Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Giles Fraser: Thought For The Day

Broadcast on Radio 4 this morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 8:58am BST | TrackBack
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: Church of England
Comments

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

Posted by: Peter of Westminster on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 9:31am BST

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

Posted by: kieran crichton on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 10:55am BST

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

If it were I could return / rejoin --perhaps...

Posted by: L Roberts on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 11:29am BST

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

Of course, I realise you can't say much on Thought for the Day but Giles Fraser regularly doesn't bother to argue properly.

Posted by: john on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 12:46pm BST

"reasonable person must be persuaded"

I consider myself a reasonable person, and this doesn't really persuade me. Tobias' (I know, now that I've read 'em, I've turned into and evnagelist) work is far more convincing. I agree with his statements that the Church is missing the opportunity to promote monogamy in a culture that, traditionally driven underground, has never placed a value on it.

"it’s fundamentally about one person loving another."

This is why this argument doesn't convince me. It is not fundamentally about one person loving another. It is about, as the Evangelicals say, the authority of Scripture, how Scripture is to be interpreted, what is the role of our human experience in helping us discern God's will, how much of God's will for us must we simply accept, what is relationship between the Christian and Law, what is the role of humans with respect to God, what is the nature of a sacrament, particularly matrimony, and on and on. I might disagree with conservatives on most, if not all of these issues, and the issues ARE being addressed elsewhere. But to make it "all about love" is to miss the point entirely, and that means that arguments made from that angle aren't convincing, at least to me.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 12:48pm BST

Giles Fraser for Bishop of London!

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 1:04pm BST

Super; so well laid out.

Posted by: Pluralist on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 1:18pm BST

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

Posted by: Paul Rowlandson on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 1:38pm BST

Ford
"It is not fundamentally about one person loving another. It is about, as the Evangelicals say, the authority of Scripture....."

But we don't have to repeat the whole pro-theology canon every time we make an argument.
Once we've been persuaded by a theological argument we use shorthand when we quote it, especially in a protracted debate where we often find we’re saying the same thing over and over again. And so all the evangelical arguments can be summarised as "Scriptural Authority", especially "the plain written word".

By the same token, all the pro-gay theology only applies if and where two people genuinely love each other and promise a faithful and stable relationship.
To me, that's what "it's all about love" means. Where love is given, everything pro-gay theology says applies. When it isn't, we're not defending it either.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 2:30pm BST

'Love bade me welcome but my soul drew back ...

... pitching around for abstruss 'theological arguments', dusty proof-texts --and heaven knows what ---

in order to distract myself -- and keep Love

at bay .....

Posted by: L Roberts on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 3:04pm BST

Of course it has to be succinct, and so shorthand, but for me Giles' shortcuts are unpersuasive.

The piece implies that the BCP doctrine of marriage subsists wholly in those three 'causes', whereas it is also as clearly stated that marriage is "between a man and a woman". I beg leave seriously to doubt that Cranmer or his contemporaries would have remotely considered their service applicable to two men or two women - so an argument that what they 'really meant' is equally valid in that situation is specious.

It's also for this reason that the oft-used argument that the openness to having children would rule out the infertile, infirm or elderly just misses the point entirely. Children are conceived naturally by a man and a woman. Not by any and every man and any and every woman, it's true - but certainly not by any two men or two women. Artificial conception is the counter to this, it's true - but I'm not persuaded that this is sufficient grounds for altering the doctrine of marriage.

So - that's the reasonable alternative to Giles' point of view. In an even smaller nutshell.

Posted by: pete hobson on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 3:31pm BST

We need to remember that there are simply people out there who do not believe - do not want to believe - that gay people should exist, and that, if they do exist (or rather, in the words of Lambeth 1.10, if they are "persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation"), they must be celibate and (preferably) quiet. For their "experience" of themselves is ostensibly wrong and quite contrary to the will of God.

What changes this is not so much theological discussion, but rather personal encounter, generous love in Christ and the realization that the price of denying that gay people do - and should - exist is exacted in human flesh. (The real and necessary theological discussion, then, is about the fruit born by reliance on a few, selected biblical passages, rather than on the spirit of Christ's Gospel.) With all our biblical theologizing about whether gay people should be allowed to live and love like everyone else, the Christian churches play no small role, for example, in causing and perpetuating the despair that drives so many gay and lesbian teenagers to suicide. Again: "By their fruits, ye shall know them." (Matthew 7:20)

How refreshing then to see Giles Fraser put it so beautifully, kindly and simply.

