THINKING ANGLICANS

Reactions to the House of Bishops statement – episode 10

Updated twice on Tuesday evening

The soap opera continues.

Bosco Peters has written Rethinking marriage? He concludes this way:

…By the 1928 marriage rite, wives obeying their husband had gone, and with it the biblical submit-and-subject wording. In only one prayer was the allusion retained that in marriage “is signified and represented the spiritual marriage and unity betwixt Christ and his Church”. [In the CofE Common Worship rite that becomes, “they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind, as Christ is united with his bride, the Church” or “they shall be united in that love as Christ is united with his Church”].

Because the union of Christ and His church is an unbreakable union, Marriage-is-like-Christ-and-His-church imagery comes together with marriage-is-indissoluble. Furthermore inevitably with the inequality of Christ and His Church, this image comes with an inequality between husband and wife, and a distinction of their roles.

New Zealand Anglicanism shifted from a firmly-held “marriage cannot be dissolved” to “a couple when getting married should intend to stay together”. ALL references to Marriage-is-like-Christ-and-His-church imagery were completely removed from the three different rites available for getting married in the 1989 New Zealand Prayer Book. Even the Church of England’s own Common Worship rite has removed all but the tiniest single vestigial allusion (quoted above) to what was clearly once a dominant biblical paradigm for marriage.

What once again is clear when those who say the debates are not sourced in prejudice about homosexuality, but are about integrity to scripture and tradition, is that whilst a sea change has occurred in the understanding of marriage, they have only begun to register an issue when the direction heads towards committed same-sex couples.

In the discussion about whether gender difference is essential to marriage it is clear where the inner logic of the trajectory of Christian marriage changes leads, and that the Church of England bishops’ statement is on the wrong side of that trajectory.

Andrew Goddard has written an article in two long parts for Fulcrum:

The House of Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance on Same-Sex Marriage Part I – Engaging with the Critics

The divisions within the Church of England and the multiple challenges it faces in the light of the advent of same-sex marriage have become even clearer and more serious in the weeks since the House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance. In what follows I explore three areas where the bishops have been criticised and offer a defence of their stance…

The House of Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance on Same-Sex Marriage Part II – Raising Questions and Recognising Challenges

This second part turns to highlight three areas of ambiguitiy, unclarity or inconsistency before concluding with some thoughts on the challenges we now face…

He concludes with this:

…One reason that further practical guidance is unlikely from the House of Bishops is that some of its members do not personally believe that the church’s doctrine of marriage as being a union of a man and a woman is true and something which “most benefits society” (para 8). Others, although personally convinced of such a view, are concerned about the implications – in church and wider society – of following that commitment through in church teaching and practice. Those concerns will have been deepened by the strength of criticism they have faced for upholding the teaching and following it through even to the extent they have done.

The sad reality is that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Although it is reported that only one bishop voted against the guidance, it is also being claimed that a significant number, even a majority, are not personally happy with it. The reactions to the guidance make clear just how extensive the divisions are in the wider church and thus how difficult the environment for the facilitated conversations is going to be. They also perhaps highlight two areas where the conversations need to focus their attention but which were largely unaddressed by the Pilling Report:

(1) What doctrine of marriage should the Church have and how should it then bear faithful witness to that in ordering its own life and in mission in a wider society which recognises same-sex marriage? and

(2) What is to be done, what new church structures may be needed, so that those who find themselves unable to accept the conclusions on the doctrine of marriage and its practical implications can faithfully bear witness to their understanding of marriage without undermining the mind of the majority or condemning the Church of England to continuing destructive conflict over this issue?

Giles Fraser has written Gay clergy marriages: the final chapter of the Anglican Communion fiction.

…All this means that the bishops won’t be able to do a damn thing about their clergy having same-sex marriages. As the bishop of Buckingham explained: “If a member of the clergy wants to marry, I may like or not like the match, but I have no legal power to stop them marrying.” And when this happens, the toys will be thrown from many a Nigerian church pram. The fiction that is the Anglican Communion will be over and we can go back to being the Church of England, rather than the local arm of the empire at prayer. And thank God for that.

