Tuesday, February 03, 2015

TEC's Study of Marriage Report: Q&As

The General Convention Office has just released the report of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage. It is available for download here. The result of great work by a tremendous team -- in wide consultation with constituents and experts within and beyond the Episcopal Church -- this work is now commended to the Legislative Committee on Marriage and the 78th General Convention ... to be held in Salt Lake City June 25-July 3.
Here is my overview of the report ... in Q&A form.
Why did the Episcopal Church need a task force to study marriage?
The Task Force for the Study of Marriage was called for by the 77th General Convention at the request of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM). It was the experience of the SCLM’s Blessings Task Force that while it worked to respond to the church’s call to develop liturgical resources for blessing same-gender relationships (2009-2012) it faced repeated questions about marriage. Because the questions were much larger than the blessing of same-relationships, they were beyond the scope of the work of the Blessings Task Force.

What kind of questions were they being asked?

Questions like: What makes a marriage Christian? What is the relationship between the Church’s blessing of a relationship, whether different-gender or same-gender, and a union, “marriage” or otherwise, created by civil law? Is the blessing of a same-gender relationship equivalent to the marriage of a different-gender couple, and if so, should this liturgy be called “marriage?”

What exactly did the Task Force on Marriage study?
The enabling resolution (A050) called for the task force to identify and explore biblical, theological, historical, liturgical, and canonical dimensions of marriage. To do that work, the task force divided various tasks into three working group asking the same overall question: “What might the Episcopal Church have to say to today's world as to what makes a marriage Christian and holy?"

• Marriage: Biblical and Theological Dimensions
• Marriage: Historical, Liturgical, and Canonical Roots
• Marriage: Conversations and Consultations; Changing Norms

What does the report contain?
The Blue Book report to the 78th General Convention consists of seven essays, a study guide and two resolutions.

What do the essays cover?
• A Biblical and Theological Framework for Thinking about Marriage
• Christian Marriage as Vocation
• A History of Christian Marriage
• Marriage as a Rite of Passage
• The Marriage Canon: History and Critique
• Agents of the State: A Question for Discernment
• Changing Trends and Norms in Marriages

What does the study guide provide?
Entitled “Dearly Beloved: A tool-kit for the study of marriage,” the study guide offers a variety of formats and resources for deeper conversations about marriage at the congregational and diocesan level. It was used by the A050 Task Force in developing its report and we hope it will continue to be used throughout the church as an educational resource.

What do the resolutions call for?
One calls for changes to Canon I.18 (Of the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony) and the other to continue the work of the task force for another three years.
[1] The suggested canonical changes would make the Canon I:18 [a] ordered more practically in terms of pastoral practice; [b] focused on the actual vows made in The Book of Common Prayer marriage rite; [c] reflective of the theology expressed in the task force’s study and essays; and [d] inclusive of both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
[2] Continuing the work of the task force would provide an opportunity for the church to study -- and possibly respond to -- the changing realities of marriage in our culture and in our congregations beyond the scope of what the wide-ranging A050 study allowed for.

Does making the marriage canons inclusive of same-sex couples “redefine marriage?”

Only if our definition of marriage starts and ends with the gender of the couple promising to love and to cherish each other until death do they part. As the “Christian Marriage as a Vocation” essay argues, the vocation of Christian marriage is catalyzed by a love that unites two consenting adults in a holy bond -- a sacred vessel in and through which they may grow throughout the course of their lives; a bond that transcends the binary sexual difference of male and female.

But what about the gender-specific language about marriage in the Prayer Book? How would that be reconciled with these canonical changes?

It would not be the first time the canons have been amended to interpret language in the Prayer Book that has become outdated. One leading example is the 1976 decision on the ordination of women. The prayer book still uses only male pronouns in the ordination service, but the Canons interpreted that language as descriptive rather than prescriptive – ending discrimination against the ordination of women by stating “words of male gender shall also imply the female gender.” [Canon 2. Sec 1.] A similar solution can be considered by the 78th General Convention to reconcile the current description of marriage in the Prayer Book with the canonical changes recommended by the Task Force on the Study of Marriage.
Aren’t we abandoning thousands of years of history and tradition?
No. We are taking our place in the arc of thousands of years of history and tradition. As the “History of Christian Marriage” essay illustrates, marriage is an institution that has evolved in manifold ways over the centuries – and continues to evolve in our own day. And as the history of the Episcopal Church demonstrates, it is our tradition to challenge the practices of our past in order to live into the promises of God’s future. Ending discrimination against women in ordained ministry in 1976 is one example of claiming that tradition. Ending discrimination against same sex couples in marriage in 2015 will be another.

