Written by Mark McCall – Sunday June 21st, 2015
On the eve of a General Convention that will consider several important proposals to change the definition of marriage in the Church’s doctrine, discipline and worship, much attention is directed, perhaps belatedly, to the question of good order. Several bishops generally sympathetic to the idea of same sex marriage have expressed concerns that the way in which that innovation is now being proposed violates “good order.” Rejecting this charge, the Task Force on the Study of Marriage, also sympathetic to same sex marriage, has offered an amendment to the marriage canon that it claims will promote rather than undermine “good order.”
…What are the implications of these canonical provisions for the consideration of “good order” in the re-definition of marriage?
– First, the marriage rubric (BCP, p.422) begins “Christian marriage is a solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman in the presence of God.” This rubric is part of the “discipline of the Church” as defined in Canon IV.2.
– Second, the Catechism (BCP, p. 861) provides that “Holy Matrimony is Christian marriage, in which the woman and man enter into a life-long union, make their vows before God and the Church, and receive the grace and blessing of God to help them fulfill their vows.” The Catechism also defines (BCP, p. 860) “sacramental rites” of the Church to include Holy Matrimony. Both the Catechism and the sacramental rite of marriage are thus part of the “doctrine” of the Church as defined in Canon IV.2, conformity to which is canonically required.
– Third, the marriage canon (I.1.18) requires clergy to conform to “the laws of this Church governing the solemnization of Holy Matrimony” and provides that “Holy Matrimony is a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman.”
– Fourth, Art. X of the Constitution specifies the procedures by which the BCP, containing the sacramental rites and rubrics for Holy Matrimony and the Catechism, can be amended: affirmative votes at two successive General Conventions, the second by a majority of all bishops entitled to vote and a majority in a vote by orders of all dioceses entitled to representation.
None of this is obscure; to the contrary, it is obvious. Yet the most remarkable thing about the many resolutions offered on marriage (ten so far) is that not a single one even proposes the obvious first step required of good order: amending or revising the BCP.
To be sure there are four resolutions (C017, C022, C026 and D026) that reference the BCP, but none of them attempts to comply with the constitutional requirements for amending it. Instead, they flagrantly attempt to circumvent the Constitution by re-interpreting the language of the BCP:
the language “man and woman” and “husband and wife” therein shall be equally applicable to two people of the same gender, and all gender-specific language shall be interpreted to be gender-neutral, and may thus be modified as necessary for the purposes of the said Canon, and of the said rites. (C017.)
The Constitution is explicit on changing the BCP: “no alteration” of the BCP is permitted except in accordance with the specified procedures. By their own terms, these “interpretation” resolutions purport to “modify” the BCP rites. Passage of any one of these resolutions would thus reflect the Church expressing its collective contempt for its own Constitution.
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