NEWS | John Sandeman
Thursday 12 May 2016
New Zealand Anglicans won’t be blessing same-sex marriages after their General Synod meeting in Napier rejected a plan to bless civil marriages of same-sex couples.
The plan called “A Way Forward” would have provided “formularies” (services) of blessing for civil marriages, with a choice of two services, one for same-sex couples, another for traditional man-woman relationships. Same-sex marriage was legalised in New Zealand in 2013.
The formularies were seen as a way to keep the church doctrine of traditional marriage intact – with the marriage service staying as is – while introducing “blessings”. The working group that produced the proposal said that the plan provided “additional formularies” rather than doctrinal changes.
Keeping everyone in a church with progressive and evangelical wings was at the heart of the debate this week. A progressive, Rev Helen Jacobi of the liberal Auckland church St Matthew-in-the-City, told the NZ Herald that parishes within the Christchurch, Wellington and Nelson dioceses (regions) have threatened to pull out if the working group’s “A Way Forward” is adopted. After the Synod result was announced she told the paper, “In my 24 years as a priest I have always been proud of my church. Today I hang my head in shame.”
In a statement, the Church’s three archbishops said they would appoint a working group to establish a structure that allows both those who can and cannot support the blessing of same-sex relationships to remain within the church with integrity. (The NZ Anglicans have Pākehā (white), Maori and Pasifika (Islander) branches or “tikangi” in the same church.)
Evangelicals may feel they have a stay of execution. Peter Carrell a moderate evangelical from Christchurch made a Facebook comment that the question had been, “Will [the Church] make a decision which would consequentially force many people (including myself) out of licensed ministry because integrity would mean we could not assent to that which we did not believe to be true?” Nelson and Christchurch, two dioceses (regions) with evangelicals had been calling for delay.
The New Zealanders might seem to be working on the same-sex issue in an odd way, not by an up-and-down vote on what the church believes but instead deciding on prayerbook services. But historically this is how Anglicans (and other churches with written services) have set out what they believe. So for Carrell and other evangelicals in New Zealand, a new set of church services is seen as setting out a changed formula of what they assent to and support as ministers.