An Appeal to the Bishops

Introduction

(This appeal was issued originally for the meeting of the House of Bishops in February.)

As the Bishops convene to consider a landmark change to the church’s doctrine and discipline of marriage (February 23-25, 2016), the Anglican Communion Institute (Canada) offers a two part reflection. In so doing, we respectfully ask that the bishops take a moment to stand back from the report of the Primate’s Commission, “This Holy Estate”, and to do so for two reasons.

First, the Canadian church has leaped forward to the question of how the marriage canon might be changed before answering the question why. Consequently, in the lead up to General Synod, a landmark change to the church’s doctrine and discipline of marriage is being considered in a vacuum. At every step, there ought to have been a full-throated response rising from the heart of the church’s tradition on marriage.

This has not occurred. The public explanation of this matter has been without a representative of the agreed doctrine of the church. It is as if the opposition in the House of Parliament were permitted to advance and approve a bill while locking the governing party out of the Chamber.

Secondly, the Primate’s Report is badly flawed and would serve General Synod poorly as the centerpiece for the debate on marriage. We seek to draw your attention to an independent and thorough review of the Commission’s report.

To that end, we offer a reflection on Christian marriage and a summary of “This Holy Estate”.

Since 1979, this hard debate in Canada has been marked by division, enormous cost, and profound discouragement. We write in light of the recent meeting of the Primates, recommending the conclusion of their meeting as a worthy challenge for us all: the “restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognising the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.”

As we approach General Synod 2016, the Primates ask us in Canada to be temperate, to be patient and to walk together with our brothers and sisters around the world, to find God’s future – the truly prophetic way – in solidarity with the communion and the tradition, and not in the tempting boldness of departure from it. We bring to you, in light of the Primates’ appeal to walk together, a quite concrete request: at General Synod, to reject the motion, and for the present to lay aside attempts to change the marriage canon.

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On Marriage

Why does marriage matter? What is at stake in changing the marriage canon? The reflection that follows seeks to address this fundamental question.

Marriage runs deep in the Christian narrative. It is given to the man and the woman in creation: “’This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh’…Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and they become one flesh.” Sin distorts marriage in particular: “in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you”. And the wedding feast is the place where redemption begins to break forth upon the world, in the water made wine at Cana of Galilee. The biblical witness places the marriage of man and woman at the centre of God’s purpose in creation and in redemption.

The BAS marriage service recognizes the centrality of marriage. Marriage, the service begins, “is a gift of God and a means of his grace, in which man and woman become one flesh.” Their union (“one flesh”) stands now as a sign of redemption——because the union of man and woman given in creation and distorted in their turning away from God is in Christ restored. In Christ, they may again “know each other with delight and tenderness in acts of love.” In their redeemed union the man and the woman stand as sign and harbinger of a larger redemption, the world’s return to communion with its God, known in the union of Christ with his church. The whole sweep of the Christian narrative is thus encompassed in marriage.

What we say about marriage, then, matters. Marriage cannot be separated from the Christian narrative of salvation, from God’s work in creation, through the brokenness of sin, to the dawn of redemption: creation restored, communion given again.

This is the first point. Marriage is given by God as a lived sign of the Christian hope. It is a central expression of our faith; it is a witness to redemption in the world. What we say about marriage, what we do about marriage, must be faithful to this hope.

The second point is this: gender is fundamental to this sign. Woman and man we are made, and this bodily difference is made constitutive of marriage in particular: “ ‘This one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” To become one flesh in the physical union of marriage belongs to the nature of man and woman; the marriage union follows from and is the fulfilment of their natures.

Genesis 1 implies the same thing. “So God created humankind in his image…; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply.” The sexual union which, in law, is necessary to the existence of a marriage follows from the male/female distinction. It is a matter of definition: the male/female distinction belongs to the nature and purpose of marriage.

There are many other purposes for our lives: prophet, priest, teacher, friend, celibate—celibacy in its witness to the absolute priority of the kingdom of God being at least as important as marriage, if not, as Paul suggests, more so. But insofar as marriage is given to us in creation as the purpose of maleness and femaleness; insofar as marriage is given to us in redemption as a sign of creation restored, it is given to us in this particular way: as male and female, in this difference of body as well as of mind and soul. The gender distinction in marriage is not discriminatory. It is defining.

Creation and Christ alike thus tell a mystery: that the body matters. And this is the final point. That God loves us body and soul, that Jesus gives himself for us body and soul, that we, who are thus loved, are called to live for him with our body as well as with our soul—this is the Christian faith’s constant song. To take the body out of marriage is to take the heart out of our faith. It is this world that God made and loves, flesh and bone, tree and rock and river, and the soft hand of a child. It is this world, flesh and bone, that God saves: on the wood of the cross, in the pierced hands of Jesus the Christ. The cross is real. It has the hard edges, the inescapable particularity, of the thing itself. So too with marriage.

To take gender out of marriage is to say that the body is inconsequential. We are Christ’s people, who stand at the foot of the cross, who love the hands that were pierced. As we look on him who died for us, is this what we shall say?

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An Appeal to the Bishops

As the Bishops convene to consider a landmark change to the church’s doctrine and discipline of marriage, the Anglican Communion Institute (Canada) requests, respectfully, that the bishops take a moment to stand back from the report of the Primate’s Commission, “This Holy Estate”, and to do so for two reasons.

First, at numerous places “This Holy Estate” presents itself as representing the agreed doctrine and discipline of the Anglican Church of Canada. In fact, and throughout, its claims are incomplete or contested. We commend to the church “A Church of England perspective on Anglican arguments for same-sex marriage,” by Martin Davie.

Consider these examples.

