Saturday, 20 August 2005

two more views on civil partnerships

Tim Jones, who is English although working in the USA, has written this comment about the bishops’ statement, Strangers in a Strange Land:

…To many outside the UK it seems bizarre that Christian bishops could vote for something that seems to them so, well, un-Christian. The powerful Anglican archbishop of Nigeria is furious, and reports are circulating that he is contemplating proposals for the Anglican Communion to discipline the Church of England, its historical ‘mother-church’. It is part of a wider debate about sexuality and church order that the Anglican Communion, the world’s third largest Christian denomination, may not survive intact…

And Pete Broadbent who is an English suffragan bishop, wrote about the statement in the Usenet newsgroup uk.religion.christian. His remarks are copied in full below the fold.

“I think a little clarity might be in order here.

1. Civil Partnerships are part of the law of the land. If two persons decide to enter into a Civil Partnership, there is nothing the Church of England can do to stop them.

2. The Church clearly teaches that marriage is the only lifelong commitment sanctioned by God. Our view of civil partnerships is that they cannot be held to be marriage, and cannot be recognised by the CofE as marriage.

3. Many (though not all) bishops would say that civil partnerships are a non-category; a nonsense category invented by Government as a way of fudging the issue on gay marriage.

4. We are therefore living in two realms; in the Church, a civil partnership has no meaning, beyond a commitment two people have to each other. In the State, such partnerships have meaning, and bring with them legal rights and responsibilities (which will impinge on all churches, not just the CofE).

5. We cannot therefore prohibit clergy from declaring a civil partnership. They have that right under civil law. We can only take action against them in so far as they contravene the teachings of scripture and the Church. The dilemma (which is not about fudge or compromise, but about reality) is that there is nothing per se wrong from scripture in entering a covenant of friendship and lifelong commitment to another person (indeed, during the drawing up of the legislation, it was argued quite sensibly that if Government was inventing this foolish category, then it ought to apply to brother and sister who wished to make the same kind of commitment to each other). If we were to take action against people for contracting a civil partnership we would be contravening their human rights, and would face legal challenge and inevitable costs. Perhaps Reform would like to put up the money if they want to see us go that route?

6. We are therefore left with this ridiculous and unsolvable pastoral conundrum, in that we have no grounds to prohibit civil partnerships, because they are not homosexual “marriage”. They are not therefore by their nature contrary to the teaching of the Church. However, we all know that the majority of people wishing to contract civil partnerships are going to be gay couples. Hence we are into the scenario of having to interrogate clergy about their bedroom habits, which is plainly sordid and intrusive. The legislation has us over a barrel. Those of us who have to operate the Bishops’ Pastoral Statement see it as very far from a fudge, because we have the uncomfortable responsibility of operating the pastoral discipline which it entails.

Pete Broadbent”

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 20 August 2005 at 11:19pm BST
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: Church of England
Comments

Pete Broadbent and the other bishops need to get real. Civil partnerships are gay marriage - the only difference is their name, which means that legally, they fall into a different category. The content of the relationships in terms of legal rights and responsibilities are identical. You would think to read Broadbent's article that he had no idea of similar arrangements in many European countries, but no doubt if he casts his mind back to when he was a Labour councillor in Islington, before he emerged as a conservative, I'm sure this may come to mind.

He is right in pointing out the legal position, but naive in the extreme if he doesn't realise what civil partnerships are all about. And, frankly, most gay people don't give a stuff about what the Church thinks about them, becausae its none of their business.

Posted by: Merseymike on Sunday, 21 August 2005 at 12:48am BST

Just a PS. I'd like Broadbent to explain exactly how civil partnerships differ from CIVIL marriage, other than the gender of the participants? It seems illogical that he should give civil marriage 'meaning' within the Church either, given that the legal rights and responsibilities are essentially the same.

Posted by: Merseymike on Sunday, 21 August 2005 at 12:54am BST

"3. Many (though not all) bishops would say that civil partnerships are a non-category; a nonsense category invented by Government as a way of fudging the issue on gay marriage."

This is very disingenuous, when the Church(es, not just the CofE) has been so heavily involved in "cooking the fudge."

"Civil partnerships" wouldn't exist as a legal category, if the Church (et al) would just *let* the State open marriage to same-sex couples (on an equal basis w/ opposite-sex couples).

The State's law is "fudging" . . . because the Church's policy (denying the holiness of marital love between persons of the same sex) is *poisonous*.

Church, Heal Thyself!

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Sunday, 21 August 2005 at 5:36am BST

To be fair, though, JC, in my experience, most gay people are concerned about the benefits, rights and responsibilities which flow from civil partnership - rather than wanting marriage per se. In terms of practical politics, it may be seen as more realistic.

In time I'm sure the status will become a single civil marriage, for gay and straight alike.

Posted by: Merseymike on Sunday, 21 August 2005 at 9:44am BST

Civil Partnerships differ from civil marriage in the nature of the contract.

The promises (vows) declarations are the point of contract in a civil (and religious) contract. The signing of the document is a secondary formula, if one of the couple were to die immediately after the declarations the marriage is still valid as the registrar and witnesses could testify.

The registration of a civil partnership has no declaration, promises or vows, it is - to some degree - precisely what this bishop declares it to be, a deliberate non-category.
As Ms Fisher says above, this is in no small degree the result of the churches' lobbying.

At the last moment we were able to obtain a victory in that there now will be some formulas of words available and the concession to have words spoken - even though they will not be required - it opens the door for local registration officers to negotiate with the couple on a form of words that pleases them to precede the signing of the contract.
As yet I have not seen the govt's proposals.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Sunday, 21 August 2005 at 4:22pm BST

What I haven't seen in this whole debate from England is any distinction between civil marriage and holy matrimony.

In Canada, proponents of gay marriage have been quick to point out that no church is required to solemnize marriages which don't conform to their rules, and this was written right into the legislation.

Is establishment so entrenched in England that there is no distinction between church and civil marriage, and should not the church have tried to act along those lines, rather than come up with this ridiculous fudge?

Posted by: Jim Pratt on Sunday, 21 August 2005 at 6:45pm BST

Jim ; I think the truth is that given that only 22% of marriages took place within an Anglican church last year, the established church is somewhat reluctant to point out the difference.

For some reason, they then want to try and distance the actual content and status of civil partnership from civil marriage, since in terms of heterosexuals, they appear unable to differentiate between civil marriage and 'Christian marriage'

Martin ; many local authorities already offered partnership ceremonies before the legislation, and already they are being used as good practice and 'standard' ceremonies. They are very similar to civil marriage in terms of their content. The points you make are valid, but far from being a deliberate non-category, they are a specific category of civil partnership for same sex couples. The differences are actually quite marginal in legal terms - and dare I say it, may be more flexible in terms of options for content?

Posted by: Merseymike on Sunday, 21 August 2005 at 7:23pm BST

Jim Pratt,

The differences between a civil ceremony and a wedding service in the Church of England are not only the legal consequences, but the intention of the proceedings.

The state has devised a civil partnership which is virtually identical to a civil marriage in its legal aspects, but at a civil ceremony no explicitly religious content is permitted either in the form of words used or in the accompanying celebratory readings/music.

The critical difference is the content of the marriage service used in church, which sets the commitment in an explicitly Christian context and explains what is happening in classical Christian terminology. Legally speaking, the form of service for the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony (1662) remains the standard of marriage doctrine for the Church of England. The first of the causes for which marriage was ordained, according to the Preface, is the procreation of children.

Establishment in England means that Church weddings are accepted by the state (the Church of England has been around much longer than Parliament!) but it also means that civil weddings are accepted by the Church, which has up to now understood such ceremonies to be valid although conducted by a registrar rather than a priest, on the basis that marriage is part of natural law (to use a quick bit of theological shorthand).

Given the impossibility of procreation by gay marriage partners (as opposed to adoption or sperm donors) the government has now driven a wedge between civil and ecclesiastical law, and it will be interesting to see how the Church of England's General Synod responds when it assembles, following its elections, in November.

Posted by: Vincent Coles on Sunday, 21 August 2005 at 8:58pm BST

Bp Broadbent might also like to explain how the Roman Catholic Bishops can ban their priests from marrying, but the Church of England's Bishops see it as impossible to ban priests from entering Gay Marriage (oops I mean Civil Partnership).

If one ban is an unacceptable breach of human rights then so is the other (the UN Human Right to be able to marry and have a family) !

