Report of Task Force on the Study of Marriage

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Continuing the series on issues that will be heard at General Convention 2015 in Salt Lake City. The Blue Book (all reports and resolutions) will be available here

The Task Force on the Study of Marriage has issued its report for General Convention. The task force was formed in response to Resolution A050) of the 77th General Convention in July 2012 for a group of “theologians, liturgists, pastors and educators to identify and explore biblical, theological, historical, liturgical and canonical dimensions of marriage.” Given a very small budget and making use of technology to meet and work, the Task Force has offered a lot of food for thought for the church and some resolutions for GC2015.

The Task Force did its homework on history of marriage and the church, the Scriptures, and tradition. The Report consists of seven essays, a study guide and two resolutions.

First the resolutions (from Susan Russell’s blog– a member of the Task Force):

One calls for changes to Canon I.18 (Of the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony) and the other to continue the work of the task force for another three years.

[1] The suggested canonical changes would make the Canon I:18 [a] ordered more practically in terms of pastoral practice; [b] focused on the actual vows made in The Book of Common Prayer marriage rite; [c] reflective of the theology expressed in the task force’s study and essays; and [d] inclusive of both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
[2] Continuing the work of the task force would provide an opportunity for the church to study — and possibly respond to — the changing realities of marriage in our culture and in our congregations beyond the scope of what the wide-ranging A050 study allowed for.

The essays are by far the most interesting and thorough part of the report. Topics are:

Introduction
1. A Biblical and Theological Framework for Thinking about Marriage

2. Christian Marriage as Vocation

3. A History of Christian Marriage

4. Marriage as a Rite of Passage

5. The Marriage Canon: History and Critique

6. Agents of the State: A Question for Discernment

7. Changing Trends and Norms in Marriage

Mary Frances Schjonberg, Episcopal News Service has an in-depth report on the resolution about the Marriage Rite.

Tobias Haller, a member of the Task Force writes on his blog

As I read the whole report I wonder (and I know this is outside their assigned task):

  • And what of the fact that about 50.2 percent of adults in the US are single? In 1950, that number was about 22 percent. What do they see in this report?
  • What about the reality of relationships that most parish clergy see. All those who can’t or won’t live according so some ideal norm? How does this report answer the questions of those who are considering divorce?
  • Are we are trying too hard to make something out of marriage and we are asking marriage to bear too much weight?
  • What is at the heart of our concern about marriage regulation and rituals? Marriage in the church is no longer about property rights or “protecting” women — or inheritance. Is it because we want to regulate sex and who can have intimate relationships? Should we be focusing on what it means to be Christian and in a relationship of any kind? Do we need to talk about sex and the church’s seeming need to control it? What ever happened to one of the better resources of the church Sexuality: A Divine Gift?
  • In my experience as a priest people really want to know “What are the qualities of ethical relationships?” “How do I live as a Christian in relationships whether sexually intimate or not.”

What are your reactions as you read the resolutions and the reflections?

Another place to discuss issues to come before General Convention is the Bishops and Deputies list serve. Click here to sign up. 

posted by Ann Fontaine

“Omne Bonum Royal6EVI104 Anulus” by James le Palmer / anonymous illustrator – British Library Royal MS 6 E VI, fol. 104. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 

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Tobias Haller
Guest

The resolution of the Task Force does not propose any change to the BCP. Nor does the canonical change authorize a parish priest to tinker with the language of the BCP. The opening clause clearly states that marriages may be solemnized by using any rite authorized by this church. That authorization is automatic for the BCP; provisional or trial rites, either already in use of yet to appear, will also be authorized for specific use, and that at present includes the rite in "I Will Bless You..." It is up to the SCLM and the General Convention to address the issues of what rites may be developed. The Constitution (Article X) does permit a bishop to authorize a rite for local use where the BCP does not provide a form -- as is clearly the case for same-sex marriage; this has also happened in some dioceses, who have chosen this course instead of using the provisional rite from "I Will Bless You..."

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christopher seitz
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christopher seitz

The term 'Trial Rite' is carefully defined and also requires a majority of all Bishop eligible to vote in the quorum. I do not believe it can be ranged alongside the (newly devised) provisional rite without explanation.

I was under the impression that the language of vows and preface was now under negotiation. I gather from your comment that this refers to the development of a *new rite* which will come alongside it post GC 2015, wherein these changes are put into place. For that to amount to a 'Trial Rite' would require more than the present arrangement for Bishops in individual dioceses to avail themselves of what is called 'provisional rites.'

