On Saturday I wrote about an American Anglican bishop who has banned church weddings because they do not provide complete equality for same-sex couples. At least he was giving some respect to the international rules that same-sex weddings cannot be performed in Anglican churches.
Only hours after I posted that, the news broke that here in England, in central London, those rules have been blatantly flouted, at least not by a bishop (the Bishop of London has ordered an investigation) but by a priest who performed what has been reported as a wedding ceremony, not just a blessing of a partnership, between two Anglican clergymen. Amazingly, Ruth Gledhill reports that similar services have been “happening regularly” for 30 years despite “breaking all the rules”.
The order of service shows that this is clearly intended as a wedding service, with vows and an exchange of rings, in language clearly deliberately adapted from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The preface, also printed in part and in edited form by the Daily Mail, is adapted from the preface which I quoted in my previous post:
Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together these Men in a holy covenant of love and fidelity. Such a covenant shows us the mystery of the union between God and God’s people and between Christ and the Church.
The Holy Scriptures point to the offering and receiving of love as the principle [sic] sign of God’s presence; the union of two people in heart, body and soul is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and that their love may be a source of grace and blessing to all whom they encounter. Today Peter and David wish to commend themselves to each other exclusively and publicly, in making a solemn covenant as a seal and sacrament of their mutual love and devotion. This step has been carefully considered and is not enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly and in the fear of God.
The first and last sentences are almost completely from 1662. The middle is partly a pastiche of it – note that “mutual society” has become “mutual joy” – mixed together with some bad theology and bad grammar. Here are the vows, repeated identically except for the names by each partner:
Peter (David), wilt thou take this man as thy partner, in the sight of God? Wilt thou love him, comfort him, honour and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him, as long as ye both shall live?
Peter (David) shall answer, I will. …
I Peter (David) take thee David (Peter) as my partner, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, and thereto I pledge thee my troth. …
With this ring I thee bind, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. …
Then shall the Minister speak unto the people.
Forasmuch as David and Peter have consented together in a holy covenant, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth either to other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving of a ring, and by joining of hands, I pronounce that they be bound together. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
This is followed by a celebration of Holy Communion.
This Order of Service does avoid the words “matrimony” and “marriage”, instead referring to “a holy covenant of love and fidelity”. Instead of “I thee wed” is the rather odd “I thee bind”, at which some minds might wander to stereotypes of homosexual practices. So I suppose some kind of case can be made that this is not intended as an actual wedding. But I note that the covenant is called “a seal and sacrament of their mutual love and devotion”. So if it is not holy matrimony but is a sacrament, what is it?
Here are a couple of sentences from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer which were not included in this service:
Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace. …
For be ye well assured, that so many as are coupled together otherwise than God’s Word doth allow are not joined together by God; neither is their Matrimony lawful.
In the case of these two men, men ordained to ministry in the Anglican church, there is plenty of “just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together”, according to God’s law and also according to canon law which is the law of the land. For they have clearly been “coupled together otherwise than God’s Word doth allow”. So even if perhaps we should “hereafter for ever hold [our] peace”, God will be their judge.