Posted by: christopher+ on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 3:32pm BST

This article (in PDF form) (http://www.fee.org/pdf/the-freeman/July-Aug%2007%20Horwitz.pdf) argues that heterosexual marriage is today about "love," rather than about economics, as it has been throughout most of history. (The article makes a pretty good argument that capitalism is responsible for this state of affairs.)

And the author comments that "When love and sexual attraction become the reasons to get married and stay together, what, argue gays and lesbians, differentiates their relationships from heterosexual ones"?

Nobody on the anti-gay-marriage sides seems willing to answer that question. Heterosexuals are no longer locked into "arranged marriages," as they have been for most of history - nor would they wish to be, I reckon; why can't they face this fact, I wonder, and recognize what the implications are?

Posted by: bls on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 3:36pm BST

Well as the signs waving high outside San Francisco USA City Hall read: Recriminalize Sodomy. God hates fags. You will burn in hell.

Either there is clear traditional scriptural authority for one or more of these familiar preachments. Or we might have been mistaken in our readings of the scriptures.

The closed presuppositional reading of the scriptures does offer us clear and unambiguous authority - often translated to specific powers over non-straight citizens which straight citizens are gifted directly by God in revelation - those powers being revealed to be especially directly gifted to the stricter conservative believers who follow the alleged rules and so reap the alleged rewards of righteousness, i.e., obedience=power over non-straights? In USA this is essentially the Reconstructionist-Dominionist point of view. The godly rule over all. Now. Using the police power of the state. Calvin's Geneva gone global, and newly armed.

The rest of us will have two typical difficulties with such readings resulting in such claims.

One, we will object vigorously to understandings - new or old - which shift the center of the gospel news to power and dominion, displacing equally old centers of service and witness in service. We note in passing that such power is essentially police power, and must be backed up by punishment if it is going to be known as real power among us. Sooner, later, you have to be mean to somebody to make your judgment points stick, otherwise you are just blowing hot empty air about God's wrath.

Two, we will take strong exception to the preachments which make a good thing - lifelong, caring committed same relationships - into a bad thing, i.e., presuppositional-definitional sin.

Aside from the complex, maze-like twists and turns needed for conservative hermeneutics to drive around and right past all the alternative reading options taking into account all the new disconfirming data - one is powerfully struck by the underlying false witness involved.

If the traditional witness is so especially right, let alone gifted by God to wield unmitigated high power over others - why must it resort to lies about the many daily life goods queer citizens live out among us all around (love, work, parenting, service), in order to press its self-declared superior moral case and its self-righteous condemnations?

Posted by: drdanfee on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 4:01pm BST

What changes this is not so much theological discussion, but rather personal encounter, generous love in Christ and the realization that the price of denying that gay people do - and should - exist is exacted in human flesh. (The real and necessary theological discussion, then, is about the fruit born by reliance on a few, selected biblical passages, rather than on the spirit of Christ's Gospel.) With all our biblical theologizing about whether gay people should be allowed to live and love like everyone else, the Christian churches play no small role, for example, in causing and perpetuating the despair that drives so many gay and lesbian teenagers to suicide. Again: "By their fruits, ye shall know them." (Matthew 7:20)

How refreshing then to see Giles Fraser put it so beautifully, kindly and simply.

Posted by: christopher+ on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 3:32pm BST

I am moved and refreshed Christopher+ by your own kindly clarity and beautiful simplicity. Thank you.

Posted by: L Roberts on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 4:55pm BST

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

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

Posted by: Peter Ould on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 5:18pm BST

"But we don't have to repeat the whole pro-theology canon every time we make an argument."

Erika,
Perhaps we do. How many conservatives here seem to have heard any of the theology? How many ordinary people in Nigeria have, or anywhere in Africa? How much of this assumption that "the theology has been done" comes from people of a particular theological mindset who have been talking to themselves so much they assume everyone else has been in on the conversation?

christopher,
"For their "experience" of themselves is ostensibly wrong and quite contrary to the will of God."

christopher, what do you say to "their" argument that many people experience themselves in a way that is ostensibly wrong and contrary to the will of God? It's not about whether or not gay people are pedophiles, that's just bigotry backed up by propaganda. But pedophiles experience themselves as such, and we would all agree THAT is contrary to the will of God. I know what my answer would be, I'm looking for other facets of it. At what point does one's experience of what one IS cross from being a variant of normal to something unacceptable?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 5:18pm BST

This is very clear and in fact, unassailable bls.

