Procedural Nonsense in the Church of Ireland

Yesterday’s vote in the Church of Ireland’s General Synod on Motion 8 was withdrawn on a proceedural technicality, as reported in the Irish Times.

A MOTION affirming traditional church teaching on marriage could not be taken at the Church of Ireland General Synod in Dublin yesterday, on a point of order. Speakers argued that as wording of motion 8A could be construed as proposing a doctrinal change, it ought to be a Bill not a motion.

The motion on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief stated that the church “continues to uphold its teaching that marriage is part of God’s creation and a holy mystery in which one man and one woman become one flesh, as provided for in Canon 31”.

It continued that the church “recognise for itself and of itself, no other understanding of marriage than that provided for in the totality of Canon 31”.

Raising the point of order, Dean of Cork Rev Nigel Dunne said that the church’s teaching on marriage “as expressed in Canon 31 stands in conflict with an understanding of same as expressed in Marriage Service Two in the Book of Common Prayer”.

He continued: “Canon 31 gives first place to the procreation and nurture of children. Marriage Service Two does not. Marriage Service Two is quite clear that sex and sexual intercourse is firstly to strengthen the relationship. The procreation of children comes second.” Motion 8A, he suggested, could “constitute a modification or alteration of doctrine” and ought not be considered as a motion but ought to be a Bill.

Following some debate on the matter the Church of Ireland primate and Synod president Archbishop Alan Harper, concerned with “the avoidance of doubt”, ruled that the motion not be taken. Related motions 8B and 8C were withdrawn by proposers Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson and the Bishop of Down and Dromore Harold Miller, who had also proposed motion 8A.

OK, let me spell out the alleged problem for you. Motion 8A read in part as follows.

The Church of Ireland continues to uphold its teaching that marriage is part of God’s creation and a holy mystery in which one man and one woman become one flesh, as provided for in Canon 31:

‘The Church of Ireland affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching that marriage is in its purpose a union permanent and life-long, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity’.

The argument therefore is this. Canon 31 describes the reasons for marriage as follows – (i) Procreation and Nurture of Children, (ii) Hallowing and Right Direction of Natural Instincts and (iii) Mutual Society, Help and Comfort. However, if you look at the second marriage service in the 2004 Book of Common Prayer, you find the reasons given as such:

Marriage was ordained that husband and wife may comfort and help each other, living faithfully together in plenty and in need, in sorrow and in joy.

It is intended that with delight and tenderness they may know each other in love, and through the joy of their bodily union they may strengthen the union of their hearts and lives.

It is intended that they may be blessed in the children they may have, in caring for them and in bringing them up in accordance with God’s will to his praise a

Basically, it’s the same three purposes, but in reverse order.

Now, the Dean of Cork, the Very Rev Nigel Dunne was claiming that the order in which these three come is vitally important. By stating so he was claiming that the ordering gives primacy, so that the reason which was stated first is the most important, the second the second most important and so on. If this is so, then Canon 31 has a different order of primacy then Marriage Service Two, and therefore implies a contradiction in the doctrine of the Church of Ireland.

Got that?

So many holes in that argument…

Firstly (and I’ll leave it to you to decide whether this is the most important argument), there is a huge assumption that the ordering of the reasons for marriage implies a primacy based on that ordering. Nothing in either Canon 31 or Marriage Service Two indicates as much. Marriage Service Two simply says, “It is intended… It is intended… It is intended…”. It’s the liturgical equivalent of a shopping list for the weekly trip to Tesco’s. The fact that you’ve put milk on the top of the list and bread half-way down doesn’t mean that you need milk more than you do bread, it just means that it was the first of the things that you needed to buy that you thought of. In the same way, the list of marital reasons given in Marriage Service Two isn’t a list of primacy, it’s simply a statement of completeness in its entirity.

Secondly, if there is a contradiction between Canon 31 and Marriage Service Two then it has existed since Marriage Service Two was introduced. It is not the fault of this motion, but rather the 2004 Irish Book of Common Prayer. One would think that such contradictions would have been identified during the process of compiling and editing the 2004 Prayer Book.

Thirdly, just look at Marriage Service One in the 2004 BCP. It has the following wording.

First, for the increase of mankind, according to the will of God, and for the due ordering of families and households, that children might be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his
holy Name;

Secondly, for the hallowing of the union betwixt man and woman, and for the avoidance of sin;

Thirdly, for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.

This takes the order that Canon 31 has and is therefore the opposite order to Marriage Service Two. Does not the fact that this ordering is alongside Marriage Service Two in the 2004 BCP indicate beyond any doubt that the ordering is not one of primacy? Surely those who framed the 2004 BCP would have spotted such basic “mistakes”? The same “contradictions” occur in the Church of England between the marriage service in the 1662 BCP and Common Worship. Has anybody over the past decade once raised the issue that the reversed order of reasons for matrimony means there is contradictory doctrine? Has anybody done that in the Church of Ireland in the past eight years? If this was such a concern for Dean Nigel Dunne, why didn’t he point it out in 2004 when the new Irish BCP came in? To all intents and purposes, what Nigel Dunne did yesterday was to accuse the entire Committee behind the 2004 Irish BCP of being theological numpties who couldn’t spot a basic doctrinal contradiction sat right in front of them.

This wrecking Point of Order was a liturgical nonsense and didn’t have any substance to it. For the Irish Synod to agree to it means that they believe implicitly that their own 2004 BCP contains contradictory doctrine. I can’t understand why Archbishop Alan Harper let it stand, but then he isn’t exactly the most conservative of Primates.

All of this is probably very familiar to our friends over the Pond who have suffered this kind of legal nonsense for years (decades?) in TEC, actions which dragged it year by year towards the apostate nadir it now lies in.

By the way, did I mention that Dean Nigel Dunne is heavily involved with Changing Attitude Ireland? No? Who’d have thought…

3 Comments on “Procedural Nonsense in the Church of Ireland

  1. Actually, this was pointed out to us last year when we were choosing our marriage service.  The minister presiding seemed to believe that more modern services put mutual help first and children later because our understanding of marriage has shifted to prioritise relationship over procreation.  We said, ‘Well in that case, we’ll have the older service because our marriage isn’t based primarily on how we happen to feel about one another on the day’.  But the point is that this minister at least thought there was significance in the change in the liturgy, and he has written quite a lot about marriage and liturgy in general.  So I can understand why they’ve opted to debate this properly another time.

    • You can certainly order the three reasons to suit your preferences, but the underlying issue is whether primacy of position in the order they are read out indicates primacy of reason for marriage. But even if they wanted to debate that point, the simple fact remains that the 2004 BCP had that “contradiction” within in for 8 years, and yet until yesterday no-one seemed to care, not even Nigel Dunne.

  2. Yes, ‘conflict’ is a bit of an exaggeration.  After all, all three are still there, just in a different order.  The biggest conflict will be when they have to rewrite the service so that ‘for the increase of mankind, according to the will of God’ now reads ‘for the increase of mankind, according to the will of mankind’.

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