The Porvoo Communion held a consultation on Churches’ teaching on Marriage and challenges in apllying the teaching and theology. The consultation was held in Turku, Finland, November 1-4 2011.
At the outset the consultation recognised that the Context in which we live is a rapidly changing one. State legislation on marriage is changing, drawing responses from the churches of the Porvoo Communion.
The consultation furthermore recognised that central to the task of the Porvoo churches is to witness together for Christ to the needs of a rapidly changing and confusingEurope. Traditionally marriage has offered just such an opportunity for witness. Throughout its history the Christian Church has had to face the challenges of the changing nature of the societal context in which she ministers and in which the people live. The church in every age is called to serve the people of her society. The church is in but not wholly of the world as she seeks to live and proclaim the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ afresh in each generation.
The consultation also noted that although the church seeks to provide teaching on marriage, frames an explicitly Christian understanding of a natural order and seeks to celebrate the union of hearts and minds, it is also endeavouring to respond to trends in wider society. Such an endeavour involves tension and struggle. This struggle is not new. It has been the case in every generation.
In the light of this ever changing context and new challenges, the consultation affirmed the importance of this consultation on marriage.
The Opening Eucharist was held at Turku Cathedral. The Revd Sari Lehti from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Finland presided and the Presiding Bishop of Norway, Helga Haugland Byfuglien preached. She reflected on the text ‘overcome evil with good’ (Rom.12.21) setting the spiritual tone for the consultation, drawing from the experience of the tragic massacre in Norway this past summer. The Closing Eucharist was held at St Mary’s Church near the consultation centre. Bishop Martin Wharton (Co-Chair of the Porvoo Contact Group) presided and Bishop Stephen Platten (Church of England) preached, reflecting on the tensions which issue from the Gospel’s engagement with wider culture in every age.
During the Opening Session Bishop Martin Wharton welcomed all participants. Bishop Hans-Erik Nordin ofSweden was welcomed as the Lutheran Co-Chair for this consultation.
Bishop Martin Wharton underlined the aim of this Consultation to provide an opportunity to listen, share, understand and learn from each other’s histories, experiences and pastoral contexts as well as to deepen our knowledge of our Churches’ current teaching and practice regarding marriage. He also explained how the Porvoo Consultation on ‘Churches Responding to Conflict’ (Feb. 2011) provides a framework for discussing and responding to controversial issues.
The challenges are many. However, the churches present agreed that:
- they can continue to address critical issues resulting from differing theological positions and pastoral practices;
- they are called to a sense of mutual responsibility as churches in communion
- they work towards wider consensus through prayer and engagement as well as with time, patience and a commitment to Spirit led discernment.
Reflection on scripture took a central role in the consultation. Participants also focussed on the many significant changes in State law and in society that have already happened and how our churches are seeking to respond to them in faithfulness to the Gospel. This led to an exploration of the evolving theological understanding of marriage implicit in our liturgies, doctrinal statements and pastoral practices, and their relevance in our diverse contexts. The daily Bible Studies given by Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin addressed aspects of the scriptural foundations of the doctrine of Christian marriage. Beginning with the texts in Genesis 1 and 2 relevant to the creation of humankind, he also explored the metaphors of covenant used by the Old Testament prophets. The teaching of Jesus Christ on marriage and divorce was examined. Reflection on Ephesians and Revelation 21 opened up the dimensions of discipleship and eschatology as they relate to marriage.
The presentations brought a variety of thinking to the consultation and fed the work of the groups and workshops.
Prof Dr Antti Laato presented the first paper of the consultation on an ‘Interpretation of biblical passages related to marriage in the Old and New Testaments’. Prof Carl Reinhold Braakenhielm explored the question of what might count as ‘theological justification’ for same-sex marriage.
Responding, Professor Oliver O’Donovan considered the circumstances under which doctrine might be understood to develop and evolve within the Church.
Bishop Jana Jeruma-Grinberga brought the perspectives of human genetics to the consultation. By explaining the complexities of human genetics, she pointed out why there are individuals who do not fall neatly into the binary categories of ‘male’ and ‘female’.
Small Groups and Workshops
In Small Groups participants were able to share and discuss material relating to marriage submitted in advance by their churches. The workshop sessions were thematic, addressing three key areas: Theological and Liturgical; Context, Society and Witness; Relationships – Ecumenical, Communion and Internal.
Central to the process of reflection were the Keynote Listeners. At the end of each day they engaged in a kind of public conversation. They were asked several questions in an interview format to draw out themes which had emerged in the intense discussions in small groups and workshops.
Findings and Texts of Presentations
The consultation made clear that differences over the introduction of “same-sex marriage” remain unresolved. Among the Churches of the Porvoo Communion it was clear that there are a variety of views and pastoral practices along a theological spectrum. Some of the participants saw same sex marriage to be a legitimate development in the Christian tradition, whilst for others it was a serious departure from received tradition. Nevertheless the consultation affirmed the benefits for ‘belonging to one another’. The value of honest encounter and strengthened friendship provides a platform of sustained communication in the face of these issues which raise such difficulties for us.
The findings of the consultation will be available for participants in an interim report. The core-group will, however, continue its work in this connection and present a report for further discussion in the Porvoo Contact Group. The texts of presentations will be made available to participants in due course.