In August 2018, Ely Cathedral flew a rainbow flag to mark an LGBT+ pride event that was taking place in the city. The Cathedral Chapter were rightly motivated in wanting to signal compassionate acceptance of LGBT+ people, but misguided in flying the rainbow flag. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ calls everyone to faith and discipleship, and it calls LGBT+ people just as much the heterosexually oriented to faithfulness in their relationships and purity in the their lives. The event whose flag Ely flew, however, included an ‘adults only” party. Any commitment to faithfulness and purity there may be by some in the movement whose flag this is, is accidental rather than typical. By flying the rainbow standard, the Chapter of Ely Cathedral signalled capitulation to a force that remains hostile to the standard of Christ.
Ian Paul (@Psephizo) has a lengthy discussion of the Ely question here. I won’t spend any more time on that specific occasion here, except to refer to it in my remarks near the end of this post.
I would like us to look ahead twenty or so years and picture what things might look like within Tikanga Pakeha of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (ACANZP) if the provisions of Motion 7 (see footnote below), as passed at our May 2018 General Synod / Te Hinau Whanui (GSTHW), have taken root and been honoured on all sides.
- The ACANZP by then has one or more bishops, and numbers of clergy, who are in same-sex relationships that have been blessed in the Church, and the thing that most surprises visitors from parishes and dioceses that still do not appoint such clergy is that, as these clergy lead in prayer and worship or in celebration of the Eucharist, their sexual orientation is invisible. Their goal, like the goal of every godly heterosexually-oriented servant of Christ, is to lift up Christ and make him visible, and therefore they efface themselves.
In their preaching and pastoral work, they are known to make the call to faithfulness and purity loud and clear, and to counsel those of whatever sexual orientation to remain celibate if not in a Church-blessed relationship.
In every church, conservative as well as others, those who struggle with the challenge of celibacy, whatever their orientation or stated identity, are given compassionate, non-judgmental counsel, prayer, and support. No one is ashamed or fearful of making their struggle and faltering known to their pastors.
- Almost every parish also has some lay couples who are in blessed same-sex relationships, and they display by their actions and involvement that their zeal is for the full-orbed gospel mission given to us by Christ. The same commitment is evident in clergy in same-sex relationships, too.
- All this initially came as a great surprise to many conservatives who, though having supported Motion 7 for the preservation of church unity, had nevertheless worried that it was a Trojan horse that would shortly lead to gay orgies on sacristy floors.
Some, consequently, have been able to rethink the issue in the context of the whole counsel of Scripture. Seeing some things in Scripture they had not weighed before, they have changed their view and now support the blessing of faithful same-sex relationships.
Others do not yet have that confidence, but almost all have come to the view that they are willing to leave the ultimate question in the gracious hands of God, and to receive such people as sisters, brothers and shepherds.
- Of course, there have been some scandals and some dissolutions of relationships, but no more, proportionately, than among the Church’s heterosexual couples.
That is a possible future, but there are some things that could prevent it happening, and leave the church divided.
- Foolish alliances with wickedness, such as that made by Ely Cathedral. (Conservatives, too, are capable of such alliances, as witness the support that so many evangelicals have given to Donald Trump, so please understand this caveat as applying to all parts of the Church.)
- Scandals and relationship dissolutions that proportionately far outnumber those among heterosexually-oriented clergy and laity, so that the suspicion held by many conservatives is not dispelled, that same-sex relationships are somehow inherently disordered.
- Priests who use the pulpit and altar as a platform for LGBT+ visibility rather than for the elevation of Christ.
Please bear with me as I draw upon a stereotype for humorous effect to illustrate the point: if the breeze from the sleeves of your surplice frequently blows out the altar candles, you may be guilty of the fault I’m naming here! I know that the stereotype is false as a stereotype, and applies only to a minority in gay circles even outside the Church, but I wanted to accompany what I intend as a serious point with a memorable image. Hopefully, I’ve succeeded.
Please bear with me as I draw upon a stereotype for humorous effect to illustrate the point: if the breeze from the sleeves of your surplice frequently blows out the altar candles, you may be guilty of the fault I’m naming here! (I know that the stereotype is false as a stereotype, and applies only to a minority in gay circles even outside the Church, but I wanted to accompany what I intend as a serious point with a memorable image. Hopefully, I’ve succeeded.)
I would add, too, that the breeze that comes from your mouth in your sermon or homily can also blow out the candles.
- Insistence on changing the doctrine of the Church so that same-sex unions are deemed to be marriages, undifferentiated in any theologically meaningful way from heterosexual unions. The permission already achieved via Motion 7 for blessing same-sex unions will not, I think, lead to many more resignations from the ACANZP than have already occurred, but insistence on changing the doctrine of marriage, I think, will. I hope that those who would like to see such a change will let it lie.
My hope is for the first set of outcomes, but my fear is that the second set may prevail. Let us encourage one another to beware of them.
Footnote: About Motion 7
Motion 29 of GSTHW 2016 resulted in the establishment of a working group which was charged with bringing recommendations to GSTHW 2018 on “possible structural arrangements within the Church to safeguard both theological convictions concerning the blessing of same gender relationships”.
At GSTHW 2018, Motion 7 received the report and adopted for implementation the essence of its recommendations. (That is why you may see the terms “Motion 7” and “Motion 29” used more or less interchangeably in imprecise discussions of this issue.) The same Synod accordingly approved five statutes that amended a number of canons and also created a new one, for purposes that were stated in the preamble to each statute. To make it easy to understand what was achieved, I have listed those purpose statements (rather than the amended canons), below.
Statute 747 “…amending Title D Canon I to provide for immunity from complaint and discipline for Ordained Ministers who either agree, or refuse to agree, to conduct services blessing couples in civil marriages or civil unions in accordance with an amended Title G Canon XIV and to provide immunity from complaint and discipline for those who preach or teach that such services are, or are not, consistent with Holy Scripture and the doctrine of this Church” [and]
“…amending Title D Canon II to provide for immunity from complaint and discipline for bishops who either authorise, or refuse to authorise, a form of service blessing couples in civil marriages or civil unions and who either authorise, or refuse to authorise, Ordained Ministers to conduct such services in accordance with an amended Title G Canon XIV and to provide immunity from complaint and discipline for those who preach or teach that such services are, or are not, consistent with Holy Scripture and the doctrine of this Church”
Statute 748 “…amending Title G Canon XIV to create a framework to allow for Bishops to: a. authorise services blessing those in any civil marriage or civil union; and b. authorising individual Ordained Ministers to conduct such services.”
Statute 749 “…To give effect to the recommendations of the Motion 29 working group by enacting a new Title B Canon XXXVIII to provide for the recognition of Christian Communities and for the affiliation of Ministry Units with them.”
Statute 750 “…To amend Title A Canon I, Title A Canon II and Title B Canon XXI so that the forms of declaration of adherence and submission set out there are consistent with the forms of declaration of adherence and submission set out in the Constitution/Te Pouhere.”
Statute 751 “…To amend clause 15 of Part C of the Constitution/Te Pouhere to repeal and replace the existing form of declaration of adherence and submission”