Lots and lots of ink has been spilled over the past few days over the Archbishop of Sydney’s call for those who want to change the Anglican Church of Australia’s doctrine of marriage to “please just leave”. I’m going to spill a bit more and I want it to leave a stain.
Despite what you may have read or heard, Archbishop Davies plea was not to regular church members but to senior leaders who are working hard to undermine the doctrine and discipline of the church that we love so much.
When a bishop is consecrated they make some pretty enormous promises.
“I firmly and sincerely believe the Catholic faith and I give my assent to the doctrine of the Anglican Church of Australia as expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons; I believe that doctrine to be agreeable to the Word of God … I do solemnly and sincerely declare my assent to be bound by the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia.”
The crisis we are faced with is caused by bishops who said those words with a straight face and yet have consistently reneged upon them.
The catalyst for this has been the difficult question of marriage. Anglicans have struggled to know how to respond as Australia joins the growing (but still minority) number of other countries that have legalised same-sex marriage. For our bishops this shouldn’t be difficult, at least not if they keep the promises they made.
While the 39 Articles don’t deal directly with the question (the topic of whether marriage could be for homosexuals wasn’t a raging debate in the 16th and 17th Centuries), the Book of Common Prayer does. The introduction to the marriage service is quite clear that it involves one man and one woman. In making this claim they are simply following the lead of Jesus himself. In Matthew 19 (mirrored in Mark 10) we read about Jesus being challenged by some pedantic legalists over a question of divorce. He answers them by reminding us all what marriage really is:
Matt. 19:4-6 “Haven’t you read,” Jesus replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
He’s quoting from Genesis 2, right at the start of the Bible. Jesus affirms what the people of God had long believed; that marriage is something that God himself set up as one expression of our creation as men and women. It’s not just a social construct but embedded into the way God has made the whole world. And Jesus is a little bit snarky (not for the first time) in the way that he makes his point. “Haven’t you read…?” he asks, knowing full well that they would have been very familiar with that text. They knew it, they just didn’t like it.
Which is the problem with some of our bishops today. They have promised to uphold these things. They’ve seen countless General Synods (our national parliament) of the Anglican Church of Australia uphold these things. They even promised at a meeting in 2018 not to act hastily in seeking to change these things. But none of those vows that they made seem to count for anything now. None of this, of course, means that we shouldn’t handle the topics of marriage and sexuality with anything other than great care and love. It just means that if you’re an Anglican (let alone a Christian) then there is a very good divine framework affirmed by Jesus himself that should govern our response.
A bit earlier in Matthew’s gospel we have the famous Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has some helpful words there. Commenting on the tendency of religious types to find any excuse to break their solemn promises, he says,
Matt. 5:37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
Older translations render this as the familiar “let your yes be yes”. It’s a call to integrity on all those who make any sort of vow or undertaking. How much more important is it that those who claim to represent Jesus live up to that standard? Instead we have bishops who are more than happy to pocket a decent salary every month but won’t keep their word. In any other area of life this would be called out for what it really is. Can you imagine the marketing manager for Coca Cola constantly shilling for Pepsi? They’d be fired in an instant. They’d have to be if they didn’t have the integrity to resign first.
I’ll leave the last words to the famous C.S. Lewis. Speaking to his own generation, who faced a similar issue of clergy actively working against their ordination vows, he summed it up perfectly:
It is your duty to fix the lines (of doctrine) clearly in your minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specially as Christians or as priests but as honest men.Christian Apologetics, Easter 1945
This Post Has 18 Comments
Integrity is a concept unlikely to be understood by apostates who deliberately deny their consecration vows. The liberal “progressive” bishops seeking to lead their flocks away from the teachings of Jesus try to justify their evil intentions by talking of love. Despite their sophistry, the issues are clearly stated by the Lord himself repeatedly in the gospels, e.g. Matthew 13: 40-42.
He who has ears, let him hear.
It does show how much the revisionist bishops love the institutional church, denying their integrity, the Lord and those seeking to follow the Lord. Now that’s truely deep devotion! I can see why this debate is so intractable but absolutely crucial.
The coca cola/pepsi analogy had me look up “shilling” but to no contextual avail David … The point is well made nevertheless.
If our religious guide says marriage is the union of a man & a woman, which is clearly the Founder’s message, and a temporal law says it is something else, then should our contemporary Leaders not listen to another of His messages – render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s & to God that which is God’s. In this context disassociate yourselves from administering the temporal law?
hi Linda. This should help.
Thanks, it does.
Archbishop Davies could speak up for those who, though not wanting a church wedding, still wish to be married in a civil ceremony which gives due respect to their belief that their union is that of a husband and wife. Go to the Marriage Act. Consult the regulations with respect to civil ceremonies. On my reading an unambiguous public-legal respect for husband-wife marriage is not to be found there or in the Marriage Act itself. This then is a matter of public justice and Christians and those who lead Christian churches should not be silent on this injustice. Moreover, it would indeed give expression to our Christian political calling to love of neighbour by doing all in our power to promote authentic, genuine public justice also for those who believe marriage is husband-wife whether they are Christian or not. Besides, the silence of churchmen and women on THIS matter too strongly suggests a desire to maintain a churchly niche (mammon?) in the wedding market.