“This Holy Estate” acknowledges that it is for General Synod to determine if a marriage canon change is in harmony with the Solemn Declaration, but missing is any sense of the limits of the Solemn Declaration and how a change would fit within its boundaries. How is General Synod to judge this question?

“This Holy Estate” acknowledges the harm that would come to relations with the Roman Catholic Church and provinces in the communion, implying, however, that a change could still be pursued. Why? And what good would come of the change that surpasses the harm to these relations?

“This Holy Estate” claims that the liturgical reading of Scripture is the primary way in which it is authoritative in the church. This is an idiosyncratic notion of Scripture’s authority and interpretation. The authority of Scripture is intrinsic. It may be heard most often in the liturgy, but are we all agreed that for it to be heard and obeyed this is where it is best understood and discerned? This is not how Scripture has influenced the development in the church of doctrine, the catechism or even liturgy itself.

And in its treatment of Scripture and its symbolism, where the responsibility is greatest, “This Holy Estate” repeatedly takes one part of marriage – love and commitment – and separates that without warrant from the sex of the man and woman and the purpose of procreation. On Genesis, “This Holy Estate” claims that because there is no mention of procreation in the “one flesh” passage (Genesis 2.24), procreation is insignificant. It argues that because Eve is named after the fall, she has been humiliated by the power of procreation. It argues that the image of God (Genesis 1.28-29) refers to procreation but not to the sexual differentiation of the man and the woman, and that later in Christ, procreation does not mean the bearing of children but “the capacity to love, nurture and healing”. On Ephesians 5, “This Holy Estate” argues that love of neighbour now transcends procreation when, in fact, neither are mentioned. These are classic examples of readers reading into the text what they seek to gain from it. Nowhere in Scripture would any of the parties mentioned – the author of Genesis, Jesus, Paul – maintain the dissections made in “This Holy Estate”. And no where, anywhere, does Scripture support a trajectory that would condone behavior that it clearly and resolutely forbids.

All of this is apart from the fact that direct and relevant texts are not engaged at all because they are the most common (the “bullet list”). As Martin Davie says, none of the recent revisionist proposals (The Episcopal Church, The Scottish Episcopal Church, The Anglican Church of Canada) answer “why it is that the Bible is, in the words of Michael Brown ‘a heterosexual book,’ that is to say a book which sees heterosexual relationships as normative for human beings, refers only to heterosexual marriages, uses only heterosexual marital imagery to refer to the relationship between God and his people and is completely negative in everything it says about same-sex sexual activity.”

And it all ends in the incredible claim that the purposes of procreation and union of a man and woman can be abandoned but that a rite of commitment between adults remains, recognizable to all as the heart of marriage. It is to abandon Christian marriage for a gnostic rite of adult commitment. Would anyone in any generation previous to this one have recognized it as the centre of marriage? Can anyone explain, rising from the Scriptures or the Tradition, what the Christian call is to two people that they should be committed to each other in a lifelong, exclusive relationship outside the purposes of procreation or the union of male and female?

“This Holy Estate” acknowledges, in places, that it is a revisionist argument, but it presents itself altogether as rising from a shared recognition regarding the authority of Scripture and its use in this instance. It presents itself as a standpoint from which General Synod might judge a proposal to change the marriage canon. It is not. Using “This Holy Estate” as the centerpiece for the debate on a change to the marriage canon locks the governing party from the room. If it is allowed to serve in this capacity, General Synod will be unfairly served.

Which brings us to our second appeal. Throughout this process in which a landmark change is being considered, with profound consequences for every aspect of the church’s life, that which is proposed to be changed has been left unheard and undefended. If this request from General Synod 2013 had been answered fairly, surely conservative members could have been invited to the Primate’s Commission. Why was that ruled out? Even if a minority report was the inevitable outcome, why would that have been a disservice to the church given the magnitude of what is at stake?

But the negligence in preparing the report becomes graver still if “This Holy Estate” serves as the centre of discussion rather than one part of a debate rising from a wholesome and wholehearted account of the church’s doctrine of marriage. Is this not the Bishops’ first duty? Surely, that which is proposed to be changed deserves a fair hearing first. “This Holy Estate” will not provide that. As a starting point,“This Holy Estate” is deeply and unfairly biased.

To end, then, as we began, with a concrete request in the hope of a continued walk together: we ask you to set this all aside, knowing that this would be a disappointment to many. However, the Canadian church has already moved ahead, locally, with a range of formal affirmations of same-sex partnerships, including liturgical blessings. While many traditional Anglicans are in profound disagreement with these changes, we have not left the church. We now exist together in a true situation of painful compromise, which is already difficult for all of us, yet which, for now, we have been able to manage in God’s grace. To go further with a change in the marriage canon is to risk breaking apart this already fragile place we have struggled to inhabit together.

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Response to the Meeting of Primates in Canterbury, January 2016

Response to the Meeting of Primates in Canterbury, January 2016
The Anglican Communion Institute – Canada

The Rev’d Canon Dr. Murray Henderson
The Rev’d Canon Dr. Dean Mercer
The Rev’d Dr. Ephraim Radner (Senior Fellow, ACI)
The Rev’d Dr. Catherine Sider-Hamilton

If you drop a penny from your hand to the ground, no one notices. Drop it from the 18th floor, and everyone pays attention. If you shoot an arrow from a distance, and it leaves the bow off only by a fraction, no matter how smooth the shot feels, it will still land far from the target.

On first blush, the statement from the Primates has a minimal and precise character that we come to expect of such statements, but this one above all illustrates the importance of precision and modesty. Upon every reading one sees how hard this unexpected penny might land, with two responsibilities in mind as the Anglican Church of Canada enters its deliberations over a possible change to the marriage canon.

