The Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, last May, established the Way Forward Working Group to develop a pathway towards the blessing of same-gender relationships – while upholding the traditional doctrine of marriage. This Monday, the Working Group released its report.
The Working Group has offered two new liturgies for blessing civil marriages to be considered at the General Synod in May of this year. The report also proposes changes in canon regarding ordination by more clearly defining what a “rightly-ordered relationship” is. Currently, civil marriages have been sufficient to be considered “rightly ordered” but moving forward, ordinands in civil marriages will also need for their marriages to have been blessed by the church and this true for all candidates, not just those in same-sex relationships.
From the report at Anglican Taonga:
The Way Forward Working Group (WFWG) report makes a precept-upon-precept case for how such civil marriages could be blessed by the church.
The Anglican Church in this province is governed by a set of documents, the most significant of which are the Church of England Empowering Act of 1928, and Te Pouhere , the Constitution of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, which came into force in 1992.
Te Pouhere in turn specifies a number of “Formularies” (such as a New Zealand Prayer Book/He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa ) which guide the Church in its worship and practice.
The new constitution also spells out a way in which formularies can be changed (or added to) –providing these changes don’t, in the words of the report, “represent any departure from the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ as defined in Te Pouhere’s own Fundamental Provisions.”
The rites of blessing being proposed are being presented as “additional formularies”, rather than doctrinal changes:
“It is the view of the majority of the group,” the report notes, “that the proposed liturgies do not represent a departure from the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ, and are therefore not prohibited by Te Pouhere, however the group also recognises that this will be a crucial matter for debate.”
In a cover letter, the Archbishops (Winston Halapua: Bishop for Polynesia in Aotearoa New Zealand, Philip Richardson: Senior Bishop of the New Zealand Dioceses, Brown Turei: Bishop of Aotearoa) have urged the church to accept this report and act on its recommendations, while recognizing how challenging and disappointing it may be to many.
“In offering the report and a possible way forward on these matters, the Working Group has sought to build on many years of discussion and study across this Church. In particular, they build on the work of the Commission on Doctrine and Theological Questions, which reported to General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui in 2014. That report presented two clearly-argued positions, both with their own biblical and theological integrity. One argued that the blessing of committed, monogamous, life-long same-sex relationships was outside of the doctrinal possibilities the Church can consider, the other that such relationships can and should be able to receive the blessing of the Church.
The Way Forward Working Group has assumed that these two integrities cannot be reconciled. The Working Group has then asked whether these two integrities can be held together in the same Church. Can we acknowledge that those who have strongly-held views which are different to our own are also seeking to be obedient to the one Gospel of Jesus Christ? Can we honour the integrity of a position we cannot in conscience agree with?
The Working Group offers a mechanism which could provide for the blessing of committed, monogamous, life-long, same-sex relationships while upholding the doctrine of Christian marriage as our Church has received it.”