Updates

Peter Ould has published CDM or EJM? in which an anonymous correspondent who has “considerable experience in the exercising of the Clergy Discipline Measure and the processes before it and who has a firm founding in Ecclesiastical Law ” writes that:

…There can be no doubt that for a member of the clergy to commit matrimony in a civil register office with another person of the same sex, would be both perfectly legal according to the new Act of Parliament, and conduct unbecoming a clerk in holy orders so far as the Church of England is concerned. That Act of Parliament acknowledges that the law of the Church diverges from that of the state in such matters, and expressly permits the Church to act independently where marriage discipline is concerned. Even if Church legislation directly contradicts the law of Parliament, the Act expressly allows for this.

The House of Bishops has expressly stated that it will not allow the clergy to enter into same-sex marriages. This statement forms part of the discipline of the Church, since the House of Bishops is the teaching authority for the Church, and its members administer the CDM. All of the clergy in office have signed the Declaration of Assent and have taken an oath of canonical obedience. The latter commits them to obeying the canon law of the Church of England, including the lawful directions of their bishop where he has authority to do so.

There can therefore be no doubt that a CDM tribunal will rule that a same-sex marriage by one of the clergy constitutes conduct unbecoming, just as surely as if the minister concerned had committed adultery or some other act of immorality of a sexual nature. This is not a matter of doctrine but of morality…

But do read the whole article.

Andrew Symes of Anglican Mainstream has written for the American Anglican Council: Gay marriage and the Church’s response

…But also among those holding to a conservative position there are divisions. Should Christian sexual ethics be explained outside the community of faith? Should Anglicans protest against gay marriage outside registry offices, or the teaching of homosexual practice in schools? Could it ever be right (even if not canonically appropriate) to refuse sacraments to those who have entered a same sex marriage against pastoral advice? Should people with same sex attraction be enabled to seek skilled help to change if they so wish? What about the future of the Church – would it be a good thing to participate in facilitated conversations? Are there any circumstances in which it might be the best thing to form a separate Anglican administration, either linked to the Church of England or not? Is GAFCON the solution? All of these questions separate the confessing C of E Anglicans…

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Nathaniel Brown
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Nathaniel Brown

Amen to Giles Fraser’s article. For those of us on the outside – and as an American and a gay man, I have been doubly on the outside – the C of E has wandered in the wilderness long enough, and has worshiped at the false altar of “unity” until it has been in danger of loosing its soul. It was never designed to be a world-wide community, and the sooner it returns to its roots as the Church of ENGLAND, the sooner it can exert real world leadership by being true to itself as a the via media we… Read more »

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

The Fulcum article is written in the language of an undergraduate essay, but still boils down to “homosexuality is different because it’s obviously different, and anyone who says otherwise is wrong”. For example “The church has never formally suggested that clergy can be in a sexual relationship other than marriage as defined by canon.” Is that so? So let’s take the case of a bishop who is married to a divorced woman whose husband is still alive, Nick Holtam. Compassionate people make all sort of humane, decent and wise arguments as to why a woman who divorced in her teens… Read more »

John
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John

White flag from Andrew Goddard. How quickly things move, how quickly they change. How admirable and sensible the Bishop of Buckingham. Others will follow. Unbelievably, this thing is nearly over.

cseitz
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cseitz

“Furthermore inevitably with the inequality of Christ and His Church, this image comes with an inequality between husband and wife, and a distinction of their roles.” Yes, this has been the logic of the marriage rite. Whether it ‘times out’ or has some kind of sell-by date’ and then goes stale appears to be what is meant by aappeal to a ‘trajectory.’ (This is a funny account of Christian Time, with its Whig assumptions about inevitable progress, but leave that aside). The relevant question in the present climate is whether the logic of this language (“is signified and represented the… Read more »

Father David
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Father David

The Bishop of Buckingham seems to be unaware or neglects the fact that the concept of a national church was a complete anathema to the New Testament. As far as Holy Scripture is concerned there was the local church and the universal church and that was it!

