March 26, 2017

May 10, 2013

Don’t Sign the Letter

Some orthodox Anglican clergy, friends of mine, are circulating a “Clergy Letter of Encouragement” in response to the Church of England’s paper entitled: “Men and Women in Marriage”. The Letter of Encouragement praises the contents of the paper, expresses gratitude for this “early fruit” of Archbishop Welby’s ministry, extends Archbishop Welby prayers and “goodwill” and, finally, articulates a desire to “strengthen” and “enhance” the links between the ACNA and the Communion. Clergy are asked to sign the letter. I hope few do.

The Clergy Letter of Encouragement begins with this paragraph:

The Church of England recently issued a report entitled, “Men and Women in Marriage”. We have read this report and will commend it to the members of our own churches. We are grateful for the theological grounding of marriage and especially the reaffirmation of Christian marriage as a sacramental act between one man and one woman.

It is right to be grateful for the reaffirmation of Christian marriage contained in the first 45 paragraphs of “Men and Women in Marriage” but it is wrong to commend it to our churches.

Up to paragraph 45, the authors clearly and forthrightly articulate the biblical doctrine of marriage, presenting heterosexual marriage as the exclusive God-ordained venue for the physical expression of human sexuality. If the authors had stopped there, I would be happy to commend their work.

But they didn’t. The paper begins well but ends quite badly. Paragraphs 46-50 open up the well worn distinction between “teaching” and “practice”. The authors suggest that there is more flexibility in dealing with homosexual relationships on the pastoral level than the biblical principle articulated in the first 45 paragraphs might suggest. The authors draw an analogy between the practice of receiving people living in civil unions and the acceptance of remarried couples and the reception of polygamous converts in Africa. In both cases, the authors point out, the doctrinal standard for marriage was upheld but was applied “flexibly”. The analogy suggests that the church, in practice, need not require repentance and separation from homosexual partners in order to maintain doctrinal integrity.  Thus, the penultimate paragraph reads:

The meaning of such pastoral accommodations can be misunderstood, as though the Church were solving pastoral difficulties by redefining marriage from the ground up, which it cannot do. What it can do is devise accommodations for specific conditions, bearing witness in special ways to the abiding importance of the norm. Well-designed accommodations proclaim the form of life given by God’s creative goodness and bring those in difficult positions into closer approximation to it. They mark the point where teaching and pastoral care coincide.

Three points:

1. If remarriage/polygamy are sinful then allowing them “in practice” is not “flexibility”. It is abdication. Being “flexible” about sin hurts the very people the church is called to heal.

2. But the bible does not teach that remarriage is “always” sinful. It is sinful in the case of a divorce without biblical cause (adultery or abandonment by the non-believing spouse) or for the guilty party in a divorce for cause. Moreover, even in cases where someone has remarried after an unjustified divorce, there is good reason not to demand a second divorce. God designed men and women to be together in covenant bonds. Even second marriages are capable of meeting that intention. Additionally, such an act would represent an attempt to remedy the sin of divorce by committing a second divorce. It would only compound the sin.

A similar case can be made in the circumstance of an already existing case of polygamy in which men become Christians after marrying more than one woman. Demanding divorce in such a case only adds something that God hates (divorce) to an already imperfect situation, not to speak of the economic deprivation and social humiliation that would be visited upon the divorced women in most of the cultures in question.

3. Homosexual relationships are not of like character. Living in a condition of regular unrepentant sexual engagement with a person of the same sex is, according to 1 Cor 6:9-10, damnable. The best thing, the only thing, to be done is to repent, break off the relationship, and turn to Jesus Christ. For the sake of those engaged in this sin (and those who are tempted by it) there can be no pastoral or practical accommodation.

It shouldn’t be difficult to see why Giles Fraser welcomed “Men and Women in Marriage.”

They are winking at people like me saying ‘be creative’ – it is a classic Anglican fudge…In effect what it is saying is you can do it as long as you don’t say that is what you are doing – call it something different, be as imaginative as you can.”

He’s right. The paper represents a significant step toward placing same sex couples on the same ground remarried heterosexual couples occupy.

The Clergy Letter of Encouragement expresses gratitude for Men and Women in Marriage as a “first fruit” of Archbishop Justin Welby’s ministry.