First, the statement marks a renewed commitment to the church as a communion and a family rather than a loose federation, merely “our historical cousin” as one advocate for a federation put it in reference to the Communion. The Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada deserves heartfelt thanks for holding the course on this point. His reflection is moving:

“This meeting could have been marked by calls for exclusion of the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and me. It was not. It could have been marked by walk-outs as some had anticipated. It was not. It could have been marked by ranting and raving. It was not. Instead it was marked by perseverance to remain in dialogue that was frank but respectful. It was marked by a generosity of grace and patience, with one another. It was marked too, by renewed commitments in the consideration of matters of doctrine that could be of a controversial nature, to consult broadly in the seeking of advice and counsel.”

This sense of the value that communion holds for us all, bound as we are by the ties forged in baptism, has protected the Communion from a moment of disintegration, an internal threat of which Canada is keenly aware. Many fear that disintegration already has come to The Episcopal Church in the wake of their divisions and may well be permanent. As the presence and participation of Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America made clear (he was invited to vote on the statement, though he abstained), the Anglican Communion in the United States is divided. Already The Episcopal Church no longer speaks alone for Anglicans in that country.

Nothing on this scale has happened yet in Canada, though a wealth of clergy and lay members have left for the Anglican Network In Canada churches. A spirit of cordiality among the Canadian Bishops (and, to be candid, a degree of stealth – it is stealth to declare doctrinal statements non-doctrinal; to bless and appoint as clergy same-sex couples who are civilly married) has kept the Canadian Church from a defining and divisive moment. As well, we are keenly aware of declining resources in the Canadian church as a whole. We can’t afford division. At last count, there are 40 ongoing legal disputes among Anglicans in the United States, with a price tag estimated at between $30 to $60 million. Reconciliation in Canada between ACoC and those churches that have already joined ACNA or ANIC would be hard, but nothing like what will required in the United States if reconciliation is taken up.

Secondly, the Primates aimed for the centre. The church’s tradition on life for the married and single was reaffirmed and therefore, an obligation to reckon with this tradition, for those who dissent. What happens if that obligation is ignored, if “unilateral actions” are taken “on a matter of doctrine without Catholic unity”? Nothing less than the current dysfunction of the church, the reason for which the Archbishop of Canterbury called the meeting.

Has anything been taken from the authority of the provinces? No, but central affirmations about the shared convictions and obligations of the family members remind everyone that this is not the cold competition between Rogers and Bell, but rather the personal and intimate relationship between Fred and Justin and Eliud, a bond which from that level extends to us all.

And from the centre, “consequences” were restated if provinces act independently. In a fashion that is typical of the Anglican church, infused with a spirit of generosity and charity that wins deep and profound loyalty, the statement was issued in terms of consequences, not in terms of discipline or punishment. Those who have raised this challenge have been treated with charity and respect.

There was an ugly alternative hovering over the Primates in that crypt, of party competition, factionalism and fragmentation, the spirit of this age to which we are all subject. This statement, by contrast, was cast in terms of family obligations and the obligations of old and precious ties. If a spirit of prophecy has come to The Episcopal Church, it is only fair for the rest of the Communion to state the truth: that spirit has not spoken to the rest. That spirit, in fact, is contested by the majority. Your arrow has hit and hurt people you are not taking into account.

That is the cost of TEC’s prophetic claims. That is the Scriptural obligation on us all – “let the spirits be tested.”

How will the penny land in Canada?

On the one hand, it’s hard to know what the impact will be or when it will be fully felt. But here are three consequences that immediately come to mind.

First, those who uphold and support the church’s formal teaching, and have done so at no small cost in Canada, have been encouraged and emboldened. They are not alone. However marginalised they may be in their own national church and scorned in their society, they have been encouraged once again to stand firm.

Secondly, the Anglican Church of Canada has before it the option of continuing this debate inside or outside of the boundaries for such a debate in the Communion.

There is a reason for restraint with regard to the marriage canon that all can understand. This question was rushed! The church moved, without reflection or preparation, from blessings to marriage. That is apart from the questionable merits of the Primate’s Commission report itself, “This Holy Estate”, which provided a rationale for the marriage canon to be changed.

In a thorough review, which draws in similar reviews of the formal statements of The Episcopal Church and the Scottish Episcopal Church, Martin Davie, (formerly the Theological Secretary of the Council for Christian Unity of the Church of England and Theological Consultant to the House of Bishops), identifies a clear independent streak. Even apparent allies of a rationale for change – TEC, SEC and the ACoC – are developing rationales on their own. The challenge to the marriage canon is not just the work of dissenters, but of sectarians, too. (“A Church of England perspective on Anglican arguments for same-sex marriage,” by Martin Davie.)

And should the Anglican Church of Canada proceed independently of the communion, they will have a hand in formalizing the division among Anglicans in Canada. Archbishop Foley Beach and ACNA now speak to Canterbury on behalf of Anglicans in the United States. The impact of this has not yet been measured.

Until now, TEC could claim that they represented American Anglicans to Canterbury. That is now past. And so who does TEC represent? Critics have every reason to say: a declining, self-styled progressive denomination who has taken up the questions around human nature and sexuality along lines that match perfectly current social mores. And standing beside and apart from them is a growing and invigorated body who have faced this same challenge from deep within the tradition of their church and communion and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Canada has, in large part, avoided this division and competition. How the ACoC could proceed with a marriage canon change and maintain their integrity – indeed, their existence – as a single broad church beggars the imagination.

Since Lambeth 1998 and Resolution 1.10 and over these last 18 years, this hard debate has been marked by division, enormous cost, and profound discouragement. But consider the hopeful task set out in the conclusion, this challenge for us all: the “restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognising the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.”

