Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Civil Partnerships in the Church of Ireland

Updated again Tuesday

The Church of Ireland has published Statement by the Archbishop of Armagh on Civil Partnerships and Serving Clergy.

Following media reports on the issue of civil partnerships and serving clergy, the following statement from the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, The Most Revd Alan Harper, was provided to the BBC NI ‘Talkback’ programme and the Belfast Newsletter today, 7 September 2011:

’The recent civil partnership of a serving ordained Church of Ireland clergyman presents a new situation within the Church of Ireland. It is true to say that within the Church there is a range of views on same–sex relationships and there will also be a range of views and reactions to civil partnerships concerning clergy. I acknowledge that this issue has caused strong feelings and concern. While there are acknowledged differences of opinion within the Church, suggestions that it might split are, I hope, premature. In 2003 the Bishops of the Church of Ireland issued a pastoral letter on human sexuality which reflected the varied spectrum of views within the Church. The General Synod of the Church of Ireland has not made any statement or decision in addition to that. The Bishops will be addressing the matter again shortly. I trust that the Church and its bishops will continue to address this subject with mutual respect. The state has provided a right in law for same gender persons to have their partnerships recognized and specific rights conferred through civil partnership, This is not recognized as marriage by the Church of Ireland or by the civil authorities in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Marriage is understood by the Church to comprise a lifelong and exclusive commitment by one man and one woman to each other. The Church has no provision or proposals for any liturgy for the blessing of civil partnerships and there are no authorized public rites of blessing for same–gender relationships.’

Some of the press reports:

Belfast Newsletter Cleric confirms gay partnership and ‘Dismay at CoI gay union’ and Gay row ‘may split church’

BBC Minister Rev Tom Gordon civil partnership ‘welcomed’

Irish Times Senior cleric in same-sex ceremony

Christian Today ‘Sorrow’ after senior Church of Ireland cleric confirms civil partnership

Friday morning updates

Changing Attitude Ireland has welcomed the news: CA Ireland congratulates Dean Tom Gordon and his civil partnership.

And this is the (later, fuller version of) the statement, jointly issued by the committees of the Church of Ireland Evangelical Fellowship, the Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy, New Wine (Ireland) and Reform Ireland: Further joint statement by Evangelical groups in C of I.

In addition to that, Reform Ireland has published Civil partnership shame of the Church of Ireland.

Friday afternoon update

Belfast Telegraph Church of Ireland split fear over Irish cleric’s civil partnership

This story misquotes Canon Ian Ellis, editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette, as saying that the Dean had not informed his bishop beforehand, but according to the Gazette’s own report (available online only to subscribers):

The Dean said that he had told his Bishop, the Rt Revd Michael Burrows, before proceeding with the civil partnership, and confirmed that no assurances were required of him regarding a celibate lifestyle, as is required in the Church of England. However, he also said that he did not regard civil partnership as equivalent to marriage.

update Tuesday

The Belfast Telegraph has, in effect, corrected this error, see Bishop under fire over cleric’s gay marriage.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 7 September 2011 at 7:00pm BST | TrackBack
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Comments

Sad fact is that the Church of Ireland conservatives never batted an eyelid when divorce and re-marriage was approved in the Church of Ireland. All these conservatives accept contraception as well. They've accepted women's ordination, equally disapproved of by St Paul and the Church of Ireland did this logically by voting for women bishops and priests at the same time.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Wednesday, 7 September 2011 at 11:25pm BST

So; an end to gender and sexuality hypocrisy, then, in the Church of Ireland? This should encourage a similar openness in the Church of England - that might put the cat among the pigeons. Bring it on!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 8 September 2011 at 5:43am BST

My sorrow is that Tom Gordon is defining his partnership as 'not a marriage'. I can see prudential reasons for this - but ...

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Thursday, 8 September 2011 at 7:34am BST

Rosemary Hannah wrote "My sorrow is that Tom Gordon is defining his partnership as 'not a marriage'. I can see prudential reasons for this - but ..."

Can I respectfully disagree Rosemary.

When David and I asked to have our gay relationship blessed in our church ten years ago the archdeacon gave permission, but said that in the liturgy we create we "must not be seen to ape the marriage service".

Looking back I think that was a real gift to us. Rather than adopting a given set of meanings and liturgical traditions from the marriage service we had to ask ourselves what is a gay same sex relationship, and what are we doing in church. We came up with the idea of a covenant and blessing.

Same sex relationships are equal to marriage, but different. Like marriage they should be celebrated and marked in church with Christian liturgy. That church liturgy should be the act that creates the legally valid bond, just as a marriage service does, rather than the simple blessing of a previous register office marriage/civil partnership.

But same sex covenants are not marriages. They have their own history and their own liturgical tradition. To conflate them with marriage would be to miss out on so much.

Simon

Posted by: Simon Dawson on Thursday, 8 September 2011 at 11:08am BST

Simon,
now I'm the one who will respectfully disagree with you.
Yes, we were not bound by traditional marriage liturgy and that was very freeing.
But we consider ourselves to be definitely married.

There is absolutely not a single difference between our first (straight) marriages and this one, apart from the fact that the children we're raising come from my previous marriage and our grandchildren from my wife's previous marriage. But that's standard for a lot of second marriages and not unique to us.

I would love to hear what you think makes your partnership different from a straight marriage. History and liturgy may be different, but that's, well, history and liturgy. The relationship itself is what counts and there I do not see any difference at all.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 8 September 2011 at 12:36pm BST

Simon Dawson,
My wife (TEC & Roman Catholic background) and I (Jewish background with attendance at a TEC church) were recently civilly married. Although we both believe in God, and attend religious services, neither one of us felt that we needed religious authorities (which ones?) to validate our marriage. That is, we feel our marriage is perfectly legally valid. Spiritually valid, as well. If God is omnipotent and is everywhere, then God was surely present in Courtroom 424 of Denver, Colorado's City & County Building when a civil court judge married us in a truly moving ceremony, created by the judge. It wasn't just "Hand over $75, sign here. Now you're married."
Second, you speak eloquently of being comfortable with a religious service of same-sex blessing, rather than a religious wedding. But, some gay and lesbian couples I know precisely want a religious marriage ceremony. They see no difference between themselves having a religious wedding, and a heterosexual couple having a religious wedding, when the same-sex couple meets all other requirements of their religious institution to be married. I think they ought to have that privilege.

Posted by: peterpi - Peter Gross on Thursday, 8 September 2011 at 8:33pm BST

Thank you, Simon (Dawson) for your explanation of your own same sex covenant relationship with your partner. I, too, have not been totally at ease with an outright equivalence of same-sex covenanted relationships with the sacrament of marriage - Not that I feel it is less ' holy' - just different. You have helped me to understand the difference.

