The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia passed a resolution today which would allow their churches to bless same-sex relationships.
Dubbed “Motion 29,” the resolution explicitly states that there should be no change to “the Church’s teaching on the nature of marriage [which] is to affirm marriage as between a man and a woman;” but that individual bishops should be free to use provisions already within the province’s canons for “a non-formulary service” to allow for the blessing of same-sex relationships. The resolution also calls for changes to the canons so that no member of the clergy can face disciplinary action either for agreeing to bless such relationships, or for refusing to do so.
The decision follows lengthy discussion in this year’s General Synod and in the previous two General Synods, in 2014 and 2016; although Anglican Taonga, the news service of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, said that there had been “earnest debate” in the province for 50 years.
In more recent years, the 2014 General Synod called for proposals for the blessing of same-gender relationships. The province established the “Way Forward” group which came up with proposals at the 2016 Synod for new rites of blessing as “additional formularies” rather than doctrinal changes. But the Synod voted to let the motion lie on the table “with a firm expectation that a decision to move forward will be made” at the 2018 Synod. Following the 2016 meeting, the province established a working group to explore “structural arrangements” that would allow people who hold differing convictions about same-sex relationships to remain together in the church. It was the recommendations of that committee, that the synod approved today.
The motion was to accept the recommendations in the report and “endorse in principle, for consideration, the proposed changes to the Constitution/Te Pouhere and Canons of the Church set out in the report, and in Bills 20-24.” Further procedures will take place to give effect to the changes.
The three Tikanga – or cultural streams – of the church gave their assent to the motion, which was then put to a general vote by voices, before a request for a standing vote. This “visibly confirmed that the motion, by a big majority, had been passed,” Anglican Taonga said.
“By contrast to General Synod 2016, when the Way Forward report and its recommendations were shelved, the reaction to today’s decision was, after a brief burst of applause, quite muted,” Anglican Taonga reported. “Sadness, perhaps, though, that despite the best efforts of the Motion 29 working group, some have said they can no longer stay in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.”
The move will not apply to the Diocese of Polynesia – the province’s Tikanga Pasifika. In a separate motion, passed without dissent, the synod said that it was “deeply mindful of the deep interweaving of cultural and religious values at the core of our Pacific societies that place a profound respect, and reverence for the belief in God and the belief in the traditional understanding of marriage.”
The motion noted that the Pacific Island countries within the diocese – Samoa, Tonga and Fiji – do not recognize unions between people of the same gender; and said that a debate at the Polynesia diocesan synod had shown its members were opposed to the blessing of same-sex relationships.
Despite opposition from the Diocese of Polynesia, the motion noted “with appreciation” that its members did “not [want] to be an obstacle in the journey of Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Pakeha [New Zealanders of European descent] towards the blessing of same-gender relations in Aotearoa New Zealand.”
The province becomes the third in the Anglican Communion to permit the blessing of same-sex relationships, after the US-based Episcopal Church and the Scottish Episcopal Church. Unlike those two, the church in New Zealand has done so without changing its official doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman. The Episcopal Church and the Scottish Episcopal Church voted to allow same-sex marriage in 2015 and 2017, respectively. — With files from the Anglican Journal