dr.primrose
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dr.primrose

“‘Furthermore inevitably with the inequality of Christ and His Church, this image comes with an inequality between husband and wife, and a distinction of their roles.’ “Yes, this has been the logic of the marriage rite. Whether it ‘times out’ or has some kind of sell-by date’ and then goes stale appears to be what is meant by aappeal to a ‘trajectory.'” Sometimes, I wonder which thing disturbs the opponents of same-sex marriage the most — that they can’t figure out the “distinction of [the partners’] roles” or that they don’t like a relationship lacking “inequality.” I think this is… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

Yet again, in Andrew Goddard, we have a nice, modern, “open” evangelical, who supports women’s ministry and takes a nuanced approach to the Bible, spending a great deal of time & effort trying to restrict the rights of gay people.

Can we please dispense with the fiction that it’s only “conservative” evangelicals who are the problem?

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

I stopped reading the Peter Ould piece at the first line, which starts “This morning the Guardian Komment Macht Frei published”. That is an absolutely foul allusion, and I cannot believe that anyone could write that and still think of themselves as having moral weight at all. Ould can presumably find someway to justify to himself why the Guardian’s comment pages are somehow equivalent to a place where millions died, but I’ll leave him to make the argument to himself.

cseitz
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cseitz

The mystery/sacrament of Christ and the Church is not one of subservience.

My question was whether this mystery is no longer useful to describe the marriage of men and women (as different)? It has timed out. It was Paul just offering his own private view.

badman
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badman

A CDM tribunal might well rule that a clergy same sex marriage is conduct unbecoming, because every single CDM decision and CDM appeal on the CofE website finds against the clergy, many of them on questions of sexual conduct. But the issue is whether the CDM covers a complaint about same sex marriage at all. It is pretty clear that it does not. The CDM Code of Practice signed by Lord Justice Mummery says that “Allegations of misconduct against clergy relating to doctrine (i.e. what clergy believe, and preach, teach or express)… do not fall within the Measure and any… Read more »

dr.primrose
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dr.primrose

“The mystery/sacrament of Christ and the Church is not one of subservience.” Agreed.
But the discussion here is about marriage, not theology.

Nathaniel Brown
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Nathaniel Brown

“…the concept of a national church was a complete anathema to the New Testament. As far as Holy Scripture is concerned there was the local church and the universal church and that was it!” And yet – In an age of instant communication, a “national” church, that is one defined by common language, customs and (to some degree) liturgy, one could say that “national” is “local.” And one doubts if Scriptural universal church is the same thing as the “Anglican Communion,” in any sense of ruling or setting the rules. Surely it means the universality of all believing Christians, whose… Read more »

Revd Laurie Roberts
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Revd Laurie Roberts

We need our very own pro-marriage equality bishops, that’s what we need !

cseitz
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cseitz

Marriage is now without theological content.

I think the Church was wise to assume it needed guidance from God’s act in Creation, Jesus’ reference to this, and Paul’s account of a great mystery. Marriage rites have been so guided.

If people want to find another zone of warrant, that will doubtless have its own challenges.

Cynthia
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Cynthia

“The relevant question in the present climate is whether the logic of this language (“is signified and represented the spiritual marriage and unity betwixt Christ and his Church”. [In the CofE Common Worship rite that becomes, “they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind, as Christ is united with his bride, the Church” or “they shall be united in that love as Christ is united with his Church”].) really does not matter anymore? “ Of course this language matters. The point is that it isn’t gender dependent. I’ll leave the equality part and “distinction of roles”… Read more »

Jeremy
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Jeremy

“Although it is reported that only one bishop voted against the guidance, it is also being claimed that a significant number, even a majority, are not personally happy with it.”

Is this true?

Is it the House of Bishops? Or the House of Groupthink?

Gary Paul Gilbert
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Gary Paul Gilbert

I, too, stopped reading the Peter Ould text on the first line. The piece is offensive and cheapens the debate by making unfounded comparisons to the Holocaust. The guy doesn’t seem to have understood the seriousness of Auschwitz. I don’t want to know what he thinks of Jews.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Commentator
Guest
Commentator

It ought to be more widely known just how far from being “moderate” Andrew Goddard is on this issue. He played a leading part in the extremely nasty campaign for getting Jeffrey John out of Reading, and his wife was one of the original trustees of Anglican Mainstream, which was founded as part of the same campaign.