Having said that, I do believe that the Church must encourage same-sex relationships to become more than just a loose federation of two people who love one another. It needs a sacramental acknowledgement of faithful commitment - before God and one's friends. Blessings, Fr. Ron

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 8 September 2011 at 10:24pm BST

Simon, while that may be what you find true of your relationship, what my son wrote of his union with his husband was this: I have to say, before I/we got married I did feel a little aggrieved that I could not officially call it marriage and that the State did not recognise it as such. But having now been through the whole process it I don’t feel that what I have experienced is any different to what my 3 sisters went through. Certainly the planning and organising of the event felt no different, neither did the ceremony compared to my sister who chose to have a civil one. I have gone the same emotions and there is a gold ring on my finger.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Thursday, 8 September 2011 at 10:45pm BST

The Lambeth 1.10 resolution from 1998 is often quoted, but its 2nd part is mostly forgotten. It called on the churches of the Anglican Communion to listen to the experience of gay and lesbian christians: something we have not done very well, and, in many places, not done at all. This discussion is one area where I think we need to hear more of the experience and understanding of those who have entered into civil partnerships and same sex marriages, and those who have chosen not to but still regard their relationship as permanent, committed and holy before God. Such relationships must, in my view, be regarded as equal to marriage, but are they the same? Do we fail to do justice to a same sex union by applying the traditions of marriage to it? The traditions and the vocabulary of heterosexual marriage have developed over centuries. Same sex unions have existed openly and legally for a few years at most. Sadly, many in our society and churches are still not prepared to recognise and accept them. It will take many years for traditions and vocabulary to develop which do justice to the feelings involved in such commitment. We still have a lot of listening to do, and I welcome the comments in this discussion and would like to hear more.

Posted by: Hugh James on Friday, 9 September 2011 at 9:00am BST

I would seriously like to hear from gay couples why, apart from the fact that gay couples cannot have their own biological children, a fate they share with a large number of straight couples, gay relationships are different to straight ones.

Straight couples take no more note of the historical meaning of marriage than gay couples, maybe apart from a nod to tradition when a father gives away a bride during the ceremony. And my former husband and my father negotiated a bride price in the pub and we all had a good laugh when Dad couldn't even wriggle one camel out of my fiance. Which was just as well, our garden would never have been big enough for one.

If I look at what marriage now means to couples getting married now, I honestly see no difference at all to what my second marriage to my wife means to me. Although I was very glad not to have to stick to the hackneyed wedding vows, there wasn't a single word I could not have said had I been allowed to.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 9 September 2011 at 9:35am BST

Though I have never been through either marriage or a civil partnership, it didn't seem to me to matter very much that what the state/church offered us was not marriage. Now I do think it matters, precisely because it is not marriage and the state/church especially emphasises that it won't offer marriage to same sex couples. The outcome is that civil partnerships can be seen and characterised as inferior and not equal to marriage. This is outworking in the USA where the Defence of Marriage Act is being used by states which do not recognise them to deny partnership rights to those who are in civil partnerships or same sex marriage.

Personally I would prefer the state to insist that everyone has a civil ceremony of marriage or partnership as they prefer to be followed by a religious blessing or marriage by those who wish it.

Marriage indeed comes freighted with centuries of history, tradition and liturgy, much of it no longer wanted by mixed sex couples either. With the trend to much more flexible liturgies there is every reason why the appropriate elements should be used by same sex couples to create their own marriage or service of blessing and their own history and tradition too.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Friday, 9 September 2011 at 9:40am BST

I that that in Scotland we are very lucky to have the marriage liturgy we do - http://www.scotland.anglican.org/index.php/liturgy/liturgy/marriage_liturgy_2007/
which allows versions of the liturgy which fit modern straight couples much better - and certainly one of my daughters chose to enter with her partner rather than with her father. I think the idea that straight couples are entering the same unspoken contract they did 50 or 100 years ago is mistaken.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Friday, 9 September 2011 at 11:06am BST

Erika,

'Straight couples take no more note of the historical meaning of marriage than gay couples'

Perhaps, you're referring to the broader, secular meaning of marriage and in that I'd tend to agree with you. However, in the church, every sacrament is a sacred act that fulfils its promise as an occasion of grace by recalling its divine institution. To do so, the sacrament must remain consistent with that institution in matter and form.

I particularly distinguish Christian grace from the divine providence that is the experience of all humanity in their relationships: 'He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.' (Matt. 5:45)

The Catechism of Trent states it this way: "Every Sacrament consists of two things, matter, which is called the element, and form, which is commonly called the word."

It would appear that the form always follows and recites the instituting words of scripture, whether Old Testament, New Testament, Christ Himself, or His apostles. What is crucial is that the matter of the sacrament agrees with that form.

In baptism, the eucharist, confirmation, anointing of the sick, holy orders and penance, matter and form (recalling the sanctifying promises of Christ, or his apostles) agree.

What of marriage as the sacrament of holy matrimony? Do straight and gay couples agree on historical meaning of matter and form? I don't think so.

Does 'matter' matter? I think so.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Friday, 9 September 2011 at 11:23am BST

Erika asked me "I would love to hear what you think makes your partnership different from a straight marriage."

And Richard wrote "Marriage indeed comes freighted with centuries of history, tradition and liturgy, much of it no longer wanted by mixed sex couples either".

Richard makes my main point for me. When I was creating my own partnership liturgy I had many conversations with a female friend who was planning her own heterosexual marriage. She was very envious of us as we had the freedom to create a liturgy that had real meaning for us, whereas she had no option but to accept the whole liturgical/traditional/cultural package of "marriage", much of which (giving away the bride??) had no meaning to her concept of her own marriage as a modern union of equals.

I am not saying that there is nothing to be gained from seeing marriage and same sex union as in some way the same. But we need to be careful in bringing concepts of marriage across into same sex unions. Examine everything carefully. By all means bring across what is useful, but be prepared to reject what is outdated or inappropriate.

Simon Dawson


Simon

Posted by: Simon Dawson on Friday, 9 September 2011 at 12:23pm BST

@Hugh James. What you say resonates with me.

For what it's worth, I was at first hesitant to enter a union, because it was unpopular with the electorate and - more importantly - unthinkable in the Church. But I saw that I was oppressing myself, and my (atheist) partner was quite eager to go ahead, after 24 years of living together as a faithful couple.

Still a little unsure of myself, however, I insisted that, for legal purposes, we call our union a "civil union." (In my country you can choose to call your union either a marriage or a civil union.)

Well ... we had rings made, and threw a secular wedding, at home with a large number of our friends, presided over by a humanist minister who is a friend of ours, and made legal by a secular marriage officer.

Several months later, when a friend of mine retired from active ministry within the Church, I asked him if he would bless our union, which he joyously agreed to do. We had a small ceremony attended by a handful of closer friends. It was quite beautiful: wonderful to be acting together in a Christian setting, and deeply moving to have the opportunity to repeat vows we had already made in a secular context.

I need hardly repeat what I've written here before. Suffice it to say, it is the original teaching of the Church that the partners to the union are the ministers of this sacrament - not the priest.

Both of us feel that we are married in every sense of the word. (I can say that after 26 years together and two years in a civil union!)

And, somehow, I now stand less in awe of "the Church" (which is not to say that my faith has changed).

Candidly, the Church [or the loudest faction in it] is so wrong about what I have done and who I am, that - as I become more honest with myself and others - so its hold on my intellect weakens.

I would rather be un-churched than betray my partner. And I am quite happy to stand before my Lord in this - I do that in every waking second of every waking hour in any case.