Posted by: Dave on Sunday, 21 August 2005 at 10:15pm BST

Because the CofE is an established church, so has a different relationship with the State than the RC's. Also, all priests have to be celibate irrespective of sexual orientation....oh, except if they're making a political conversion from Anglicanism!

Posted by: Merseymike on Sunday, 21 August 2005 at 10:58pm BST

Bishop Pete writes: "which is plainly sordid and intrusive."
It need not be. The simple question could be "Do you abide by the Church's discipline that you should be celibate or in Christian marriage."
That requires simply a yes or no answer, without details. It assumes the honesty of the priest.

The Bishop also wrote: "it was argued quite sensibly that if Government was inventing this foolish category, then it ought to apply to brother and sister who wished to make the same kind of commitment to each other"
That sensible argument was made, but was rejected in the final legislation.

Posted by: Tim Jones on Monday, 22 August 2005 at 4:14am BST

Vincent Coles writes that, legally speaking, the first of the causes for which marriage was ordained is the procreation of children. Vincent quotes froma document written in 1662 however, and things have changed since then.

The preface to the service used today says

"Marriage is intended by God to be a creative relationship, as his blessing enables husband and wife to love and support each other in good times and in bad, and to share in the care and upbringing of children.

For Christians, marriage is also an invitation to share life together in the spirit of Jesus Christ. It is based upon a solemn, public and life-long covenant between a man and a woman, declared and celebrated in the presence of God and before witnesses.

On this their wedding day the bride and bridegroom face each other, make their promises and receive God's blessing. You are witnesses of the marriage, and express your support by your presence and your prayers. Your support does not end today: the couple will value continued encouragement in the days and years ahead of them."

By substituting the word "couple" for "bride and bridegroom" this text could apply perfectly to a gay blessing service. Many gay couples are childless, and so the clause about children may not apply, but many heterosexual couples are also childless too so this should not be a problem (unless Vincent is to argue that childless heterosexual marriages are not valid on Christian terms).

More importantly to me, it is the other wording that resonates with me "make promises - creative relationship - share life together in the spirit of Jesus Christ - witnesses of the marriage - express your support by your presence and your prayers"

When my partner David and I planned our own blessing service (or more accurately, a Service of Blessing and Covenant) we wanted to express many of these values.

One element was the making of promises between the two partners in the sight of God. But there is a second element, which is the recognition and affirmation of the couple by society, and by their family and friends.
(see our liturgy text on http://www.simondawson.com/blessing/blessphot.htm )

What is fascinating to me is that as gay couples we now have a choice in the UK. We can have a sterile, economic contractual relationship between two people, or the chance to create a spiritual covenant, within a service which expresses the love within that relationship, and which embodies the relationship within the network of the wider family and society (exactly as in the marriage preface above). And it is the church, not secular society, which has banned any chance of a valuable, life affirming ceremony. And it is secular society, through the wisdom of its registrars, which is cooperating with couples in adding an expression of love and family into the secular rituals.

Luckily, many people within Anglicanism recognise this for the nonsense it is, and are happy to support liturgies like ours within a C of E church, whatever the powers might say.

Simon


Posted by: simon dawson on Monday, 22 August 2005 at 9:10am BST

Merseymike suggests that "Because the CofE is an established church, so has a different relationship with the State than the RC's." is an explanation for the putative difference of response by the RC bishops.

Two comments:
first, we do not yet know the response of the RC bishops, I have twice requested an answer to this point from their press office;
second, I do not believe that anything about the CofE response is related to establishment. Merseymike can you substantiate this comment, please.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 22 August 2005 at 9:23am BST

Simon ; clearly its just my opinion, but I think the response of the CofE to ANY issue is set within the context of it being an established church. Many people have said, in response to the pastoral statement (which appears to be equally unsatisfactory to both 'sides') that the church should simply ignore the law and ban their priests from entering into civil partnership. Given that its legal advisers have deemed this at least legally questionable, as Bp Broadbent's comments suggest, this would not be a valid option for a church which has links with the State.

Secondly, the CofE Bishops had input into the making of the legislation via their role in the House of Lords, which itself is a product of establishment. It is this involvement which has helped to contribute to the current 'uneasy' position, given that the Church is trying to make a complete distinction between civil marriage and civil partnership. There is certainly a clear legal distinction, in that one is called 'marriage' and the other, 'civil partnership', but the Church is behaving with some sophistry if it thinks that the argument that the two are entirely unconnected ic valid. Civil partnerships are designed for same sex couples in intimate relationships, and colloquially, they will be known as gay marriage - that's clear enough already.

The attempt to separate the two by saying 'civil partnerships are not marriage', which of course, is true on one level, emanated within the Lords. I think the church knew that this legislation was to be passed, and indeed, I am sure that many agree with it, although only Bishop Selby has had the courage to say so publicly. But I think that the response of the CofE with regard to this matter more generally is within the context of being the established church in a society which has extended rights and responsibilities to gay and lesbian people. The Church's compromise positions become ever more awkward within this reality.

Posted by: Merseymike on Monday, 22 August 2005 at 10:38am BST

Is it possible for the CofE to be ejected from the worldwide Anglican communion?

Posted by: James on Monday, 22 August 2005 at 2:12pm BST

I can't see how - although it is possible that some who no longer wish to be in communion with the CofE move away and claim to be a continuing 'Anglican' communion.

Posted by: Merseymike on Monday, 22 August 2005 at 3:34pm BST

James,

I don't see HOW. The main "instrument of unity" of the AC is the Abp. of Canterbury - who is also the Primate of All England. To be in the AC assumes that the church in question is in communion with the CoE. Suggesting that the CoE be suspended from the Anglican Communion is like suggesting that the Vatican be suspended from the Roman Catholic Church, i.e. a non sequitur.

See:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archbishop_of_Canterbury
and
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglican_Communion

Posted by: Simeon on Monday, 22 August 2005 at 3:46pm BST

I do hope so James!

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Monday, 22 August 2005 at 4:04pm BST

Simon Dawson thinks that the 1662 service does not apply any longer "as things have changed since then." It is still the standard of doctrine for the Church of England (see the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974).

Actually, the 1980 ASB and the newer Common Worship rites also speak in terms of marriage as a procreative union, and he is forced to substitute words which actually deny the purpose of the words chosen by the compilers of the modern rites.

Human biology has not changed since 1662. Same sex couples can not procreate, and can not offer children the experience of a home in which there are mother and father.

Christian teaching, which in turn has its roots in the scriptures of the Old Testament, is considerably older than the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, but is no less valid because of its antiquity. Human nature and human sinfulness have not changed since the gospels were written. Anyone familiar with classical civilisation will know how similar Big Brother is to some of the forms of entertainment popular then, even if BB is somewhat more restrained, at least to date.

Christian marriage, predicated upon complementary human biology, remains a world apart from New Labour's civil partnerships: which as defined by the Act are directly contrary to Christian doctrine, rather than analogous to Christian marriage.

Posted by: Vincent Coles on Monday, 22 August 2005 at 6:07pm BST

Let's keep in mind the etymology of "matrimony". The Latin root is none other than MATER, "mother". Matrimony is the relationship by which a woman legitimately becomes a mother; it is the nursery of humanity.

Male-male relationships may have some qualities in common with marriage, but they are not and cannot be "matrimony". A female-female relationship, while it may happen to include a mother (or even two), is not the relationship by which women become mothers.

Posted by: DGus on Monday, 22 August 2005 at 9:47pm BST

Vincent ; I think you will find that many heterosexual partnerships are equally lacking in analogy, particularly if reproductivity is your stated aim - up to a third of married couples are now opting not to procreate.

I think the factors which lead people towards any sort of commitment with one another are often not centred around reproduction. I wonder how many couples who marry in church would fulfil your criteria?

Posted by: Merseymike on Monday, 22 August 2005 at 10:47pm BST

But Gus, this is all in the past, and many heterosexual couples marry with no iontention of having children. We live in a modern, diverse society, not locked in to past definitions.

Posted by: Merseymike on Monday, 22 August 2005 at 11:54pm BST

DGus: Latin-rooted etymologies aside, it is simply not true that "[a] female-female relationship, while it may happen to include a mother (or even two), is not the relationship by which women become mothers"; true motherhood arises not from "matrimony" -- and not even from carrying a fetus to term or providing the egg for that fetus -- but from love and nurture. To state otherwise is (while I imagine you do not intend it this way) to insult all adoptive mothers (and their children), whether married or single.

