Porvoo Shipwrecked

Brides holding handsThere can be no doubt about it – the actions of the Lutheran Church of Sweden this week in redefining marriage as a covenant in front of God that can be entered into by any two people, regardless of their sex, is the end of the Porvoo agreement. George Conger lays out the facts of the decision clearly:

On Oct 22 the Kyrkomötet, the Church’s governing assembly, voted 176 to 73 to endorse the recommendation of its Central Board to solemnize gay marriages after Swedish civil law on May 1 granted same-sex couples the right to marry.

Marriage “is a social institution regulated by public authorities. From a perspective of theology of creation, the marriage has the purpose to support the internal relation between spouses and give a safe setting for the children growing up,” the Central Board said in its recommendation to adopt gay marriage rites.

The Kyrkomötet vote “takes a stance in favour of an inclusive view of people. Regardless of whether one is religious or not, this affects the entire social climate and the view of people’s equal value,” said the head of the country’s largest gay rights group, Åsa Regnér of the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU).

In the run up to the vote, conservative members of the Church of Sweden had urged the Kyrkomötet not to “cuff off the church from its roots. The Church of Sweden will now be transformed into a congregational denomination, whose teaching is formulated by simple majority decisions, and where the Bible is being used arbitrarily or even entirely removed in order to legitimize the decisions taken,” said Pastor Yngve Kalin of the Church Coalition for Bible and Confession.

The ecumenical consequences are clear. The House of Bishops of the Church of England have already written to the Church in Sweden warning them that such a move would have a negative effect on the Porvoo agreement. Now the actions of the same House will show very clearly whether there is any bite behind their bark.

Traditionalist members of the Kyrkomötet had argued that same-sex marriage violated Scripture and the Church’s traditional teachings on marriage and also imperiled ecumenical relations. The Church of England is in communion with the Church of Sweden through the 1992 Porvoo Common Statement.

Writing to the Archbishop of Uppsala on behalf of the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England, the Rt. Rev. Christopher Hill on behalf of the Council for Christian Unity and the Rt. Rev. John Hind on behalf of the Faith and Order Advisory Group said the adoption of gay marriage by the Swedish church would be “problematic.”

The “teaching and discipline” of the Anglican Communion was that “it is not right either to bless same-sex sexual relationships or to ordain those who are involved in them,” the Archbishops’ Council said on June 26, 2009.

Gay marriage was a “fundamental re-definition of marriage and of basic Christian anthropology.” Making marriage gender neutral was “at odds with the Biblical teaching about the significance of God’s creation of human beings as male and female as this has been received by the Church of England and by the Catholic tradition in general,” the bishops said.

Don’t underestimate the importance of this moment. If the House of Bishops decide that events in Sweden necessitate a change in the position of the Church of England towards the Lutheran Church of Sweden, then that indicates that they will take an equally firm position against such developments much closer to home. On the other hand, if they fo nothig then that gives the signal to revisionist groupings in the Church of England to press ahead with their plans for confronting the church hierarchy over the acceptance of priests living in sexual relationships outside of marriage. The English House of Bishops will be meeting in closed session soon, probably in December, and this is likely to be one of the main agenda items.

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