As we approach General Synod 2016, the Primate’s statement asks us in Canada to be temperate, to be patient and to walk together with our brothers and sisters around the world, to find God’s future–the truly prophetic way–in solidarity with the communion and the tradition, and not in the tempting boldness of departure from it.

How hard this penny lands! How deep and good its effects might be.

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STATEMENT ON MARRIAGE

A STATEMENT ON MARRIAGE FOR CLERGY OF THE ANGLICAN CHURCH OF CANADA

PREAMBLE

For those who remain faithful to the church’s received teaching regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality this is a time of great challenge: the situation in the church, in society at large, and before the law is changing quickly. Therefore it is a time to bear witness.

This ‘statement of fidelity’ has been prepared for clergy in the Anglican Church of Canada who wish to stand publicly for the church’s historic vision of marriage. Notably, it follows similar statements; recently, that which has been prepared by American Roman Catholic clergy, and a fuller statement prepared by Evangelicals and Catholics Together (March, 2015).

In signing this statement, we desire to take up the wider societal challenge openly and truthfully, but also, in our dioceses and parishes, to provide a point of reference and to stand for a clear and firm proclamation of the Church’s unchanging moral teaching, “so that confusion may be removed, and faith confirmed.”


STATEMENT ON MARRIAGE

The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada has directed the Council of General Synod to bring a motion to General Synod 2016 amending Canon XXI (On Marriage in the Church) to permit same sex marriage. In this situation we wish, as Anglican clergy, to re-state our unwavering fidelity to the traditional teaching regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality, founded on the Word of God in Scripture and confirmed in the liturgy of the Anglican Prayer Books and the canons of the Anglican Church of Canada. We wish to uphold the church’s historic vision of marriage as the union of one man and one woman in body, mind, and spirit “till death do us part.” We affirm its beauty and its truth as a witness both to our creation and to our redemption in the grace of God.

We commit ourselves anew to the task of presenting this teaching in all its fullness, while reaching out with Christ’s compassion to those struggling to respond to the demands and challenges of the Gospel in an increasingly secular society. Furthermore we affirm the importance of upholding the teaching of the church in the canons and sacraments of the church.

We affirm also the church’s universal conviction that doctrine and practice remain firmly and inseparably in harmony.

We urge all those who will participate in the General Synod in June 2016 to make a clear and firm proclamation of the Church’s unchanging moral teaching, so that confusion may be removed, and faith confirmed.


 

SIGNATORS

The Rev’d Dr. Catherine Sider-Hamilton, Toronto

The Rev’d Canon Dr. Murray Henderson, Toronto

The Very Rev. Jason Haggstrom, Caledonia

The Rev’d Ajit John, Toronto

The Rev’d Dr. Ronald Kydd, Toronto

The Rev’d Canon Dr. F. Dean Mercer, Toronto

The Rev’d Jonathan R. Turtle, Toronto

Clergy in the Anglican Church of Canada who wish to sign may do so here:

 

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To the Marriage Canon – in a Single Bound

Written by The Anglican Communion Institute – Canada.

In spite of assurances from Bishops and senior church officers that a change to the marriage canon would not be pursued at the 2013 General Synod, two members from the Diocese of Nova Scotia will do exactly that.

The motion reads:
Be it resolved that this General Synod direct the Council of General Synod to prepare and present a motion at General Synod 2016 to change Canon XXI on Marriage to allow the marriage of same sex couples in the same way as opposite sex couples . . . (Resolution #C003)

It offers this defense:
It has been 6 years since General synod last debated this issue. Since then, some dioceses have proceeded in a manner they deemed necessary to meet the local pastoral and other needs with respect to the blessing of same sex civil marriages. It has been over 10 years since such civil marriages were legal in Canada. The general public has become much more accepting of same sex unions since we last discussed it. This is also true of the church, though not, of course, universally so.

There are three things we would note.

1. Marriage Debate for the First Time
First, the opening clause in defense of the resolution is false: “It has been six years since General synod last debated this issue.” The long, hard, destructive debate in the church has not been about marriage, but about same-sex blessings, purportedly, said advocates, because same-sex blessings were not marriage. Same sex marriage is a new subject which has not been studied, other than in a glancing fashion, and for which General Synod is unprepared.

Incidentally, this new frontal assault on the doctrine of marriage also reflects poorly on the judgment of a number of advocates who, for the last thirty years, have ardently promoted same-sex blessings instead and have now switched over to same-sex marriage. It has been a season of catastrophic decline for the Anglican Church of Canada in which the promotion of same-sex blessings, the confusion, anger and provocation it created, played a demonstrable role. A large part of the bitterness in this quarrel was due to the unwillingness of same-sex blessing proponents to admit that marriage was at stake.

The credibility of same-sex blessing advocates, recently converted to same-sex marriage, is in question. The long argument for the non-doctrinal, non-canonical and non-marital significance of same-sex blessings was either a case of gross ineptitude on the part of proponents so far as the doctrinal and ecclesiastical issues involved are concerned or a crass and unworthy strategy of “playing for time” in order to wear down and weary a church to the point where it could no longer withstand societal pressure.

2. Bald-Faced Assault on Marriage
Secondly, the motion assumes the very least of General Synod. It assumes the least in our commitments in the communion and our obligations rising from the Solemn Declaration. It explains that doctrine should change because public opinion has changed. This is the thinnest possible vision of what it means to be a people of faith.

It is important to recognize how destructive it is when matters of this consequence are presented this flippantly. But is it surprising?

In 2004 General Synod spoke in favor of the “integrity and and sanctity of same-sex relations”, but in a “non-doctrinal sense” in order to dodge the much larger implications of what they had done.

