My apologies to readers who are not interested in internal Anglican Church machinations but inside the church we continue to go round in ever decreasing circles as we attempt to bring about marriage equality. Some of us are ready to move now; others never want to move; most are just looking to the church to find a way through the muddle.
In our own Anglican way we have been trying to work through this growing conundrum for much of the last decade. We have studied, we have talked (or tried to – even on rare occasions with LGBT people themselves), we have prayed, we even asked a former Governor General to help us. For all of this time faithful LGBT people including some who are ordained ministers in our church have watched and waited and prayed. And while many hundreds of other faithful Anglicans have had their relationships blessed, LGBT people like modern day Samaritans have had to stand by, noses pressed to our stained glass windows.
At General Synod 2016 the Way Forward report, which offered “same sex blessings” (ie not marriage) to the church, was left “to lie on the table.” A group was asked to consider possible structural arrangements to allow the blessing of same sex relationships to proceed. The Synod motion said there was “a firm expectation that a decision to move forward will be made” in 2018. Speakers from tikanga maori (ie the Maori cultural stream in the church) who were quite ready to move in 2016 said “we are on the bus, the bus is ready to move.”
And so now we have the report of the aforementioned group, known as the Working Group Report.
And the bus is well and truly back in the parking garage with the engine taken out for servicing.
Astonishingly, the Working Group (WG) recommends that the 2016 Way Forward Report be withdrawn in 2018. The group was asked to find a method for it to proceed and instead they want it withdrawn.
And in its place they suggest the weakest possible “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. Faithful same sex couples are expected to be grateful that they might be “allowed” a blessing IF their bishop agrees and IF their diocese writes a liturgy, which will not be an authorised liturgy written by the church as a whole (which is normally the way we Anglicans do worship).
And the question of ordination is not even addressed. One of the drivers of the Way Forward report was the need to have a service available to a LGBT person who is called to ordination as priest or deacon. They need to be deemed to be in a “rightly ordered” relationship in order to be ordained (and hence the blessing service). No mention of them now.
In fact LGBT people are invisible in this report as they have been for much of the process. No acknowledgement of their experience of the church; how they have been ostracised and told they are not worthy; and how they have carried on being faithful anyway. No acknowledgement that they are among the ordained already and have been in our pews since the beginning of time.
Once again we find in the report that the “peace, unity and common good of this Church” (p10) is what needs protecting, not the real lives and real relationships of the people in the pews.
Even so the WG goes onto suggest what amounts to the dismantling of our established Anglican order. We Anglicans live a corporate life, governed by our dioceses, synods and bishops. We manage usually to live with diversity of theology and worship, all agreeing that it is better to be part of a whole that is bigger than ourselves.
Instead the WG proposes mysterious sounding “Orders of Consecrated Life” which could be formed – not as one might think for those called to live a life as a nun or monk or in a “third order” for lay people such as the Franciscans have – but a holy club for those who agree or disagree on this one issue. So affiliations across dioceses (or outside of the province) would be possible. The UK has had what are called “flying bishops” for those who disagree about the ordination of women. You can call another bishop in who is not “tainted” by ordaining women. This in practice completely undermines the life of a diocese. We wouldn’t be living in peace and unity, rather we would be operating in silos with those who agree with us.
To help this dismantling along, the declaration of submission, which those of us licensed in the church sign and by which we agree to be bound by wider authority, will no longer be binding us to General Synod but to the constitution and canons (or rules) of the church. So the authority of the body that leads us will be weakened and only those things laid down in the rule book will apply. General Synod can pass all the motions it likes – say on poverty, or climate change or even human rights – and we can happily ignore them while abiding by a canon, say, on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
The Way Forward proposals seemed weak at the time, they seemed like a second class citizen option, but those of us in the progressive church were willing to accept them to allow for the breaking of the logjam and to allow LGBT members to be blessed and ordained. The report (WG) on the report (WF) on the report (Ma Whea 2014 – the original report) throws all that progress away and takes us nowhere.
At best with the WG provisions LGBT couples could seek a blessing on their civil marriage in certain parishes in the dioceses of Auckland, Waiapu, Dunedin and perhaps Waikato, and the Maori hui amorangi, assuming these dioceses and their bishops agree and write a local liturgy for the service. We assume (but it is not clear) that a candidate for ordination or a serving member of the clergy could also be licensed in these dioceses. For someone ordained thus, say in Waiapu, who wanted to then serve in Christchurch, they would not be able to do so.
So for the sake of the unity of the church (ie to stop a handful of parishes leaving) we will enshrine discrimination and exclusion in the fabric of our church. In what part of Jesus’ teaching is the unity of the church more important than the welcome of people to the table? Nowhere.
The WG report leads us up a blind alley of exclusion where more damage will be done to our Anglican polity than people realise. Not to mention the damage to relationships and faith of real people.
It’s the Working Group report that needs to be ditched. Put the Way Forward back on the table and get the bus back on the road.