Same for being a father; it's not who deposited the sperm -- who "begat" the child -- but who loves and nurtures the child. Just ask a carpenter named Joseph whether genetic connection is necessary to be a (human) father.

And if parenthood arises through actions alone, surely you can see that it is the *being* a mother or father that makes it so, and not any state of "matrimony" between the two parents.

Vincent Coles writes: "Human biology has not changed since 1662. Same sex couples can not procreate, and can not offer children the experience of a home in which there are mother and father."

What *will* your camp say when the technology has developed such that same-sex couples *can* in fact produce children that are the genetic offspring of them both, in effect making them no different from any heterosexual couple that uses in vitro fertilization, non-genetic surrogate mothers, or any other assisted reproduction technology? (Or perhaps you are equally morally opposed to these technologies being used for mixed-sex couples?)

Between current research into parthenogenesis for female-female couples (i.e., "virgin birth" via merging the nuclei of two eggs, one from each partner, and then stimulating the resulting egg to divide and multiply into an embryo, as usual for a fertilized egg; see, for example, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2004/04/22/MNGHD692EA1.DTL and http://lesbianlife.about.com/cs/families/a/Parthenogenesis.htm ) and into synthetic gametogenesis for male-male couples (i.e., taking one male's stem cells and creating eggs from them, to be fertilized by the other male's sperm; see, for example, http://www.mpi-cbg.de/~testa/downloads/biot_431.pdf ), it is not impossible to foresee the day when same-sex couples are no different in procreative terms than mixed-sex couples who also need technological help, yet with it do produce children that are genetically related to them every bit as much as the children of the mythological Adam and Eve were related to them.

And no, such homes will not "offer children the experience of a home in which there are mother and father." Yet many of us can vouch to the failures of many mixed-sex couples' homes and to the successes of many single-parents' (must we even in A.D. 2005 keep de facto maligning widows' parenting?!) and same-sex couples' homes. Lack of either a father or a mother is not dispositive as to the welfare of children, including spiritually.

As for this whole concept of a divinely/naturally ordained order limited to mixed-sex couples, based on the "male and female He created them" passage, the "one flesh" concept, the formula "Christ is to the Church as the husband is to the bride," JP2's "Theology of the Body," and so forth, I must resort to a metaphor from another tradition -- Zen -- to explain how I think its proponents miss the theological point. (Indeed, the metaphor is broadly applicable to how Akinola and other literalists read Scripture.)

In Zen, there is an expression about how one should not mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself. In Buddhism as in Christianity, Islam, and pretty much any tradition, it's rather common for one to get caught up in looking at the finger instead of at the moon, not taking the finger as an indicator pointing toward something, but rather as being the thing being sought, in and of itself. This is akin to the notion that literalism and the rejection of a historical-critical reading of Scripture constitutes "bibliolatry" -- but I think the way the Zen metaphor expresses the point is much more profound. (And please, no jumping on my borrowing of a Zen metaphor; the metaphor itself is in no way dependent on any uniquely Buddhist content and doesn't contradict any Christian doctrine, it's just a way of conveying how some people mistake the signifier for the signified.)

And then what JP2, Gagnon, and others do is spin out an elaborate analysis of the finger, and of the hand, and examine in detail the nail, and draw inferences from the cut of the nail, and whther it is manicured or has nail polish on it (and ah, but of what color?!), dispute whether there can be inferred a ring upon the finger, and pronounce authoritatively that we must organize society in units of five people, including one "finger" person to point and to be opposed by a "thumb" person, and so on, and so on, and so on. All the while, they miss seeing the moon; alas. (This is also the type of approach that leads to heated disputes over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or that actually thinks the fate of one's soul hangs upon the filioque clause, and anathema should be pronounced upon one who doesn't subscribe to the proper view of how the Holy Spirit proceeds. But I digress.)

What *would* Jesus do?

Well, IMHO, probably not spend so much time postulating and the developing all the ramifications of abstractions that are as divorced from real human lives as the Ptolemaic epicycles were from real planetary orbits. (See http://faculty.vassar.edu/brvannor/Asia350/ptolemy.html )

No, I think he'd want us to see the proverbial moon, not become fixated upon Scripture's (merely) pointing finger.

Posted by: Nadine Kwong on Tuesday, 23 August 2005 at 12:01am BST

MM, I think you will find that 100% of same-sex partners are unable to procreate, whatever they think their commitment might mean.

I suggest you read the words of the marriage service again. It is here that the Church's intention in the rite is to be found, not in the understanding (or lack of it) of the bride and groom at any particular wedding service.

While you persist in trying to reduce the discussion to the personal views of any particular individual or married couple you fail to address the issues at stake so far as the Christian faith is concerned.

Posted by: Vincent Coles on Tuesday, 23 August 2005 at 12:11am BST

Vincent and DGus, you're providing a lot of extraneous stuff here (particularly in the context of a *civil* partnership).

The essence of *marriage* isn't in the "mater" of matrimony, or in procreation (which can be accomplished just as easily without the authorization of State and/or Church). It's in the *promise* that two make to each other.

[NB: "Same sex couples can not procreate" "A female-female relationship . . . is not the relationship by which women become mothers."

This is, arguably, not even true *now* (I personally know a female couple where one woman is carrying her partner's fertilized ovum) . . . much less in the future. Regardless, reproductive essentialism is a poor excuse to diminish the spousal promises two people make]

*****

"Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?" [BCP (ECUSA), p.425]

*That* is the question, as it stands . . . and it could equally apply to same-sex, as to opposite-sex couples.

. . . and that's the question for the Church.

[that God *has blessed*, *is blessing* and *will bless* such relationships is, in my opinion, only obvious! :-D]

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Tuesday, 23 August 2005 at 5:44am BST

Well, this discussion of what a 'partnership' is and how and whether marriage is related to child-bearing is very interesting. I found this letter by a gay man (July 21) on 'Independent Gay Forum' which resonates with a lot of the issues mentioned above and developing sexual mores in their relation to the given Christian tradition. I would be grateful for comment:

"Once you establish that one part of the Christian tradition can be radically revised to meet your current sexual needs, it becomes that much easier to do it again and again and again. Watching porn at home? A "loving and committed" threesome? Even having sex with strangers becomes open to theological defense: it was in my own participation in the Metropolitan Community Churches that I learned about the MCC doctrine of the Holy Hospitality of the Body, how sex can be used as a form of radical welcoming of the Stranger. (In UFMCC's defense, it is not an official part of all or even most MCC churches, but it is part of some and is a direct consequence of UFMCC's lack of rootedness in tradition coupled with its core identity of sexual revisionism.)

It may be that God really wants gay marriage in the church; but activists need to understand why people are rightly skeptical about their arguments. Understanding that skepticism, and not attributing it in reflexive rainbow robothink to "homophobia," is critical if God's will is to be truly discerned."

Posted by: Mark Beaton on Tuesday, 23 August 2005 at 9:04am BST

Vincent - please do not put words into my mouth that I did not say.

You said "Simon Dawson thinks that the 1662 service does not apply any longer". I did not say that, I said "things have changed since then".

I am only an amateur theologian, but I do know that when looking at text one should look at the whole text, and also look at how the teaching on the particular topic referred to in the text differs in other parts of the Bible. For example when looking at Old Testament views of matriminy it would be important to see how that teaching might be modified by later texts in the Gospels.

Similarly, when looking at the view of matrimony expressed in the Book of Common Prayer, it is important to look at the whole text of the preface, and also look at the various different prefaces produced over time, to get a balanced holistic view of Christian teaching.

My criticism of your posting, Vincent, was that it appeared to me that you had taken one word - procreation - and built your thesis on one word that only appears in one version of the BCP, an argument that says that as same-sex partners cannot propagate they cannot marry.

My view is that we should look at the whole text.

Firstly, the more modern text
does not even use the word propagate, but says "the foundation of family life in which children may be born and nurtured" a statement which many people have pointed out above applies equally well to same sex couples, and to opposite sex couples who make use of fertility treatment or who may adopt children (and who would be excluded from Christian marriage under Vincent's rules).

But more importantly - look at the other words in the prefaces, words and phrases like "joy, love, unity, a means of grace, a new life together in the community, mutual society, help, and comfort."

I am not an expert on Christian theology, but from my limited knowledge of the Bible I am not aware of texts where Jesus Christ tells us to go out and have sex and bring up childen as man and wife. I am aware of much Gospel teaching on the values of love and joy and community, and mutual support.

