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Redefined by Fiat

The Rev. Ephraim Radner, writing for Anglican Communion Institute, describes the report of the Task Force for the Study of Marriage as presenting a Balkan Solution, and elaborates:

The erasure of alternative views, and the proposal for a canonical change that will demand church-wide acceptance in dioceses, is one of enforced unity.

To be sure, the Taskforce does not speak explicitly to any of this. But the change of canon — the only concrete element in the Report — seeks to define (rather arbitrarily and counter-intuitively, in my view) the meaning of specific words in the Book of Common Prayer (and hence of Scripture itself, which the Prayer Book cites). The words “man and woman” and “husband and wife,” which will remain in both Scripture and Prayer Book, will now signify to Episcopalians “two people” or “two persons.”

First, this represents an imposition of linguistic transformation by fiat, demanding that very particular words that mean one thing, in customary usage and traditional interpretive habit, will now mean another. (The change is very different, in this regard, from the understanding of “man” as including “male and female,” something that biblical usage itself engages, let alone normal English usage.) Second, this change deliberately opens the door to church-wide same-sex marriage rites; that is the stated purpose of the canonical change. Third, the change will as well open the door to the potential for attempts at nullifying diocesan and episcopal jurisdiction on the matter, and will significantly alter traditional notions of episcopal authority. Fourth, given that one conscience clause allowing priests to refuse to marry a couple on the basis of their individual views of the matter is left in “tension” with another existing canon that forbids discrimination on the basis of sexuality, the canonical change also opens the door to disciplinary and perhaps legal challenge to individual clergy who maintain classical views about Christian marriage. Finally, the proposal dispenses with the notions of consultation or mutual decision-making, especially at the Communion level: the proposal has not been shared systematically with Anglican bishops around the world, or with other representatives from international Anglican or ecumenical partners, and the few months that remain before [General Convention] cannot come close to providing an adequate time for response to the Report now released. Whatever “Christian communion” might have meant in the past, the Taskforce has made a decision about [the Episcopal Church’s] autonomy that is decisive: we will simply go forward in the face of Anglican and ecumenical opposition elsewhere.

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