Jeremy Pemberton
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Jeremy Pemberton

Ah, the joy of language! Peter Ould quotes his legal chum: “There can be no doubt that for a member of the clergy to commit matrimony in a civil register office with another person of the same sex, would be both perfectly legal according to the new Act of Parliament, and conduct unbecoming a clerk in holy orders so far as the Church of England is concerned.” Commit matrimony? Isn’t committing a word that we usually associate with sin? Would you ever describe a heterosexual couple as committing matrimony? But note, he does not attempt to pretend that such a… Read more »

Andrew Wilshere
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Andrew Wilshere

@badman, the reason that tribunals find against clergy is that only the most blatant cases get to tribunal. Most (over 95 per cent, I think) CDM complaints against clergy are dismissed by the diocesan bishop (in CofE doublespeak, “resolved”). In my view the process is, contrary to the indication of tribunals, heavily biased towards the exoneration of clergy. Far more so than any other professional complaints mechanism I’ve come across.

Robert ian Williams
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Robert ian Williams

Surely the real paradigm shift was the acceptance of contraception. This was condemend at lambeth 1908 and 1920, but accepted in 1930.
So procreation becomes optional.

JCF
Guest
JCF

Reading some of these things (Bosco Peter and Giles Fraser, at least, excepted) I sometimes wonder if it’s my vocation to feel shame on behalf of the shameless. Do any of you ever want to say, “You’re not just having a private, disgracefully uncharitable thought (we ALL have those), we can all read what you just said”? [Like a friendly “word-to-the-wise, mate”]

Homophobes, stuck in the bottom of your holes? For your OWN sake, Stop Digging!!!

PerryButler
Guest
PerryButler

RIW is surely right.The ( grudging) acceptance of contraception in 1930,rejected by Bishop Gore and a significant section of (particularly anglo-catholic) church opinion surely has had a major role in altering the Church’s understanding of marriage. Somewhere the late Prof Basil Mitchell has an apposite quotation somewhere ( alas i cant find it) which points out that the reason the RC Church rejects contraception so forcefully is because it knows that if it changed on this issue ,significant other changes would have to follow

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

The amusing and less amusing to-ing and fro-ing aside, there is a simple realpolitik here. If the CofE, corporately, attempted to discipline a member of the clergy or, indeed, the laity for a legal marriage conducted under the laws of the state, the roof would fall in on the Anglican church in England. This isn’t a debate about whether they have exceptions in law that allow them to bring such actions, because they probably do. This isn’t a debate about whether clerical law touches on such marriages or whether articles 32 and 37 take it outside the church’s code of… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

Commentator, by evangelical standards, Goddard *is* moderate. He’s met with LGBT groups, takes a nuanced approach to the “issue,” and there’s no indication that he has any personal dislike of gay people. If he wasn’t an evangelical, he’d likely be happy for gay couples. That’s the thing: the evangelical framework itself is the problem. So far as I can see, Goddard opposes gay sexuality because he honestly believes that it’s wrong, and he believes that because the Bible condemns it. Goddard seems a decent & sincere man. His authoritarian beliefs drive him to do cruel things. If homophobia in the… Read more »

Savi Hensman
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Savi Hensman

Is Andrew Symes suggesting that, in his view, it would have been better if gay sex had not been decriminalised? This would set him apart from the mainstream of the Church of England and many theological conservatives who affirm human rights for all, even if they do not think same-sex partnerships should be celebrated.

Fr DavidH
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Fr DavidH

The discussion on this thread is evidence for non-Church people of the damage which religion can wreak in people’s lives. That the happiness and employment prospects of a committed clergy couple is dependent upon interpretation of obscure, ancient texts must be baffling to them. Equally, a priest not employed by the Church, who writes a blog about his same-sex attraction, whilst being marred to a woman out of conformity to such texts, must appear frankly bizarre.

