Upholding Christian Standards of Marriage

Tonight we’ll be looking church opposition to a 1920 amendment of the Divorce Act in THEO104: Christianity in Aotearoa-NZ.

I didn’t time this choice of topic to coincide with the third and final reading of the 2013 Marriage Amendment Bill.

However, in terms of church rhetoric, the similarities are instructive.

The following extracts are from an account of discussions of the latest threat to Christian marriage from the Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Wellington in the Evening Post, 13 July 1921.

Mr Stent said he brought forward the motion [against an amendment in the Divorce Act] with a great sense of responsibility. He would, first of all, ask the Synod to consider what the Christian standard of marriage was […] First of all: the marriage contract was a lifelong one; secondly, no marriage should be recognised as marriage that came within certain degrees of relationship. The amended marriage laws of last year permitted a divorce to take place within three years of separation, no matter whether the contracting parties had lived chastely or not. It seemed to him that the standard of marriage laid down in the Word of God was in very, very grave peril, and, if that was so, it behoved every Christian priest and every Christian layman, with one voice and with one determination, to pass the resolution, to do his best to bring about a return to the paths of righteousness for the sake of Him who gave them life and powers of procreation of life […]

Bishop Sprott [of Wellington] said [he] did not think they realised the revolution that had taken place; the Christian ideal was now not necessary. The ideal recognised by the community was such that Christian people were now in the position of being tolerated. There was a sign last session [of Parliament] that even tolerance might go. They had been allowed to hold up before their own people the Christian ideal of marriage, but, as they knew, that was very nearly ended, and, indeed, if they took the strict letter of the law, that right had gone…. Bishop Sprott went on to say that he believed that ultimately tolerance would go, and a few Christians would have to endure persecution. No community, of course, would tolerate any individuals casting discredit on its laws.

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