By focusing only on procreation and sex I think Vincent risks losing his focus on what I think is the key value of Gospel teaching, properly incorporated into the marriage ceremonies, which is Love.

When I face my maker, I believe that I will not be judged by the details of how I had sex. My judgement will be on how well I loved, or failed to love. The mystery of sex is only important in being part of the greater mystery of love.

This is the key point I was trying to make. Christians claim to proclaim a message of love and mutual support. Yet if a christian gay couple want to make life changing promises to each other about their mutual love and support, vows which are not marriage, but which are complementary to marriage, they are banned from doing it in a Christian church, but can only make those promises in a secular, civil ceremony. Isn't it stupid?

Simon


Posted by: Simon Dawson on Tuesday, 23 August 2005 at 9:34am BST

Nadine Kwong (who appears to rely on Zen more than Christian theology still manages to ask, "What would Jesus do?" I have no doubt that he would quote the Scriptures in response.

Simon Dawson argues that "things have changed since then [1662]" (and presumably he means that the theological statement made in the 1662 Marriage Service does therefore no longer apply, otherwise why say that things have changed?)

Most Christians believe that nothing has changed in God's design for Creation, that marriage is for a man and a woman, and that it is in turn the means of procreation which God has provided.

Love can be made to mean many things in our human ingenuity (and those of us who lived through the "Peace and Love" years know just how far the idea of love can be corrupted). In the Christian tradition love can rightly be expressed in many ways, including lifelong, chaste friendship, but to try to equate a sinful same-sexual relationship with marriage, and to claim that "love" validates everything, is doomed to failure in any church which accepts the authority of Scripture.

Nor does the ability of scientists to manipulate human genetics in order to create children artificially, affect the Christian understanding of marriage and procreation. It may be legitimate for husband and wife to seek IVF as a therapy in order to conceive their own children, but it is not a Christian understanding of procreation when it goes beyond this, to create children for gay women using donor sperm, or even to clone children from the cells of gay men.

Posted by: Vincent Coles on Tuesday, 23 August 2005 at 11:00am BST

Dear Nadine, This is some mighty big question-begging: "And if parenthood arises through actions alone, surely you can see that it is the *being* a mother or father that makes it so, and not any state of 'matrimony' between the two parents." In fact, the normative and healthy condition of being a child DOES depend on a relationship between the child's parents.

I am an adoptive father myself, so I know full well the joys and beauties of the parent-child relationship that can arise even in other-than-biological circumstances. (This day, by the way, is my adopted daughter's first day of college!) But without any insult to single parents or adoptive parents, there can be no denying that what Nature (meaning God) ordained is for a child to be born to a mother who is married to the father, and to be reared by them both. Two days ago I spoke on the phone to a friend who is a struggling widowed mother; it's no insult to her to say--in fact, she's the first to say--that she and her kids are damaged terribly from the loss of the father.

Yes, we can survive and sometimes even thrive when that norm cannot exist--when a parent dies, or when a parent abandons, o when there is divorce, or when parents are unwilling or unable to rear a child so that she is adopted. But it is a fact that in each such instance the departure from the norm involves a loss or a wound--not a cause for despair, but a need for healing. If you doubt this, spend some time among adoptive parents and children, or in a single moms' support group.

Yes, parenthood can happen and can succeed even in the face of widowhood, abandonment, divorce, adoption, etc. But this hardly justifies deliberately contriving circumstances in which children will be stretched even further from the healthy norm. Yes, a child can survive (and some might even thrive) without only one kidney, or even with no kidney if he get's dialysis; but this doesn't mean we should plan to remove them. Yes a child can survive (some might even thrive) with no father or no mother; but this doesn't mean we should knowingly contrive such losses for a child. Nor that we should attempt to meet the felt needs of adults by placing children in novel situations.

It's likewise irrelevant to predict, however plausibly, that science will one day be able, with tubes and chemicals and microsurgery and what-not, to incubate children with one or zero parents. (And, yes, I do oppose that.) Children so conceived--if they are authentically human in their genetics--will arrive in the laboratory needing a good old-fashioned father and a mother; and to the extent they don't have both, these lab children will suffer loss.

Invent new relationships if you must, but don't imagine that they're the equivalent of the relationships that nature calls for. Everyone who knows about the birds and the bees--and even a child who doesn't know about that yet--knows that mommy and daddy and baby go together. --David

Posted by: DGus on Tuesday, 23 August 2005 at 3:59pm BST

Sigh. So many of the same, tired arguments.

First. Let us consider and dismiss the slippery slope argument. How many times have we heard "if you let them do (X), pretty soon they'll want to do (Y)"?

It was said when people married across tribes, and across races. Somehow those were considered "unnatural" and chapter and verse were quoted to keep them that way. (the history of inter-racial marriage is always illuminating in this regard; particularly the fact that in the US, it took till the 90s for the majority of people to agree it was okay even though it was legalized in th 60s).

If we consider marriage a commitment between TWO people, as we do, there is no slippery slope. End of story.

Second. The reproduction issue. This has been dealt with at length, and unless church or state are doing tests for fertility or contraception, it is a non-starter. No one requires that a husband and wife be actively reproducing, or even capable of reproducing. We don't block the elderly from marrying. So, unless you are going to revoke marriage if they don't pop one out in a year, that doesn't fly.

As for parenting non-biological children, no one prevents marriage between a widow with children and a man who will raise her children as their stepfather. Happens all the time.

Not to mention adoption.

The important thing is that kids grow up loved--not that they have one parent from box A and one from box B. What, you think kids are better off in foster care than having gay parents???? (And I will assure you that our kids are showing all signs of being happy heterosexuals, which is fine by us. I look forward to shedding tears of joy at their weddings. I just wish they got the same option to be joyful for us.)

Finally, let's not conflate church and state here (particularly in the US which does not have an established church). Civil law and civil unions have a purpose in establishing relationships bewteen two people which promote stability and are beneficial to the state. Religious marriage has other concerns. IMHO, we should more explicitly separate them: civil unions for all with the same state benefits, religious marriage for those who chose it, in the church of their choice. And churches can choose to be welcoming or not.

( It really comes down once more to the "ick" factor, people who think that being gay is unnatural. It's not, it is a pretty constant figure in all cultures, and even some animals are gay. So what if 5-10% of people have same sex attraction? Celebrate the wonderful variety of human kind! Promote stable and healthy relationships! Can't we all just get along?)

Posted by: IT on Tuesday, 23 August 2005 at 4:00pm BST

Follow links to Simon and David's 'Ceremony of Commitment and Blessing', and you see care and thoughtful preparation, witnessing to their desire to share their lives together. The bottom line for me is: 'How does anything translate into prayer and worship of God?' (Lex orandi,lex credendi) This is the Ultimate Reality' test - not frail human logic, promoting different positions, concealing vested interests in preserving some status quo or other. How many decisions and commitments we make are honestly expressable in prayer? If it can be well prayed, if it takes participants deeper on their journey into God, then it must be taken seriously, whether or not it fits conventional ideas of what is 'right and proper' Think of how Jewish-Christians had to struggle to integrate Gentiles - finally they had to admit Gentiles shared the Spirit, and could praise and serve God like Jews.
In recent centuries couple commitment has been chained to the exclusive sterile formalities of Prayer Book marriage services and civil legal formulae for those qualified. If couples have flourished and been blessed, it's despite the ceremony, not because of it.
Society's idea of acceptable relationships has evolved. In a new context, emphasis on commitment and fidelity is life-giving. Also, it takes a rightful place and expresses itself in fresh creative words and rituals that give God's grace true honour. All too often 'marriage' has been a rite of compliance to legal formality, its subjects not too worried about finding excuses to dishonour their promises if it suits them. Community, family, marital breakdown, also promiscuity now are at epidemic proportions, as 'each does what is right in their own eyes', praying to themselves, rather than the uncreated creator. The suffering caused by such anarchy is incalculable.
God uses what some find unacceptable to challenge true motives and intentions - to sort out sheep from wolves in sheeps clothing.
Do we want a society which coheres through love, trust, fidelity? Then we have to recognise who is committed to those values, affirm and bless them wholeheartedly. If secular society can manage this, does it mean the established churches have lost the plot?

Posted by: Keith Kimber on Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 1:16am BST

Vincent Coles, you write: "Nadine Kwong (who appears to rely on Zen more than Christian theology still manages to ask, "What would Jesus do?" I have no doubt that he would quote the Scriptures in response."

