Reflections upon the birth of three novelties in the ECUSA in the 1970s
I propose that three innovations made by the mainline Churches, especially the Episcopal Church, of the USA are like three triplets – that is they not only belong together but they are intimately related and have proceeded from the same womb and parents.
All belong in origin to the radical period that began in the late 1960s and continued into the 1970s. They are:
the new doctrine of matrimony that was adopted by the ECUSA in its 1973 Marriage Canon and its Marriage Service in the Prayer Book approved by the 1976 & 1979 General Conventions;
the new doctrine of ordained Ministry adopted by the ECUSA also in the 1970s, especially by the 1976 General Convention; and
the acceptance of same-sex relations as normal for some people, and thus open to being blessed by God, with the persons, so involved, as suitable candidates for offices in the church, including ordination to all orders of the Ministry. This has been discussed and debated persistently in the ECUSA since the 1970s, and is generally accepted in 2006.
In each of these innovations a similar logic is used with reference to the Christian Tradition (especially the use of the Bible) and to the contemporary world in order to justify the innovation. Let me try to illustrate this way of justification.
Matrimony. Here it is recognized and claimed,
that Jesus made some very strong statements about marriage as the union of a man and woman as one flesh for life (until one partner dies), where by “one flesh” is meant both the duty and privilege of procreation and a life of intimacy and friendship;
that what Jesus taught belongs to a very different society than the modern one, where babies and people live longer, where women go out to work outside the home, and where because of the availability of artificial birth control, married women need not be pregnant continuously, in fact not at all if they so wish;
that the companionship, friendship and sexual fulfillment available in a good, modern marriage is just as important as procreation and are proper ends in themselves;
therefore, marriage should not now have the duty of procreation built into it, but procreation and raising children should be optional, for those who feel called.
Further, in a society and culture where people live longer, where their lives are under all kinds of pressures, marriage for life should be an ideal but not a rule, and thus divorce should be available and acceptable, followed in due time by re-marriage if this is what seems good for those involved. And the Church should recognize this modern reality of widespread divorce and seek to help those involved pastorally, including preparing them for second and even third marriages.
So it is that the Church comes to accept a change in the purpose of marriage and also of the permanence of marriage – see the 1973 Canon and the Preface to the Marriage service in the Prayer Book of 1979.
Women’s Ordination. Here it is recognized and claimed:
That for Jesus and the apostles generous and gracious patriarchy was God’s plan for the rule of home and church;
That often patriarchy (because of the sinfulness of man) in home and church has been as often harsh and despotic as generous;
That only men were ordained to the Threefold Ministry from the first to the twentieth century;
That, on the basis of modern views of human rights and dignity, women have as much right to be Ministers as men;
That it was certainly pressure from the feminist movement for equal right in employment for women that moved the ECUSA to begin to favor women’s ordination;
That theological justification may be offered for this innovation by appealing to the spirit, rather than the letter, of the New Testament and especially to the equal status of all believers, male and female, conferred by Baptism;
That further justification may be offered (e.g., as it was by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Pope) on the basis that, since patriarchy has effectively disappeared in the West, both female and male Ministers are required now in Church and for society to show that Jesus the Savior and High Priest is for all persons, and not only for males. A male-only Ministry sends out the message of salvation and acceptance with God only for men.
So it is that in the ECUSA the ordaining and deployment of women as clergy began in 1976 and is in 2006 very common and widely accepted as normal, right and good.
Same-sex affection and unions: Here it is recognized and claimed,
That the Old and the New Testament clearly condemn Lesbianism, sodomy and pederasty, along with all forms of adultery and fornication;
That what is being practiced and developed today by Christians in the West and in ECUSA is something of which there were only hints in past times and cultures; this is the important phenomenon of covenanted, faithful, same-sex unions; in these partnerships it is as though the couple are married for, like so many “heterosexual” couples they find sexual fulfillment and friendship through and with each other; and further they also may have a child (by artificial insemination or by adoption;
That the Bible has nothing whatsoever to say about this new form of same-sex relations for its writers did not know it; thus it is nowhere condemned in the Bible or in the Christian tradition; it is for the modern Church to make a decision concerning it;
That God speaking through the professional experience of psychiatrists and the psychological experience of those involved in same-sex partnerships reveals that this form of union can be a means of holiness before God and for the true good of each partner;
So it is that in 2006 many ECUSA dioceses bless the unions of such persons, ordain to the Ministry persons involved in these unions, and one diocese has even consecrated as a Bishop a man in such a union.
Summary: It is difficult to imagine how the acceptance of same-sex unions by the ECUSA could have occurred had not the other two babes (new form of marriage and women’s ordination) been born first. A way was created in both these innovations of interpreting the Bible in such a way as to deny its common sense, literal meaning and this served to give added strength and acceptability to the same-sex unions’ cause.
Let us be honest. There is little doubt but that patriarchy is portrayed in the Bible as God’s plan for the family and the Church; there is little doubt but that marriage is presented in the Bible as for unity of hearts and procreation from the one-flesh union; and there is no doubt but that same-sex unions, even the modern kind, are totally against the design and purpose of God in creating man, as male and female persons.
It would appear that the modern, liberal, progressive Church has become very adapt and successful at making the clear teaching of Jesus and his apostles to be unclear and confused, and thus able to commend “as prophetic” and “radically Christian” today that which is so clearly contrary to the teaching of Jesus and his apostles.
Perhaps this confusion in relation to the Bible also goes some way to explain how also in the 1970s, the ECUSA could call what was so obviously a Book of Varied Services by the name of the ancient and hallowed “Book of Common Prayer” (1549 first edition; 1928, last authentic USA edition). Those who made this decision had lost the ability it would seem to make a simple judgment as to what kind of book was being prepared, approved and published.
It would seem that the only way for the reforming remnant in ECUSA (e.g. The Network and AAC and FinFNA) to deal with the last of the triplets called “Same-Sex Partnerships” is first to deal with the two other triplets born just before this one. For whilst they are so dominant on the stage, it will be impossible to deal effectively with number three and keep it also off the stage!.
(for those who wish to pursue this theme further, may I invite you to read my latest 64 page booklet, EPISCOPAL INNOVATIONS which is available on several websites [ e.g., www.episcopalian.org/pbs1928 & www.challengeonline.org ] and will be available as a printed booklet around March 3rd from www.anglicanmarketplace.com or from 1 800 – PBS- 1928)
The Rev’d Dr Peter Toon email@example.com February 20, 2006