John
Guest
John

Re cseitz’s constant appeal to Genesis etc., there are plenty of competent theologians who argue that same-sex marriage (by definition for a minority of humankind) complements and does not displace the divine dispensation (if one is arguing within that framework, as liberals are not bound to do). The idea that any modification or extension of a principle represents its complete overthrow is not one that many people find persuasive, unless they are gripped by absolutist thinking or extreme anxiety, as of course so many Evangelicals are, but the New Testament by definition is not.

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

Poor Andrew Symes, the despair in his article is palpable. But has he also completely lost the plot? His first paragraphs posits the existence of a conspiracy to undermine the church and its traditional teaching on sexual morality. ‘The change has not evolved gradually, but has happened as part of a deliberate campaign. The change has been carefully controlled, by using media, the law and even science to promote the new ideas’. Does he really believe that this ‘deliberate campaign’ has been crowned by a Conservative led government legalising same sex marriage. If so he must be living in another… Read more »

iain mclean
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iain mclean

Interested Observer has it exactly right. A single attempted action against a marrying clergyperson will doom the C of E (and almost certainly fail – worst of both worlds for the conservatives). It is evidently no use for people like me, Linda W, or Diarmaid M saying this to C of E central – we will predictably be dismissed as liberal tubthumpers even if our private correspondence is not posted without our consent, as happened last time.

If IO would like to de-anonymise him/herself and make these powerful points to Messrs Fittall and Arora, power to his/her elbow.

Savi Hensman
Guest
Savi Hensman

James Byron, though I am not an evangelical myself, it is noteworthy that James Jones’ evangelicalism led him to reverse his original stance on sexuality and become one of the most outspoken Church of England bishops in championing inclusion for lesbian and gay people, as well as opposing the Anglican Covenant, which could have greatly delayed progress towards a more inclusive stance. So this tradition has strengths as well as weaknesses.

Sara MacVane
Guest
Sara MacVane

I’ve just been reading a review of a book by David Nirenberg in the NY Review of Books. The title is ‘Anti-Judaism in The Western World’ and as the reviewer Michael Walter says: ‘The book is not about Jews at all or, at least, not about real Jews; it deals extensively and almost exclusively with imaginary Jews…… (Nirenberg’s) argument is that a certain view of Judaism lies deep in the structure of Western civilization and has helped its intellectuals and polemicists explain Christian heresies, political tyrannies, medieval plagues, capitalist crises and revolutionary movements. Anti-Judaism is and has long been one… Read more »

cseitz
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cseitz

Christ and Bride are not ‘ gender dependent’? Then why use the language of bride and marriage (following the prophets)?

Do you mean you do not want them to be, or do you mean Paul did not have gender in view?

Flora Alexander
Guest
Flora Alexander

Peter Ould brings out the pedant in me. Joshua Rozenberg spells his name with a z.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“Can we please dispense with the fiction that it’s only “conservative” evangelicals who are the problem?”

Evangelicals who are conservative on sexuality are the problem.

I urge people here not to tar all evangelicals with the same brush.
There are many evangelicals fighting homophobia from within.

There are evangelical gay church members, evangelical gay and pro-gay priests, pro gay evangelical support groups and lobby groups.

These groups and people need our support not our blanket dismissal of all things evangelical.

dr.primrose
Guest
dr.primrose

“Marriage is now without theological content.”

I think a fairer statement to say that marriage does have theological content but it’s content with which the opponents of same-sex marriage disagree with.

Marriage is moving from a theology of “wives should submit to their husbands in everything” to a theology of “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

JJ
Guest
JJ

Trouble is the govt caught CofE on the hop. Latter governed by Canon Law & Canon B30 xplicitly states “the CofE affirms…. that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and life-long….of one man and one woman….” Whilst waiting for this canon to be altered or revoked, the CofE is in a cleft stick. Clergy and others will enter into civil same-sex marriages which are “legal” (that it cannot deny) but which in its own eyes are not “valid” because they do not conform to B30. Hence, by its own internal logic, clergy and others are not “married” whatever… Read more »

Nathaniel Brown
Guest
Nathaniel Brown

“Christ and Bride are not ‘ gender dependent’? Then why use the language of bride and marriage (following the prophets)?”