Vincent, you fail to address any of my actual points, and as I noted, the Zen metaphor is not inherently or essentially Zen, and it in no way violates any Christian theology. Yet you address this strawman instead of my actual points. David/DGus did, so let me move on to dialoguing with him.

But first I'll respond that the Jesus I love, know and follow would have been less likely to toss off a scriptural quotation than to boil the essence of scripture down to its real heart -- to look to the moon rather than the finger.

Proof? "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Posted by: Nadine Kwong on Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 2:06am BST

David/DGus, congratulations on your daughter entering college! May she flourish there, and make you proud.

I too have had adoption within my family, and speak from that place, and I suspect that if you and I spoke further, we'd see each other not so far apart as to what makes someone a parent, and what makes someone a *good* parent.

Reading your response, I had two consistent reactions that I would hope you would consider:

1. Real humans do not live in a world of abstracted norms. Whatever the norm or ideal, and without you and I needing to agree on what it might be, I would hope you would concede that, in the concrete real world of your neighbors (to use that word as Christ used it), at least *some* children of widow/ers and divorced single parents would be worse off as parents if the other parent were still in the house or if an opposite-sex step-parent were introduced into (think of an abusive or mentally ill individual), and that at least *some* same-sex couples parent better than at least *some* mixed-sex couples. And if that is so, are the children really better off being fit into some abstract norm because "that's the way God [supposedly] ordained it," and are the children really worse off by living in a household that may fall short of the abstracted ideal but that is nonetheless far better than the closest "normative" household they could be in (save for said household being, in your eyes, "sinful")?

And if there really are exceptions in the real world, where a kid is happy and loved and educated despite being raised in a less-than-normative situation, would Jesus have wanted that kid to have never been brought into existence, or to be taken away into a more normative, less loving household? Again, we do not live in abstractions.

2. And this brings me into the second reaction I had, which is the realization that much of the gap between our views seems to hinge on how we treat that which is not "normative." To you, it appears that departures from a norm are necessarily "deviations" from it, and sinful, whereas to me, some departures may be deviations, but others are not deviations but *variations*, and not inherently sinful.

I do not agree that a male-female couple, raising children that are genetically the offspring of each of them and that have been given birth by the female of the couple, is a divinely ordained norm. Nonetheless, for the sake of this discussion, I will try to enter into your view, and so let assume for the sake of argument that it is so; that what you hold to be the norm *is* the norm.

It simply does not follow therefrom that *everything* that is a departure from this ideal, from this norm, is therefore inherently bad and sinful and must be opposed. At most, it means that the departure from the norm is less good than the norm, but it still may be plenty good in and of itself. (For example, let us say that I just *love* steak more than any other food. For me, it is always normative that, in the abstract, a steak is always better than a hamburger. But I also like a good hamburger. Just because life does not bring a steak but a burger to my table on a given evening (or maybe it brings me both steak and burger but the steak is overcooked and dried out while the burger is juicy and perfectly done), it does not mean that that burger isn't something that will be nutritional and delicious for me.

Similarly, if one says that mixed-sex couples raising their own biological children, and children being raised by their own mixed-sex biological parents, is The Norm, it does not logically follow that *everything* other than that is "deviation" rather than "variation." And again, let's add in the real-world factor; can you honestly tell me that a child raised by abusive male and female parents would not be better off in a loving, non-abusive same-sex couple's home? (It being the real world, we can safely say that in at least some cases, an adoptive family headed by a loving, non-abusive male-female couple -- and thus closer to The Norm -- will simply not be available.) And if that abused child is taken from the abusive parents and placed with the same-sex couple, would not that family be more pleasing to the Lord, no matter that they still fall short of The Norm? Should the Church not bless that home, in a way it should not bless the abusive home?

Finally, you wrote: "Invent new relationships if you must, but don't imagine that they're the equivalent of the relationships that nature calls for. Everyone who knows about the birds and the bees -- and even a child who doesn't know about that yet -- knows that mommy and daddy and baby go together."

Again, in the *real* world -- rather than in the idealized, rarified realms spun out by JP2's Theology of the Body etc. and other theological overabstractions -- a relationship that "nature calls for" may simply not be the most healthy for a child, and other relationships seemingly not "called for by nature" may be sufficiently healthy -- indeed, downright wonderful and the best option actually available for a given child, whether the "non-natural" relationship involved involves a widow/er, a same-sex couple, or heterosexual married adoptive parents.

By the way, I'd also love to introduce you to some children of same-sex couples. To them, mommy and mommy and baby, or daddy and daddy and baby, go together every bit as naturally and self-evidently as you assert that even a child unfamiliar with the birds and the bees "knows that mommy and daddy and baby go together" -- thereby disproving your proposition that all children inherently "know" that "mommy and daddy and baby" is the *only* possible or good combination.

Posted by: Nadine Kwong on Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 3:00am BST

"Everyone who knows about the birds and the bees -- and even a child who doesn't know about that yet -- knows that mommy and daddy and baby go together"

Dgus, I think Rodgers & Hammerstein covered that one pretty well back in "South Pacific" (1949):

"You've got to be taught to hate and fear,
You've got to be taught from year to year,
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear:
You've got to be carefully taught."

["hate and fear" gay people in *civil partnerships*, in this case Simon S: just to stay on topic! *g*]

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 7:24am BST

Keith Kimber

Thanks for your kind words (above) about our "Service of Blessing and Covenant". A lot of people have found it on the web and sent us nice comments.

The one I like best is as follows:

"Dear Simon and David,

Many thanks for putting your blessing service on the internet. I'm a liturgist working at ******** ********* and will be using your service with a group of students this coming Friday (they are all training to be priests). My hope is that they will be inspired, in their ministries, to offer services of this kind and approach them as creatively and meaningfully as you so obviously did yours.

With thanks and blessing

******* ******

******* ********* *******
Vice Principal
****** ******** ******** Theological College
[somewhere in the UK]"

It is clear that many senior people in the C of E are perfectly relaxed about gay blessings - it is just sad that so few of those senior people are prepared to take a lead and say so in public.

Simon

Posted by: Simon Dawson on Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 9:41am BST

Nadine Kwong, I rather think that since the discussion is about the specific question of marriage, Jesus would have quoted (as he does in debating marriage in Matt.19.4-5)

"Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?"

And so, you may conclude that I regard it as an immoral use of science to cause children to be born to same-sex couples, or to be cloned. Just because it can be done does not make it morally valid.

Posted by: Vincent Coles on Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 10:55am BST

Keith ;yes, the established churches have lost the plot, and I think in, say, 10 years, when civil partnerships are no longer at all remarkable, and may even be officially called gay marriage, as well as colloquially, the Church will simply look even more ridiculous and archaic.

Or - and we can only hope - the conservatives will all be following Akinola and Co, and we may even have a church worth being part of, which respects all loving, committed relationships irrespective of the gender of those involved.

Posted by: Merseymike on Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 1:06pm BST

Keith Kimber, I have followed the links as you suggest, and what I found there included (among many things profoundly unrelated to the Gospel) appeals to the "goddess" Gaia. This illustrates very exactly what happens when people go their own way, rather than God's.

And no, secular society is not showing us the way. Secular society's promotion of a world in which children are a commodity, equally available to to married couples, unmarried mothers, gay women and now gay men, children given sex instruction as young as 12 or 13 and sent out from the classroom to go forth and multiply, all of this is causing society to break down as children grow up without the parents God intended them to have, sharing their upbringing and their lives.

Secular society has invented for itself a myth of sex without consequences. But it is a cruel myth and fantasy, and it is tearing society apart and filling it with disease, materialism and sorrow.
And the children are the first to suffer.

Posted by: Vincent Coles on Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 1:22pm BST

Vincent more or less attacks Nadine with a weak left hook as he says, "I have no doubt that he would quote the Scriptures in response."

I ask, IS THIS WHAT HE WOULD DO? A great deal of what he taught flew in the face of what had previously been held to be true and the practice of law without considering justice, mercy and good faith. He said, "Why do you break God's commandment in the interest of your tradition?" And, when his disciples were caught picking corn on the Sabbath, he said, "I require mercy, not sacrifice." And, he pointed out that we are defiled not by what goes into our mouths, but by what comes out of our mouths. Can you show me where he quoted scripture without changing the effect or response to that scripture as it was practiced in his day?

On another note: there are many, many children who are born and raised outside of the traditional family structure for many real world reasons. As a motherless child, I was one. Since death also enters the equation, all arguments above are empty. I might have been raised by a maiden aunt and her room mate. Ahem ....

