The Church of England says no to sex outside of heterosexual marriage. The Church of New Zealand says ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
God has looked favourably upon New Zealand Anglicans this week with confirmation that sex outside of marriage, while not actively encouraged, is not cause for condemnation. This comes days after the Church of England (the mother church of the international Anglican Communion) released pastoral guidance stating that “sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purposes for human beings.”
The five-page statement laid out the Church of England’s stance on sex outside of marriage as well as civil relationships, both same sex and opposite sex. On whether or not the church would allow priests to preside over and bless civil relationships (of any kind), “the House of Bishops affirms that clergy of the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership.”
The guidance was met with widespread condemnation from Anglicans and agnostics alike. An open letter opposing the pastoral statement has been signed by over 3000 members of the church, including more than 800 clergy. As the mother church of Anglicanism, the statement was largely understood by readers to represent the worldwide stance of the Anglican Church. But as The Reverend Dr Helen Jacobi, Vicar of St Mathew in the City, was quick to point out, the Church of England does not speak for New Zealand churches. “People misunderstand the authority of the Church of England,” she said. “It’s not that they’ve made a decision for the rest of us, it’s that they’ve made a decision internally for England itself.”
The decision wasn’t shared by most Western churches, with all but Australia and England allowing same-sex blessings in some form.”They’ve made themselves a complete laughing stock,” said Jacobi. “They have absolutely misread the public mood. It’s a PR disaster.” As she spoke those words, an ear-splitting wail travelled through the phone. Was it God? “They’re just testing the alarm,” Jacobi claimed.
In 2018, the general synod of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia voted to allow clergy to bless same-sex civil relationships. It was a progressive step forward, though perhaps a half step. In America, the bishops voted in 2015 to allow priests to marry same-sex couples shortly after same-sex marriage was legalised. In New Zealand, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2013, “we can bless them but we still can’t marry them.”
Same-sex marriage has been a contentious issue within the church for decades, and New Zealand’s decision to make minor provisions was a balancing act, said retired bishop Richard Randerson. Namely, conservative Anglicans were not happy, aligning more with the Church of England’s stance that same-sex relationships go against the doctrine of the Church. “But for those, of whom there are many, that believe a committed relationship of two same-sex people is acceptable in the eyes of God, they are, to a certain extent, happy with the provision that’s been made. But they say it still falls short.” For those, only acknowledging civil relationships when marriage for all is legal is simply separating same-sex couples from the institution of church and marriage. Since 2018, Jacobi has blessed just one same-sex civil relationship. “People aren’t exactly knocking down the door for these blessings because what they want is full marriage.”
But what of the sex? The Church of England was unequivocal in its belief that sexual activity is exclusively for those in a heterosexual marriage. There were no details given on what constitutes sexual activity. The Anglican Church of New Zealand hasn’t made a statement agreeing with the Church of England because it hasn’t made a statement at all. When asked, Randerson was unsure of any official stance within the New Zealand church. “I don’t think we’ve made a statement as to whether you can have sex before marriage,” he said, “but I would think that most people would assume that marriage was the starting block.”
Jacobi agreed, in part. “Traditionally, in the past, the church would have said that sexual activity belongs within marriage. But if push came to shove now, I would say that we would want to emphasise that sexual relationships are something to be treasured and that it belongs in a relationship of some kind of permanence or commitment but we wouldn’t go so far as to say it only belongs in heterosexual marriage. It’s just so narrow, in this day and age, to say that.”
“I’ve been ordained for 27 years and I have never married a couple who weren’t already living together,” she added.
The Spinoff received no official statement from the highest office in the New Zealand church on whether or not sex outside of marriage was allowed. Given the lack of a unified front, it was down to individual clergy to determine their teachings. “I’m sure there’ll be some Anglican clergy in the more conservative group who would teach abstinence before marriage,” said Jacobi. “But, you know [laughs], that’s just not reality. That’s not what people’s lives are like. So good luck to them.”
So just to confirm, unmarried Anglicans can still have sex? Jacobi laughed. “Yes, absolutely.”
Rejoice, all who appreciate a church hymn while also appreciating a bit of hanky panky. You may be “falling short of God’s purposes for human beings” in England but in New Zealand, you’re doing just fine.