Thank you, Hugh.

William

Posted by: William on Friday, 9 September 2011 at 12:58pm BST

I think it's quite interesting how civil partnership both is and isn't the same as marriage. The registration process is clearly comparable in both cases, and in the public perception the two are equivalent. But for the present it matters to the Irish state and the Irish church to make a distinction. In particular, the covenantal nature of the partnership, a promise to live together and support each other, with no reference to emotions or sexual expression, allows a degree of room to manoeuvre. Whatever about the USA, this is very uncharted territory in what was until the 1990s still a very conservative country. The Irish (and particularly Irish Anglican)approach tends to be understated. I am full of admiration for Tom and his partner, for their courage in running this particular gauntlett. And for Archbishop Harper as he treads the minefield laid by Reform Ireland.

Posted by: David Oxley on Friday, 9 September 2011 at 2:43pm BST

David S
I don't think I fully understand what you are saying, I’m sorry.

In the past, giving a woman to a man to be married meant her becoming his property, later a legal minor he was responsible for, now it means a couple of two equal adults coming together before God making their promises.

I don't actually know what "The Church" throughout the ages has understood by the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and whether that understanding has changed.

But I do know that it means to me precisely what it means to my religious straight friends. If you question me about some kind of ancient allegiance, maybe they, too, should be asked if they can support what the church meant by it all in the 17th century?
Or maybe, if there is an unchanging theology of the Sacrament of Marriage, it can include me as much as it includes my straight compatriots?

When I married for the first time, in church, I was only a half-hearted Easter and Christmas Christian and my husband had no faith at all. Strangely, that didn't interest anyone.
Now, when my wife and I are both committed Christians, we are asked to know, understand and sign up to the theology of Holy Matrimony throughout the ages.... and yet, still not straight couple is asked the same.

What do you think the church has understood by it then that it still understands by it now that does not apply to a gay couple? And, risking to bore you rigid by now…. Did you read Tobias Haller? Is there anything in his analysis that you believe to be fundamentally wrong?

Have I misunderstood you?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 9 September 2011 at 4:00pm BST

"Does 'matter' matter? I think so."

Indeed, but we're on very shaky ground theologically if we try to distinguish men and women as different "matter," rather than one human nature, assumed and redeemed by Christ.

Posted by: Geoff on Friday, 9 September 2011 at 5:38pm BST

Marriage is not a sacrament as the Church of England has but the two sacraments, as is widely known and clear in the BCP (1662).

Glad to have cleared that one up, and saved David and Ron from further worry on that score.

I find same sex couples and their families amazing - contending with so much, yet creative , vibrant and serving their communities.

I'm proud all lgbt people and of the gay organisations and communities, which have risen above oppression, to be hugely creative and supporting human flourishing in so many ways.

I am even pleased with the many gay blessings in my own life -in the bad old days (most of 20th century) and on into these better (but hardly best) times.

The straight world so blinkered and envious (is it ?) always says, " You are not" / "You may not" to us.

You are not healthy (1950s doctors)
You are not sane ( psychiatrists this time)
You are not godly (guess who ?)
You are not lawful ( pre-1967 & post-1967)
You can't love him / her
You can't be sexual
It'll never last (here we are 38 years later !)
You can't be Christian
You can't be ordained.
You can't come here.

You arent /can't be wed

I say, "You cannot be serious !!"

The LesGay Pleroma archytype is effective at every level of lgbt lives, from street to symphony. pick-up to painting, the poetry, fun sheer bravura inventiveness -- all flowing from the archetype / God with little support from society or 'family'. And the pubs, clubs, acts, charities, community organisations and responses to the HIV crisis back when no-on else including government would lift a finger.

And yes, we are wed to the pleroma that has chosen and embraqced us and to God. That matters most.

And yes, we are wed to each other -

the marriage of true minds -

and hearts and bodies...

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Friday, 9 September 2011 at 6:57pm BST

I know Alan Harper: slightly (he buried both my parents). He is a decent person. He will NEVER submit his gay clergy to the truly disgusting inquisition perpetrated by Tom Wright here in Durham.

Posted by: John Moles on Friday, 9 September 2011 at 8:17pm BST

The definitive Anglican ruling on the Sacraments is contained in the 39 Articles of Religion, but - as in all things Anglican - the ruling is (ahem) open to interpretation.

The bit you're after is: "Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God."

So not 'Sacraments of the Gospel,' then. But sacraments nonetheless?

But that is a discussion for a different thread, I guess!

Posted by: William on Friday, 9 September 2011 at 8:19pm BST

If some same-sex couples choose to NOT see their cp/civil marriage as religious "marriage", that's fine (certainly, some opposite sex couples don't!).

AS LONG AS those same-sex couples who DO see their cp/civil marriage as ***identical to opposite-sex marriage in every significant way*** are given the freedom to celebrate their union in the same *religious* way as opposite-sex couples do, too.

Heavens to murgatroyd, we ALL know opposite-sex couples who design their own marriage vows! Same-sex couples will, too.

But for the same-sex couples who want "a BCP wedding" (w/ their respective BCPs), that absolutely should be an *option*. [And there's nothing "aping" about it. To that "aping" insult: Feh!]

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 10 September 2011 at 1:49am BST

And that, JCF, is it in a nutshell! Well said!

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Saturday, 10 September 2011 at 9:16am BST

What a good thread this has proven to be. Some really enlightening insights and experience shared by people. Many thanks.

One thing struck me for further clarification:

'I particularly distinguish Christian grace from the divine providence that is the experience of all humanity...'

Does this mean that there are two kinds of grace?

I could distinguish grace as covenanted (i.e. sacramental) or not and that's maybe what DS meant; but I don't think there is 'Christian grace' and 'non-Christian grace'. Or have I been missing something all these years?

Posted by: Lister Tonge on Saturday, 10 September 2011 at 10:50am BST

Lister,

No, not two kinds of grace. Peter, for instance, states that, 'the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah' (1 Peter 3:21) while the ark was being built.

Paul declared God's universal display of goodness to the unconverted people of Lystra: 'Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.' (Acts 14:17)

No doubt the broader institution of marriage and all it can achieve for society is another aspect of God's liberally bestowed goodness on all humanity. However, this expression of goodness does not always achieve a redemptive outcome.

Some may reject God's goodness: 'Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?' (Romans 2:4).

Christian grace always achieves a redemptive outcome in the believer.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Saturday, 10 September 2011 at 1:07pm BST

I too have enjoyed and been enlightened by this thread. I think the views I have expressed are in the minority, but nothing wrong with that.

I have just one point to add. I was struck by this comment. "Do we fail to do justice to a same sex union by applying the traditions of marriage to it? The traditions and the vocabulary of heterosexual marriage have developed over centuries. Same sex unions have existed openly and legally for a few years at most."

I would argue that the "traditions and vocabulary" of same-sex unions have existed for centuries too. Same-sex unions were not always illegal, and historical/anthropological/liturgical research shows us many examples of same-sex liturgical celebrations, both inside and outside Christianity. By looking only to heterosexual marriage as the exemplar do we fail to look to our own lesbian and gay history?