Is this what is being sought, then, at GC 2015? A new Trial Rite with changes in the BCP rite with respect to vows and preface, to be ranged alongside it (until such time that a new BCP emerges)?

This is a major change so it would good to have all the facts in front of us.

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Tobias Haller
Guest

The situation is precisely as you describe it. A "Trial Rite" is not the same as a provisional or supplemental rite. I mentioned it as a possibility.

It is, however, a possibility about which our Task Force offers neither prognostication nor proposal. Proposals will no doubt come from other sources, and it will be up to the General Convention to sort through them, including any proposal for trial use of an "alternative" or "revision of" a "portion" of the BCP.

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christopher seitz
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christopher seitz

Thank you.

For those of us old enough to remember, 'trial rite' was language that emerged with respect to the new 1979 BCP: it referred to those rites to be disseminated across the dioceses for a season in the run up to a final, wholesale, BCP revision.

If you did not believe that the 1928 ought to be banished, you likely left. So the Trial Rites gave notice in general terms of where we were headed.

The term did not refer to individual sub-sections of the BCP (like the rite presently being negotiated). But it appears that will not stop those who want piecemeal reform of this particular marriage rite and who may wish to use this language to move the matter forward, beyond the 'provisional rite' arrangements of the last GC.

At issue will be (as was true in 2012 as well), 1) whether the necessary votes are there for a Trial Rite (or whether this will be finessed), and 2) whether 'throughout all the church' language re: Trial Rite means that individuals have access to a new rite no matter what the view of the Diocese/Bishop.

One can well imagine the HOB wanting to give assurances that a rite for use throughout all the church will not take away a Bishop's discretion, or a diocesan canon's authority (we are speaking here not of individual priestly discretion but rather the view of an entire diocese qua diocese).

But equally one can imagine individual priests and also couples wanting to say a Trial Rite overrides a Bishop or Diocese.

We have no judicatory in TEC to sort this out. I hope due consideration will be given to this issue--not just within the HOB--at GC 2015 more broadly.

It will be good to know if 'Trial Rite' language is going to be brought into play with respect to a single pastoral rite, how this use of the term will play out in the case of individual dioceses/Bishops.

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Tobias Haller
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Here you are somewhat mistaken. The Constitution (Article X) provides for the trial use of alternatives or replacements both of the whole book and for portions of it. The revision process of the 1928 included separate "Prayer Book Study" documents of all of the various sections, distributed over years, including trial rites for particular sections of the BCP. These included, for instance, the separate little booklet, "Liturgy of the Lord's Supper" that was in use in the 60s -- and which I am old enough to remember having used.

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christopher seitz
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christopher seitz

The main point is as I have stated it. The point of the Trial Rites was in full conjunction with an anticipated New BCP in its entirety. This was true even if the green book, zebra book, supplemental rites, etc covered individual sections. A completely revised BCP in its entirety was the project.

That is not true in the present instance.

Hence the relevance of the questions about individual dioceses. I look forward to having attention paid to the main issue.

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Tobias Haller
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The Constitution was amended in 1961-64 to provide for trial use. The amendment was worded in such a way to allow both for wholesale revision of the whole book, or of individual parts of it. Here is the text of the Constitution as adopted in 1964 (emphasis mine):

(b) Authorize for trial use throughout this Church, as an alternative at any time or times to the established Book of Common Prayer or to any section or office thereof, a proposed revision of the whole Book or of any portion thereof, duly undertaken by the General Convention.
(White and Dykman, page 137)

I am of the opinion that the ecclesastical authority of a diocese does not have the authority to forbid the use of a portion of the BCP, or any rite authorized for trial use. Others disagree. But until a trial use proposal comes up, this is a moot point, and certainly not one to be settled in a blog.

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christopher seitz
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christopher seitz

Now you have succeeded in putting your finger right on the main issue. Thank you for that. You write:

"I am of the opinion that the ecclesastical authority of a diocese does not have the authority to forbid the use of a portion of the BCP, or any rite authorized for trial use. Others disagree. But until a trial use proposal comes up, this is a moot point, and certainly not one to be settled in a blog."

I believe the blog is precisely a good place to have all of these sorts of exigencies firmly in view.

At issue is the office of Bishop; the place of diocesan canons; the deference of said canons to what the church has taught, as so too the Bishop as Bishop (what you have here termed the 'ecclesiastical authority').

If we are entering territory where a Trial Rite will raise all these issues in its wake, we had better be informed at all levels about just what this will mean.