“We are also thankful for this early fruit of the ministry of the Archbishop of Canterbury. As someone new in the office, he surely needs our prayers and goodwill for the Anglican Communion. He has them.”

The new Archbishop of Canterbury does need our prayers and he has them along with our goodwill. This is true.

But if this is, indeed, a first fruit of the new Archbishop’s ministry, it is not one for which we ought to be thankful. It is the camel’s nose in the tent.

And if we look back at what Archbishop Welby has said and done before and after his enthronement, it is par for the course. It is, indeed, the sort of middling, compromising, reconciling “fruit” we might expect.

The Letter ends with this note:

“We are in different contexts and we face different realities, but we also pray that our existing links between the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Communion can be strengthened and enhanced.”

I do pray that the existing links can be strengthened and enhanced. But there are two requisite conditions that must be met first. The Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada, if they remain unrepentant, must be removed from the Communion and, for the love of the souls given to our care, homosexual sin must not be tolerated either in principle or practice. If these conditions are not met, I pray that the ties and links between the ACNA and the CofE continue to weaken and ultimately sever. The spiritual health and well-being of the flock of God is our most pressing concern not institutional unity with the Church of England.

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Thank you for your analysis of the paper “Men and Women In Marriage” and the letter of encouragement that is seeking co-signers.

In the U.S.A. the LGBTQI advocates are seeking to re-define marriage and to have the churches provide affirming celebratory same-sex marriage ceremonies.  The goal does not seem to be pastoral sensitivity, but instead to gain rights and rites that are identical to those historically granted to heterosexual marriages.  I’m expecting that mere pastoral sensitivity of a discreet nature will be unacceptable to those wanting change.

This is where the pastoral responses to divorce and polygamy do not make good analogies with same-sex marriage.  Those who are divorced or in a polygamous marriage admit their situation is a sin.  They want to please God, but like the rest of us, are unable.  It is different for those who want the church to provide same-sex marriages.  They want the church to declare that the couple is *not* committing a sin, and therefore they do not need to repent and go in a new direction.

[1] Posted by David_Fine on 5-10-2013 at 03:19 PM · [top]

“What it can do is devise accommodations for specific conditions, bearing witness in special ways to the abiding importance of the norm.” How is this any different than the phrase “Generous pastor response”? that TEC came up with as a transitional move. This is nothing more than a wink. No reconciliation before repentance.

[2] Posted by Fr. Dale on 5-10-2013 at 03:23 PM · [top]

In fact, they are asking the church to bind them together in a committed life-long relationship that locks them in to one particular sin, and makes it nearly impossible for them to repent and take a different direction.

[3] Posted by David_Fine on 5-10-2013 at 03:26 PM · [top]

I have heard an ACNA bishop (said before he became a bishop) once say “I wish that I could tell you that homosexual behavior is okay, but the Bible doesn’t allow me to do that.”  This statement troubled me, and after some time I realized why.  I have a gay nephew who is engaged in the homosexual lifestyle and I most certainly do NOT wish I could tell him that was okay.  No, what I wish is that he would embrace the healing and transformation (difficult though that may be) of our Lord Jesus Christ and come out of the homosexual lifestyle.  I would most certainly not want God to tell me that it was okay for someone to live in a way that God has told us harmful.

My point is that, all too often, conservatives take the first attitude (i.e. “I wish I could tell you that homosexual behavior is okay but the Bible doesn’t allow me to do so”) and believe that they are being Biblical.  But when push comes to shove, the strong temptation is to get squishy around the edges, and think that being “pastoral” is to look the other way, or do some sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach.

But if you take the second attitude (i.e. “I wish that you could leave the homosexual lifestyle along with any other sinful inclinations you have and seek to bring them under the Lordship of Jesus Christ”), then it seems rather absurd to think that it is pastoral to employ some sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

I submit to you that the authors of this letter are probably largely of the first attitude, while Matt (I am guessing) is of the second attitude.

[4] Posted by jamesw on 5-10-2013 at 04:42 PM · [top]

A followup to my post #4.  Also consider what the two attitudes tell us about God.  Under the first attitude, God is seen as some sort of cosmic spoil sport who has arbitrarily decided that some things are bad and others are good.  By adopting this attitude, we are basically saying “well, I don’t see anything wrong with it, but you know that big fussbudget in the sky - what can we do?”