With best wishes

Simon

Posted by: Simon Dawson on Saturday, 10 September 2011 at 3:01pm BST

Simon Dawson
Please - I really did mean my question, it was not rhetorical. What, precisely, do you think is different between gay and straight marriages? A number of people on this thread have asserted a difference but I have yet to get any idea of what that difference means for you and what it consists of.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 10 September 2011 at 10:49pm BST

David S:

Thanks for the response but it fails to convince me of the existence of Christian grace. Your clarification seems to be about a Christian response.

This would mean that instead of

'Christian grace always achieves a redemptive outcome in the believer',

we might more precisely say,

God's grace always achieves a redemptive outcome in the Christian believer'. God has only one brand of grace to bestow, surely? The difference lies in the response to it.


Posted by: Lister Tonge on Saturday, 10 September 2011 at 11:14pm BST

By 'Christian', I meant 'as understood within Christian doctrine and experience'. Your sentence is a lengthier, but perhaps more precise expression of what I meant to say. I may have a more Calvinistic view of sanctifying grace than you. A full debate on that might stray from the main topic.

The sentence that I used was a preface to my later remarks and was intended to pre-empt the implication that God's goodness in marriage can only be experienced by a Christian couple who partake of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Nevertheless, the sacrament has a distinctively redemptive outcome for believers, those who participate in faith.

I don't see sanctifying grace imparted to anyone before they are justified by faith in Christ's blood, Do you?

Posted by: David Shepherd on Sunday, 11 September 2011 at 9:14am BST

Erika,

One further thing to follow on - can I mention an argument of Harry Hays which I think is very interesting.

When it comes to marriage, we should not be saying to the straight world, "this is new to us can we copy and learn from you?".

We should be saying "this is our own history of thousands of years of working with same-sex relationships, loving relationships between equals. As you work to rid the straight world of outdated patriarchal assumptions do you want to copy and learn from what we have to offer?"

With best wishes

Simon

Posted by: Simon Dawson on Sunday, 11 September 2011 at 10:28am BST

Erika,

We can either invent liturgical forms that use a covenantal language that claims to transcend (read, dismiss) the obvious paradigms derived from scripture in order to appear more inclusive, or we can recall Christ's own references to the Genesis narrative.

It's one thing to say that early church expressed its view of love within a patriarchal culture. It's quite another to claim that the view expressed in scripture failed to transcend that culture.

It's also selective to only target the sacrament of holy matrimony for this sort of scrutiny. How many of us have readily tampered with the matter of bread and wine in the Eucharist, or oil in the anointing of the sick?

The invocation of blessing in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony harks back to the gospel that records Christ's reference to the origin of marriage in Genesis. You can do what you like with a secular arrangement, but for sacraments, matter and form should agree. Form should follow the instituting words of Christ and his apostles.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Sunday, 11 September 2011 at 3:06pm BST

Simon,
But WHAT is it that we have to offer that modern marriage doesn't? I don't know a single straight couple these days that has an unequal marriage, at least no more unequal that some gay relationships. Most are as equal as most gay relationships.

Yes, in the past straight marriages were unequal, and in the past stable, lifelong, faithful and public gay relationships didn't exist at all.

I don't see how it is helpful to point to past failings in marriage ignoring the reality of marriage now and yet somehow thinking that gay relationships have anything to offer that's different.

What is different? The division of housework? The childcare arrangements? The employment situation?
Who writes the Christmas cards or who decides where to go on holiday, who remembers mother-in-law's birthday?

I really don't get it.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 11 September 2011 at 3:14pm BST

Erika, a posting of mine seems to have gone missing. I posted the text below before the text above starting "One further thing"
______________________

Erika,
You asked for clarification of my views on the difference between gay and straight marriages. I think most of my reasons have been given in comments above, but I am very happy to try to bring the arguments together here.

Firstly, I believe that the Christian marriage liturgy and the social traditions around it contain many disparate elements. Some of this content is entirely appropriate for a modern understanding of marriage as a covenanted union between equals. But other content relates back to past, outdated understandings in which the union is of difference, especially different economic and legal status. Harry Hay, a writer on gay spirituality, talks about "Subject/Object" relationship and "Subject/Subject" relationship, which I think gives the meaning.

Where couples (gay or straight) approach the marriage service with critical understanding and creativity, to produce a liturgy with this modern understanding of equality, then I agree that there need be no difference between gay and straight understandings of marriage. Some commenters above have clearly achieved this and I would affirm what they are doing. But many others fail to achieve this and adopt the given package as is. I am not saying that we should not see some similarities between gay and straight unions, but there are risks, as well as benefits, in adopting the marriage concept uncritically.

The other argument (perhaps the more important one for me) is stated simply above. Many people are simply unaware of the long recorded history of same sex behaviour. There seems to be a belief that nothing was public before Stonewall. Writers such as Boswell, Edward Carpenter and Harry Hay have recovered thousands of years of same-sex history, and examples of same-sex liturgies (see "Iolaus" and "Intermediate Types among Primitive Folk" in http://www.edwardcarpenter.net/). By looking only to straight marriage as an exemplar we risk failing to affirm and celebrate our own lesbian and gay history. For example a covenant liturgy which incorporated elements of a Christian same-sex liturgy from almost 2000 years ago could be both wonderful and educational for all concerned, gay and straight alike.

With best wishes

Simon

Posted by: Simon Dawson on Sunday, 11 September 2011 at 3:44pm BST

Simon,
thank you for this.
I respect what you say, although, if I'm honest, I still do not truly understand it. But I would not want to force anyone to define themselves in ways they are not comfortable with!


David,
thank you too.
But, please, I am finding conversations with you increasingly difficult because you do not appear to have engaged at all with all the theological writing that answers the points you make.
I am not good at engaging at that level, but others are and have been.
Please, if you have read Reasonable and Holy, the only recent book that I know if that specifically engages with all the biblical points you make, explain to me why you do not agree with it and why you continue to make the points that I believe Tobias to have answered.
If you have not read it - it does specifically deal with all the biblical questions you have raised.
I genuinely believe you will find it interesting, although you might not agree with all of it, but at least it could move the debate on a little.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 11 September 2011 at 8:25pm BST

@David Shepherd. I'm pretty sure there are churches in Central and East Africa where, as a matter of sheer practicality, mielies has been used in place of bread in the Eucharist. Mielies being a lot cheaper than bread in places where people live on next to nothing.

In extreme circumstances (e.g. Prisoner of War camps) all sorts of things have been used for the elements in the Eucharist.

I wouldn't want to second guess any of those people as they struggle with circumstances I couldn't even begin to imagine.

Posted by: Gerry Lynch on Sunday, 11 September 2011 at 10:18pm BST

"We can either invent liturgical forms that use a covenantal language that claims to transcend (read, dismiss) the obvious paradigms derived from scripture in order to appear more inclusive, or we can recall Christ's own references to the Genesis narrative."

But that's just it - the language of covenant is already found in contemporary Anglican marriage liturgies that have been adopted by provinces of the communion as consonant with the "faith once delivered." It's the minor nature of the changes in language necessary to encompass same-gender couples (mostly a matter of tweaking pronouns) that belies the reasserter's wish to paint such an extension as an innovation at all, never mind a negative one.