Magisterial (if you'll pardon the expression !)

Posted by: L Roberts on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 5:53pm BST

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

For example, the notion that heterosexual marriage is "divinely instituted" requires some juggling: while Genesis 1 does show God creating male and female and ordering them to get about the multiplication business, the more detailed account in Genesis 2 clearly shows that this was not God's idea, or at least not God's first idea, on the subject of human solitude and society. God first made the animals, and left it up to Adam to judge them unsuitable partners. (Note carefully: God's first effort is found wanting. It isn't "good" enough!) Only then does God have another go at the problem, and also lets Adam make the final decision. (Talk about subjective experience's role in understanding the divine will!) So: perhaps God would allow persons who "experience themselves to have a homosexual orientation" to find the person who is capable of ending their own solitude and creating a new society of persons. And perhaps the silence of Scripture on that subject (pace the references to rape, idolatry and prostitution) is more an indication of the culture than the divine intent.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 6:34pm BST

Ford
"How many conservatives here seem to have heard any of the theology? How many ordinary people in Nigeria have, or anywhere in Africa?"

It's like everything in life - the information is out there, it just takes the will to find it. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink... as is painfully apparent in your own attempts to get some people on TA to read different scientific evidence on homosexuality.

It's harder in Nigeria and in Africa, I grant you. But the Internet is a widely available tool there too, as Davis Mac-Iyalla has so successfully shown.

If people truly WANT to be informed, they can be. If they don't want to me, our repeating what they don't want to hear again and again is not going to make them listen.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 7:44pm BST

G Fraser: "clearly a gay couple cannot make babies biologically."

No longer (necessarily) true. Friends of mine, a same-sex couple, "made a baby biologically", wherein one woman produced the egg, and the other carried the baby (i.e., provided the in utero environment for the baby's development).

All it's true to say, is that a same-sex couple can't produce a baby through their own *heterosexual intercourse* . . . then again, how many opposite-sex parents can't claim that, either?

*****

Re "persuasive arguments": to paraphrase what was once said of miracles---

For those who believe in the Power of LOVE---the Love that creates, redeems, and sustains us---no persuasion is necessary. For those who don't (pity them!
:-( ), no persuasion is sufficient.

Posted by: JCF on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 8:00pm BST

Ford Elms,

In a nutshell, I would say there is a very clear - even obvious - difference between a pedophile's sexually abusing a minor and two people on equal footing as adults entering freely into a loving relationship that is not abusive by any commonly accepted definition. Pedophilia is, of course, by definition abusive, as are bestiality and ax-murder. Any such comparison - "their" argument - is facile propaganda in support of bigotry.

There are, however, well-meaning Christians who are simply concerned about whether same-sex relationships can be reconciled with the biblical witness. That is a theological discussion worth having, and that, I believe, is where we all need to focus more on the spirit of Christ's Gospel - and on the long history of using selected biblical texts to justify the unloving treatment of fellow human beings, for example as in the case of slavery and racial segregation. Biblical proof-texting in support of the status quo or majority view is, after all, nothing new in this world.

Posted by: christopher+ on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 11:48pm BST

"At what point does one's experience of what one IS cross from being a variant of normal to something unacceptable?"

To put my answer another way: At the point where something we do hurts someone else. When we apply the standard set by Christ in His summary of the Law - love God, love neighbor as self - and ask whether something one is or something one does can live up to this ultimate standard, then we know where we stand.

The impact of our actions on others plays a key role, of course, for that is what love of neighbor is about. Hence my focus on carefully examining the fruits of our actions - and of our biblical theologies.

Posted by: christopher+ on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at 11:58pm BST

"Children are conceived naturally by a man and a woman. Not by any and every man and any and every woman, it's true - but certainly not by any two men or two women."

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

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

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

Posted by: Peter of Westminster on Thursday, 19 June 2008 at 5:36am BST

christopher+, my argument exactly. What makes one wrong and not the other is consent and abuse.

