Comments: Statement on marriage from CofE Evangelical Council

The statement provides no basis, biblical or otherwise, for a prohibition of sex outside of (their definition of) marriage. Sloppy!

Posted by Alastair Newman at Tuesday, 15 May 2012 at 1:47pm BST

I would struggle to call this 'irenic'

Posted by Craig Nelson at Tuesday, 15 May 2012 at 2:12pm BST


A couple of assertions in this document caught my attention straight away. Firstly, paragraph 1b describes marriage as a "god-given form of relationship". Secondly, paragraph 3b states as axiomatic that "marriage is instituted by God". Both of these claims stand in direct contradiction to article 25 of the Thirty-Nine Articles. Therefore, whatever else this document from CEEC might be, it is _not_ "a clear statement of the traditional and orthodox Anglican position".

Posted by Feria at Tuesday, 15 May 2012 at 3:51pm BST

This strikes me as just conservative evangelical Anglicans talking to themselves, not addressing the outside world in any meaningful way at all: it is certainly not likely to convert them, as evangelicals might hope to do. For all its talk of being sympathetic and understanding, it still calls for repentence, as if gays in committed relationships are doing something sinful and wrong.
And, interestingly, for all its talk of permanent and lifelong relationships in marriage it does not have a word to say about divorce and remarriage for heterosexuals. Surely that is against God's plan too, but is that too difficult to address, because so many evangelicals are themselves in that situation, but have yet had their second marriages blessed by evangelical clergy, including the children of the former archbishop of Canterbury?

Posted by Stephen Bates at Tuesday, 15 May 2012 at 5:51pm BST

"Marriage as created by God is an exclusive relationship between one man and one woman that is entered into for life .... Because marriage is instituted by God, neither the Church nor the state is authorised to re-define it."

But this is simply not true for two reasons:

First, marriage in the Old Testament is almost entirely polygamous. It was not between one man and one woman for life. Saying that God exclusively created monogamy is not Biblical. (That being said, I think that monogamy is vastly perferable to polygamy for the purposes of social stability and a lot of other reasons. But that's a different issue.)

Second, the state has in fact changed that definition of marriage. We have divorce and remarriage. This redefinition of marriage under this statement already violates God's institution. But are they seeking to ban remarriage after divorce? Of course not -- that's political suicide even if it's required under their Biblical standard.

Posted by dr.primrose at Tuesday, 15 May 2012 at 6:11pm BST

Feria, I think you're misreading the Article in question, if you think that it maintains that God did not institute marriage. The issue in the Article isn't whether marriage is of divine institution, but whether or not the specific manner of performing it is. "Those five commonly called Sacraments," including Matrimony "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.*"

The form and matter of the "Gospel Sacraments," Baptism and the Eucharist, are specified in the Gospels: water and the Trinitarian formula for the former, bread, wine, and the Words of Institution for the latter. That's not the case with Matrimony. And the traditional Anglican line is that Matrimony was instituted by God in the Garden of Eden (see 1662 BCP), so the CEEC isn't off base with that particular aspect of the topic.

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Tuesday, 15 May 2012 at 6:53pm BST

For a good counter to this Statement try George Monbiot in today's Guardian

"http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/may/14/family-life-best-for-1000-years?INTCMP=SRCH"

Simon

Posted by Simon Dawson at Tuesday, 15 May 2012 at 7:01pm BST

In spite of all the flannel about love, this is pretty nasty stuff.

Posted by Suem at Tuesday, 15 May 2012 at 7:22pm BST

Any organisation which still has the discredited Wallace Benn as president isn't living in the real world and it's views are of no account.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Tuesday, 15 May 2012 at 8:21pm BST

Stephen - I noticed that too. My question to the writers would have been "do you not have any remarried divorcees in your churches?"

Posted by Simon Morden at Tuesday, 15 May 2012 at 9:31pm BST

Of course as Evangelicals, they do not believe Christ turned marriage inton a sacrament for the baptized, abolishing polygamy and divorce.

Notice how they dare not tackle the issue of divorce and re-marriage as they are split as to the meaning of Scripture.

Sex is only for marriage, but they can only define it in vague terms.

Posted by Robert ian Williams at Tuesday, 15 May 2012 at 9:54pm BST

The statement assumes that Christian Tradition has the right and ability to determine the legal definition of marriage for the state - which seems more than quite a leap. There are, at least in the US, more than a thousand legal rights attached to marriage - from inheriting property, to medical decision making, to ownership of pensions, to tax status, and on and on. This is why civil marriage is a question of equal rights, not of moral judgement. So what the authors of this document are really arguing (at least in the USA) is that large chunks of the population must be deprived of 1000s of rights that others take for granted (until divorce time) in order to satisfy an extremely static reading of scripture. Certainly the state has every right to define civil marriage and for this document to assert otherwise is to enshrine discrimination in the name of Jesus. God forgive us.