Posted by: Geoff on Monday, 12 September 2011 at 5:06pm BST

Thanks, Erika, for the reference to my book. I'm not sure if David S. would find it helpful, but it does address all of his questions posed here at some length. Most particularly how same-sex marriages can fulfill those biblical "paradigms."

Simon D., I am with you on this. Another aspect of my book was to suggest that same-sex marriage can in fact teach heterosexuals something about their own marriages -- not because it is the same, but because it is a different way of fulfilling (for Christians) a Gospel mandate. The principal point being that marriage need not be a necessary union of "opposites" or based on an asymmetry of power over. The emphases on mutuality and "brotherhood" in the rites Boswell explored are but one example of something that seems to me far more in keeping with the Spirit of Christ than some of the medieval "transfer of property" models of heterosexual marriage!

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Monday, 12 September 2011 at 10:24pm BST

Tobias,
that gays and straights can benefit from a broadening of meaning of marriage is not in doubt.

But are those American gay couples who are fortunate to be allowed to marry campaigning for a different kind of church wedding than a straight couple would have?

Is equal but different really what people want?
For all of us to change is one thing. To have two separate systems running side by side another.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 13 September 2011 at 10:19am BST

Tobias,

Scholarship is always helpful. I particularly agree with you on the distinction that you hold between marriage and Holy Matrimony.

Nevertheless, surely, the mystery of Christ and the Church is the defining paradigm. Whether as a sacrament, or divine ordinance, this is the self-sacrificing ideal that all couples should emulate. This model preceded medieval traditions and is the antidote for the insinuation of feudal ownership and power into marriage. The mystery vastly surpasses all of the rites that we may discover, or invent.

Your book may demonstrate that the rites explored by Boswell & Carpenter:
1. Did not involve a lot more than 'tweaking a few pronouns';
2. Did not explore syncretism with pagan rituals;
3. Adopted a form that invoked the instituting words that Christ is recorded to have said in the gospels;
4. Won the widespread acceptance of the episcopal authority of that time and could not therefore be viewed as heretical.

Respectfully, I'd be surprised if it does, but I'll admit that life is full of surprises.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Tuesday, 13 September 2011 at 3:55pm BST

Erika, I wonder if we are at cross-purposes because we are talking about different things, both labelled "marriage".

It seems to me that in your comments you are using the word marriage to signify the state of a relationship between two people. And I agree with you that in todays world, many couples, both gay and straight, see their marriage relationship as a union of equals. With this meaning there can be near (but, I think, not total) overlap between gay and straight concepts of marriage.

I think, however, that in the discussion above, Tobias and I are using the same word, "marriage", to mean the liturgy or ceremony which is used to publicly mark that union, with all the surrounding social accretions. The problem is that with all the conservatism of the Church, the official liturgies and informal customs have not been updated to reflect this modern idea of marriage equality.

This is why I am ambivalent about "gay marriage". I don't want my gay partnership to be linked to some outdated, unhelpful, concepts to be found in the marriage service and current Christian marriage theology.

I am not alone in this. Only this afternoon I was talking to someone who is getting married soon, and they have chosen a civil ceremony to achieve the legal status, followed by a Church blessing. By
doing this they can control the liturgical texts and symbology, and are they not forced to use the official marriage service. This is a straight couple, both very involved in the Church.
Simon

Posted by: Simon Dawson on Tuesday, 13 September 2011 at 7:14pm BST

David
"Respectfully, I'd be surprised if it does, but I'll admit that life is full of surprises."

Easy enough to find out - read it?
Seriously, what is this reluctance to engage with the theology you are always asking us for and yet refuse to look at when it's presented to you?

I genuinely do not understand this because I have come to respect you as someone who genuinely wants to engage and who does not just lob argument bombs into the ring.

Should I be wrong? Are your questions merely rhetorical after all?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 13 September 2011 at 8:40pm BST

Simon,
I think part of my difficulty is that I find the history of church marriage completely irrelevant. It means what it means now, to couples getting married now. It means what they mean by their vows before God, it means what they understand by the liturgy.

The only part of that liturgy, to my mind, that is still a nod to previous eras is that fathers give the bride away to the new husband, but these days, that's really more a bride's way of involving her father in the day and lovingly giving him a role, thanking him for all he did for her. In fact, the German marriage service does not include a giving away of the bride by her father but I specifically included it because it was meant to be a sign of love for my father.

There was nothing in my marriage service I could not have heard, read or said with complete integrity.

I would be really interested to know which parts of it you struggle with.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 at 9:11am BST

Erika, you said "I find the history of church marriage completely irrelevant".

I think we have found the root cause of the difference between us.

With best wishes

Simon

Posted by: Simon Dawson on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 at 9:40am BST

Erika, I think that some people do want a "different" model. Simon is one of them. For those interested in a Christian rite, I think that is a minority view -- that is, there is a growing impulse towards creating a single rite suitable for same- and mixed-sex couples. But some to want to maintain a separation or distinctiveness. I can't argue their case, as I'm not so sure I understand it... but I know that POV exists.

Interestingly, the team working on liturgies under GC Resolution C056 is adamant that they are following the mandate to provide resources and rites for same-sex couples. At the very public meeting in Atlanta to update a representative body of Deputies, it was interesting to me to observe that the pressure for a single rite for all couples came largely from heterosexual deputies. At each point, the C056 committee reemphasized the ambit of their work.

David, I do spend significant space in the book showing how same-sex marriages can reflect "the mystery." I note that this mystery of Christ and the Church is not only imaged in marriage, but in many other symbolic forms.

I am not sure what you refer to in reference to pagan syncretism -- I'm aware there are such things, but I'm talking about Christian rites. I'm also not sure what you mean by the "instituting words of Christ" in this context. As to the widespread episcopal acceptance of the rites Boswell studied (I can't speak for Carpenter!) they had full approbation and were included in liturgical collections. Although the church denied they were about same-sex relationships, the more honest among the bishops admit that is how they were used, and this in fact led to their suppression -- but not on the grounds of heresy, as none of this is a matter of dogmatic theology, but of pastoral theology.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 at 4:57pm BST

Erika,

You can't really resort to a policy of 'asked and answered' by theological proxy: 'I am not good at engaging at that level, but others are and have been' and then question my 'reluctance to engage with the theology you are always asking us for and yet refuse to look at when it's presented to you?'. It's double standards.

Tobias Haller and I have discussed the scriptural position on homosexuality in other threads, so I think that your claim of reluctance really doesn't bear scrutiny.

Your reply to Simon really demonstrates why civil marriage/partnership ceremonies should never be convened in a church. Especially, when those so joined are merely demanding the use of the church as a romantic backdrop, while expressing scant regard for the origin and development (a.k.a. church history) of her divine ordinances.

The church's history may have little relevance to your daily personal arrangements, but it has everything to do with your participation in the collective commitment of the Body of Christ to conform itself to Christ's own declarations about the origin and purpose of marriage.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 at 6:23pm BST

Tobias,
yes, I know that many gay people are not happy with traditional marriage rites. And I accept that! And I also know that many straight people aren’t happy with them either. And I accept that too.