Under the second attitude, God is seen as wanting the best for us, and that means avoiding those behaviors which He - as the author of life - knows are harmful to us.

[5] Posted by jamesw on 5-10-2013 at 04:46 PM · [top]

Father Matt is correct.  Do not be deceived.

[6] Posted by Pageantmaster ن on 5-10-2013 at 06:56 PM · [top]

Actually you seem a bit squishy on all the heterosexual marriage issues also.  Surely those polygamous converts have to give up having sex with all but their first wife…right?  Because that is the only actual marriage in the so called polygamous marriage. And there is really no such thing as divorce and remarriage; if the first marriage was truly a marriage the second “marriage” is not a marriage.  And what established procedure do you in ACNA have for deciding if the first marriage was really a marriage or not?  As for your argument that a second divorce would be a further evil,  it doesn’t float, because if the people were already actually married to someone else, they are not married now and so their separation would not be a divorce.  A Church needs a way to deal with these things.  Orthodoxy allows three marriages, but only the first is celebrated joyfully, with crowning; the others are subdued and penitential.  We Catholics have the annulment procedure, which theoretically preserves the doctrine of the indisolubility of marriage, and which does at least make clear that some defects in understanding, character, or maturity make genuine consent to Christian marriage not possible. I think perhaps this is a codification of the kinds of discernments you make individually with people about their previous marriages.  But this is a doctrinally fuzzy way to do it, and not ideal.  I am not sure what is meant by “the reception of people in civil unions”.  If they weren’t married in a church wedding,  then they should have a religious wedding once they are received. But since it is the mutual consent of the spouses which makes the marriage in Western theology, the civil marriage should not be an issue.

All of these things are different from the situation with homosexual relationships for the obvious reason that in all the previous situations a man and a woman are involved. A natural sexual relationship is involved, one of the sort which is procreative even if this particular relationship through age or defect cannot be.  (I do think you should tell people when you marry them that they must accept children from God if He sends them; two who could have children but deliberately do not have any are doing their best to make themselves like a homosexual couple and are violating one of the essential purposes of marriage; in essence they are not giving consent to Christian marriage and are not really married.) But even these folks,  although they may have to answer to God for their distortion of marriage, are still a man and a woman.  They could change, become open to a child.  What they are doing is still suitable for that purpose, and radically different from what two men or two women do, which actually isn’t really “sex,”  although it may produce similar sensations. 

So Matt is certainly right that this letter is trying to fool you.  It is trying to make equivalent two things which are not equivalent, and not really of the same sort at all. 

I would be the first to admit that some homosexual couples do have some of the “goods of marriage.”  They can care about each other, take care of each other. In some cases
they have ceased to have “sex”  and are loving companions, and could stay together without sin if this could be done without scandal to the community.  In the past it was easier to do this without scandal to the community because the community was likely to look at them and think “roommates”  whereas now people will look at them and think “gay couple”.  In the case of a couple who have long been together these are confessional and prudential issues. 

But in the case where two young men or young women think they can be “married” to each other,  this is something the church can never allow, and this is what this letter is trying to slip in as a kind of afterthought,  as if it weren’t the main point of the letter to get you to be willing to do this.

Susan Peterson

[7] Posted by eulogos on 5-10-2013 at 08:03 PM · [top]

Can Anglicans take a firm stand on anything? (Other than that one ought not to take a firm stand.)

[8] Posted by Nellie on 5-10-2013 at 08:30 PM · [top]

Hi Susan,

“Actually you seem a bit squishy on all the heterosexual marriage issues also. “

Never been described as squishy before…but there’s a first for everything.

“Surely those polygamous converts have to give up having sex with all but their first wife…right?”

Yes, that is my assumption. And I believe that is the normal way of handling things.

“Because that is the only actual marriage in the so called polygamous marriage.”


“And there is really no such thing as divorce and remarriage; if the first marriage was truly a marriage the second “marriage” is not a marriage.”

Here I think we may disagree. I do think adultery constitutes a breaking of a covenant and that provides the condition for a legitimate divorce. And I see no prohibition for the remarraige of the innocent party in such a case.

In the OT the adulterous spouse would be stoned and the innocent party would be free to remarry on the grounds that the spouse not only broke the marriage covenant but the spouse is dead.

