Over the last week our General Synod have been sitting, and debating, amongst other things, the response that the Church should be making to same-sex couples. While it is still early days for a real change, some very significant things have come out in the report.
the Church is “both affirming the traditional doctrine of marriage, exploring the recognition of those presently in life-long monogamous same-gender relationships, and seeking a process and structure to enable the possibility of a rite for blessing life-long monogamous same-gender relationships for those who wish to offer this rite.”
The Church is also apologising to those of the LGBT community who have been unfairly treated in the past by church decisions.
Well this is good, but just as pulling nails out of a piece of timber doesn’t leave it pristine, so apologising can never erase the hurts. Forgiveness can though, and there is a fertile field for this here.
The General Synod intends to develop
“(a) A process and structure by which those who believe the blessing of same-gender
relationships is contrary to scripture, doctrine, tikanga or civil law, will not be
required to perform any liturgy for the blessing of same-gender relationships, will
continue to have integrity within the Church, and will remain compliant with the
parliamentary legislation within any relevant jurisdiction;
(b) A process and structure by which those who believe the blessing of same-gender
relationships is consonant with scripture, doctrine, tikanga and civil law may perform
a yet to be developed liturgy for blessing same-gender relationships in a manner
which maintains their integrity within the Church, is compliant with the
parliamentary legislation within any relevant jurisdiction, and can remain in
communion under scripture, doctrine and law; including
(i) A proposal for a new liturgy to bless right ordered same-gender relationships;
(ii) A process and legislation (whether church or parliamentary) by which a new
liturgy to bless right ordered same-gender relationships may be adopted;”
In the short term the main change is 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.”
This is all very interesting! There is a lot of work to do, especially in deciding what constitutes a ‘right-ordered relationship.” One might ask if the same level of scrutiny will be turned on heterosexual relationships? There are many people in leadership positions in the church who may be married rather than living together, but how deeply does the church have the right to look into the circumstances of their lives, behaviour and relationships? There is certainly a pastoral component here, but inquisitional-style approaches must be avoided.
My feeling is that a couple who believe that their relationship is ‘right-ordered’ are probably the experts on their own lives.
It looks as if there will be room in the NZ Anglican Church for a split – some groups – whether they be parishes, or dioceses, – will be able to decide to bless same-sex relationships, and this will be acceptable to the Church at large, and legal. At the same time, others may be able to decide not to, and this will also be an acceptable position.
Another complication of this issue is that in the world-wide Anglican church, there is a great diversity in the legal status of homosexuality. In parts of Africa it is still illegal, and may people are persecuted and prosecuted for this expression of their inner selves.
I feel that a huge responsibility of our church is to strive for justice in these countries – if it’s good enough for us to recognise same-sex relationships in our churches, we surely must help our brothers and sisters in Africa, whose human rights are no less than ours, but whose countries do not recognise those rights. We cannot stand alone as a church who wants to make a decision about gay marriage here, and plan cosy weddings with same-sex couples, without looking at our wider responsibility.
I welcome the decisions of the general Synod – having known many LGBT people over the years, and seen several struggle with a strong sense of a call to ordination which the Church wasn’t ready to recognise, my personal belief is that people are people, love is love, commitment is commitment, regardless of the configuration of our genitals and the practices we engage in to honour the one we love.