My problem is that I do genuinely not understand why they are not happy, which bits they are not happy with.
I'd like to understand it.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 at 8:46pm BST

David,
I don't know where your idea that the church is merely a romantic backdrop for me comes from? And far less how I could possibly have proven that gay marriages should never be solemnised in church.

What I'm saying - for the last time now because it's getting boring - is that marriage has changed over the centuries and the church's view of marriage has changed too.

I do not know any church that requires of its heterosexual marriage couples to study in depth the meaning of church marriage and liturgy through the centuries and to assent to all of it, in order to enter into a Christian marriage before God today.
So I don't really see why that should be a requirement for gay couples.

But, if you believe that I'm missing something, then please tell me exactly what.

It's the same question I'm asking Simon and Tobias.
What, precisely, is it that is traditional and still in use today, in meaning and liturgy, that cannot possibly apply to gay couples.


As for "double standards" - er, no.
I have read Tobias and found him fascinating. But he is very very complex because he goes into great detail and his book is a scholarly piece of work. I am not qualified to argue on that level. I don’t speak Greek, Hebrew or Latin. I can talk to you about many things to do with gay marriages. Biblical hermeneutics are not one of them

If you genuinely wanted to understand what lgbt people are asking and why it is legitimate, then you should be willing to discover the theology where it was produced.

If this were truly about you having intellectual and theological objections to same sex marriages, then you should be keen to discover how your objections might be answered – not for my sake or for any gay person’s sake, but for the sake of truth and for the sake of what Christ wants for us.

As it is, I think you have provided ample proof that your objections are purely emotional dressed up in a cloak of theology. If, and only if your heart ever changes and you are willing to move, will you be willing to read substantial pro-gay theology and maybe allow your mind to be influenced by it too. Until then, throwing “theology” into the ring is a smokescreen.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 at 8:51pm BST

"Your reply to Simon really demonstrates why civil marriage/partnership ceremonies should never be convened in a church"

This is actually almost funny.

Even if you were right in your assessment of me, what is happening here on this thread is that I am debating with 3 other gay people who all support your view of the sacrament of marriage.
(I myself might support it if people didn't just assert their view but explained it).

So one person might have the wrong end of the stick and that proves conclusively that no-one gay may ever marry in church, even though the majority of gay people participating in this conversation are on your side?

Really?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 at 9:52pm BST

David Shepherd might recall that in England and Wales those who live in the parish have an absolute legal right to be married in the parish church, if the building is consecrated for the purpose, or if they hold the appropriate licence.

People of any religion and none can use this facility having fulfilled the lawful requirements and paid the money. All marriages in our buildings are civil. We are required by law to make a record in books provided by the State and to make returns quarterly or if there is no authorised person a civil registrar will attend and make a record.


Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Thursday, 15 September 2011 at 9:07am BST

1. 'So one person might have the wrong end of the stick and that proves conclusively that no-one gay may ever marry in church, even though the majority of gay people participating in this conversation are on your side?' I referred to civil marriages/partnerships. Nowhere did I single out gay relationships for exclusion from solemnisation in church.

2. 'I do not know any church that requires of its heterosexual marriage couples to study in depth the meaning of church marriage and liturgy through the centuries and to assent to all of it' Again, I referred to 'civil marriages/ partnerships', so I'm not sure why you would insinuate that I have insisted on a sexual orientation requirement, rather than a civil vs. church distinction, since none was highlighted.

3. The cure for 'scant regard' is not the hyperbolic: 'to study in depth the meaning of church marriage and liturgy through the centuries and to assent to all of it.' It's merely to embrace the form and matter of the sacrament. You know, just like the Eucharist. Otherwise, the church setting does become a romantic backdrop. Oh, and again, in response to your argument, that's also held by heterosexuals, not your sexual orientation.

4.'If this were truly about you having intellectual and theological objections to same sex marriages, then you should be keen to discover how your objections might be answered.' This is an empty assertion from someone who elsewhere said, 'we bludgeon each other with arguments that we lob into the ring and that are aimed at silencing the other, getting them to surrender to our own brilliance.' Where have you demonstrated that you are keen to discover answers to objections that contradict your stance? Isn't the listening process, as you said on the Changing Attitudes blog, 'like any constructive listening, is not designed to change people’s minds, but to facilitate a genuine encounter'.

I have read the Changing Attitudes paper on Sexual Ethics. I am reading 'The Great Emergence' by Phyllis Tickle. I will now, no doubt, complete 'Reasonable and Holy' before that. Apparently, that proves I'm keen!

5. 'I think you have provided ample proof that your objections are purely emotional dressed up in a cloak of theology.' I've applied the same scrutiny as I did in the debate on abortion. You had no problems there, so that's just an assumptive close, hopeful of partisan loyalty.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Friday, 16 September 2011 at 12:17am BST

Martin,

Your statements are accurate, but don't tackle what I said. I didn't say that only particular people are entitled to a church wedding. I did say that 'civil marriage/partnership *ceremonies* should never be convened in church' (even if that contradicts the thrust of the recent consultation exercise). The focus was on the appropriateness of the type of ceremony to the setting.

It's been a fairly well-known rule for local authority licensing of venues for civil ceremonies: 'The secular nature of civil marriage precludes the use of any building with a recent or continuing religious connection.' Perhaps, this has changed. You can let me know.

The fact that all church marriages fulfil a civil requirement, does not make the church ceremony the same the civil one defined above. Of course, anyone with a qualifying connection, or common licence, etc. can get married in church. They still cannot insist on the level of secularisation that is required of civil ceremonies conducted by registrars. This is where scant regard for the church's history eventually leads. Fortunately for the clergy, nor can they insist on replacing the priest with a civil registrar.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Friday, 16 September 2011 at 3:40am BST

David -

"I have read the Changing Attitudes paper on Sexual Ethics. I am reading 'The Great Emergence' by Phyllis Tickle. I will now, no doubt, complete 'Reasonable and Holy' before that. Apparently, that proves I'm keen!"

If you are able to get through Reasonableb & Holy and cling to the notion that gay and lesbian couples who seek to fulfil the same commandments as straight ones are somehow, ex officio, of a different moral status, then it will demonstrate that you are not seeking truth, but the vindication of a verdict of condemnation. I believe this is what Erika means: there simply isn't an argument against SSM you can make that hasn't been considered and answered. By persevering in it in the face of all Biblical contradiction, you belie your claim to simply being faithful to the Gospel.

Posted by: Geoff on Friday, 16 September 2011 at 2:27pm BST

David,
re your points 1 and 2 - apologies, I misread what you said.
But seeing that I was arguing from a Christian point of view and seeing that this thread is about civil partnerships, why then did you conclude from what I said that civil marriages should not be conducted in church?

Now I'm truly confused!

