The report of the Ma Whea? Commission into the question of same-gender blessings and ordinations lists 10 options to inform the General Synod debate at Waitangi next month.
Option A: Affirming Traditional Understanding
“Traditional understanding”, says the Ma Whea report, involves a man and a woman being “the fundamental and orthodox participants in any sexual relationship.”
“In other words, any arrangements involving sexual matters without men and women, are considered unorthodox and not permissible in terms of Bible tradition or church practice.”
If this option were to be adopted no canonical changes would be needed, nor a redefinition of chastity.
This option would, however, require a General Synod motion, or legislation, to remove doubt about what the traditional interpretation is.
Choosing this option would have the effect of disenfranchising gay and lesbian Anglicans, the report says, and offer “no protection” from marginalisation “for those of either a gay orientation or for those believing that gay people ought to be catered for.”
Option B: Preserving Present Circumstances
We have learned, say the commissioners, “that some Bishops and legal advisors believe that the status quo leaves room for same gender blessings...
“If things were to be left as they are, the debates would continue and there would arise cases being brought for hearing and determination before Judicial Committees or other Tribunals.
“There is also the possibility that cases would be brought before the regular courts.”
If this option were adopted, there is a recognition that “debate and occasional recourse to litigation” has always been part of the Anglican Church in operation.
On the negative side, “uncertainty about whether people can be blessed is problematic.”
“Many are dismayed by the lack of clarity in the present processes,” the commissioners say, and many are frustrated by statements which “pay lip service” to the inclusion of gay people in the Anglican community.
Option C: Bishops to Determine What Equals Right Relationships
The debates about the meaning of chastity “could be overcome” if individual bishops were responsible for determining what constitutes a right relationship.
In other words, General Synod would confer authority to a bishop or bishops to make these decisions.
Taking this approach, the commissioner say, would give clarity.
“The bishop(s) would also have the protection of the church in making decisions that had been promulgated by the General Synod/Te Hīnota Whānui.
Church communities would, however, have to face the possibility that bishops might sanction the availability of blessings for those in same sex relationships.
Option D: Delegate to Diocesan Synods/Te Runanganui Power to Determine Right Relationships
Another approach would be to give this power to determine right relationships to the various Diocesan Synods/Te Runanganui.
“For example, in Vancouver, Canada, the New Westminster Diocese authorised a rite for the blessing of same sex unions.”
There would be inconsistencies if different Synods made different decisions. However bishops could deal with individual cases, one by one, in the knowledge that the Synod had given the necessary sanction.
Option E: Adopt a New Understanding
This new understanding would be anchored by the idea that “God’s love extends to people of all kinds whether they are heterosexual or engaged in a same sex relationship.
“This understanding would not present any bar to those seeking blessing who were engaged in a same sex relationship. A rightly ordered relationship could include those in a same sex relationship.
The church community would provide “access to all of its rituals” for all of its members, as a matter of justice and equity and human dignity.
Option F: The Anglican Church Having Two Views
The Ma Whea? commissioners heard from “sincere and dedicated Anglicans whose views fall on either side of the line in this issue.
“As a matter of history,” they write “the Anglican Church has long embraced people with different views.
“If both views were to receive approval the church could continue with some Bishops in favour of providing blessing to those in same sex relationships and others not.
“This option could perhaps lead to the development of a new structure, such as an additional Tikanga, to ensure that the two views could be accommodated within recognised structures.”
Option G: Dual Episcopacy
Having floated the possibilities of bishops or diocesan synods “exerting powers,” the study then suggests dual episcopacy – two bishops with different persuasions ministering to those holding either of the two classic views.
“A person in a same sex relationship seeking blessing would make that known to their individual priest.
“There would be a programme put in place for a bishop inclined as well as licensed to come and provide the blessing in the event that the local bishop felt unable to act.”
Alternatively, says the report, each Diocese could have two bishops of different persuasion on this issue.
Option H: Planned Dismembering
General Synod/Te Hīnota Whānui would agree that the different views are irreconcilable and would acknowledge that parting was inevitable.
“This option would mean the end of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia as it is presently known” and providing legal recognition for the different groups.
Option I: Anglican Church to Add a New Rite of Blessing by Priests of Those in a Same Sex Relationship.
Recognising “a group of individuals for whom there is no provision in the Constitution, Formularies and Canons” could be done without changing existing the Canons or definitions.
“There could simply be added a new rite with a name to be settled of blessing people in a same sex relationship.
This option would “introduce a new rite to sit alongside the others to permit the blessing of those in stable, committed and faithful same sex relationships.”
“An exception could be considered to permit clergy to elect not to perform blessings of persons in same sex relationships.”
Option J: Adopt a Two Year Period of Focussed Discussion within Church Communities With a View to Making a Decision in (say) 2016
This option recognises the work of the Pilling Commission, which reported to the Church of England last November, and accepts that some Anglicans here may like to keep in step with C of E developments.
The Pilling Report called for “facilitated discussions over a two year period” to winnow out the issues with even more clarity.
The downside of taking that approach here would be the need to spend even more time on this issue.
NB: The unedited options can be read in the Ma Whea? Commission report. The list of options begins on P38.