews want the church to just get on and do its work, and not be eternally stuck on this issue.” But this is pretty obviously a mischaracterisation of what’s going on. It’s not the case that in general, the average Anglican worshipper wants the church to change its view of marriage and then get on with its job. The issue seems “eternal” because the liberal wing keeps bringing it up and presenting it again, in something of an ongoing communist retrial. Jacobi and others of her view do want the church to keep harping on about it – until the church changes and becomes the institution that they wish it to be. Then they will be happy for the church to stop talking about it, so that those who raise their voice will be told to “move on.”
It’s a positive outcome that the Church in New Zealand has declined to reinvent its view of marriage, but due to the continued, dedicated pressure of those who would change the church, change has occurred – or at least, may occur, should this new liturgy be not only created by approved (something that is not a given). Even before blessings on same-sex unions are permitted, the Synod has resolved that:
Clergy who so wish are permitted to recognise in public worship a same-gender civil union or state marriage of members of their faith community:
(a) with the permission of their licensing Bishop; and
(b) with the permission of their Vestry or equivalent leadership body.
Such recognition cannot be marriage or a rite of blessing of a same-gender relationship.
Making matters more disappointing to those who hold to a historic Christian (and Anglican!) view of marriage, the Synod, noting that the status quo may cause distress, adds, “we ask the LGBT community to recognise that any process of change within our Church takes time.”
Yes, a word of consolation may have been appropriate, but this is not it. The appropriate word of consolation would be more along these lines:
The Synod appreciates that members may find its decision not to permit same-sex weddings or to bless sexual unions outside of marriage (the union of a man and a woman) difficult. It is not our intention to hurt you, and we deeply regret the hurt that is involved in these conversations.
However, we ask all of our clergy and the wider church to appreciate that belonging to the Church, indeed, being united to Christ, is not a relationship to which we come so that we can change the Church (and certainly not so that we can change Christ) to make it more like us. The reverse is true. We come to the Church to be transformed through the renewing of our minds and to, in time, bear the hallmarks of a person whose life is under the influence of God’s Spirit, leaving behind ways of life that are not compatible with the call to follow Christ. This includes the way that we relate sexually to others – and since sexuality is so central to our human condition, this can be very difficult to hear.
Jesus calls us to die to ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. We are sure – and appreciative – that this call is especially daunting at this time to those who might have hoped that the Church would accommodate a stance on marriage and sex that we can only see as contrary to the teaching of Scripture. Although we cannot move in that direction as a Church, the Synod wants to make as clear as possible our love of those who called for this change, alongside our welcome and call for all members of the Church and indeed all people everywhere to the New Life in Christ, recognising that it may be for some more than others a journey full of challenge in this imperfect state in which we all find ourselves. We cannot responsibly encourage ways of life that stand between people and obedience to the Lord. Please believe that we love you and we are with you, not against you.
I seldom ask anything of my readers, but if you are so inclined, please pray for the Church in New Zealand.
- Episode 055: The Direction of Change
- Should Evangelical Ministers Respond with Fight or Flight?
- The Primates Oust The Episcopal Church (for now)
- Liberal Anglicanism’s love of confusion
- Keeping them in: The Church’s motive in marriage policy