Re your point 3: You know, I must be completely thick. I just do not understand what people are saying here. Regarding "embracing the form and the matter of the sacrament", give me a practical example from your church. What happens when a couple comes for marriage preparation? Which precise part of the "form and matter of the sacrament" is it that has to be understood historically and that might make gay marriages in church impossible? And how does your church ensure that your marriage couples do assent to these? Would it not marry a couple if it failed to accept the historic aspect of church marriage and based their ceremony purely in a modern active faith?
Please, I'm not trying to be obstinate. I really and genuinely do not understand what people actually mean when they talk about the historic formulae and liturgies in this particular context.

I suspect (due to the absence of any explanation so far) is that people say that traditionally, marriage was a patriarchal institution of 2 unequal participants.
It doesn't matter that it is that no longer.
It doesn't matter that modern Christian marriage couples do not see it like that.
It doesn't matter that the church no longer sees it like that.
What matters is that, once, the church did see it like that, and therefore we must understand that gay relationships and some straight ones are different and that people do not want to use the old liturgy.
But that is such an illogical and strange position that I am sure I must be misunderstanding what people are saying.

Re points 4 and 5: I'm really glad to read this and I'm glad I was wrong!

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 16 September 2011 at 2:27pm BST

Mr. Shepherd, I think the difficulty here lies in some of us misunderstanding your thesis. If you are simply observing that there is a difference, now, in England, between registry office marriage and marriage in a church, I have no disagreement with you.

However, your repeated references to "history" seem to assume some kind of specificity of "Christian marriage." In fact, the history of marriage in Christianity reveals that it is not so distinct from "civil marriage."

The history of marriage is complex and there are a number of fine scholarly documents that lay it out in detail, in particular Brundage's massive \Sex Law and Marriage in Medieval Europe.

From the beginning, the church acted largely in continuity with the pre-Christian pagan culture when it came to marriage. See Judith Grubbs, "Pagan" and "Christian" Marriage: The State of the Question, Journal of Early Christian Studies - Volume 2, Number 4, Winter 1994. There is significant continuity of Christian attitudes towards marriage with those of the Roman moralists and jurists.

Even today -- and since prior to the Reformation -- there is not a single "doctrine of Christian Marriage" throughout Christendom. Some of the differences between East and West (is marriage an eternal bond or one dissolved at death?) go back to the earliest days, many differences even in the West (is it consent or coitus that "makes" the marriage) continued well into the Middle Ages, and the question of whether marriage is a sacrament or not continues to be a divided point between Lutherans, Anglicans, Romans, and Eastern Orthodox to this day. Your references to issues of sacramental theology (matter and form and so on) were answered by Anglicans in the simple phrase, "as estate allowed." (See Cross' Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church for a pointed comment on that!)

Most importantly, the early church was quite content with civil marriage as the only institution they knew. It was only by a gradual process of evolution that "church marriage" even came into existence. Its actual history shows many branching complexities and little in common other than the basis in Roman civil law.

There is no reason to believe that this development and evolution is at an end.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Friday, 16 September 2011 at 5:55pm BST

Thank you, Geoff.

I wish I could have expressed myself that clearly!

But I'm encouraged that David is reading and that he has not read R&H yet. I must confess to a great deal of respect for David who really does engage.
I believe most of the "arguments" he and I have are due to misunderstanding what each other is saying. And we both tend to go off at the deep end at times.

Your main points stands: there is no argument against same sex marriage that has not already been answered by people who are as keen on scriptural hermeneutics and exegesis as those who are against us.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 16 September 2011 at 9:40pm BST

Geoff,

Think about it. Tobias Haller freely admits that the history of marriage is complex and that there is a diversity of authoritative opinion on marriage throughout Christendom. Even on this thread alone, there have been several liberal commenters sharing divergent strands of thought.

I don't think that Mr. Haller opines to careful readers of 'Reasonable and Holy' that anything less than a thoroughly positive reception towards his conclusions about gay marriage is tantamount to unfaithfulness to the gospel. How, then, is my own claim of faithfulness to the gospel (upon which my salvation depends) undermined by a less than positive response to the book's conclusions about gay marriage? Clue me in. I thought we were in the realm of pastoral theology, but now we've stepped into the domain of dogma.

According to you, if, after considered, thoughtful study, I remain in disagreement with this book, or think that some issues concerning the validity of gay marriage remain unanswered, you are entltled to declare that: 'by persevering in it in the face of all Biblical contradiction, you belie your claim to simply being faithful to the Gospel.'

Well, based on my response to the book, that might ironically be your own 'vindication of a verdict of condemnation'. I still think disagreement with its findings falls far short of the charge of heresy.

I shall respond to Erika and Mr. Haller, but what I am firmly against is this sort of conclusive language that only reveals an insistent desire to present anyone who vigorously challenges your views on gay marriage as, ipso facto, a disingenuous heretic.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Saturday, 17 September 2011 at 1:32am BST

Tobias,

I agree that there are significant levels of disagreement regarding the perpetuity of marriage beyond death and whether it is contracted (some might say, pun intended) by consent or consummation. These differences do not detract from my primary thesis about the origin of sexual union and how it relates to the form of marriage liturgy. My reference to church history is about our common tradition (endorsed by Christ) regarding the origin of marriage.

Let's for a moment agree that, as you say on your blog, we do 'not define marriage as a “spiritual union” in the Western tradition'. That would negate liberal attempts to make the Genesis account relate to a broader sense of spiritual union. Therefore, 'one flesh' means exactly what it says in the scripture, the physical union of two individuals distinguished by their God-given complementary genders. 'He created them male and female and blessed them.' (Gen. 5:2)

If, as you say, 'The role of the church, and in particular the clergy, is to record, witness and above all to bless the marriage. But the marriage is made by the couple.' Why should the church diverge from the Genesis precedent of blessing? The liberal response appears to be that natural same-sex monogamy was just not part of those societies and so was not addressed. By that reasoning, (I assume you might say) the scriptures that relate to sexual mores need to be 'liberated' from their ancient context to embrace the relatively novel experience of same-sex Christian monogamy. How do we do that? By resorting to vague covenantal language in an effort to avoid offence?

You see, I do listen, but in the sense of humanising and recovering this debate from extreme caricatures of each other. (continued...)

Posted by: David Shepherd on Saturday, 17 September 2011 at 1:13pm BST

David -

"I thought we were in the realm of pastoral theology, but now we've stepped into the domain of dogma."

I believe we are: insisting on the kind of inherent moral status of gender required to support your view has deeply problematic implications for our Chalcedonian christology. Br Tobias' work is illuminating in this regard.

According to you, if, after considered, thoughtful study, I remain in disagreement with this book, or think that some issues concerning the validity of gay marriage remain unanswered, you are entltled to declare that: 'by persevering in it in the face of all Biblical contradiction, you belie your claim to simply being faithful to the Gospel.'

I think the problem (and this is the rigourous reasoning of my pre-law background peeking in) is that "conservatives" lack any concept of intellectual obligation, and tend to treat doctrine as a set of discrete propositions.

So, yes, if you read the book and do what I've seen many do: continue to profess "disagreement" on a cognitive level without being able to provide actual grounds for rejecting the premises of the "liberal" argument (most of which are in fact common assumptions of Christianity, regardless of one's views on the presenting issue) then you are allowing the tail to wag the dog, and seeking premises that will support your conclusion against all odds, as God is your witness, rather than seeking truth wherever the argument may lead to it.