There are hundreds of thousands of children not being raised in traditional homes, some not even being raised by a parent. Fertility is not contingent on a married state. Many women or men are infertile and choice has nothing to do with it. I can't even figure out how this comes into play in anybody's argument. I could even see the value of having same sex couples who desire to raise a family! It could be argued that the need is there.

Annie

Posted by: Annie on Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 2:24pm BST

Could anyone please clarify these legal questions about civil partnerships:
1. Can a bishop or church council in the Church of England forbid a priest (rector, vicar or curate) who is presently employed from cohabitating in a church property (vicarage etc) with his/her civil partner?
2. Can a bishop or church council in the Church of England make it a condition of employment that a priest does NOT enter a civil partnership?
I am sure these are questions that many potential employers will be mulling over.
Thank you,
Mark Beaton

Posted by: Mark Beaton on Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 3:27pm BST

Vincent writes:
And no, secular society is not showing us the way. Secular society's promotion of a world in which children are a commodity, equally available to to married couples, unmarried mothers, gay women and now gay men, children given sex instruction as young as 12 or 13 and sent out from the classroom to go forth and multiply, all of this is causing society to break down as children grow up without the parents God intended them to have, sharing their upbringing and their lives.

Right, and if we let them homosexuals MARRY and create stable households, we'll end up with child prostitution???

Vincent, I hear your pain and frustration. I too hate seeing teenagers surrounded by a marketing buzz of sex-sex-sex, girls of 14 who look like 19 and every signal they receive cheapening what should be the ultimate act of emotional and spiritual union into scratching an itch.

But blaming people who are trying to live their lives with love, commitment, dedication and stability for the declining sexual mores of what is a basically straight society is really misguided.

Two "married" lesbians who own a house, pay taxes, and are involved in their children's school and active in their church are not the problem.

The single woman I know who "never met Mr Right" who nevertheless lovingly adopted a child of a different race who was taken from his abusive mother and put in foster care, is not the problem.

Just based on the numbers, the sexualization of society and destruction of marriage have a lot more to do with straights than gays. We gays may be a convenient target, but the commodification of sex is largely done by straights.

And further, it's not like our children are suddenly going to go away to a straight family if you deny us marriage rights. It's not as though committed gay couples are going to stop having children. The train has left the station. Thus denying us equivalent civil rights is not protecting the children, it's hurting them. Because they are here regardless, and so are we. But we CAN be part of the solution.

If the solution is improving society and protecting children.

Or do you agree with the Canadian RC Cardinal who says that children of gay parents should not be baptised?

Posted by: IT on Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 3:56pm BST

What would Jesus say about same-sex unions or same-sex "marriage"? He did address the subject of marriage, in a passage that has already been disregarded in this discussion: To reject a degraded view of marriage, He repeated that "at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female'" (Matthew 19:4-6). His theme was the unchanging continuity of God's will from "the beginning".

It's a reinvented hippie Jesus who smiles benignly on sexual perversion and teaches something like "I'm OK, you're OK", or "Rules are old school; just be nice," or "That was then, this is now". You can read what the real Jesus actually taught. Jesus insisted that no "jot" or "tittle" would pass from the law, "till all be fulfilled", and He warned against "teach[ing] others to ... break[] the least of these commandments".

Annie asks, "Can you show me where he quoted scripture without changing the effect or response to that scripture as it was practiced in his day?" It's true that he considered righteousness to be not mere compliance with the Law, but His call was always to go HIGHER than the Law: He said that one's righteousness must EXCEED the righteousness of the law-keepers: Avoid not just murder but also hatred; avoid not just adultery but also lust; etc. (Matt. 5.)

Jesus truly welcomed the sexual sinner, but His word was "Go and sin no more". (John 8:11.) This is His loving word to homosexual and heterosexual sinners even today: "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." And He'll give you the grace to heed that call.

Jesus was no antinomian. Maybe some are confusing Him with Marcion.

J.C., I can't be sure, but it seems you are accusing me of "hate and fear" [of] gay people in *civil partnerships*". I do not hate anyone. I do not hate "gay" people. I love them. In addition, I happen to LIKE the ones closest to me. I suppose it is easier in some respects to deal with those who oppose you if you can imagine that they hate you, but I urge you to realize that things are not that simple. --DGus

Posted by: DGus on Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 4:55pm BST

Oh, I don't really class love without affirmation and 'conditions' as very genuine, DGus.

The world didnt stop in AD 33. Thats why trying to apply the Bible in such a literalist way is such a pointless exercise. After all, it was written by men of their age and time, who wouldn't have even understood what sexual orientation was, let alone foresee faithful gay relationships, civil partnerships, or gay marriage!

Posted by: Merseymike on Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 5:44pm BST

Dear MM: You say, "I don't really class love without affirmation and 'conditions' as very genuine".

I understand that that you might be rankled by professions of love from someone who disapproves of your conduct. But while you and I disagree on this particular subject (homosexuality), I'll bet that, in fact, you DO love many sinners whose sin you cannot affirm. I have friends who are bigots; I love them genuinely but don't "affirm" their bigotry; maybe you have similar relationships. Maybe you have even an extreme instance like the one I now face: I hope this weekend to visit a high school-era friend imprisoned for child molestation. I do love him very genuinely--I'd say I love HIM unconditionally--but, no, I don't "affirm" his sinful crime.

The only sensible thing is to love unconditionally but "affirm" only conditionally. The only other alternatives are either (a) to love everyone AND affirm everything, no matter how horrible, or else (b) to be much more discriminating and love only those whom you can unqualifiedly affirm. Neither of these alternatives is Christian. Instead, we apply in this context the simple rule that Christians have always followed in every context:

Hate the sin, love the sinner. (I hope that's how people are treating me.)

Posted by: DGus on Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 7:11pm BST

Dear Merseymike

I don't think that Jesus (or Pete Broadbent) hates people who experience homosexual attraction, or any other sinful attraction. Nor do I think that. And I would try to always follow them in loving the sinner too.

But that does not mean that Civil Partnerships are righteous, or that I feel obliged to affirm such people by supporting legitimisation of their partnerships. Affirmation should only be given to a person as an individual, or as a member of a legitimate classification (gender, race, single, married, nationality, class, age, education, disability etc) not as a member of a class of person who commits a particular sin.

ps By the way, I would be interested to know whether you extend "affirmation" to people like me - who disagree with your revisionist approach to christianity and the authority of the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles recorded in the Bible ? Or do you feel no duty to either love or affirm me ?

Posted by: Dave on Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 8:29pm BST

Actually the world of AD33 was very little different to modern UK in terms of decadence and immorality - a little worse if anything, but we are sure catching up fast on the emperor Tiberius and the culture of his empire.

I often read assertions that today is so very different to the ancient world, but I can assure you as a classicist that it was not, nor was human nature, or the kind of liaisons which MM thinks are so new to this world. The world which Jesus urged to repent and believe the good news was remarkably like our own.

Posted by: Vincent Coles on Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 9:43pm BST

Mark
Thanks for your two questions. It's not easy to answer them thoroughly in the format of a comment here, so maybe I should have a separate article about this. But a few pointers:

1. In the CofE, Parochial Church Councils don't have the kind of authority wrt clergy that your question implies. So any discipline that might be applicable would require the relevant bishop to take action.

2. Both questions are framed with reference to civil partnerships which can't exist in England until 21 December this year, by which time it is widely believed that the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 will have come into full effect. This very substantially alters the current procedures, so discussing what could happen under them would be nugatory.

3. A diocesan chancellor has expressed the following opinion and as it was published by Anglican Mainstream it can be considered as coming from somebody who wants to take as strong a position against civil partnerships as possible:

"The Church cannot prevent two clergy entering into a civil partnership. If the clergy do so, it is a valid civil partnership in terms of the law of the land. However there is no reason why a church should not discipline its clergy who do this...
After an extended discussion, he concluded:
"...It is therefore ‘conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders’ under the Clergy Discipline Measure"

I hope this is helpful as a starter answer.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 9:53pm BST

Simon, I saw the legal opinion to which you refer at No. 3 and it has to be said that it is merely bluster.

Even with the new Clergy Discipline Measure in force in 2006, how long would a charge of "conduct unbecoming" for committing a Civil Patrnership survive on appeal to the High Court, once it had been demonstrated that 80% of the bishops in the Lords that night voted FOR the Act, and that a similar number were turning a blind eye to it in their own dioceses?