And it would be best if all this was aired as widely as possible. We have just witnessed the tragic fallout from allowing special insider talk and arrangements to go on without full scrutiny.

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Tobias Haller
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Sorry for the miscoding of the boldface in my previous note.

It seems to me that you are raising a concern that is already addressed in the raising of it. That is to say, you recognize the difference between "provisional" use (subject to the local authority) and "trial" use which is general "throughout this church" and of its very nature not to be overridden locally (else how can it be general and "throughout"?) Except now you appear to want to argue whether it can be overridden. What, then, distinguishes it from "provisional" use?

The reason I suggest this is a moot point is that no one has yet made such a proposal. I think that when the proposal is made perhaps some added notice of the distinction between "trial" and "provisional" use could well be made, but I think it is a distinction that all but a few already recognize and understand.

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christopher seitz
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christopher seitz

PS--it would be useful to know where said disagreements arose; and what their character is.

Obviously you are referring to a discussion that isn't off in the future but one that is relevant now.

This is unsurprising as it sits right on top of major neuralgic points in our polity.

Is a Trial rite "for use throughout the church " at the same time one a Bishop cannot disallow, as over against the BCP rite?

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christopher seitz
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christopher seitz

The difference is clear.

You are saying that a Bishop does not have the authority to deny a Trial Rite in favor of the BCP rite presently in place, even if she/he and a diocesan canon would judge the latter to be in conflict with the constitutional former.

A 'provisional rite' is a made-up category so that bishops can operate with new rites they wish without having to get the votes for a Trial Rite and/or accept the logic of a Trial Rite as an individually created rite vis-à-vis the actual BCP still in constitutional force.

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christopher seitz
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christopher seitz

My typing error. Should read "Even if she/he and a diocesan canon should judge the former be in conflict with the constitutional latter."

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christopher seitz
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christopher seitz

“Are we are trying too hard to make something out of marriage and we are asking marriage to bear too much weight?”

What a fascinating question. In the quest to produce neologisms like 'heterosexual marriage' has a new whig conception of 'marriage' emerged that will end up unable to bear the weight of late modernity and its general skepticism of rites and universals?

Leaving that important question aside, can someone on the committee tell us whether the '79 BCP rite can still be used by those who so wish, with Preface and 'male and female' language intact? Or do all couples now find themselves before an emerging new rite that will leave those parts out in the march for what is being called 'equality'?

I ask because my reading of the document referred to here appears to want to keep the '79 rite but treat its language as incidental. Let new canons allow for a malleable 'rite.' Is this a correct reading?

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James Yazell
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James Yazell

"What is at the heart of our concern about marriage regulation and rituals?"

Shouldn't the heart of it be about it's nature as a sacrament: a visible sign of an invisible grace?

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Brian Taylor
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Brian Taylor

While we were asked by General Convention to study marriage, you're asking good questions about factors that lie outside of our charge, and which are therefore not a substantial part of our report - other than in the last essay, on current trends and norms.

That's why one of our proposed resolutions, currently A037, asks for authorization and funding to continue to study "those who choose to remain single; unmarried persons in intimate relationships; couples who cohabitate either in preparation for, or as an alternative to, marriage; couples who desire a blessing from the church but not marriage; parenting by single or and/or unmarried persons; differing forms of family and household such as those including same-sex parenting, adoption, and racial diversity; and differences in marriage patterns between ethnic and racial groups, and between provinces inside and outside the United States."

It is our hope that by doing such a study in the next triennium, our church may then, in 2018, have something to say about the 50% who are single or in relationships other than marriage, and that General Convention will agree.

Brian C. Taylor
Chair, the Task Force on the Study of Marriage

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Elizabeth Kaeton
Guest

Forgive me if I sound - oh, I don't know, maybe 'cynical' is the word - but I'm sitting here, shaking my head and seeing a Big Phat Irony. Then again, maybe it's just me. So, here it is:

This study/report was initiated by the movement to Bless the Covenants of Same Sex Couples in the church and the Marriage Equality Movement in society.

And, now - Now! - we ask questions like: "Are we are trying too hard to make something out of marriage and we
are asking marriage to bear too much weight?"

And: "Is it because we want to regulate sex and who can have intimate relationships? Should we be focusing on what it means to be Christian and in a relationship of any kind? Do we need to talk about sex and the church's seeming need to control it?"
Not that these are not good questions, but, well, given the context as I see it. . . .

Never mind. Carry on.

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