In 2009 the Canadian Primate joined the other Primates in support of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s call for “gracious restraint” and a moratorium on public rites of blessing for same-sex couples, and General Synod 2010 followed suit. And yet, across the country bishops and dioceses blatantly defied these restraints without comment or censure. In this environment, why should the members from Nova Scotia not conclude that at the 11th hour they can undertake a landmark doctrinal revision with a motion as superficial as this – no case, no argument, no serious reflection on the pastoral, doctrinal, ecclesiastical and ecumenical implications – justifying their motion on the basis of popular opinion alone, leaping ahead, in a single bound, to canonical revision.

3.  Finally, Marriage!
But the third word is this – finally!

After thirty years the deception which was same-sex blessings is grinding to an end. The place of same-sex blessings, which have proven to be remarkably unpopular, is clear: no one really wants them. The deception – that the issues involved were pastoral, non-doctrinal, and of secondary importance – is over. This has always been about marriage. And the real debate about marriage can now begin.

If permitted, those who swore solemn vows in defense of the Anglican Communion’s catholic doctrine and discipline are eager to speak. As we have written elsewhere:

“The vision of marriage the Bible offers us . . . affirms life. It is rooted in creation and it reflects our redemption. It makes of our marriage something bigger than ourselves, something that shares in God’s good purpose, something that is part of the saving story that stretches from creation to Christ. It is about the gift of holiness God offers to us. It is this large vision that has come down to us, in the great thinkers of the Christian tradition and in our marriage service. Is there something distinctive about the Christian vision of marriage? Yes. It tells the whole story of salvation. If we take gender out of marriage, we lose the essential threads of the story.

“What does our culture offer, as an alternative to this sweeping Christian vision? It offers an ethic of individualism, a moral vision shaped by human need and desire, and a gospel of human rights. The courts are clear: marriage must be changed because it is discriminatory. It offends against the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“For the court, the gender distinction in marriage is simply exclusionary: it can find no rationale for the distinction. Yet in Christian thought, this distinction is what makes marriage what it is. It is not discriminatory, but defining. And it is defining because it springs from and represents the story of a loving God, and our salvation. We are working with two different world-views. One sees the world as a free association of autonomous individuals, self-directed, self-preserving, self-governing. This world starts with me and ends with me and has my needs as its central principle. It is not a deliberately malicious world; it is determined to be fair. But there is no place for God in it. I am the author of my own salvation, our world says, and I know and shall claim my own blessing.”  (“On Christian Marriage,” Catherine Sider-Hamilton)

The real debate can begin. But will it?

In fact, if the motion itself, as poorly-conceived as it is, is fit for General Synod, one can only presume that the next thirty years will be worse than the previous thirty: for now clearly the doctrine of the church is at stake; now clearly the solemn vows of clergy are on the line; now clearly the divisions in the communion will be widened; now clearly marriage – the life-long-conjugal union of husband and wife, a “mystery” in which men and women see and reflect union with God and God’s redemptive purposes in the world – will be under attack openly in the Anglican Church of Canada.

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On Christian Marriage

Written by Catherine Sider Hamilton

Originally presented on March 6, 2004 – A paper for the Toronto Diocesan Same Gender Consultations. 

There is an odd fact that dogs the debate about same-gender issues. While marriage is a crucial aspect of the debate, the language of marriage is, at least officially, rarely used. The motion before our general synod [2004] is expressly a motion regarding same-sex blessing. The assumption seems to be that there is a difference between blessing and marriage, and we are considering only blessing. Why does the distinction matter – why does the official church avoid using the word “marriage”?

The distinction matters because marriage touches on the doctrine of the church.  No diocese has the power to change church doctrine: only a national synod can do that (and even that is debatable – on core matters, our prayer book states, it requires the agreement of the whole Anglican communion.) So we cannot, in any diocese, authorize same-sex marriage.  Indeed, the Diocese of New Westminster was given permission to proceed with a rite for gay unions only if it was explicitly not a marriage – non-doctrinal, non-sacramental, not affecting the definition of marriage.

And yet, it is really marriage that is at issue for both liberal and orthodox Christians. The distinction between blessing and marriage does not hold up, either liturgically or in the popular mind. When that first “rite of blessing” was celebrated in New Westminster last spring, it looked exactly like a marriage. There were tuxes, there were flowers, there were rings and wedding music. Similarly, there was a telling moment at Toronto’s diocesan synod last fall, when one of the clergy, speaking to the motion for a same-sex rite said “same-sex marriage – oops, pardon me, Bishop, blessing”. What people really mean, and what they really want, when they say blessing, is marriage.

They are right to think there is no real difference between blessing and marriage. The heart of the current marriage service, and the only priestly act in it, is precisely the nuptial blessing.  A church marriage, that is to say, is the blessing of the union – it is this act of blessing that formally distinguishes a Christian marriage service from a civil ceremony.  If you have a blessing, therefore, you have a marriage, too. This is a matter of doctrine: if we bless same sex unions we go against the doctrine and discipline of the church, and overturn what that doctrine seeks to articulate: the church’s 2000-year old vision of a transformed – holy, sacramental – sexuality.

The question before us, then, is why the blessing of a same-sex union – same-sex marriage — is contrary to the doctrine of the church. The short answer is that it is not allowed by church doctrine because it is a sexual union, and the church insists on holding together sex and gender. In the church’s vision of marriage, the male/female distinction matters. If you do not have a man and a woman, you do not have a marriage and you should not have sex.

