US Church issued warning over gender-neutral marriage plan

THE EPISCOPAL Church in America (TEC) has been warned its place in global Anglicanism will be at risk if it approves gender-neutral marriage rites this summer.

The Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye, told the Church that the way aspects of TEC’s practice of their trial marriage rites are implemented will have ‘implications’ on the relationship between the two Churches. All eyes will be on the three yearly General Convention that is meeting in Austin, Texas in July as it could lead to a further split in worldwide Anglicanism.

Mr Nye said that one of the Church of England’s concerns about the new TEC rites is the ‘removal of reference to the procreation of children as one of the three purposes for which marriage was ordained by God’. He explains that ‘by promulgating the new marriage rites, TEC has taken a step which appears to conclude, at the level of an individual province acting unilaterally, a discussion that is still very much “live” in the Church of England and wider Communion’, and that TEC have been ‘unhelpful’ in that regard.

But more widely there have been mixed reactions to the impact of the TEC’s authorisation and use of the liturgical rites for same-sex marriage and the blessings of same-sex unions on the wider church. According to the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order’ s (IASCUFO) assessment, the clearest impact has been the ‘frequency, agenda, content, and conduct of the Primates’ Meeting.’

They explained that what happened at the January 2016 Primates gathering set a ‘precedent’ that ‘was then deemed to apply in another similar context, in relation to the Scottish Episcopal Church’s decision to make a canonical change to permit same-gender marriage at the Primates’ Meeting of October 2017’. They also say that the decision taken by the primates in 2016 effectively barring TEC members from representing the Communion or taking part in voting on doctrine or policy for three years deprives those bodies of the expertise and perspectives of the Episcopal Church.

However, Dr John Reuben Davies, Convener of the Liturgy Committee, for the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC), distanced his Church from TEC’s approach. In 2017, the SEC amended Canon 31 by removing section 1, taking away the only doctrinal definition of marriage to be found in the SEC’s Code of Canons.

He explains that a new conscience clause ‘makes explicit a situation which already pertains, that no cleric shall be required to conduct any marriage against their conscience’ and that ‘the preparatory words of this clause in the light of the differing understandings of the nature of marriage in this Church’, could refer as much to the nature of marriage, or its purpose, as to whether it can be between persons of the same sex’.

He denied that the move resulted in a new definition of marriage. “The point to be noted is that, by contrast with The Episcopal Church, no new definition of marriage has been made explicit in the Code of Canons. In this respect, the SEC has rejected the approach of TEC,” he said.

Dr Davies explains that a further difference between the Scottish and American approaches is that the 1929 Scottish Book of Common Prayer ‘does not set the baseline of doctrine’. “The Prayer Book is only one among many books which have full canonical authorisation and status… This means that the Marriage Liturgy 2007 holds equal doctrinal weight with the Solemnisation of Holy Matrimony in the Prayer Book,” he explained. “The result is a liturgy which allows for several paths through the service. One of these paths is gender-neutral in its terminology, so that there is no husband and wife, only named persons taking each other in marriage.”

He denied that that the change was a ‘gateway’ to same-sex marriage, but a way of ‘allowing men and women to express their relationship in marriage in ways which emphasised their roles as equal partners’. “By contrast with The Episcopal Church, we find ourselves in the arguably advantageous position of having a rite which can be used alike for couples of the same sex or of different sexes.”

In her joint response, the Rev Elizabeth A Eaton of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), said that TEC’s authorisation of same-sex marriage ‘sends a strong message of unity’. When her Church drafted supplemental language for the already existing marriage rite within Evangelical Lutheran Worship the Presiding Bishop said it was ‘intentional that we used the language of “supplemental” and not “same-gendered,” so as not to separate out groups of people, but rather to show that this supplemental liturgical language can be used within the already existing rite of marriage’. “In doing so, the resource provides inclusive language not only for samegendered couples but also for heterosexual couples who yearn for more inclusive language,” she said.

The Rev Dr Betsy Miller, of the Moravian Church, said that they favoured a revision of the existing rite to make one rite suitable for all marriages. Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Utrecht, the Most Rev Joris Vercammen and the Bishop of Haarlem, the Rt Rev Dirk Jan Schoon, said that for more than 20 years, members of the Old Catholic Synod have been asking for possibilities of same-sex blessings and same-sex marriages.

“We are convinced that a marriage of people of the same sex is intrinsically good if it contributes to becoming truly human and giving true happiness to the partners,” they said.

But Church leaders in the Anglican Church of Congo said ‘the only type of marriage that we celebrate is for heterosexual couples’ and that ‘same‐sex marriage is not recognized’ in Article 40 of the Congolese Constitution. “Thus there is no way we can introduce a proposal of the liturgical rite for the marriage of same‐sex couples. “Here we do not have room to talk and discuss about blessing of same‐sex unions. Otherwise, it will bring conflicts and division among Christians,” said the Ven Kibwela K Anthonio.

The Archbishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, the Most Rev Ezekiel Kondo said his Church ‘does not approve of same-sex marriage because it does not believe that it is the will of God’.