You can certainly disagree, but disagreement in the scholarly sense is more than simply asserting, "I disagree." I've yet to see a reasserter objection, including Radner's response to Haller, that does more than this.

Posted by: Geoff on Saturday, 17 September 2011 at 10:10pm BST

David,

The questions your raise, as well as the assertions you make, and the premises upon which you appear to base them are all addressed in detail in my book. Your "assumption" about what I might say is, as far as I can understand it, inaccurate; and as it is very easy to see what I actually do say, I'd suggest that course. I do not believe you are caricaturing, but you are certainly not stating an accurate description of my position, which has nothing to do with "vague covenantal language."

I do not think this forum is the best place to discuss these larger issues. I would be happy to answer questions about my work, and respond to challenges or requests for clarification, but I think that would better be done at the blog devoted to that end. http://reasonableandholy.blogspot.com/

I will note here that I think you simultaneously apply much too much weight to Genesis while also limiting its scope, and in a direction other than Jesus intended in _his_ rather narrowly focused response to a question concerning divorce and remarriage. (He did have other things to say about marriage, far more relevant to the theology of sexuality.)

Genesis, as it declares itself, offers an explanation as to why men and women join together in marriage, though Genesis 2 does not say it is because of the sexual difference, but their human likeness -- Adam's choice of "one like him." Genesis neither rules out same-sex monogamy, nor seeks to explain it. As even the conservative scholars who contributed to the House of Bishops Theology report confess, the Scripture will not give us a simple answer to a question it was never designed to answer. So that is not "a liberal response."

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Sunday, 18 September 2011 at 10:55pm BST

Tobias,

Thank you for responding. I will make two points and take up your invitation. This is my last post to this thread.

I have read 'Lawfully Joined: A Liturgical Theology for Same-Sex Marriage' (your Doctoral submission) and it gives, at least, a flavour of your later thesis in 'Reasonable and Holy'.

1. As you know, the Genesis account makes no reference to divorce. Jesus simply applies this narrative to establish the authoritative prototype by which kinship through sexual union creates a divinely established new being from two individuals. A being that was thenceforth declared one. It is this fact that proved that the Mosaic divorce laws were a concession, rather than an entitlement. In that sense of an authoritative prototype of sexual union, I do not think I give it too much weight. Covenant simply endorses that reality.

2. Your reference to Adam focuses on the basis of his choice - likeness. I agree that this part of design is crucial to attraction and companionship. However, it is undeniable that God's design for abundance and furthering life (whether procreative, emotional or spiritual) involves uniting complementarity (and this is true Christology) to achieve something vastly greater. Cell division and differentiation and adaptation are all natural examples of the complementarity necessary to achieve abundance. The Genesis account of Eve's origin alludes to this.

You have said in Lawfully Joined: 'Ultimately “complementarity” is based on a theology of deficiency rather than abundance'. Complementarity should not be viewed pejoratively when it relates to a design that(as in marriage) transcends self-centred purposes. Adam declares what Eve means to him (likeness and companionship), that declaration is partial and not fully what she meant to God's purpose (an endorsement of her complementarity and abundance). Feminists would take issue with defining Eve by what she meant to Adam alone.

We have complementarity within the Body of Christ. Yet, Paul takes great pains to show that complementarity does not connote personal deficiency (1 Cor. 12).

Whether in the union of God and man in one Christ, the church, sexual differentiation and union, or in the amazing wave-particle duality of light: complementarity is a positive fact of nature, life and abundance.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Monday, 19 September 2011 at 7:31pm BST

David, again you go too far. There is no "new being" created from the two, but "one flesh" -- just as happens with a prostitute (1 Cor 5.) The issue is union, not some a new creature, or new creation. In the new creation there is no marriage, as Jesus says, apart from that of the Lamb and his Bride.

You are mistaken on complementarity, for reasons to which I go to some length in the book, so I refer you there. (Your Christology is flawed btw -- there is no "complementarity" in the union of the human and divine natures!) Not all things that unite to form new entities are "complementary." I'm not even sure what you mean by the word. This is not about being pejorative, but clear as to the meaning of the word. Something is complementary when it goes to make up for what is lacking in some other thing.

As to wave-particle duality it has nothing to do with complementarity, any more than sexual dimorphism does. (I will allow that the bases of the DNA molecule fit together in a complementary way -- but that is quite another thing, and it is only the bases themselves that are complementary, not the whole molecule.) And I will also note that my thesis was reviewed and judged the most valuable entry of the year by visiting Professor John Polkinghorne, who as a physicist knows a good deal about the wave-particle theory!

I think this will be my last comment here, as well.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Tuesday, 20 September 2011 at 12:39am BST

'You are mistaken on complementarity, for reasons to which I go to some length in the book,'

'As to wave-particle duality it has nothing to do with complementarity, any more than sexual dimorphism does.'

Wikipedia entry: 'In physics, complementarity is a basic principle of quantum theory proposed by Niels Bohr, closely identified with the Copenhagen interpretation, and refers to effects such as the wave–particle duality.'

Neils Bohr was wrong, then.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Tuesday, 20 September 2011 at 4:14pm BST

No, David. Bohr was using the word (or the equivalent in Danish!) in an entirely different context, where he has given it a very different meaning from the usage in social science and geometry. I should more precisely have said, "As to wave-particle duality, it has nothing to do with complementarity as it is alleged to be part of sexual dimorphism." In short, wave and particle are not "yin and yang" -- two parts that go to make up an entity, as is alleged of male and female in some circles. In fact quantum physics is about how the wave/particle is perceived -- as either/or but not both at once. An entirely different concept; confused by being referred to by the same word.

I wrote in some haste, also mis-citing 1 Cor 5 instead of 1 Cor 6 in reference to "one flesh."

But for your better understanding of the distinction, check out the disambiguation page on "complementarity" at Wikipedia. You have unfortunately based your comment on an argument that fails to note the very different meanings of "complementary" in different contexts. This is why I asked you, up above, to define your terms, as conversation becomes more difficult as ambiguities and confusion such as you introduce enter the conversation.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Tuesday, 20 September 2011 at 10:30pm BST

Tobias,

'But for your better understanding of the distinction, check out the disambiguation page on "complementarity" at Wikipedia.' Thanks. I was previously aware of the distinction, having studied it at university.

I used the examples to challenge the notion that the relationship between Adam and Eve should be viewed from merely Adam's standpoint: 'likeness'.

Nature and the authoritative prototype of sexuality in Genesis are clearly more complex (hence my examples) than mere 'likeness' can account for. Especially when 'likeness' is simply a means of turning the tables on opponents of same-sex marriage and 'prove' that the Genesis account equally endorses homosexuality.

Their God-given gender differences were part of God's purpose to fulfil something more that Adam's need for 'likeness' ('thank God, Eve's human like me') alone.

I have now ordered your book and should receive it in a few days.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Wednesday, 21 September 2011 at 7:56am BST

Happy reading, David Shepherd. Tobias certainly marshalls a pretty good argument for respecting members of the Gay community who want only to be loved by someone - the same as anybody else.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 22 September 2011 at 12:00pm BST
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