Gay relationships will be blessed in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia – but same-sex marriage will not be conducted in the church – following a decision of their General Synod (church parliament). These gay blessings would follow a civil marriage of same sex persons.
The new rules are an attempt to keep conservatives in the church. In 2016, it became clear that the conservative diocese (region) of Nelson on the South Island would leave if blessing services were made part of the formularies (official rites of the church). The newly announced compromise means gay blessing will be allowed but not as a formulary – and some other protections have been set up for conservatives.
These protections include any Bishop being able to keep gay blessings out of their diocese (region), which effectively protects Nelson. In other parts of New Zealand conservative churches could band together in “Christian Communities” which could insist that ministers follow their policy on blessings.
“It’s a difference of opinion over how you love.” – Jay Behan
However at the General Synod, speeches by conservatives made it clear they will leave. Anglican Taonga (Taonga is Maori for ‘treasure’) reports that “Jay Behan, who is the Vicar of St Stephen’s Shirley, Christchurch, and one of the leading lights in the conservative evangelical movement, spoke against the motion, and sought to explain ‘why I can’t live with it.’”
But Behan first thanked the Motion 29 working group that surveyed the Anglican Church in New Zealand about its response to same-sex marriage, before it presented recommendations to the General Synod.
“‘There have been times,’ he said, ‘as lonely clergy person in Christchurch, when you don’t feel like you’re heard. But the working group were fantastic in every interaction which I had with them, and in every other interaction I heard about.’
“‘This issue has never been,’ he said, ‘for conservatives, about bigotry, or about exclusion, or about hatred.’
“‘It’s a difference of opinion over how you love,’ he said.”
Another conservative from Christchurch, Renee Santich forecast that people would leave “not in a flood, but in a slight, steady trickle.”
“My church accepts all of us.” – Ataahua Hepi
Anglican Taonga also reported a speech from the other side of the debate, from younger members Cruz Karauti-Fox, Manawa o te Wheke, and Ataahua Hepi (who represents Te Waipounamu). She said ‘something had pushed me out of my chair, and made me get up.’’’
“’This motion falls very much on my generation,’ she said.
“’I have many friends in the LGBT community. I myself am a part of the LGBT community.
“’So for me, I am in fear. I am in fear that this church will not push (this motion) through. I am in fear that I will go home and I will not be able to tell my friends, that I will not be able to tell my family, that my church will accept civil unions. That I will go home with nothing.
“’Because I want to go home and tell them: ‘My church accepts us. My church accepts all of us.”
Peter Carrell is Director of Theology House in Christchurch, as well as an evangelical blogger who is likely to stay in the church. He also gave a speech: “We have a starting point along the lines of: ‘Where love is, there is God.'”
“And where such love is – it may be blessed.’
“We cannot find a unifying theology of what could be called: ‘holy love.'” – Peter Carrell
“But on the other side, also in Johannine language: ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’
“[It is] that understanding of the importance of commandments for our lives as disciples which underline God’s call to us to ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’
“Crudely put, therefore, the debate was between: ‘Love versus holiness.’
“And our struggle has been, that we cannot find a unifying theology of what could be called: ‘holy love.’”
The Anglicans have a complicated structure in New Zealand and the South Pacific, with three “Tikanga” groupings and three archbishops for ‘pakeha’ (white), maori and ‘pasifika’. The polynesian pasifika group has obtained a special provision which keeps them largely out of the changes.
According to Anglican Taonga, Carrell predicted further provisions will be required for conservatives that stay in the church.