Christians love their civic neighbours, whoever they may be, by promoting public justice for all. Church leaders who make a great point of insisting upon doctrinal purity within the church have not been in the forefront of public advocacy for due respect in the Marriage Law for all who believe that marriage is a husband-wife relationship. Those who dissent from the notion that marriage is merely a social contract between two persons, are in an invidious situation if they seek to be wed in a civil ceremony. This means they are faced with the Parliamentary and legislative demands of an ambiguous ceremony, having to submit themselves to a legally imposed lecture that as far the public-legal order is concerned they will be considered, not in terms of their beliefs about marriage, but in terms of the social contract and libertarian belief that they are but two persons. Why are churches and church leaders so silent about this injustice to those seeking to become husband-wife marriage in a civil ceremony? The silence suggests a willingness to safeguard a niche in the wedding market. “We have not done those things that we ought to have done …”
Bruce, indeed they (Church Leaders) have not done those things that they ought to have done. They ought to have told their ministers to stop celebrating civil marriages in December 2017. You & Minister Ould both seem to miss that point.
Thanks Linda. I don’t miss your point at all. The focus of my comment is not upon the compromised position of Christian churches with respect to the conduct of weddings. I’m concerned to raise the Christian responsibility to seek public justice for all our neighbours. I’m making this point as a Christian member of this polity. The Marriage Act is flawed. There is more to the Marriage Act than regulation of weddings. What I am saying is that we have a God-given responsibility as Christian citizens for our civic neighbours in our Commonwealth’s polity. And so, I have been speaking out about the failures of the December 2017 Marriage Act and noting that it’s contractarian mentality excludes husband-wife marriage. This is not just a problem for those seeking to be wed as husband and wife in a civil ceremony. Those who believe marriage to be a husband-wife covenant are excluded from the role of civil celebrant too. And what about the legislative and public regulations that flow on from here on now that husband-wife marriage has been air-brushed from the law?
The Marriage Act has always been flawed, as before 2017 it still allowed marriage between uncle and niece and between aunt and nephew, clearly against God’s word
Bruce, I agree there must be a good many married men & women greatly disappointed, if not insulted, to think that were they to be married today the Commonwealth would consider them just “2 people”. Your sticking up for them is admirable. But I don’t agree that there is more to the Marriage Act than the regulation of weddings. That is its function. It doesn’t exclude man-woman marriage, today it just includes that pairing under a generic 2 people. Husband-wife marriage has a different meaning for Christians is your point I think. Such is celebrated in the Anglican service of Holy Matrimony. The Commonwealth’s dry legality & the Church’s inspired celebration happily co-existed from 1961 – 2017. Is it only lay persons who can see the compromise of Christ’s own teaching since then?
I respect your prophetic concern to preserve the Christian integrity of (church) weddings in the Anglican context. The Biblical doctrine that directs the administration of, and is announced within, such a Christian wedding ceremony is no magic cancelling the pagan definition of marriage now contained in the Marriage Act. The problem is indeed manifest in the proscribed “monitum” for the civil ceremony but the Marriage Act itself governs much more than weddings. On this I cannot agree with you at all. The definition of marriage in the Marriage Act must regulate further legislation and the subsequent regulations of many, many aspects of public and civil law. What public benefit (“seeking the common good”) will it be for an Anglican liturgy to retain the mere words of Biblical teaching if belief that marriage is exclusively a husband-wife union is privatised, and the public affirmation of the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles subject to repeated allegations of “hate speech” with no grounds for redress? That indeed seems to have been the motive of those who have us given the wording of the Marriage Act as it now stands and who resolutely rejected the Brandis amendment to allow for conscientious objection.
Sorry that should read “prescribed” not “proscribed” …
Bruce, I admire your persistence. I don’t think changing the legal definition of marriage & consequently, as one example, increasing the number of married couples, will much impact upon other legislation/regulation(s). Divorce lawyers have more work since 2017 but I don’t detect impacts in other legislative areas.
I do agree there is no public benefit (excepting not being seen as rank hypocrites, which is important) in Christian clergy offering stand-alone sacramental ceremonies by leaving the civil responsibility to civil celebrants. It is to the private, conscientious health of the intending couple & the priest that my urging of Church “Leaders” to follow Christ’s definition, not the Commonwealth’s, is directed.
Linda: Thanks once more. We might have to wait for “much impact” upon legislation/regulations but the privatisation of religious belief is already evident in what we hear about freedom of speech/religion legislation tabled recently by the A-G. Did he not specify a limit of such freedom in companies deemed “too big to fail”? I would say that even to indulge the (as yet inconclusive) debate about this legislation is an “impact” of this change. And even though they haven’t talked about it, the politicians and their compliant jurists, know full well that there are serious consequences of the engineered change that Parliament endorsed in December 2017. And now we seem to hear the view, seriously put forward to defend the proposed legislation, that one can work and one’s (considered private) belief can be made public in the work-place and beyond it only if you are working in a company that is too big to fail. Is it so politically sensitive that no-one cares to point out that this is an accommodation to a statism that used to be associated with the word “fascist”? Do we, including Christian church leaders, need to be reminded of the famous Martin Niemoller confession of 1946? Are weekly sermons in church or in sect to accommodate mammon and preach away by ignoring the proposed change of basic working conditions for the Christian worker?
“DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable eſtate, inſtituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the myſtical union that is betwixt Chriſt and his Church: which holy eſtate Chriſt adorned and beautified with his presence, and firſt miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprized, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal luſts and appetites, like brute beaſts that have no underſtanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained. First, it was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name. Secondly, it was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Chriſt’s body. Thirdly, it was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy eſtate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.”
This is clearly black and white what the Anglican Church’s doctrine of marriage is
You say “How much more important is it that those who claim to represent Jesus live up to that standard?”.
But I suspect many of those who want the church to “move” (so to speak) don’t see it that way. Although written as a criticism (and hence the sarcastic tone), this quote sums up modern social justice ideology:
“Whatever a man wants but can’t have makes him a member of the downtrodden, the poor, the victims. That’s when the spirit of Jesus comes to his rescue to give him what he wants, because no matter what he wants, there is nothing worse than being oppressed.”
The “Great Good” of modern society is freedom for the oppressed. And specifically, autonomy for the oppressed to experience the good in life, however they should define it. Institutions, whatever their history, are to be co-opted as tools to achieve this great good. And if that goes for all institutions, whether business or government or school, how much more should the church – whose message has always been freedom from oppression – lead the way in this?
Thus, to throw off the bindings of old laws and traditions is not to betray the institution, but to liberate it. And if some are reactionaries who cling to the “old ways”, then this shows that they are corrupt and lovers of oppression and must be left behind.
As such, a call such as this to “Integrity” will be understood as a call to loyalty to oppression and disloyalty to the cause of freedom.
Of course, this is a nonsense. It flies in the face of tradition and natural law and Scripture itself. Jesus is made “both Lord and Christ”. The message of the gospel is not “discover who you truly are” but “save yourself from this corrupt generation”. The King is coming with his heavenly army to destroy all that stands against him – fling yourself upon his mercy, while it is still the Day of Salvation.
To see the King’s Rules as oppression harkens all the way back to the fall and the temptation of Eve. Jesus did not come to save us from a lack of autonomy – he came to save us from our autonomy, which lies at the heart of our sin. Our very desire for autonomy is the root of the oppression from which Jesus comes to save us.
Between these philosophies there lies a great gulf. What one calls the highest virtue the other must call the root of evil, and vice versa. There is little common ground. When one calls “act with integrity” the other responds (at least inwardly) “I am, you lover of oppression!”.
And in this is the mistake we keep making. The traditionalists have imbibed enough of the evil of autonomy that they say “We will be nice, and we will try to discipline”. This is foolish. Instead, discipline must be the non-negotiable, and niceness the preference. In our desire to rebuke gently, we only manage the gently.
To take a pertinent analogy, the fire has been kindled, and is now raging through the church. It must be stopped. We let it be kindled because we didn’t want to raise a panic over such a small fire. Even now, when it is a towering inferno, we refuse to stamp out sparks in areas where we have influence, and refuse to aggressively back-burn to block the blaze from spreading.
This rhetoric is perceptive in so far as it explores the hidden presumptions on “both sides” of the historical argument about marriage and public governance. But it is all too a-historical. I would point out that when you refer to “institutions”, Andrew, you leave Marriage out of your list (the institution that the Bible calls to give cogent demonstration of Christ’s love for his church) and it should not be excluded as some kind of privatised and closeted relationship removed from our public discussion (ref the last election) as the call to render public justice to all our neighbours confronts us in the governance of the polities in which we are embedded.
“Institutions, whatever their history, are to be co-opted as tools to achieve this great good. And if that goes for all institutions, whether business or government or school, how much more should the church – whose message has always been freedom from oppression – lead the way in this?”
The co-option you refer to is the outworking of the self-same human-autonomy-at-all-costs belief and it is that belief, dogmatically held on all sides, that has led to the all-too convenient “instrumentalization” that power-brokers, self-designated “movers and shakers” are quite happy to run with politically … and hence the Marriage Act’s air-brushing of husband-wife marriage out of the law anticipates ongoing blatant injustice (despite the complete failure of the Ruddock jurists) for those among the 30% who believe otherwise among whom will be those who have no desire for a churchly wedding. Christian leaders on all sides have been remarkably mute about this for their civic neighbours who may still believe, if we are to consider the numbers from the bogus survey legitimate, that marriage is exclusively a husband-wife relationship.
Besides, the churches (the “conservative” churches in particular) were very happy to be co-opted politically when the major political parties saw it in their electoral interest to court their favour back in 2004 for what was an earlier amendment to the Marriage Act.