Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A rebuttal to the "you can't change the marriage canons" argument

The energy is rising here in Salt Lake City. Deputies and Bishops are arriving by the airport shuttle-full and the Exhibit Hall opened just a few minutes ago. Soon we will turn our attention to the actual business of convention -- the work and worship that calls us together as the council of church. And some of that work will be continuing the journey toward the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments. And some of that work will center on the sacrament of marriage.

The legislative process has yet to formally begin, but there are, of course, lots of opinions on the proposals from lots of sources. In the last few days, this letter from the Bishops of Virginia has garnered a lot of attention -- in part because it stated the bishops' intention to vote against proposed canonical changes on marriage and in part because it questioned the legality of the proposed changes.

Making up their mind how to vote before actually getting to Convention and allowing the collaborative process to inform and the Holy Spirit to inspire is one issue. Here is a response to the other issue -- in direct response to a question received via email by a #gc78 watcher who read the letter and asked Integrity this:

Q. I've heard concern raised over the proposals for marriage equality because it would be a *canonical* change and not a *constitutional* change. The canons and the constitution would then be out of compliance. I understand that a change to the constitution (aka the prayer book) would require a resolution be adopted at this convention, and then the exact same language would have to pass at GC 79 in 2018. Is that accurate?

A. This comes from a misunderstading of the place of the BCP. It is not "constitutional." Only the Constitution is constitutional. The BCP is sometimes mistakenly called constitutional because its amendment process takes two conventions -- but unlike the Constitution itself, amendments to the BCP can be "tried out" -- real amendments to the Constitution are null until approved by two conventions, then they are the law.

The problem arises when people treat the BCP as a lawbook instead of a liturgical book. Beyond that, the BCP itself provides (on page 13) for other liturgies to be authorized. These liturgies would not be needed if they were not in some way different to the BCP, so to argue that such liturgies have to be congruent to the BCP doesn't stand.

Besides that, the SSM liturgies do not "contradict" the BCP; they simply offer a liturgy for something the BCP did not conceive of. The BCP is descriptive, not proscriptive, when it comes to marriage -- otherwise all those second marriages would be ruled out because the BCP says marriages are "life-long."
Next question?


Unknown said...

An excellent brief response. I became concerned after reading some ultra-right detractors, and even some reservation mentioned at a recent webinar ("A Seven Whole Crusty Perspective on #GC78" on YouTube).

John B. Chilton said...

Susan references p. 13 of the BCP. Here's the link and the key quote: http://www.bcponline.org/General/concern.html "In addition to these services and the other rites contained in this Book, other forms set forth by authority within this Church may be used."