But it is precisely the male/female distinction that is being challenged by those who seek to ‘claim the blessing’ for gay people.  It has been challenged in the courts, and been declared discriminatory.  It is now being challenged in the church. The question we have to ask is why the church insists on this distinction. Is the man/woman pairing in marriage non-essential, arbitrary and unfair, as the courts and those in favour of gay marriage argue, or is it an essential and beautiful part of the Christian vision? Andrew Sullivan, the well-known gay columnist said recently in Time magazine, “This isn’t about gay marriage.  It’s about marriage.”  (Time, February 2004, p. 16). In other words, according to Mr. Sullivan it makes no difference what the gender of the partners is: you still have everything that makes a marriage.  You still have love, mutuality, commitment, even (if you want them) children.  This is the position of those in our church who advocate same-sex marriage.  It’s not about gender; it’s about mutual love, mutual trust, mutual fidelity.

The Christian vision, however, is entirely different.  It insists that gender is in fact the essence of marriage, that without it no amount of loving feelings or amazing sex can create a marriage.  It would say, in fact, that without a gender difference, sex is just plain wrong.

It can say this because the Christian tradition roots marriage in the purpose of God. “Marriage is a gift of God and a means of his grace”, the BAS marriage service declares.  “It is God’s purpose that, as husband and wife give themselves to each other in love, they shall grow together and be united in that love, as Christ is united with his Church”(BAS 541). Marriage exists by God’s gift and for God’s good purpose. It is a purpose that begins in creation and continues in Christ…and includes maleness and femaleness.

From beginning to end, the gender distinction is crucial to God’s purpose. In Genesis 1, God creates humankind male and female, and commands them to go forth and multiply and fill the earth (1.27-28).  Procreation is the first gift and command of God to humankind.  It is a holy thing, and it is the natural and immediate consequence of being made man and woman.

Secondly, to be made man and woman is to cleave together. The union of man and woman in heart, body and mind (as the BAS marriage rite puts it) is – in its own right, quite apart from procreation – part of God’s purpose for humankind. When Adam sees the woman who has been formed from his side, he says “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken”(Gen.2.23). “Therefore”, the Bible says, “a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (2.24). The sexual union of man and woman in marriage has its roots in their created nature.  This is how God meant them to live; this is who they are meant to be.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus ties the union of man and woman firmly to God’s purpose.  To the wily Pharisees he says, “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’.  ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’”(10.6-7). Jesus is talking about why divorce is wrong – it is wrong because it goes against God’s purpose in creation.  “What God has joined together”, Jesus says, “let no one put asunder”.  But he might as well have been talking about why same-sex marriage is wrong.  It, too, goes against God’s purpose in creation.  For it is as man and woman that we were made to join together and become one flesh. In this union and no other, as the Bible tells it, lie our fulfilment and our vocation, as far as sexual relationships are concerned.

It is this union that the Christian tradition hallows as marriage.  Marriage is a gift of God and a means of his grace, the BAS says, in which man and woman become one flesh.  Marriage is about delight in each other, support for each other, and the possibility of children. Marriage takes this form because that is how God designed it, and how, in sexual relationships, we find our joy.

But there is more. Marriage reflects God’s purpose not only in creation, but also in redemption. If in the Old Testament the union of man and woman is the crowning glory of creation, it is in the New Testament a sign of our salvation.  The marriage in which man and woman become one flesh shows forth to the world the unity of Christ and the church. Ephesians calls it a great mystery. As we in the church share in the life of Christ, becoming actually members of his body, so in marriage husband and wife share in each other’s life, and become actually one flesh.  In the marvelous unity of marriage, we see our unity as Christians with Christ.  So marriage is a sacrament, a lived sign of our redemption, a holy thing.

To this sign, the difference of the sexes is essential. For it reflects the pattern of God’s saving love.  It was not we who saved ourselves, but Christ who gave himself to us and for us. It is not we who are united with ourselves in God’s kingdom, but Christ who becomes one with us.  Creator reaches out to creature in love; the Savior draws the sinner into the life of God.  The story of our salvation is a story about radical difference, drawn into a new unity. This is what the lasting marriage of man and woman mirrors.

Note that this story is not an abstract one.  It is a story about God’s world, God’s particular creation, in all its particularity. And so, insofar as it is about marriage, it is not about any difference at all, but about the difference between man and woman. It is the real world that God loves, and saves. It is as flesh and blood, in our creaturely reality, that we show forth our salvation to the world. Christ redeems our relationships, and so turns the “war between the sexes” into the miracle of a lasting and loving marriage.  Creation is put right, and the world sees the salvation of God. But if it is not a marriage of man and woman, it is not creation that is put right.  To take the gender distinction out of the sacrament of marriage is the worst kind of dualism. It says creation doesn’t matter, that our salvation need be imaged only in our minds, and not with every particle of our being.

What is the problem, then, with homosexual marriage? It separates marriage from the command and purpose of God. It separates us from ourselves, from our true identity –who God himself made us to be. And it says that creation doesn’t matter.  The physical, the biological, the real and concrete simply does not play a significant role in God’s plan.  Homosexual marriage rejects creation.  It is ironic.  The culture says we need free sex, sex free from procreation, free from gender limits, in order to be fully alive. And in the process of freeing us from all limits it denies us our very being.

The vision of marriage the Bible offers us, by contrast, affirms life.  It is rooted in creation and it reflects our redemption. It makes of our marriage something bigger than ourselves, something that shares in God’s good purpose, something that is part of the saving story that stretches from creation to Christ.  It is about the gift of holiness God offers to us. It is this large vision that has come down to us, in the great thinkers of the Christian tradition and in our marriage service. Is there something distinctive about the Christian vision of marriage?  Yes.  It tells the whole story of salvation.  If we take gender out of marriage, we lose the essential threads of the story.

