Some Challenging Thoughts by Rev Michael Lawrence...

Former NZCMS National Director Rev Michael Lawrence writes:

A Long Look Back...

Two important issues regarding family life in Aotearoa New Zealand arise out of Motion 30, and the “A Way Forward”, “He Anga Whakamua”, “Na Sala ki Liu” Working Group Report.  Firstly, the re-definition of marriage and secondly, and consequentially, the birth or the adoption of children into a same-sex marriage.

"The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward” is a statement attributed to Winston Churchill and it is an appropriate guideline as the Anglican Church steps into the future.  A long look back, meaning a long look in time, is essential and that long look must be determined by the Wesleyan Model for determining theological truth.  Scripture, tradition, reason and experience.  

With regard to the re-definition of marriage, The Rev. Dave Clancey’s article ‘A Way Forward’ Review in the Autumn 2016 issue of Latimer Focus highlighted a contradiction in the “A Way Forward” Report which was released on the 22nd February 2016.   
With reference to “A Way Forward” Report, Dave Clancey writes as follows: “The change is that the Church here hands to the State the ability to determine what relationships are deemed to be marriages and therefore what ‘marriages’ the Church may bless”.  This is a change to Title G Canon 111.  According to Dave this does not fit with “the clear declaration in Motion 30 that the Anglican Church upholds a traditional doctrine of marriage” and, as he points out, the traditional doctrine of marriage precludes same-sex marriage altogether.  He notes that “A Way Forward” Report proposes a liturgy which “explicitly” identifies the relationship between two people of the same gender as marriage.  This according to the Report will save the priests and bishops having to check that any marriage is not a “forbidden” one.

Same-sex civil unions were legalised by the State in New Zealand in 2005 and in 2013 the 1955 Marriage Act was amended and same-sex marriages were legalised.  Is the State’s redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples the end of the matter?  Is it possible that in the foreseeable future the Marriage Act will be extended to allow for polygamous marriages, for example, or arrangements such as triads or group marriage?  Can the Anglican Church rely on the State to restrict the definition of marriage to heterosexual and same-sex couples?   
There is little support on the surface from the Muslim community in Britain for polygamous marriages where it is a criminal offence which carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.  However, in the United States, although it is only a year since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in favour of redefining marriage to include same-sex couples (Obergefell v Hodges), there is already pressure from activists to include polygamous and polyamorous marriages.  Polyamorous arrangements include a significant number of U.S. citizens and one can be certain that there are a growing number in Aotearoa New Zealand.   

Where will it end?  A “long look” with scripture, tradition, reason and experience in mind and the opportunity to look forward beyond our present circumstances should sound an ominous warning.  Humanist sociologists have already thought of many other models of cohabiting which don’t yet fall under the definition of marriage.  Co-operatives, collectives, extended intimates, swinging and group marriage and part-time marriage.  I am sure that the Anglican Church in New Zealand will recoil at the suggestion of these alternatives but one can be sure that well-meaning, thoughtful, law-abiding and loving citizens, if they haven’t already, may in the future find such arrangements suit their lifestyle.   
If God’s plan given to us in the Scriptures and affirmed in Motion 30  at General Synod in 2014 is amended by the adoption of the ‘A Way Forward’ Report and the acceptance of same-sex marriages why should other definitions be excluded?  Why should love, devotion and family be limited to just two individuals?   
A second and consequential issue which ought to be of concern to anyone reading ‘A Way Forward’ Report is the birth or the adoption of children into a same-sex marriage.   
The traditional family unit ordained by God is under threat from 21st century life in Aotearoa New Zealand and it will be redefined if the definition of marriage is extended.  At present many children face the challenge of being raised in a solo-parent home.  Sometimes this is a matter of parental choice, sometimes the result of broken relationships.  In most cases a child will have an identifiable mother and father whether they are estranged or not.

If the Anglican Church embraces same-sex marriages approval must therefore be given to the birth or adoption of children into the marriage.  In the case of two males in a marriage it is obvious that a child must be born to a mother outside of that relationship probably through one partner being the sperm donor.  Will the next child have a different mother and the other partner be the sperm donor?  In the case of two females in a marriage there will have to be a sperm donor.  Either one or both women could bear a child and not necessarily from the same sperm donor.   
Who and where is my mother or my father will be a legitimate question.  What rights will a child have with regard to a relationship with a birth mother or a biological father?  One has to ask whether or not the circumstances around the arrival of children into a same-sex marriage is acceptable to the Anglican Church?  Watching
David Lomas’ programme Lost and Found highlights the importance of traditional family life to many people.  Whanau and whakapapa will have to be redefined.
Research has been carried out in the U.S. which suggests that children raised by same-sex parents do suffer harm and are disadvantaged when compared with children raised by a married mother and father.   Those considering the implications of Motion 30 and “A Way Forward” Working group Report would be well advised to turn to the internet and read articles which come from both sides of this debate if they are to make an informed decision with regard to the blessing of same-sex relationships by the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand.  

Do the Scriptures need to be updated in the light of a change in attitude towards homosexual people and the State’s legalisation of same-sex marriage?  It goes without saying that they need our love and sympathy.  Did God leave the possibility of change open to 21st century Christians?   
The matter demands a “long look” and it is important to ask whether or not the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand should follow the State and take a step in altering the God-ordained model of marriage and family life as defined in Scripture with the possibility of walking even further away from it.