The only chance the bishops have of making any charge stick is for them to propose an Act of Synod at the next meeting of General Synod in November, declaring that any cleric who takes advantage of the CP Act will be understood to be guilty of conduct unbecoming. It might also save their bacon vis-a-vis the wider Anglican Communion....

Posted by: Vincent Coles on Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 10:23pm BST

Thank you, Simon. If you know, could you please explain what changes this clergy discipline measure 2003 will bring in?
Wrt vicarages, as these are (I believe) usually parish or diocesan property in England (whereas in Ecusa priests often buy their own homes), can the title holder declare who may or may not domicile there?

Posted by: Mark Beaton on Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 10:41pm BST

I agree with Vincent Coles on the legal opinion from Chancellor Behrens.
Our legal advice on his view is not yet for public release (I think it needs a little toning down!), but it leaves no doubt that there is no substance to the Chancellor's "bluster".
On a personal level as a gay priest in a partnership with a son, it is good to have some point of agreement with Mr Coles.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Thursday, 25 August 2005 at 12:42am BST

"You can read what the real Jesus actually taught. Jesus insisted that no "jot" or "tittle" would pass from the law, "till all be fulfilled", and He warned against "teach[ing] others to ... break[] the least of these commandments"

DGus,

I assume it is not necessary to list once again the various "laws" that you and most every other Christian have chosen to set aside for one reason or another, is it? I'd be happy to refresh your memory.

This argument..."The bible said it, I believe it, that ends it"...has been used to justify some really atrocious behaviors, and to condemn rather benign behaviors throughout the history of Christendom. It is a really weak argument, unless you want to suggest that it is appropriate to stone to death a disobedient child, as one example? If not, the inconsistency in the argument makes it difficult to take seriously.

I must assume that what you are really suggesting is that there must be some hermeneutical principles on which we can all agree which might be used to decide which "laws" apply today, and which ones do not?

What continues to confuse me is why the "sexual" laws get all the press. Are they just more interesting to talk about, or is there a list of prioritized sins floating around somewhere that I somehow missed?

Posted by: Jake on Thursday, 25 August 2005 at 12:54am BST

But the Bishops have made it clear enough that they don't consider partaking in a CP of itself 'conduct unbecoming'.

Posted by: Merseymike on Thursday, 25 August 2005 at 12:56am BST

The English parsonage house (Rectory or Vicarage) is held in trust by the incumbent (Rector or Vicar) who effectively has a personal freehold while in office. The incumbent is normally required by law to live in the parsonage house.

Posted by: Vincent Coles on Thursday, 25 August 2005 at 2:25am BST

As a frequent reader, but seldom poster, at this site, I am provoked to respond to recent comments by a couple of the regulars. DGus and Dave either "disapprove" of "conduct" or condemn "sinful attraction". I am a participant in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship sanctified by the Episcopal Church(USA) twenty seven years ago, but I am appalled by the snarky arguments of the above referenced. If you two will insist on insulting your Brother Christians with "love the sinner" BS, then none of us have a prayer to speak in resolving our differences. Gay Christians are asking(demanding)that the rest of us honor their life-sustaining relationships, not allow them in as second class citizens in the club. I know that my Church will persevere in this cause, but I am appalled by the cynical posturing of those who promote their own religiosity while stabbing the back of fellow Christians. I was raised in the 1960's US South, and I know the territory of the "other".

Posted by: John D on Thursday, 25 August 2005 at 3:04am BST

Mark asked another two questions. Vincent has already answered one.
I can't summarise the sea change of the Clergy Discipline Measure here, but some idea of it can be found out by following the links in this earlier article:
http://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/archives/001038.html

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 25 August 2005 at 11:40am BST

Simon ; wouldn't the Bishops statement have been produced, though, in the light of the passing of this Measure?

Posted by: Merseymike on Thursday, 25 August 2005 at 12:30pm BST

Yes, Merseymike, it was. This question was raised at the press briefing on the Pastoral Statement, and the Secretary General, William Fittall, made the point that because of this change it was difficult to forecast just how any attempt at disciplinary action would progress, since so many new processes were involved.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 25 August 2005 at 12:48pm BST

John D. wrote: "I was raised in the 1960's US South, and I know the territory of the "other"."

I also grew up in the South during the Civil Rights struggle, and it's *amazing* how similar the current anti-GLBT rhetoric is to the arguments I used to hear for keeping people of color out of our churches and civil society in general...

Posted by: David Huff on Thursday, 25 August 2005 at 2:55pm BST

Dear David Huff: You said, "it's *amazing* how similar the current anti-GLBT rhetoric is to the arguments I used to hear for keeping people of color out of our churches and civil society in general..."

Really? "Similar" in what way? I think I had a fair exposure to both, and I don't find them anything alike.

Posted by: DGus on Thursday, 25 August 2005 at 6:52pm BST

Vincent wrote:
"The only chance the bishops have of making any charge stick is for them to propose an Act of Synod at the next meeting of General Synod in November, declaring that any cleric who takes advantage of the CP Act will be understood to be guilty of conduct unbecoming. It might also save their bacon vis-a-vis the wider Anglican Communion...."

Why ever do you think that:
a. the bishops would want to do that?
b. such a proposal could gain the needed majorities in General Synod?
c. having such an Act would have any legal significance?

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 25 August 2005 at 10:42pm BST

"Really? 'Similar' in what way? I think I had a fair exposure to both, and I don't find them anything alike." DGus

Oh, dang/darn/doo-doo!

Did I miss the point again? I guess it sounded similar to me about back then too.

I was there.

I think I saw/heard/felt the hard-heartedness, defensive/strident/insistant shouting and pushing for power to MAINTAIN control, the guilt-ridden snarling and angry lashing out AT *others* (did you see them nasty protest signs and burn'n crosses?) that somehow made the religious right-eous feel like they were defending God and God's "word" for humanity instead of welcoming change and admitting God's truth about loving everyone (some are still wrestling with this one I'm told).

Most of all, the worst was the ugly defiant behavior, the non-stop bitterness and hatefilled words generated by the "ones" who didn't/don't realize it WAS and IS their own personal character that needed/needs reviewing/restricting/redoing...a rethinking and overhaul and humbling before our equal-opportunity Creator might be Mighty nice.

Fear'n, hate'n, demoraliz'n, and exclud'n *others* ain't gonna make ya'll or ME a better and more lov'n Christian human bee'n I'll be guess'n!

My friend Lord Jesus don't much take a lik'n or shine'n to that kind'a unbrotherly/sisterly inhospitable sick emotional stuff.

It's my birthday today and I'm 62!

Thanks be to God and some of you too!

Posted by: Leonardo Ricardo on Thursday, 25 August 2005 at 11:38pm BST

'What would Jesus do?'

Well, he sometimes gave a parable. Here's a suggestion as to what form a parable might take in response to the current debate regarding homosexuality/civil partnerships and the church:

The Parable of Pippa and Polly.

There was a widower businessman who lived with his two teenaged daughters, Pippa and Polly. The businessman had to leave the girls to go on a long business trip abroad and before he left he said to them, 'Right, girls, I'll be gone for a couple of months and I need you to keep this place nice and to look after each other and to do all your schoolwork because you have the big exams coming up.' They replied that he needn't worry because they were big girls now and everything would be alright. Reassured, the businessman kissed them goodbye and went on his trip away.

The girls loved each other, but they were very different and had different skills and interests. Pippa, the elder of the two girls, was a very good cook and loved plants so she did the cooking and looked after the garden. She wanted to be a Doctor when she grew up. Polly enjoyed housework and doing sums, so she did all the cleaning in the house and looked after the house finances. She wanted to be an Engineer when she grew up. Everything went well in their father's absence; the house was clean, the garden well kept, the bills were paid, and the girls were well fed and clothed. After they returned from school each day and their chores were done, they devoted their time to their studies.

Then, one day, Pippa went in to Polly's room to call her for dinner. She found Polly studying hard with her books but her finger was right up her nose. 'POLLY!' Yelled the older, more refined sister, 'Stop it at once. That is vile! You know you shouldn't pick your nose; Father said it is disgusting and dirty and not what girls should do. It's what the common girls from down the road do. Here, take a tissue; you should blow your nose, not pick it.' Polly was embarrassed and replied, 'I know I shouldn't do it, I've tried to stop, but when I get my head into my books, I find I do it without thinking. I wish I could stop, but I can't. It's not like it does anyone any harm though, is it? I'd never do it in public and I'm not saying everyone should do it; I'm sure there's no need to get so mad about it.'

