I have just spent a week at our General Synod. It did not work out as I had hoped and prayed for. I have cut and pasted my Facebook post in the previous post. It was made just after we finished our work. The truth is our work is not finished with me and whatever it is we did and did not do has not settled in my own heart yet. I am deeply disturbed by the whole event. I could (and maybe should ) leave it there but I offer this as further discerning.
To be clear at the outset: I believe that at General Synod we failed the gospel and the God we seek to serve in not making the church more inclusive by providing for the blessing of same-sex relationships.
The measures we proposed were (to my mind) moderate but, as they stood – some (me included) unhappy with the failure to offer marriage equality, and others outraged by the radical nature of them – they were not accepted.
We were probably at our best and our worst at the Synod. Perhaps that is because General Synod is a reduction of our church – ‘reduction’ in both senses of the word: a concentration like a ‘jus’ in cooking, and a lessening. I know that personally I was sometimes less; I was so upset by the obdurate nature of some, and (what I perceived) as the lack of ‘good faith’ negotiating, that at times I was not at my best nor my most honourable. On the other hand, I saw in others (particularly Maori) the most amazing witness to the power of the Holy Spirit – their witness to justice, love, and forgiveness on the floor of Synod made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. None of us is without fault. Few of us were overflowing with virtue. Together we were both more and less.
Our church’s processes are archaic. The legal framework and ethos is innately conserving of the tradition and the institution. Gone are the good old days of the 1980’s when good sense and God’s wisdom prevailed and we removed the service ‘A Commination’ from our Formularies, even though it is in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The swashbuckling days of reform seem gone. We have become so legalistic and pharisaic that such a thing would be impossible now. (If this sounds too esoteric for many, well it kinda is and the dispute has become very fine-grained at so many levels.) We now live and age when we are not always well served by our archaic structures. Again, we were at our best at the 2014 and the 2016 General Synod when cultures other than our anglo-saxon Westminster process came to the fore.
In the midst of all this it would be all too tempting to cry out for God to come and change and fix things – like the ‘parking-space god’ finds an empty carpark when it is most needed. In my limited experience God doesn’t work so much like that. On the eve of Pentecost though I am thinking, praying, and wondering on the way that God might have been at work and was at work in us at the Synod.
I imagine that tomorrow if I could be in many places in the Diocese I would hear many a one-dimensional sermon about the failings of General Synod. Depending on which church I visited I could predict that I would hear either it was too conservative or too radical. And while I know that there is (from the LGBTI perspective – the perspective/ voice we have supposedly been giving careful and purposeful attention to for the last period of time) the simple truth of justice delayed and delayed over and over, and there is the matter of justice and love undone, it is also more complicated than that. There is the ‘and’ of our life. We were both fantastic and flawed. I was aware, for instance, that while we talked of the LGBTI community as if ‘they’ were all ‘out there beyond the church’ there were also the obvious presence and witness of a number of the gay men in our synod. They were so godly and good. That presence and witness has to be seen in the mix too. That too is the Spirit at work amongst us. That too is part of the life of the church – sacrificial work to be sure. I have to honour that too. We are not one dimensional.
In baptism the Holy Spirit is draws us into the truth, love, and life of Christ, and that this is ‘already at work in us’ (however poorly evidenced by us). It is the Spirit that sanctifies our lives and the gifts we offer. The flawed and fractured lives that are ours are both already in Christ and being drawn yet more deeply into Christ.
Kathy Tanner (a favourite) writes: “Because we have been assumed into Christ’s life, the changes in our lives are continuously fed by the workings of Christ through us in the power of the Spirit.”
On the eve of Pentecost I am left wondering about how the Spirit is breathing in and through us and what changes are surely being wrought in the life of the church of which I am a part.
Thanks, Bishop Jim, for your thoughts. And feelings. I am still reflecting how I will respond on liturgy.co.nz, and your reflections help my own thinking. I have posted your link to facebook.com/liturgy.
Easter Season Blessings
Thanks Bosco. Much work and refection to be done.
Simply put, the church preferred the excluders over the excluded. A thoroughly unchristian and immoral collaboration.
Thanks Jim for this and your other blog. I share your disappointment and appreciate all the hard work you and the working group put into this synod. Please keep on blogging…. Damon.
Hello +Jim. Many thanks for these words and for the grace that lies behind them. I notice that +Kelvin has blogged in similar vein, and I offer a similar comment to one I placed there.
The really hard and faithful work that your commission put into this (as requested by GS14) represented a very significant compromise. You did not visit the question of equal marriage, but instead searched hard for a mechanism that would allow us to bless unions/marriages conducted elsewhere. Your attempts were unsuccessful, so now we face at least four years but probably more of tearing ourselves apart over a question that the country decided over 10 years ago by allowing Civil Unions. In other words, we may be having the wrong argument.
I wonder if a more theologically coherent way forward may be to abandon that compromise, and look at changing whatever laws, canons, formularies etc are necessary to allow us to conduct weddings for committed same-sex couples. I have been firmly of the opinion for many years that our understanding of marriage is too narrow, and it is because I have such a high theology of marriage that I believe it should be offered equally. I also believe that such a change is inevitable eventually, but am deeply saddened that it may take so long that by then there will be nobody left who cares what we think.
Hello Edward, I agree that we need a theologically coherent way forward. This needs to be our own way as Christ’s Church regardless of what the country has decided or may decide in the future. One of the challenges for progressives is how to avoid putting conservatives (whose position accords with traditional understandings of Scripture and Catholic tradition) in the position of schismatics, when it is the progressive viewpoint that is a change. Another is to explain why, on their own logic, blessing and marriage should not be extended to other relationships currently regarded as sexually deviant. One challenge for conservatives is to consider whether there is a new mission field being opened up by the Spirit of God and how they can avoiding hindering this (think Acts 15). In other words, there is still some work to be done to reach a position where there is mutual respect and understanding in the pattern of the Jerusalem Council – but it’s worth working for. (And maybe Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Pasifika were closer to this type of resolution in spirit than Tikanga Pakeha).
Edward+, hello. Yes, there is compromise in the ‘A Way Forward’ proposal, and, yes, a purer response might be to revisit a marriage equality proposal. I think some may well think hard about that in the next two years. It is where my heart is. I would have to say, however, that I think that where the others two Tikanga are up to is: “We are waiting the bus for two years. It will be a bus ride that sets off in two years and it will be characterised by whanaungatanga.” That is, it is an ethos that is about living with each other as ‘family’ and that is more long the lines of ‘accommodation’ and ‘live and let live.’ (at least as I am hearing it at this point.) So, Maori and Pacifica acknowledge that there is difference of opinion and conviction on the issue within themselves and they see proposals along the lines of ‘A Way Forward’ as the best way for all. But, again, this is just the way I am hearing things at present. So, heart is in one place, head in another.
God bless you for your good work. I do not know how your synod works, but God will work through this. Maybe disappointment is how the Spirit works. Living in the American South I have to believe that: I have actually seen a bit of it, in time.
Your friend, Jamie, from Sewanee
I look forward to chatting with you really soon.