Why use the language of “the four corners of the earth” or of stopping the sun? A poetic expression relies upon contemporary societal images, but it does not either define them or lock them in place for all time. It is a wonderful image, but it is about partnership and committed love as it is about gender.

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

Erika
Thank you for saying this.
You are absolutely right and I for one and grateful for your understanding and empathy.

Tobias Haller
Guest

Paul (in Ephesians) also notes that the church is Christ’s Body, which he loves and cleanses and cares for and nourishes. This reflects the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist as well as Marriage — and is not limited to mixed couples.

Bruce
Guest
Bruce

Andrew Symes’s article is the limit. He says: “The change has not evolved gradually, but has happened as part of a deliberate campaign”. On this he is right in the sense that, yes, there has been a campaign, just as there has been for race equality, women’s rights, disability rights, earlier changes to marriage law. All of these have been advanced by campaigns, and too often despite the church. But as Richard Ashby comments above, it is getting into conspiracy theory to think that the church has been deliberately targeted, although one can see why it will be if there… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

Bruce asks if we might use equal marriage, Perhaps we might just use marriage.

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

That’s so important, it includes baptism and eucharist. One might so speculate.

But of course if it includes these things inside the developing sacramental life of Christ’s Body, the Church, it does so for Paul in Ephesians because Christ the Lord has a Bride, the Church.

That is the language he uses that, if it grounds other things, it does so proceeding from marriage of man and woman (so Christ, so Genesis, so Paul). So also obvious in the Church and in her Marriage rites.

dr.primose
Guest
dr.primose

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5:22-24; NIV) Does anyone really think that his would be an effective evangelistic approach to bring all the unchurched Millennials into the Church? As I mentioned above, most women I know in the Church are fully aware that this dispute over the meaning of marriage is not limited… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

I too agree with Interested Observer and Iain. A prosecution of someone for getting married would have been difficult to contemplate and harder to effect before the publication of letters from the bishop of Oxford and others. Now I think it impossible. I suspect that it may even have begun to dawn on Fittall and Arora what a disaster they will face if there is even one such action. I still think the Church is being overtaken by events and dynamic change and has no idea what to do next. Sadly looking at the reaction to Iain and the other… Read more »

JCF
Guest
JCF

@ cseitz: would Paul in 1st century CE Palestine speak of “Christ and His Church” as groom and groom (or bride and bride)?

No. But the Returning Christ just might! 😉

The irony is, Jesus of Nazareth spoke of an idealized marriage (“Husbands, love your wives”) which was very much counter-cultural to the religious authorities of his time.

So also, is the extension “Husbands, love your husbands/Wives, love your wives” largely counter-cultural to the religious authorities of OUR time.

But no less Good News thereby! 🙂

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

Dr. Seitz is using a specious argument, working backward from a metaphor (the Church as Christ’s bride) to a reality, the nature of marriage.

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

“So also obvious”

I’m afraid that the old bigotries are not so obvious anymore. Thank God! Using beautiful poetic imagery from the Bible literally to exclude others just isn’t obvious. The idea that my 23 year relationship isn’t sacramental is ridiculous. And how would anyone know otherwise?

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Yes, Erika and David, there’s affirming evangelicals. Crucial question is *why* they affirm gay relationships. Many affirming evangelicals go beyond the Bible: the less evangelical they are, the kinder they are. David, would you affirm gay relationships even if you believed the Bible to condemn them in all circumstances? If yes, your affirmation isn’t evangelical in nature; if no, you’ve illustrated the problem. Evangelicalism is authoritarian: obeying the Bible as a source of revelation. The evangelical way of thinking is a problem because it substitutes obedience for reason. The problem is emphatically not evangelicals as people. I believe, David, that… Read more »

Robert Ian Williams
Guest
Robert Ian Williams

Yet Symes and his sola scriptura buddies cannot agree on the nature of heterosexual marriage and what the bible teacher, as some believe divorce and re-marriage is biblical and others that it is barred by the injunction of our Lord. As for contraception thay do not even realise the former opposition to it, and generally along with masturbation , this is no longer an issue.Indeed a recent book, published in Sydney about sex, aimed at teenagers condoned masturbation.