I don’t see anywhere in the NT that changes that basic structure. The only difference is that God now has mercy on the guilty party and he/she is permitted to live and, hopefully, repent and live the rest of his/her life faithfully. But the fact of God’s mercy in the NT ought not to penalize the innocent party who in the OT would be free to remarry.

That is, by the way, what I believe Paul means in 1 Cor 7 when he suggests that the abandoned spouse is “free”.

“And what established procedure do you in ACNA have for deciding if the first marriage was really a marriage or not?”

I don’t know that there is one. Those seeking to be remarried need the permission of the bishop.

” As for your argument that a second divorce would be a further evil,  it doesn’t float, because if the people were already actually married to someone else, they are not married now and so their separation would not be a divorce.”

It does depend on the circumstances…was the first divorce for just cause. If so, as I suggested above, the second marriage is allowable.

The circumstance I was envisioning in my mind as I wrote the article was the very difficult situations one sometimes finds these day. Say a couple arrives at the church who has been “married” for 20 years, has 4 kids, but one of them was previously married for a year or so in his/her early 20s before conversion. The divorce was not for a legitimate biblical reason but the couple was not Christian at the time. What do you do in such a case? I think Rome would say: seek an annulment. I think there’s merit to that. But I don’t think we have an annulment process. I don’t think you should break up the family. I do think that would pile up the sin and hurt. This is a case where you would appeal to the bishop for help.

Here’s how we handle divorce remarriage at Good Shepher: 1. Those Christians who divorce without cause while at Good Shepherd are put through the disciplinary process and if unrepentant and unwilling to reconcile, the abandoning spouse is put out of the church.

2. If a divorce without cause took place before conversion and there is no hope of reconciliation - say the other spouse has been remarried or is living with another person (which at that point would constitute legitimate grounds) we’ll allow remarriage.

3. If a divorce without cause takes place after conversion we do not allow remarriage.

“A Church needs a way to deal with these things.”

I agree and do sometimes envy the annulment system…although, as I’m sure you know, it can be abused. 

“I think perhaps this is a codification of the kinds of discernments you make individually with people about their previous marriages.  But this is a doctrinally fuzzy way to do it, and not ideal.”

I agree. 

The larger point I was making, which I think you understood, is that there is grounds for pastoral “flexibility” when dealing with a heterosexual couple that do not exist with homosexual couples.

[9] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 5-11-2013 at 07:47 AM · [top]

There can be no ‘pastoral accomodations’ for unrepented sin!  That would constitute sin on the part of clergy!  Period, end of sntence, end of paragraph, end of story!

[10] Posted by Fr. Chip, SF on 5-11-2013 at 07:51 PM · [top]

The Roman indissolubility view which is an extension of its understanding of marriage as a sacrament is problematic at so many levels.

See and Remarriage .pdf



[11] Posted by Bill+ on 5-11-2013 at 09:46 PM · [top]

Link does not work for me.

[12] Posted by Fr. Dale on 5-12-2013 at 07:31 AM · [top]

< and Remarriage .pdf>

[13] Posted by Bill+ on 5-12-2013 at 02:11 PM · [top]

Fr Matt, what an excellent analysis.  Kudos for reading the whole document carefully.  The camel’s nose analogy is often over-used, but in this case is right on point.

We must be carefully discerning with the CofE Bishops.  Hopefully they will learn the lesson and pull back from the brink.

[14] Posted by MichaelA on 5-12-2013 at 07:43 PM · [top]

Matt, you are correct.  I suspect that this is a calculated political “trial balloon”—an effort to begin to further the acceptance of same sex relationships in the Church, albeit in a subtle, quiet fashion (which will become less subtle and quiet if allowed to continue).  It should be vigorously resisted.

[15] Posted by Father Bob Hackendorf on 5-12-2013 at 09:31 PM · [top]

Disappointed that you can’t see the list of signatories until you sign it yourself.  Also very surprised to see Fr. David Roseberry commending it.  Fr. David, further explanation?

[16] Posted by Cindy T. in TX on 5-14-2013 at 10:46 PM · [top]

The same reasoning was used to get the church to ordain women. There are NO woman elders in the Old and New Testaments. Simply put we do not have to obey Almighty God or the Scriptures to do what we want to do.

[17] Posted by Josip on 12-4-2013 at 02:40 PM · [top]

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