Contribution by Rev Sydney Maitland to the General Synod’s debate on same-sex marriage on 10 June 2016. Sections 2 and 3 were not delivered because of time constraints.
Primus, Members of Synod,
This change to the canons of the church represents a “development” in the practice of the church that is intended to allow it keep up with modern times and tastes.
It would be a material change to the doctrine and practice of the church in marriage, and hence to the sacramental integrity of marriage as such and indeed of the church as a whole in all its sacraments.
It is led by views of the same-sex community and elevates gender and sexual identity above all other considerations, and especially above our spiritual identity as being sinners who, each in our own place of need and of hurt, have been redeemed from the power of sin and placed on a new journey to everlasting life in Jesus Christ.
But not all gays are Christian, and of those who are, not all Christian gays are determined to publicise their private lives or are demanding that their situations be written into the canons of the church in a manner that would be inherently divisive. So I have to question just how representative of the Christian gay community these proposals really are.
It also begs the question: which is more important to us, personally and as a church – our standing before God and in Jesus Christ, with all our needs and imperfections – or our sense of being, in the sexual and relational realm, above and beyond all other considerations?
In short, is sexuality to take priority in the life of our church over all other considerations of life, of teaching, or of mission?
But far more than this, the church is always going to be a counter-culture. When our world says “Achieve yourself”, the gospel says “Deny yourself.”
When the world says avoid, make special provision against, find therapies for and legal provision in all that is difficult or challenging or irksome, Jesus says “Take up your cross and follow me.”
When the world demands revenge, Jesus is uncompromising in teaching us to forgive.
And that includes all aspects of life in which we are tried and tested and visited with grief or sorrow or denial. It is a wholly different dynamic and it is entered in the spiritual realm and not by changing the life of the church in order to meet its demands.
Not all can accept the biblical and doctrinal assertions made to support this development of marriage – and this is indeed stated explicitly by the proposed canon.
As presented the canon is clear in accepting that it is inherently divisive, and if approved, it would make the teaching of the church on marriage inconsistent and indeed optional. And if this is accepted in respect of marriage then why not in any other aspect of church life and teaching?
The canon would therefore be contradictory in its form and divisive in its effects.
Finally, the Oath of Canonical Obedience requires a cleric to commit to accepting the canons of the church as conforming to the teachings of scripture.
While the ministries of women have been and in some places remain controversial, this tension has been and continues to be contained by the church’s Doctrine of Reception.
But no such management of the tensions will be possible in this case as orthodox clergy may well be unable to make this oath without violating their consciences.
This will in time lead to a theological purging of the church which itself is wholly contrary to the intensions of inclusiveness that this canon purports to support.
I therefore have to ask you to reject the proposed canonical innovation.