'That's utter rot,' snapped Pippa, 'If Daddy found you doing it, there'd be hell to pay. If you don't stop it, you will have to leave. I can't live with someone who does that; there must be boogers everywhere. You are disgusting. You're not eating with me anymore, until you promise you have stopped.' Pippa left and slammed the door. She went downstairs and chucked Polly's meal into the dustbin and ate dinner alone.

After a week, Pippa asked Polly, 'Well, have you stopped picking your nose?'.

Polly blushed and complained, 'Why can't you leave me be? You know I can't help myself; I have tried, but I find myself doing it without thinking.'

'Right then, that's it! If you can't manage to abide by Daddy's rules and continue to do something that makes me so sick, you will have to leave our house. Give me your key and pack your bags.' Pippa demanded, holding out her hand.

Trying not to cry, Polly gave her the keys, packed her bags and left the house she thought of as her home. She wandered around and around not knowing where else she could stay. Pippa tried to keep the house together, but she just couldn't do it all by herself and by the time the businessman returned from his trip, the house was a stinking mess. 'What on Earth has been going on?' He demanded angrily, 'What is this mess and where is my Polly?'

Standing in the middle of a pile of rubbish, Pippa tried to explain, 'Daddy, I've tried to keep up the house as best as I can, according to your standards, but Polly kept picking her nose and I had to tell her to go.'

Her father was furious, 'You broke up my family over that? You made a mess of my house because of that? Go to your room at once while I try to find our Polly.'

Pippa sulked and protested, 'But you told us to use tissues! Look how clean my nose is!'

Posted by: matt on Friday, 26 August 2005 at 3:42am BST

DGus!

"Jesus insisted that no "jot" or "tittle" would pass from the law, "till all be fulfilled", and He warned against "teach[ing] others to ... break[] the least of these commandments".

That's right. The commandments never changed. The Great Commandment and the second. And remember, "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." Or as my current Bible phrases it, "Everything in the Law and Prophets hangs on these two commandments."

What don't you understand about it? All 613 Laws of the old testament came under these commandments. That's why Jesus taught us not to apply the law without justice, mercy and good faith. In other words, as Paul says, "Put love first." Personally, I make it a rule to be too loving, if that is possible, because that is never listed as a sin, but I could err in not being loving enough.

Annie

Posted by: Annie on Friday, 26 August 2005 at 6:04am BST

"Justice" means distinguishing between right and wrong. I do not think you can argue seriously that Jesus meant to abolish the distinction.

Posted by: Vincent Coles on Friday, 26 August 2005 at 3:51pm BST

Vincent,
How so? Do you mean to say that you put anything before the first and second commandments?

Above all, keep your love for one another at full strength, because love cancels innumerable sins. [1 Peter 4:8]

About the prostitute who wetted Christ's feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, he said, "I tell you, her great love proves that her many sins have been forgiven; where little has been forgiven, little love is shown." [Luke 7:47] I believe that is one of the most telling and beautiful of all the stories in the Gospels and few ever get past the fact that she is a prostitute and they judge her as Pharisees instead of seeing the woman Christ saw that day.

"For all alike have sinned and are deprived of the divine splendour, and all are justified by God's free grace alone, through his act of liberation in the person of Christ Jesus." [Romans 3:23-24]

[comment deleted]
I'm having a difficult time believing that you were raised Anglican. I learned about the commandments first from the catechism I had to memorize before I was confirmed. These should be written on your heart.

Annie

Posted by: Annie on Friday, 26 August 2005 at 7:52pm BST

Try again.

John D wrote: "DGus and Dave either "disapprove" of "conduct" or condemn "sinful attraction"........ I am appalled by the snarky arguments of the above referenced. If you two will insist on insulting your Brother Christians with "love the sinner"....

Dear John D, surely you have heard that the scriptural and traditional teachings of the Church state that homosexual sex is sinful (like many other forms of sexuality, and heterosexual sex outside marriage). "Love the sinner" is a general response to everyone, whatever the sins... including my own. I do not think that any class of sinners (ie me or anyone else) is "second class". But that does not mean I can affirm sin!

Posted by: Dave on Friday, 26 August 2005 at 8:02pm BST

Annie,

The New Testament teaching with which we are familiar as Christians does not exist in isolation from the Scriptures which Jesus believed and taught.

Judgement and justice and mercy and grace all belong to God, but Jesus still counselled sinners to "go and sin no more." His first word in Mark 1.15 is "Repent". How so if there is no longer any such thing as sin?

The Law must be viewed and interpreted by Christians through the lens of the New Covenant, but it does not mean to say that it is abrogated. Christians are set free from the power of sin, but not so that they can carry on as if nothing has changed.

Posted by: Vincent Coles on Saturday, 27 August 2005 at 12:09am BST

Vincent,
Who says there is no longer such a thing as sin? But sin is on a different footing, as Paul tells us. Yes, Jesus said to repent. He told the adulteress that at the end of the story, after he had told the crowd, "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone." So, first, he told us not to judge and second he told us not to sin. So, in my opinion, he still does this today, he leads us through the Spirit to understand our sin and tells us to repent. The issue at hand here is not actually dealt with in scripture as we are speaking of a loving, committed relationship. In the past, as always, fornication is a sin. Unfaithfulness, or adultery was and is a sin. But no other loving relationship is called a sin. The way I see it, the question has been asked. Some have claimed a leading by the Spirit to believe that same sex committed relationships are not a sin. I do not know this personally, but I do see where scripture says three things I consider important: That God is a living God and we now worship in Spirit and in truth; that gentiles, according to the scripture of Paul's day, could not have enjoyed our current status nor could Jews have eaten with us due to their uncleanliness laws (and men laying with men was a type of uncleanliness in Leviticus); and finally looking at the fruit of the Spirit. We know that faith is manifested in us by grace by the fruit of the Spirit and "by their fruits you shall know them." Jesus and Paul both tell us that faith itself is a gift of God, so the very evidence of faith is a proof of God's own acceptance of those with in this relationship.

Annie

Posted by: Annie on Saturday, 27 August 2005 at 7:45pm BST

I forgot something!

Vincent,
I did not say that the Law was abrogated. I said that Jesus reminded us of the first two commandments, i.e., love God and neighbor, and that "on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (I am repeating myself here. You can find it at Matthew 22:40) While the 613 laws of the OT were merely a definition of how to keep the commandments, we know that times did change. Jesus taught us that divorce was no longer possible though Moses had held that it was. The way that Jesus felt we should keep the Sabbath Holy did change. Times change, conditions change, people change, God does not.

On the other hand, you say that the old is not made new through Christ, but Paul does say that only through Christ is the old covenant abrogated. 2 Cor 3:12-18. Christ's own words to that effect were the ones about putting the new wine into old wineskins. He brought us the New Covenant and we are no longer under the law, but under Grace through faith in him.

Annie

Posted by: Annie on Saturday, 27 August 2005 at 7:57pm BST

I appreciate Matt's parable, and agree with the overall message. There are, however, 2 points where it does not correspond:
(1) In the parable, nosepicking is something she does 'without thinking' - which can't be said of homosexual actions.
(2) In the parable she knows she shouldn't be doing it. If this ever came to be the case with homosexuals, the debate, controversy and potential split would vanish into thin air.

The sticking point is not what people are doint (since, after all, we all sin aplenty) but that some admit that their sins are sins and some do not. In the parable, Polly is among the first group, whereas in reality many homosexuals are among the second group.

Hi Annie-
You've probably heard the expression 'the full gospel'. When properly used, this refers to the need to use all of the gospel material in our endeavour to understand Jesus. Or even if we don't use all of it, the parts we do use are not determined by our own preferences.
Those who use this principle affirm (and bow to) Jn 8.1-11, Lk 7.36-50, Mt 7.1, within an overall balanced/nuanced interpretation of Jesus's teaching. But it seems that there are Christians who affirm (and bow to) little else other than these 3 passages (out of the hundreds available). What makes one uneasy is that these are precisely the three passages that correspond to their own pre-existing philosophy. So that the
guiding hermeneutic is 21st century liberal tolerance, not Christianity. Christianity is tolerated only when it happens to agree with 21st century liberal tolerance.
I'd always urge people to apply and cite from the entire pool of Jesus's teachings. Of course, one could point out that John's gospel should be excluded as late - but the truth is that all the three passages in question appear late in the tradition-history of Jesus's sayings.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Saturday, 3 September 2005 at 3:31pm BST
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