What does our culture offer, as an alternative to this sweeping Christian vision?  It offers an ethic of individualism, a moral vision shaped by human need and desire, and a gospel of human rights.  The courts are clear: marriage must be changed because it is discriminatory. It offends against the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

For the court, the gender distinction in marriage is simply exclusionary: it can find no rationale for the distinction.  Yet in Christian thought, this distinction is what makes marriage what it is.  It is not discriminatory, but defining.  And it is defining because it springs from and represents the story of a loving God, and our salvation. We are working with two different world-views.  One sees the world as a free association of autonomous individuals, self-directed, self-preserving, self-governing.  This world starts with me and ends with me and has my needs as its central principle.  It is not a deliberately malicious world; it is determined to be fair.  But there is no place for God in it.  I am the author of my own salvation, our world says, and I know and shall claim my own blessing.

The other view, the Christian view, starts with God and the human he made and found very good.  And it places man and woman, and the marriage in which they come together most completely, at the centre of the story.  The question we are asking today is not simply a question about gay marriage.  It is about two world-views, and it offers us a choice.  Whom shall we follow?  We can choose the courts, and follow the devices and desires of our own hearts.  Or we can choose Christ, and see in the marriage of one man and one woman a witness to the amazing grace of God.

There is, however, one more thing to say.  I don’t think that the way out of this debate is to change the meaning of marriage. To bless the sexual unions of homosexual people is simply and profoundly to betray the faith. It is also, in a culture where sex is almost everything and human need is the measure of all good, to abandon our people to idolatry. But neither do I think that we can part ways with people who identify themselves as homosexual.  We have to work this out together. How can we be true both to the Christian vision of marriage, and to the gospel call to love each other in Christ?

This question is already taking on practical form in our parishes, as gay couples bring their babies to church for baptism. What is the way forward here, that welcomes the child into the body of Christ and does not condone the lifestyle of the parents? What about couples in civil unions? The couple always has a place in the church.  But does their union? If we are to address these real questions, if we are to try to thrash this out together, I suggest we need to reframe the discussion. We need to stop talking about liturgy, and start talking pastorally.  It is here, in our pastoral response, that we really can make a difference. To accept the orthodox vision of marriage – to uphold the doctrine of the church — is to free the church to start talking.

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Love, actually

Written by:  Catherine Sider Hamilton

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

 I find myself often thinking, as a kind of anarchy, theological and moral and ecclesial, engulfs the Anglican Church, of these lines from Yeats’ The Second Coming. The debate about same-sex blessings and marriage in the Anglican Church of Canada, and more broadly, has been terribly destructive. The fruit it has borne, this rending of the church, is a sign both of the significance of the question and of the vise in which the church (at least in North America) is caught, gripped by opposing narratives about the world.

People still say to me that this is not a question that should split the church (rather a moot point now, I would have thought.) But it is not a question that stands alone. It goes to the root of who we are and who God is. The question of same-sex blessing or marriage is part of a larger narrative, the biblical narrative that runs from Genesis to Revelation through the cross of Christ. It tells a story of the Creator God and his good creation, of man and woman made in the image of God to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, and in this way share in God’s creative purposes. It tells of the cunning of the serpent and the human desire to be as gods, preferring our own hegemony to the walk in the garden with God. And in the wake of the fruit-taking, it tells of shame and pain and a new distance from God. No longer the walk with God in the garden at the time of the evening breeze; instead, estrangement. “The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees” (Gen 3:8).

Interestingly, it is precisely the sexual relationship that is immediately disrupted by sin. Where before the man and the woman were naked and were not ashamed before each other (Gen 2:25) now they are ashamed by their nakedness and the sexual relationship that was a joy becomes a source of pain (Gen 3:16). There is no longer, that is, a straight line from the sexual desire with which we are born to blessing.

The story, of course, does not end here. If we hide from God, if we prefer our own autonomy to the walk with God, God does not abandon us to ourselves. There is the election of Israel (“and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” Gen 12:3) and there is the coming of the Christ. In him, in whose face shines all the glory of God, God comes to meet us in our darkness. It is on the cross, in the moment of Jesus’ God-forsakenness, that we are brought again into the presence of God.

Atonement, being at one with God: this is what the cross means for the world (John 17:11, 21). It undoes the fruit and the shame and the hiding, so that we might know again “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” And as it was the cleaving together of man and woman that was distorted by our estrangement from God, so it is marriage that stands as a sign of this new communion: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:31-32). The union of man and woman in marriage is in Christ an image and pledge of the longed-for communion with each other and with God that is the goal of creation.

This is one narrative about the world: a narrative both of the goodness of the world and its distortion by sin, a distortion in which even (especially) sexual desire is caught. It is, too, a narrative about redemption and new life. Because the way to that life passes through the wilderness of sin, it is a narrative in which the cross is central.

To insist on marriage as it is given in creation and given anew in the life of the church is to choose this narrative, this world, and not another. To insist on the marriage of man and woman is to insist on the concreteness of the story. It is to say that the long journey from our turning away from God to the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus, the journey from darkness to light through the Passion of the Christ takes place in our bodies as well as our souls.  It is creation that is healed in the cross of Christ, this real world. And so—if creation matters, if we are not simply Gnostic—the difference between man and woman matters. It is in this difference that we may, by the grace of God, enact in marriage the unity, the longed-for peace between creature and creature and creature and God that is the fruit of the cross and the sign of our redemption.

This is not an easy thing to say to gay and lesbian people. There is heart-ache in the clash between same-sex desire and the Christian vision of marriage. It means a degree of suffering and self-denial that others need never know. Yet it is a suffering for the sake of Christ, a self-denial born of faithfulness to the Christian narrative. And in it there is a gift to the church. For in such suffering, the gospel tells us, we see the face of Christ.