Peter of Westminster,

"Pete, your appeal here to natural law cuts both ways"

Oh but you see, natural law only applies to straight people. If being gay is a variant of normal, ie natural, then we are called to rise above our natural "animal nature". It goes something like this: homosexuality is wrong, we don't even find it in nature. We do? (Here folloows much denail, including accusations that biologists are liberals with a hidden agenda), Well, ok there is homosexuality in the natural world, but we are Christians called to rise above our created nature." Simple argument, really, doncha think? Some might say two-faced, but they're only faithless liberal pagans, the True Orthodox know better.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 19 June 2008 at 4:33pm BST

I agree with you, Ford Elms, but the point is: it always has to be spelled out, otherwise it is always open to the accusation of being mere cynical capitulation to current social mores. But the harder thing is that, even when it is spelled out, there is abundant space for 'reasonable people' to disagree. Hence always I personally am driven to 'agree to disagree'. From that perspective, I do find that service a tad too provocative of people with whom we should still be trying to maintain communion, because - quite frankly - C o E attendance is deeply dispiriting and the decline is less to do with theological disagreements than because of a sheer lack of basic grind both by priests and by regular attenders.

Posted by: John on Thursday, 19 June 2008 at 7:42pm BST

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

Posted by: Merseymike on Thursday, 19 June 2008 at 11:20pm BST

"But the harder thing is that, even when it is spelled out, there is abundant space for 'reasonable people' to disagree."

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

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 19 June 2008 at 11:23pm BST

Ford Elms, you attribute all sorts of 'straw person' attitudes to me and then knock them down. It possibly makes you feel better, but since you're attacking what I'm not saying, I think I'll not reply any further.

Peter of Westminster, you ask rather more respectfully for my comments, which follow below. So - I followed your link, to a news report of some recently published research which I had already read about. It's so recent I guess it can't have been peer reviewed yet, so it's findings are provisional but they indicate similarities between the brains of lesbians and straight men, and homosexual men and straight women.

I have to say that even in its provisionality, it seems a big jump from this to the claim that homosexuality is genetically determined, and that therefore 'natural law cuts both ways'. I conceded my comments were very short-hand, even more so than Giles' Thought for the Day, and in fact the 'natural law' phrase was yours not mine. What I did suggest was the fact that outside of technological intervention open only to a very few, children are conceived by intercourse of a man and a woman may still be considered of relevance to a doctrine of marriage insofar as it relates to conception and care of children. That still doesn't seem so implausible to me. Comment?

Posted by: pete hobson on Thursday, 19 June 2008 at 11:24pm BST

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

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 20 June 2008 at 11:01am BST

Pete --

"the 'natural law' phrase was yours not mine"

Sorry -- I'd just been reading some attempted deconstructions of natural law ethics when I logged on to TA and responded to your earlier comment, so I may have read more into that comment than you had intended to be there.

"children are conceived by intercourse of a man and a woman may still be considered of relevance to a doctrine of marriage insofar as it relates to conception and care of children. That still doesn't seem so implausible to me."

I agree. I have just a layman's knowledge of the doctrine of marriage (that is, I've said the words and I've lived them), and I know little of its historical development. My footing is surer, though, considering marriage from the perspectives of the phenomenology of religion. So considered, the deepest rituals of religion are complexly multivalent, with many meanings and understandings layered into them at once. So while I completely agree with your statement above, I don't think it is by itself and of necessity a complete understanding of marriage, and it doesn't seem to me to preclude the meanings that Giles finds in the ritual.

"it seems a big jump from this to the claim that homosexuality is genetically determined"

That research study would have been peer reviewed prior to publication, but it hasn't been replicated yet, so, yes, it is provisional. But other studies working along different lines of inquiry have shown pretty much the same thing (brains of male transsexuals evidence some female brain structures, for instance).

But there's no space here to argue the mountain of research on the subject -- the general position of most researchers (which I find compelling) is that sexual orientation is importantly determined by our biology. Biology is more than genetics, and includes such things as hormonal and biochemical influences in gestation and early childhood.

But -- don't we ALL know upon reflection that we did not choose our OWN sexual orientation, and also that we can not now change what we are? A few might believe that others can change, but they are not really in a position to speak for those others, just themselves. I'd assert that this simple truth argues that as concerns sexual orientation we are not captains of our souls.

From what you say, though, you do seem open to being persuaded by the evidence, should you ever find it persuasive.

Posted by: Peter of Westminster on Friday, 20 June 2008 at 1:38pm BST

The natural law argument is a delight.

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

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

Posted by: Cheryl Va. on Friday, 20 June 2008 at 5:29pm BST

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

Posted by: James on Sunday, 22 June 2008 at 4:56pm BST

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

Posted by: Peter of Westminster on Monday, 23 June 2008 at 6:38am BST

"Rather than an uplifting thought,"

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

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

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 23 June 2008 at 9:06am BST

"Are you able to do the latter?"

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

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 24 June 2008 at 2:41pm BST
Post a comment









Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.