What does the report tell us about what the Bible says about marriage?

It demonstrates how different biblical views and practices of marriage have variously formed and influenced different parts of the faith community through history, even into our own day. It illustrates just how complex, evolving, and contradictory our Scriptures are on the subject and therefore how tricky it is to speak of “the biblical view of marriage.” And it offers several powerful biblical models as analogies for the relationship of marriage: God’s unconditional faithfulness and forgiveness; the paradox of union and difference in Christ; and Christ’s self-offering in love that is at the heart of the Paschal Mystery.

Will making these changes create greater challenges for our relationships within the Anglican Communion?

There are those in our wider Anglican family who will be unhappy with any changes we make to be more inclusive and there will be those in our wider Anglican family who are watching us for leadership to help them move forward. While there continue to be tensions and challenges around a variety of issues – including gender equality and human sexuality -- the climate in the Anglican Communion has improved dramatically in recent years. One indication of that shift is the refusal of Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, to allow himself to be leveraged into polarizing differences into divisions.

Was changing the canons to include marriage between same-sex couples a foregone conclusion when the Task Force began its work?

No. It was a foregone conclusion that the 78th General Convention would be called to consider resolutions calling for canonical changes, but not that those resolutions would come from the Task Force. For example, Resolution 2012-D091 – which would simply have made the marriage canons gender neutral -- was referred by the 77th General Convention to the Task Force for the Study of Marriage to consider. However, the recommended canonical changes -- as detailed in the “Marriage Canon: History and Critique” essay – emerged from a holistic canonical study including -- but not limited to -- the question of same-sex marriage. And the unanimous decision to include the call for these canonical changes came late in the process, after much study, prayer, reflection and consultation.

Why do we need to do this now? Couldn’t we study it a little longer?

The Episcopal Church has arguably been “studying” the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments for decades. Currently 75% of Episcopalians live in jurisdictions where civil marriage equality is a reality. In some dioceses clergy are blessing civil marriages between same-sex couples and in others the 2012-A049 blessing resources have been adapted for clergy to bless them on behalf of the Episcopal Church and to solemnize them as agents of their state. It is time for the Episcopal Church to act consistently with its words and witness in support of marriage equality. Just as we continue to call the state to equally protect all marriages in the civic arena, it is time to call the church to recognize the equal claim of same-sex couples on the sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

So what does the Episcopal Church have to say to today's world as to “what makes a marriage Christian and holy”?
The Episcopal Church has the opportunity to lift up “fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God” as the values that make a marriage holy. It has the chance to talk about marriage as vocation of holy love, grounded in biblical values of faithfulness and forgiveness. And it has the opportunity to say we are a community of faith focused on supporting all who are called into the vocation of marriage – not discriminating against some who are called into the vocation of marriage.
UPDATE: Two more great questions and answers from colleague Tobias Haller ...

What is the significance of changing the name from "Holy Matrimony" to "Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage"?

The former title of the canon dates from the earlier editions of the BCP which titled the rite itself "The Solemnization of Holy Matrimony." The 1976-79 revision of the BCP changed the title of the rite to "The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage" and the change to the title of the canon reflects this change. In the present canon the terms "marriage" and "matrimony" are used inconsistently and interchangeably, and we thought it best to stick with the term that is most easily recognizable. The amended canon also for the first time takes note of the "Blessing" as applicable to civil marriages as well.

There is no proposal to change the BCP, but there is a provision that says that any of the church's authorized forms can be used for any marriage. Does this mean that "I Will Bless You ..." will remain available as an option? Will a same-sex couple be able to use a BCP form? Since the BCP is not being amended, are we simply to make sensible editorial changes to the BCP for a particular marriage as we see fit? (Editing "this man and this woman" and so forth.)

The Task Force confined itself to the amendment of the canon, leaving to the SCLM (and the General Convention acting in response) any specific liturgical proposals. The new language in the canon is simply meant to clarify that marriages can be solemnized using any form authorized by the church. At present a same-sex couple could not use the BCP marriage liturgy without editorial changes (which are not authorized) and so same-sex couples await either the creation of a new rite or the reauthorization of "I Will Bless You" or a variation of it. The provision for individual bishops to authorize rites for use in their own diocese (in accordance with the Constitution Article X) remains in place. In short, the A050 Task Force proposal for the canon does not change the status quo. That will be up to the General Convention acting on any proposal to create or amend a rite.

1 comment:

JCF said...

This is great, Susan, thanks!