New Zealand: Doctrine commission will examine same-sex blessings

[Anglican Taonga] A doctrinal commission will be set up to look at a theological rationale for the liturgical blessing of people in permanent, faithful same-sex relationships.

This “Commission on Doctrine and Theological questions” is being convened at the instruction of General Synod Standing Committee, which met in Auckland last week.

The commission, which flows directly from the fourth and final Hermeneutic Hui in Auckland’s Holy Trinity Cathedral this month, will also look at the implications of such blessings on the ordination of people in same-sex relationships.

That reflects the feeling, expressed several times during the hui, that the ordination question will sort itself out if and when the blessing question is settled.

In other words, if the church arrives at a point where it is ready to bless the unions of same-sex couples, then ordaining people in such relationships may automatically follow.

At Standing Committee’s request, the general secretary of the province, the Rev. Michael Hughes, has now written to the three tikanga secretaries – the Rev. Sereima Lomaloma, Charles Hemana and Elizabeth Smaal (Tikanga Pasefika, Maori and Pakeha, respectively) – about setting up the new commission.

He’s requesting the secretaries to ask their respective tikanga standing committees to appoint three members to that new commission.

Several speakers at the last Hermeneutic Hui had floated the idea of a theological hui on marriage, but Standing Committee opted for the commission route instead.

The Ma Whea Commission will need to be briefed on all the doctrinal questions before constructing its report to next year’s General Synod, and Standing Committee probably felt that a tightly focused team of theologians from each tikanga would better serve this timeline.

The new doctrinal commission will also make its findings available to the wider church for response, before supplying both its report and those responses to Standing Committee and the Ma Whea Commission by the end of this year.

Archbishop David Moxon says the Standing Committee spent some time honing the resolution, which is outlined at the foot of this story. The final wording was accepted “because of its balance and care.”

Key theological positions
Immediately after the Hermeneutic Hui, members of the Ma Whea Commission met with the Church Reference Group which has been appointed to support it.

At that meeting the Ma Whea Commission asked the reference group to collate and summarize the key theological positions represented in all the papers delivered at the four hermeneutic hui, begining in August 2007.

The reference group appointed three of its members – the Rev. Sue Patterson; the Ven. Lynda Patterson, and Karen Spoelstra – to undertake that task.

Those three women will seek to answer four questions:

1. What is the theological common ground? (between the liberal and conservative positions).

2. What are the theological differences?

3. Where might there be potential for reconciliation?

4. Where will be the areas of ongoing disagreement?

The Patterson/Spoelstra group has undertaken to supply its précis to the Ma Whea Commission by June 1 this year.

• • • •

In his letter to the three tikanga secretaries, the general secretary says he has been asked by General Synod Standing Committee to convene a ‘Commission on Doctrine and Theological Questions’, as per Title B/Canon XVII, to consider and report on the question – ‘what is a theological rationale for a Christian approach to the blessing and marriage of people in permanent, faithful same gender relationships given the implications thereof on the ordination of people in same gender relationships.’

The full resolution on the Commission on Doctrine and Theological Questions reads:

1-  That this General Synod Standing Committee (GSSC) receives the biblical and theological work of all the Hermeneutics Hui;

2-  That this GSSC notes a recommendation at the fourth and final Hui, encouraging the Church to make enquiry into the theological rationale for a Christian approach to the blessing and marriage of people in permanent, faithful same gender relationships, with a view to assessing such rationale in this Church;

3-  That this GSSC asks the General  Secretary to convene the Commission on Doctrine and Theological Questions under Canon B/XVII, for the purpose of exploring the theological rationale above given the implications thereof on the ordination of people in same gender relationships;

4-  That the Doctrine Commission seeks the discernment of members of this Church in response to its work and reports such work and its responses to the GSSC and the Ma Whea? Commission by the end of 2013.

The General Secretary’s letter to tikanga secretaries adds:

“That Canon requires me to ask each of you to approach respectively your Standing Committee, Runanga Whaiti, and IDCCG each to appoint three members to constitute this Commission for this purpose.”

“If you could consider this request at your next meetings, please, and advise me thereafter. I will seek to convene the Commission to begin its work as soon as practicable.”

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