New Zealand diocese approves same-sex blessing recommendations in advance of General Synod

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Two years ago, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia (ACANZP) seemed on the verge of approving the blessing of same-sex unions, but ultimately did not do so.  As in other churches of the Anglican Communion, that was not the end of the debate or the effort to be more inclusive.

 

The Way Forward proposals were tabled at the previous General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW) in a motion that also called for a working group to “consider possible structural arrangements within our Three-Tikanga Church to safeguard both theological convictions concerning the blessing of same gender relationships.”

 

That working group has presented a final report (pdf here) that gives an overview of their work.  The group was clear that their mandate was to provide a path for allowing both those opposed and those welcoming of same-sex blessings to live together as one church without compromising their beliefs.

“We have tried to create a toolbox of recommendations which we believe will provide the structural and canonical changes needed to safeguard all theological convictions. We have tried to create places where each can stand without compromise to the beliefs they sincerely hold. The mandate talks of ‘two integrities’ but it is more than that – there is a spectrum of views and so there needs to be a range of possible ways forward.

This range of tools means that if you are a clergy person who is unable to support the blessings of same gender couples, then the canonical changes will ensure that you are not required to participate in such blessings and there will be no disciplinary nor adverse consequences for you declining to be involved.

Similarly, if you are a clergy person who is supportive of such blessings or you see this as a social justice issue, then there will be a structure by which such blessings can occur and there will be no disciplinary nor adverse consequences for you conducting a service.”

 

As the fruit of their process and deliberations, the working group offered six recommendations for moving forward with these two “integrities.”  These are;

 

“No alteration to the Formularies of this Church”

This refers to the authorized doctrines and liturgies of the church, which the working group suggests should not be altered so long as there is debate on the issue.

 

“Enabling amorangi and dioceses to safeguard theological convictions within their episcopal units”

Really this is two recommendations, the first is that actual church canons be amended to allow this space and is second is a call for the bishops to develop a mechanism of alternative episcopal oversight (TEC has this) where relationships within diocese become impaired.

 

“Amendment of the declarations of adherence and submission to the authority of GSTHW”

This is a change in the ordination vows to align ACANZP with other churches in the Anglican Communion because “what is required for the order and good governance of

this Church is a voluntary submission to its rules rather than submission to the authority of GSTHW

 

“Allowing amorangi and diocesan bishops to authorise individual clergy to conduct services blessing same gender relationships”

This would place the decision on whether or not to allow same-sex blessings in any individual diocese would be at the discretion of the bishop, and that whatever license is granted would be limited only to the places where each cleric is called

 

“Providing immunity from complaint for bishops and clergy for exercising their discretion on whether or not to authorise or conduct services of same gender blessings”

Since the recommendation is to not change the formularies (doctrine and liturgy), clergy conducting same-sex blessings or preaching positively on the manner would, in theory, open them up to formal charges.  This recommendation would be to apply a blanket immunity against all claims related to this matter.

 

“Recognising Orders of Consecrated Life to allow for those with clear theological convictions to form Christian Communities and to have those convictions respected and protected.”

This recommendation would seek to recognize and promote the formation of groups within the church who may choose to opt out of some aspects of church life.  These would be similar to the groups like Stand Firm, or the Anglican Network but with an imprimatur of official support.

 


 

In an early test, the recommendations were put in front of the synod of the ChristChurch diocese earlier this week.  The motion was easily passed (laity 60-40; clergy 47-31), which was surprise to many, including the diocesan bishop, the Rt Rev  Victoria Matthews.  Who, in a local report, stated the vote was a major surprise and that she had expected it to be defeated.

The bishop said: “It tells me that people listen carefully but also are part of a much larger conversation out in the community and are very aware of what is happening about this topic in New Zealand.”

But she cautioned that the move was only “taking the temperature” of opinion in the Christchurch Diocese, and that there will now be a “very interesting conversation” for its seven members who will vote when the church’s national governing body addresses the issue in May.

Prominent New Zealand Anglican blogger Bosco Peters, who serves in ChristChurch diocese noted that while he was glad the motion passed, he was disappointed that the recommendations don’t really move the church closer to resolution;

“I am distressed that debate about this seems to continue round and round an Anglican cul-de-sac and not getting anywhere (I understand that letters about equality for gays began in the national Anglican newspaper in the mid 1960s, and meetings began debating this at synod in the late 1970s). Wouldn’t it be great if we could bring this energy to some other issues as well…”

 

He also outlined three significant concerns that seem to leave vulnerable church members exposed and that this could possibly set up dynamics that, rather than promoting consensus, might instead intrench division.

“1) That this had become so big in our Church’s self-understanding, that we are proposing networks of “Christian Communities” (under the heading of “Orders of Consecrated Life” in the Report) not for something like commitment to deep contemplative prayer or for undertaking a life lived sacrificially with poorer people, but solely on attitudes to committed same-sex couples.

2) Dependence on the authorisation of a rite by the bishop. Bishops have only been able to authorise services since a change for that in our Church’s Constitution came into effect in May last year. A bishop may balk at authorising such a rite if they understand it as being in breach of our Church’s teaching. The Report suggests a change to the canon that the bishop cannot be disciplined for authorising such a rite – but I cannot think of an example of authorising a rite in conflict with teaching. That is certainly not what is happening in the divorce/marriage parallel. And if the bishop doesn’t authorise a rite – we cannot bless a committed same-sex couple in that episcopal unit.

3) If General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW) makes no changes to Title D, in which licence holders are required to be chaste – and chastity is understood as sex only taking place in heterosexual marriage – then the Blessing could make the already vulnerable even more vulnerable.”

 

Peter Carrell, another ChristChurch-based blogger, though from a more conservative perspective, wrote that the vote in favor, though a surprise to some, reflected long-standing opinion in the diocese and likely did not show growing support for same-sex blessings.

“My reflection on Saturday’s vote is that the 60:40 split in favour of moving forward on SSB has pretty much been the split on This Topic in the Christchurch Diocese for a long time. Several years ago when we had a motion favouring the now much forgotten Anglican Covenant (that is a motion which was a proxy for favouring “not proceeding with SSB”) the motion was lost something like 45:55. In other words, yesterday was not a signal of a changed theological/ecclesiological make up to our Diocese in respect of This Topic.”

 

The 63rd General Synod Te Hīnota Whānui will be held in the week of 4-11 May, 2018, in New Plymouth, New Zealand.

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