What better place to start the catch up than with a document on marriage. What better document on marriage than one produced by the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation (IALC). We Anglicans are the Christians who express our theology through our prayers, who set down right believing through rite practice. Is that a tremor of excitement I see as you learn that ACC Auckland is receiving an IALC document on marriage? It is called "Rites Relating to Marriage: A Statement and Resources from The International Anglican Liturgical Consultation" and it is accessible here, all 31 pages.
The beginning is always the tone setter for such documents, the substance is in the sentence which opens the argument. Here it is, from p. 5, under the heading "Theology of Marriage":
"1.1. The origins of marriage lie in instinctive patterns of human behaviour. Amongst those patterns is the tendency to partnership and pair bonding of women and men. Such pair bonding appears to be for a variety of reasons, including procreation, mutual support, creation of community, affective love between partners, and the cohesion of society. From this also issues the potential of stable family life supported by the two partners; such functional family life is itself the foundation of a healthy society. And there is reciprocity here: a healthy society will also nurture stable patterns of marriage and family life."Nooooooooo! I will not go on, but point you to an excellent critical analysis of the whole document at Liturgy. The point of theology is to start with God not with instincts - start with instincts in a theology of work and everyone will be staying in bed in the mornings! Theology first then anthropology. Disappointment at the starting point for this (potentially) important document does not begin to express my response.
If you would like to restore your Anglican theological balance on marriage, an alternative could be to read a sermon on marriage by another colleague of mine, Fr Hugh Bowron. Here is an excerpt from a sermon on the recent gospel text Mark 10:2-16 which nails down that marriage is the creation of God not the invention of our instincts:
"What Jesus does, as so often, is to avoid the trap by going back to first principles, and reorienting the whole issue so as to look at it from a God’s eye point of view. Looking back to the Genesis text we started with this morning he asks, what did God intend in creation, why did he divide humankind in to two different genders, why did he create marriage between a man and a woman, what is human sexuality for in the Divine reckoning of things?
This, in my opinion, is where we should start from in our consideration of all the controversial issues before us as they relate to human sexuality and Divinely sanctioned partnerships. The questions that matter are: what does God expect of us in this situation, what does God call us to be, what standards does God set for us in our sexual habits, and what does God intend for us for us in our intimacy lives?
If that sounds like an obvious place to start then I am afraid to report that it is a perspective that is rarely ever heard. The New Zealand Anglican Church has bent over backwards to accommodate itself to its surrounding secular society. It has wanted to see itself in alliance with, and on the cusp of, progressive change in each of its unfolding stages. In wanting to distance itself from its anglophile origins, it has tried to make itself deeply at home in what it sees as a distinctively New Zealand culture.
But the problem is that the more our Church has identified itself with its surrounding secular culture the more it has lost its cutting edge as a unique and distinct entity that is shaped by a Divine agenda. We are in the salvation business - that is what we do that nobody else can. But now we are suffering from a kind of mission drift in which we risk being seen as a faint echo of the last bright idea of progressive elites.
As an example of what I am talking about I think back to a recent article in our national magazine Taonga, in which retired Bishop John Bluck argued that secular New Zealand society had easily and painlessly adapted to civil unions and same sex partnerships, and it was time for our Church to get with the programme. There was no hint of an argument from Scripture, or of a solidly argued theological case for doing this. The line of argument was - where secular New Zealand society goes we go.
Even if you take this line of argument on its own terms, it ignores the reality that our secular New Zealand culture is changing in rapid and unpredictable ways that are not necessarily helpful to the way God intends human flourishing. The Labour Party is congratulating itself right now for being first off the blocks on same sex marriage, but it has also got a private members bill waiting in the wings promoting euthanasia, and of course one of its MPs was the promoter of the legalisation of prostitution. As a result some young women now think that this is a socially acceptable way to earn some extra money.
I agree with the American Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson that divorce proceedings are now under way between the Church and its surrounding western culture. Western culture is less and less influenced by Christian values, and is in fact pursuing some re-paganising agendas, while under the illusion that it is doing this for the best of progressive reasons. The problem for the Church is not only that it now swims in a culture that has little understanding or sympathy for its message, but also that often its membership has their world view and essential values shaped by this de-Christianised culture.
Which is why I don’t think our surrounding culture should set the norms or the agendas for our mating habits, or our intimacy lives. What pagans, secularists, and unbelievers get up to in that respect is their business. Things are different in the Church. Christianity is a counter cultural affair. God sets a higher standard for us. The Holy Spirit calls us to be holy, set apart, different, sanctified, trying to be in our own small way a little bit like God."