ἀδιάφορα, or adiaphora to us heathens who don't speak or use Greek, has to do with things indifferent.
What could possibly make Bishop Wright believe that marriage itself, the concept of marriage, marriage between two persons of the opposite sex or even two persons of the same sex IS a matter of indifference? Ah, but Bishop Wright did not say that anyway. Look at the actual address HERE.
What he said is enclosed in the following comment. It is the only time he mentions marriage in his address. For your reading pleasure I have marked the phrase in red.
"And that, too, is why recent events in America are placing an ever greater strain on the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury is, I believe, in the process of writing a pastoral letter to all the churches, and I don’t want to pre-empt what he will say. But the point is this. Unlike the situation with children and Communion; unlike the situation with the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate; in the case of sexual relations outside the marriage of a man and a woman, the church as a whole, in all its global meetings not least the Lambeth Conference, has solidly and consistently reaffirmed the clear and unambiguous teaching of the New Testament. But the substantive issue isn’t the point here. The point is that the Church as a whole has never declared these matters to be adiaphora. This isn’t something a Bishop, a parish, a diocese, or a province can declare on its own authority. You can’t simply say that you have decided that this is something we can all agree to differ on. Nobody can just ‘declare’ that. The step from mandatory to optional can never itself be a local option, and the Church as a whole has declared that the case for that step has not been made. By all means let us have the debate. But, as before, it must be a proper theological debate, not a postmodern exchange of prejudices.
Actually, if you want to know about the present state of the church in America you ought to watch the video of last Saturday’s service in Los Angeles, which is readily available on the web. ( http://www.standfirminfaith.com/?/sf/page/26102 )The problems, shall we say, are not about one issue only. But my point for today is this. In November the newly elected General Synod will be asked to approve the Anglican Covenant, which has been through a long and thorough process of drafting, debate, redrafting, polishing and refining. Synod will be asked to send the Covenant to the Dioceses for approval, and all being well it should be with you, the Synod of this Diocese, by the end of the year, and you will be asked to think wisely and clearly about it. No doubt it isn’t perfect. But it is designed, not (as some have suggested) to close down debate or squash people into a corner, but precisely to create the appropriate space for appropriate debate in which issues of all sorts can be handled without pre-emptive strikes on the one hand or closed-minded defensiveness on the other. The Covenant is designed to recognise and work with the principle of adiaphora; and that requires that it should create a framework within which the church can be the church even as it wrestles with difficult issues, and through which the church can be united even as it is battered by forces that threaten to tear it apart. Some of the voices raised against the Covenant today are, in my judgment, voices raised against the biblical vision of how unity is accomplished and sustained, the vision which enables us to discern what is adiaphora and what is not. I hope and pray that this diocese at least will appreciate where the real issues lie, and think and live wisely and cheerfully in relation to them."
Now aside from the snotty comments about "the current state of the church in America," and "postmodern exchange of prejudices" this whole section of the address is taken up with two things - (i) the notion that sex outside marriage is immoral and sex inside marriage is at least morally salvageable, and (ii) the Anglican Covenant is about determining just what and what is not a matter of indifference.
Bishop N.T.Wright does not say "Marriage isn't Adiaphora." He says the question of the morality of sex outside marriage is not adiaphora. Sex outside of marriage is a matter of moral importance and that the church has been consistent in insisting that only in marriage is sexual activity to be condoned. He suggests that if and only if the whole church comes to some decision other than this can we change the local church's stance. We are bound by patience and unity to withhold local option because the decision that something is a matter of indifference is a matter of importance. Got it? It means we are screwed. (The 'we' here, dear friends, is everyone I've ever met.)
I dream...It is the Sabbath. I find a tick on my arm. I stretch out to remove it. But wait. Is this a matter of indifference, or is it morally wrong since there seems to be work involved? I'd better consult my rabbi, and he the council, and the books. After all it may be a matter of indifference, but the decision that it is a matter of indifference is not a matter of indifference. I mean, we've got to be clear that no one gives a damn about me and this tick. My hand falls. The tick has a field day.
I dream...is marriage a matter of indifference? Not hardly. But suppose (and I dream) there is no opportunity to marry legally and as the state and church allow? Is marriage what makes the difference, or is it the pledge of self to other that is the matter of importance? Perhaps marriage is not the only "state" in which two persons can be both sexual with one another and moral. Perhaps marriage is a matter of indifference, but commitment is not.
Still, there it is: Bishop Wright says the morality of sex outside marriage is not adiaphora. It is not a thing of indifference. Right. But marriage, dear friends, is not held as a thing of indifference either by those who are allowed to be married and those who are not allowed. Marriage is understood by most to be a matter of considerable importance and worthy of our best thinking and praying.
And, the Living Church got the reference wrong anyway.
But Bishop Wright go it wrong as well. He believes that the matter of determining what is adiaphora is itself never a matter of adiaphora - that while some things may be of no moral consequence, the determination of such adiaphora IS a matter of consequence.
Surely picking my nose in public is adiaphora. I don't have to wait for the councils of the church to rule on the matter. It is a perhaps gross and often silly bit of stuff. I suppose that if there was a law that ruled that behavior immoral and out of bounds and likely to land me in prison the matter of the moral character of nose picking would rise from indifference to difference. But then the matter is not about nose picking but about laws that put us away for odd behavior.
Well, so it goes. I think the bishop has presented us with a no win situation. Either an action is a matter of moral indifference or it is not, which would lead us to assume that some actions can be taken without consulting the community or persons setting moral standards. We would think that some actions are on the face of it indifferent. But that is not the case because whether or not some action is a matter of indifference, deciding one way or another remains a matter of moral concern. Thus indifferent or not all actions must first be screened by the moral authority. Therefore nothing is beyond the possible censure of the moral authority. There is then no occasion where moral reasoning and moral authority are not required.
And in Anglican Land the good Bishop Wright would have us believe that until some world wide body (say the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion or the Primates or whatever) determines otherwise, sex outside marriage is sin and sex between persons of the same sex is sin and there it is.
What a mess. I know no one who thinks that marriage or sexual activity or commitment or even play is without moral dimension. Nothing of all this is a matter of indifference. But that is a far cry from his reasoning about some level of subsidiarity that plays backward - only the stupid and frivolous matters can be dealt with locally, all others require more and more backwash into the higher realms of decision making. He had better watch out. It is at the local level, the ground level, that moral change (for good or bad) takes place.
It is a highly local and incarnate thing to love and to love well. All other moral mutterings are increasingly distant from the incarnate matter of loving well, and they become increasingly adiaphora.
The adiaphora argument is really really bad news, right up there with subsidiarity.
It turns out that what Bishop Wright has to say here is a matter of indifference.