There is another narrative, a narrative of the rights and freedoms of the individual, of the blessedness of desire and the fulfillment of our desires as the goal of our being. It is an essentially secular narrative and it has captivated the church. Between these two narratives there is a chasm, and straddling this chasm the church is torn apart.

Whether we can recover from this rending depends in part on our capacity for steadfastness. By this I do not mean simply “staying,” because the lines defining who is staying and who is leaving, as dioceses depart from the teaching of the wider church and clergy depart from their dioceses, seem to me so unclear. By steadfastness I mean holding to the Christian narrative, of creation and new creation, sin and redemption, the anguish of the cross and the peace of God that passes all understanding. I mean proclaiming this narrative with our lips but above all in our lives, so that the world may know by the shape of our lives that God lives and loves and saves, and that it is this world of flesh and blood, of Jew and Gentile, of tree and rock and river that He longs in Christ to draw under his wings.

To do this requires a certain truthfulness, a cleaving to the hard words, words like “sin” as well as salvation, “corruption” as well as goodness, “estrangement” as well as welcome, “judgement” as well as blessing. We speak in a world that turns on the axis of the cross: everything we say and everything we do comes up against this fact. At the foot of the cross, words like “tolerance” and its mate “diversity” reveal their essential thinness, their breath-taking inadequacy as a true account of love.

We proclaim a different love, one that spans a sinful world in its out-stretched arms, one that knows even God-forsakenness for this world’s sake. To speak this love truly is in this time a kind of witness, and, I believe, our hope.

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Of Rogue Acts and Ordinations

Written by:  Catherine Sider-Hamilton

On Sunday, September 30, 2012, +David Irving, Bishop of Saskatoon, ordained a person living in a civil same-sex marriage to the diaconate.  He has since appointed her to serve at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Saskatoon. By this ordination the bishop gives civil same-sex marriage Christian legitimation, and declares that a same-gender sexual relationship is a holy way of life, one that may be held up to the people as an example to be emulated. The bishop thus leaps over the Marriage Canon (Canon XXI) of the Anglican Church of Canada, to give his blessing to a new kind of marriage.

This is a rogue act, in two senses.

First, the bishop acts unilaterally, without consultation with his own Provincial House of Bishops, without the support of diocesan synod or General Synod. This is, of course, not how the Anglican Church works: we are a conciliar church, and bishops are one part of a body of Christ that makes decisions affecting the whole body synodically.

Second, the bishop acts in contradiction to the “doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them” – in contradiction, that is, to his vows as a priest.

He acts thus independently because he believes he is right: he himself is the final arbiter in this matter. Yet the majority of the Anglican Communion today believes he is wrong. The majority of his own House of Bishops believes he is wrong (See Statement of the Provincial House of Bishops, Rupert’s Land, posted October 5, 2012). The Bishops of the Global South believe he is wrong. The vast majority of Christians of all denominations in the world believe he is wrong.

This ordination contradicts 2000 years of Christian teaching about marriage and sexual ethics, and the church’s Jewish heritage before that. It contradicts Scripture. Paul described male-to-male and female-to-female sex as one more facet of idolatry: it reflects, Romans 1 says, the culture’s falling away from the living God.  Given that the championing of same-sex marriage has occurred in tandem with the secularization of our own culture, it seems likely that Paul was on to something.  But the Bishop, apparently, knows better than the Bible.

The Bishops of Toronto know better than the Bible, too.  One bishop of the Toronto College has granted, in conversation, that there is no support in the Bible for same sex relationships – let alone same-sex marriage.  Nevertheless, the College proceeded on September 14, 2010 with the ordination of a woman in a civil same-sex marriage; with rites for the blessing of “same gender commitments.” If there is no support for same sex relationships in the Bible, by what authority do the bishops of the church now declare them blessed?

The point here is not just that our bishops are blithely declaring blessed what the Bible and the Judaeo-Christian tradition and the majority of Christians (including Anglicans) worldwide declare to be wrong.

The point is that the bishops are operating as independent agents, guided by their own individual convictions (convictions that are, against the background of Christian teaching, clearly idiosyncratic).

The bishops believe they are right.  But on what grounds? There is no Christian support, in Scripture, in Christian history, in the worldwide Communion, for this certainty.  The only place that comes close to mirroring such certainty on this issue is the secular, avowedly non-Christian culture in which we in Canada live. The bishops in their certainty about same-sex marriage are aping the pagan culture.

This is, of course, a problem, because they are bishops of the Church.

We are called as a church to worship the living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God made flesh in Jesus Christ. We are called to be Christian in a culture that does not know either this God or his Christ. We are called to be different. If we do not look like people of the Bible, like people of the Church, we cannot be witnesses to Christ. The mission of the Church depends on our willingness to be distinctive—in the matter of sexual ethics as in any other matter— in a culture that does not know Christ.

It is Christian faith and witness that is at issue in these ordinations. In the idiosyncratic actions of individual bishops—independent of Synod, in contradiction to the Windsor Report, the St. Michael’s Report and the proposed Covenant—witness to Christ is lost, submerged in a pandering to popular culture.

This is at least ironic, insofar as bishops have vowed to guard the faith. At worst it spells the breakdown of a distinctively Christian vision and witness in the church. For Christian witness does not ape the culture. It follows a different Lord.  It follows Christ, known in the Bible, known in the apostolic witness, known in the Church throughout history and throughout the world.  And in this way it is a blessing to the world.

Not on our own authority, but by the authority of Christ shall we be led – Christ in the Word, Christ in the sacraments, Christ in the Church. That is why in our ordination to the priesthood clergy vow to uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them.  We are called not to be “right” in contradistinction to the Church, but to be obedient.

The word that matters is not “I” but “Christ.” Our witness lies in patient faithfulness, and the humility that subsumes “my right” to the Church’s long truth.

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