‘Unashamed pragmatism’ 

An evangelical New Zealand bishop explains how he supports those blessing same-sex married couples, while not able to do so himself.

+Peter Carrell is Bishop of Christchurch, New Zealand. From his blog site http://hermdownunder.blogspot.com/2019/06/clarity-or-not.html

  1. As Bishop of Christchurch, I have committed myself, within the polity of ACANZP*, to permit a priest or bishop blessing a same-sex civil marriage or civil union, within a church, where application is made to me, and where I am satisfied that the conduct of such blessing will enhance the common life of the ministry unit concerned.

    2. I have also committed myself to not conduct such blessings myself because I do not read Holy Scripture as supporting such blessings.

    3. Clearly, logically, I accept the possibility of a different reading of Scripture existing within and being applied in the life of the church (without fear of discipline, as ensured by the decisions of our General Synod in 2018).

    4. Recently, in a verbal conversation concerning my views, in response to a question why, given my own view, as bishop I nevertheless permit another view within my Diocese, I said something like this: I lack conviction that I am completely right and those who wish to conduct blessings are completely wrong.

    5. That is, I am comfortable having space for different views on this matter in our church.

    6. My sense of comfort is enhanced by my concern that to exclude the possibility of different views, and to shut down the possibility of blessing same-sex civil marriages and civil unions is to make our church an unbearable place for gay and lesbian members.

    7. It is a much longer piece of writing to explain why I lack the conviction of many fellow Anglicans, but I happily refer readers of this post to many posts and comments on my blog, Anglican Down Under.http://anglicandownunder.blogspot.com

  2. I am clear that my approach involves compromise and accommodation. Many Anglicans are unwilling to join me in make such compromise and in being associated with such accommodation. Nevertheless I continue to be surprised and pleased by the Anglicans who are willing to join me.

    9. I am very concerned that the way in which homosexuality is made an issue in the life of churches in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has an (unintended, I am sure) effect of further marginalizing an already marginalized group within churches. If for no other reason than not wanting to participate in this further marginalization, I do not see myself leaving a church, let alone forming a new church, because of this issue.

    10. I am also concerned at the kind of “God” and “Christ” we construct when we act and speak as though the God of Jesus Christ is displeased with a church which permits within itself plausible differences over this matter. I do not find in the gospels a Christ whose longing for the church is that it is so clear over sexuality that a disagreement is worth breaking up the church – the Christ, that is, who enjoyed dinner parties with sinners, accepted anointing from a notorious woman, and observed but did not condemn the promiscuous life of the Samaritan woman we met at the well. Yes, the same Christ of the gospels is strict on sexual morality, tough on divorce, etc, but the “whole” Christ of the gospels is not constructing a movement which will become a church which will divide over a legal matter.

    11. In my own thinking, I acknowledge a degree of pragmatism (or, if you like, unashamed pragmatism) but a pragmatism which I suggest is in keeping with, rather than against, Scripture.

    12. By “pragmatism” I mean something like this: ideally, every human being is male or female, heterosexual, so appropriate coupling takes place, for the sake of fruitfulness via multiplication, and intimate, sexual companionship, as per Genesis 1 and 2. Within that ideal, further, marriage is for life, it is “one flesh” (so monogamous), mates who mate for life, so no divorce. In reality, life [post Genesis 3] takes turns which mean humanity, including God’s special people, Israel, is often making adjustments to the ideal. Most obviously, there is polygamy (which is a practical or pragmatic solution in a situation which is not “welfare state” for the provision and protection of women) and there is the Mosaic acceptance of divorce and remarriage (which, later, Jesus will challenge). There are also various rules for what happens when … slave-women are raped etc … there are some pragmatic passages in the Mosaic Law which are not generally studied in parish Bible study groups!

    13. Within 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul argues for the ideal of celibacy, he nevertheless accepts the pragmatic reality that one can burn with sexual desire and thus marriage is to be preferred. Within that chapter is argument for a “Pauline Exception” to the general rule not to remarry after divorce; as there is in the way Matthew presents the teaching of Jesus, the so-called “Matthean Exception.”

    14. In summary: Scripture proposes an ideal (which Jesus and Paul uphold), but Scripture also demonstrates that the ideal is often departed from because the remedy for fallen human sexuality (our inability to live up to the ideal) may require a revised set of rules to account for failure to live to the ideal. Exceptional circumstances, we could say, lead to exceptions to the ideal being accepted.

    15. Thus my “accommodation” and “compromise” is not about flying in the face of what Scripture says about the ideal of sexuality (i.e. that only men and women, and only when married to each other, engage in sexual intercourse), denying, so to speak, the plain message of Scripture. It is about asking whether we now have exceptional circumstances, first, in respect of our modern understanding of homosexuality, secondly, in respect of our modern society making a way for civil legislation to be enacted which provides a means for same-sex couples to live transparent, public lives, free from discrimination and prejudice; and thus, in these exceptional circumstances, asking whether we might make a way within the church for exceptions to the ideal to be accepted.

    16. I think we do need to say, again and again, what Anglican churches around the world are deciding in respect of same sex partnerships is not supporting sexual promiscuity, casual sex, orgiastic decadence, unjust/abusive sex between unequal partners. Not at all. What is being decided is whether the church – pragmatically – supports covenantal partnerships, undergirded by civil legislation, which ask of each partner the same faithfulness, sacrificial love, permanent commitment for life which has traditionally been asked of a husband and wife. That is a high standard for something which is pragmatic!

*ACANZP. Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia