THINKING ANGLICANS

Giles Fraser: Thought For The Day

Broadcast on Radio 4 this morning

A few weeks ago, two Anglican clergymen celebrated their civil partnership at a service in a famous London church. Newspapers last weekend called it a gay wedding. A number of friends of mine were at the service and told of a happy and wonderful occasion. But there are those who have been deeply upset; people who would quote scripture to argue that it threatens the very fabric of marriage itself.

So what, then, is the Church of England’s theology of marriage?

Back in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as the Book of Common Prayer was being put together, marriage was said to be for three purposes:
First, It was ordained for the procreation of children …
Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication ..
Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.
How do these three concerns relate to the prospect of gay marriage?

The third priority insists that marriage is designed to bring human beings into loving and supportive relationships. Surely no one can deny that homosexual men and women are in as much need of loving and supportive relationships as anybody else. And equally deserving of them too. This one seems pretty clear.

The second priority relates to the encouragement of monogamy. The Archbishop of Canterbury himself has rightly recognised that celibacy is a vocation to which many gay people are simply not called. Which is why, it strikes me, the church ought to be offering gay people a basis for monogamous relationships that are permanent, faithful and stable.

So that leaves the whole question of procreation. And clearly a gay couple cannot make babies biologically. But then neither can those who marry much later in life. Many couples, for a whole range of reasons, find they cannot conceive children – or, simply, don’t choose to. Is marriage to be denied them? Of course not.

For these reasons – and also after contraception became fully accepted in the Church of England – the modern marriage service shifted the emphasis away from procreation. The weight in today’s wedding liturgy is on the creation of loving and stable relationships. For me, this is something in which gay Christians have a perfect right to participate.

I know many people of good will are bound to disagree with me on this. But gay marriage isn’t about culture wars or church politics; it’s fundamentally about one person loving another. The fact that two gay men have proclaimed this love in the presence of God, before friends and family and in the context of prayerful reflection is something I believe the church should welcome. It’s not as if there’s so much real love in the world that we can afford to be dismissive of what little we do find. Which is why my view is we ought to celebrate real love however and wherever we find it.

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Peter of Westminster
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Peter of Westminster

Masterful exposition here — the case is made with clarity and brevity, and a reasonable person must be persuaded. I’m passing this around (with attribution) here in California where, for now, gay marriage is the law of the land…er, state. Who knows — if it gets some legs, it might help head off the conservative constitutional challenge that will inevitably be on the November ballot.

kieran crichton
Guest
kieran crichton

Everything I’ve been thinking but couldn’t express neatly is here. Thankyou, Giles Fraser!

L Roberts
Guest
L Roberts

Yes, this is lucid, robust, succinct and loving. I wish this was the usual voice of the C of E.Instead of being rather exceptional !

If it were I could return / rejoin –perhaps…

john
Guest
john

I agree with Giles Fraser. I also agree with the comments above. But within a Christian theological context it’s quite hopeless that he doesn’t even bother to engage with the biblical arguments and with the arguments derived from them. Many opponents of homosexual relationships and of gay blessings, marriage etc. are bigots, as we all know. Many, however, are not, and many are genuinely shocked by that service. It will be very difficult to persuade them but the attempt must continually be made. Alternatively, one could still argue for ‘live and let live’, also very difficult, and accept all the… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“reasonable person must be persuaded” I consider myself a reasonable person, and this doesn’t really persuade me. Tobias’ (I know, now that I’ve read ’em, I’ve turned into and evnagelist) work is far more convincing. I agree with his statements that the Church is missing the opportunity to promote monogamy in a culture that, traditionally driven underground, has never placed a value on it. “it’s fundamentally about one person loving another.” This is why this argument doesn’t convince me. It is not fundamentally about one person loving another. It is about, as the Evangelicals say, the authority of Scripture, how… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Giles Fraser for Bishop of London!

Pluralist
Guest

Super; so well laid out.

Paul Rowlandson
Guest
Paul Rowlandson

The best ‘Thought for the Day’ I have heard in many years.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Ford “It is not fundamentally about one person loving another. It is about, as the Evangelicals say, the authority of Scripture…..” But we don’t have to repeat the whole pro-theology canon every time we make an argument. Once we’ve been persuaded by a theological argument we use shorthand when we quote it, especially in a protracted debate where we often find we’re saying the same thing over and over again. And so all the evangelical arguments can be summarised as “Scriptural Authority”, especially “the plain written word”. By the same token, all the pro-gay theology only applies if and where… Read more »

L Roberts
Guest
L Roberts

‘Love bade me welcome but my soul drew back …

… pitching around for abstruss ‘theological arguments’, dusty proof-texts –and heaven knows what —

in order to distract myself — and keep Love

at bay …..

pete hobson
Guest
pete hobson

Of course it has to be succinct, and so shorthand, but for me Giles’ shortcuts are unpersuasive. The piece implies that the BCP doctrine of marriage subsists wholly in those three ’causes’, whereas it is also as clearly stated that marriage is “between a man and a woman”. I beg leave seriously to doubt that Cranmer or his contemporaries would have remotely considered their service applicable to two men or two women – so an argument that what they ‘really meant’ is equally valid in that situation is specious. It’s also for this reason that the oft-used argument that the… Read more »

christopher+
Guest
christopher+

We need to remember that there are simply people out there who do not believe – do not want to believe – that gay people should exist, and that, if they do exist (or rather, in the words of Lambeth 1.10, if they are “persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation”), they must be celibate and (preferably) quiet. For their “experience” of themselves is ostensibly wrong and quite contrary to the will of God. What changes this is not so much theological discussion, but rather personal encounter, generous love in Christ and the realization that the price of… Read more »

bls
Guest

This article (in PDF form) (http://www.fee.org/pdf/the-freeman/July-Aug%2007%20Horwitz.pdf) argues that heterosexual marriage is today about “love,” rather than about economics, as it has been throughout most of history. (The article makes a pretty good argument that capitalism is responsible for this state of affairs.) And the author comments that “When love and sexual attraction become the reasons to get married and stay together, what, argue gays and lesbians, differentiates their relationships from heterosexual ones”? Nobody on the anti-gay-marriage sides seems willing to answer that question. Heterosexuals are no longer locked into “arranged marriages,” as they have been for most of history –… Read more »

drdanfee
Guest
drdanfee

Well as the signs waving high outside San Francisco USA City Hall read: Recriminalize Sodomy. God hates fags. You will burn in hell. Either there is clear traditional scriptural authority for one or more of these familiar preachments. Or we might have been mistaken in our readings of the scriptures. The closed presuppositional reading of the scriptures does offer us clear and unambiguous authority – often translated to specific powers over non-straight citizens which straight citizens are gifted directly by God in revelation – those powers being revealed to be especially directly gifted to the stricter conservative believers who follow… Read more »

L Roberts
Guest
L Roberts

What changes this is not so much theological discussion, but rather personal encounter, generous love in Christ and the realization that the price of denying that gay people do – and should – exist is exacted in human flesh. (The real and necessary theological discussion, then, is about the fruit born by reliance on a few, selected biblical passages, rather than on the spirit of Christ’s Gospel.) With all our biblical theologizing about whether gay people should be allowed to live and love like everyone else, the Christian churches play no small role, for example, in causing and perpetuating the… Read more »

Peter Ould
Guest

Giles Fraser has completely missed out the exhortation in the BCP wedding service which not only completes the Anglican theology of marriage by drawing on a clear teaching of Scripture, but also in doing so contradicts his conclusion.

http://www.peter-ould.net/2008/06/15/gay-wedding-the-theology/

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“But we don’t have to repeat the whole pro-theology canon every time we make an argument.” Erika, Perhaps we do. How many conservatives here seem to have heard any of the theology? How many ordinary people in Nigeria have, or anywhere in Africa? How much of this assumption that “the theology has been done” comes from people of a particular theological mindset who have been talking to themselves so much they assume everyone else has been in on the conversation? christopher, “For their “experience” of themselves is ostensibly wrong and quite contrary to the will of God.” christopher, what do… Read more »

L Roberts
Guest
L Roberts

This is very clear and in fact, unassailable bls.

Magisterial (if you’ll pardon the expression !)

Tobias Haller
Guest

For some it comes back to Scripture, it’s true. But often there is little care taken to distinguish between what Scripture records and what it mandates. And how much even of what is therein mandated (or forbidden) actually derives not from God, but from the cultures in which the text was received? This is a vitally important question, and in many areas of life people have rather casually come to accept alterations of strictly “biblical” injunctions without explicit divine ordinance to the contrary. It goes far beyond shellfish, in other words. For example, the notion that heterosexual marriage is “divinely… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Ford “How many conservatives here seem to have heard any of the theology? How many ordinary people in Nigeria have, or anywhere in Africa?” It’s like everything in life – the information is out there, it just takes the will to find it. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink… as is painfully apparent in your own attempts to get some people on TA to read different scientific evidence on homosexuality. It’s harder in Nigeria and in Africa, I grant you. But the Internet is a widely available tool there too, as Davis Mac-Iyalla… Read more »

JCF
Guest
JCF

G Fraser: “clearly a gay couple cannot make babies biologically.” No longer (necessarily) true. Friends of mine, a same-sex couple, “made a baby biologically”, wherein one woman produced the egg, and the other carried the baby (i.e., provided the in utero environment for the baby’s development). All it’s true to say, is that a same-sex couple can’t produce a baby through their own *heterosexual intercourse* . . . then again, how many opposite-sex parents can’t claim that, either? ***** Re “persuasive arguments”: to paraphrase what was once said of miracles— For those who believe in the Power of LOVE—the Love… Read more »

christopher+
Guest
christopher+

Ford Elms, In a nutshell, I would say there is a very clear – even obvious – difference between a pedophile’s sexually abusing a minor and two people on equal footing as adults entering freely into a loving relationship that is not abusive by any commonly accepted definition. Pedophilia is, of course, by definition abusive, as are bestiality and ax-murder. Any such comparison – “their” argument – is facile propaganda in support of bigotry. There are, however, well-meaning Christians who are simply concerned about whether same-sex relationships can be reconciled with the biblical witness. That is a theological discussion worth… Read more »

christopher+
Guest
christopher+

“At what point does one’s experience of what one IS cross from being a variant of normal to something unacceptable?” To put my answer another way: At the point where something we do hurts someone else. When we apply the standard set by Christ in His summary of the Law – love God, love neighbor as self – and ask whether something one is or something one does can live up to this ultimate standard, then we know where we stand. The impact of our actions on others plays a key role, of course, for that is what love of… Read more »

Peter of Westminster
Guest
Peter of Westminster

“Children are conceived naturally by a man and a woman. Not by any and every man and any and every woman, it’s true – but certainly not by any two men or two women.”

Pete, your appeal here to natural law cuts both ways, given the scientific likelihood that differences in sexual orientation are as natural as any other biological fact about us, including the capacity to have children. See:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080617151845.htm

by way of example. Seems to me that appeals to natural law must be as fully informed as possible by the facts of nature. Your response?

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

christopher+, my argument exactly. What makes one wrong and not the other is consent and abuse. Peter of Westminster, “Pete, your appeal here to natural law cuts both ways” Oh but you see, natural law only applies to straight people. If being gay is a variant of normal, ie natural, then we are called to rise above our natural “animal nature”. It goes something like this: homosexuality is wrong, we don’t even find it in nature. We do? (Here folloows much denail, including accusations that biologists are liberals with a hidden agenda), Well, ok there is homosexuality in the natural… Read more »

John
Guest
John

I agree with you, Ford Elms, but the point is: it always has to be spelled out, otherwise it is always open to the accusation of being mere cynical capitulation to current social mores. But the harder thing is that, even when it is spelled out, there is abundant space for ‘reasonable people’ to disagree. Hence always I personally am driven to ‘agree to disagree’. From that perspective, I do find that service a tad too provocative of people with whom we should still be trying to maintain communion, because – quite frankly – C o E attendance is deeply… Read more »

Merseymike
Guest
Merseymike

If all Christians were like this, then I may not have looked elsewhere….

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“But the harder thing is that, even when it is spelled out, there is abundant space for ‘reasonable people’ to disagree.”

Tell me about it! I find it infuriating, and can’t avoid challenging it. All that does, of course, is get me even more fussed up, and Simon ends up stepping in, usually before I’ve ended up getting all pious and making myself a hypocrite.

pete hobson
Guest
pete hobson

Ford Elms, you attribute all sorts of ‘straw person’ attitudes to me and then knock them down. It possibly makes you feel better, but since you’re attacking what I’m not saying, I think I’ll not reply any further. Peter of Westminster, you ask rather more respectfully for my comments, which follow below. So – I followed your link, to a news report of some recently published research which I had already read about. It’s so recent I guess it can’t have been peer reviewed yet, so it’s findings are provisional but they indicate similarities between the brains of lesbians and… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

I don’t understand the natural law argument at all.
Unless you only allow fertile people to marry and specifically exclude from marriage all who are infertile or past childbearing age, natural law has absolutely no bearing on whether lgbt people should be allowed to marry.

Peter of Westminster
Guest
Peter of Westminster

Pete — “the ‘natural law’ phrase was yours not mine” Sorry — I’d just been reading some attempted deconstructions of natural law ethics when I logged on to TA and responded to your earlier comment, so I may have read more into that comment than you had intended to be there. “children are conceived by intercourse of a man and a woman may still be considered of relevance to a doctrine of marriage insofar as it relates to conception and care of children. That still doesn’t seem so implausible to me.” I agree. I have just a layman’s knowledge of… Read more »

Cheryl Va.
Guest

The natural law argument is a delight.

The angels who insist that there should be “natural law” but then decree that it is okay for aged Sarah to be made fertile again.

Then there is both John the Baptist and Jesus who were conceived of holy spirit. (I consciously refrain from giggling when some Christians tout off how Jesus was the son of man, completely ignoring that Jesus is also the son of God…)

James
Guest
James

It was a shame Thought for the Day became Campaign for the Gay.
Rather than an uplifting thought, it was a divisive seed for most Christians to start their day on.
I for one, knowing a number of homosexual celibate Christians, was offended and upset.
Giles Fraser, I thought, was using Radio 4 as a political platform, rather than to give some spiritual input.

Peter of Westminster
Guest
Peter of Westminster

Well, James — you’ve expressed your feelings, but not made a reasoned argument. Are you able to do the latter?

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“Rather than an uplifting thought,”

Christianity is meant to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable.

If you simply dismiss the genuine spiritual needs of a whole group of Chritians as political posturing, maybe you need to be disturbed a little.

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“Are you able to do the latter?”

I doubt he posted here to do that, or that he will return to do it.