Posted by Scott at Tuesday, 15 May 2012 at 10:45pm BST

RIW has a good point - these people do not consider marriage a sacrament.

Posted by Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer at Tuesday, 15 May 2012 at 11:15pm BST

Bill,

You may well be right to suggest that _something_ to do with marriage was instituted by God. However, I'd suggest that this document, and the current debate more generally, are all about "the specific manner of performing it", i.e. about who does and doesn't get access to the visible, outward ceremonies. By article 25, those details are not believed in Anglicanism to have been instituted by God.

Posted by Feria at Tuesday, 15 May 2012 at 11:31pm BST

"5b. Redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships or affirming or blessing
sexual activity outside marriage is contrary to God’s word." - Evangelical Council Statement -

Where, precisely, is this stated in Scripture?
______________________________________________

"Sex is only for marriage" - Robert I Williams

Dear Robert, your conversion from Evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism bespeaks a misunderstanding of the fact that most human beings are wired for sexual expression. This is a known problem with your new ecclesial community. The most loving expression of our common human sexuality is now being debated in a much wider forum than you may be used to. The conversation may need to be actually listened to, carefully, before uttering the usual shibboleths.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 15 May 2012 at 11:33pm BST

"The statement provides no basis, biblical or otherwise, for a prohibition of sex outside of (their definition of) marriage. Sloppy!"

Sloppy, or finally acknowledging that the church has married cohabitating couples for years and years, often with their joint children as bridesmaids and page boys?

Or are we still making statements that deliberately push these people away?
Do we still seriously believe that anyone, apart from an absolutely tiny minority, marries as a virgin? Do we still seriously believe that it matters one jot?

I SO long for the day we get over our obsession with sex and focus on relationships and people's faith!

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 16 May 2012 at 8:18am BST

Erika, indeed! My comment was mainly a reaction to the description of the statement as an "irenic, finely argued, biblically articulate monograph".

Not SO biblically articulate, eh?!

Posted by Alastair Newman at Wednesday, 16 May 2012 at 12:50pm BST

Self-congratulatory tripe. I think those outside the charmed circle are the ones to tell us if they find this production irenic - this reader does not.

It is shallow (no look at the history or sociology of marriage globally - which would show a kaleidoscope of different forms, may of which this lot would find very uncomfortable), dishonest (exegetically feeble and entirely satisfied with the usual formulaic assumptions from this stable - no consideration of the diversity of marriage within the Bible nor the question of divorce and remarriage over which a lot of evangelicals get themselves into knots), naive (why should the whole of society have one sectarian reading of the Bible define for them what marriage is and isn't), and insincere (offering gay people "pastoral care and a call to repentance" - I've never had the former, and they are usually too spineless to dare to suggest the latter to your face).

This production, if effected in policy, would see us all roll back from civil partnerships into something that gave LGBT people no legal status at all. It is as nasty as its language is syrupy. I hope it is comprehensively ignored - the bishops who signed up to commend it should be ashamed of themselves.

Posted by JeremyP at Wednesday, 16 May 2012 at 12:54pm BST

Jeremy,
I think it's time these people realised that we don't actually believe ourselves to be immoral sinners but that we know God loves and affirms us as we are and that we consider our partners to be the greatest loving gift we could have received from him.

This call to "repentance" really misses the point. You can repent of something you know you've done wrong, you cannot repent of accepting God's greatest gifts and of living your life and faith to the full.

This misses reality to such an extent that you really do wonder what strange enclaves these people live in.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 16 May 2012 at 7:53pm BST

"Other times, genuinely compassionate and inclusive attitudes have been weakened by a lack of biblical rigour, and a consequent misreading of the revealed mind
of God."

Any paper that has in its preamble the suggestion that its authors correctly read "the revealed mind of God" is wading into deep matter from the outset. And this is nothing but the usual complaint that those who stand for inclusion advance arguments "weakened by a lack of biblical rigour." It seems not to perturb these writers that the majority of credible scripture scholars do not accept the selective hermeneutic of the evangelicals nor do they accept the views of the evangelicals that scripture clearly forbids loving same sex relationships.

When do we get to hear about the real world? Civil society in Ireland, as well as in England, has left the Churches standing in the corners of the dance hall like wallflowers talking to each other but unable to decide to dance. The Holy Spirit moves and flows in real life, with its attractions, crushes, loves, its flaming sexual mistakes, its fear to speak of love, its joy in commitment, and its heartrending losses. She seems absent from this endless debate about whether the Church will permit and bless its people to do what they are already doing.

On a cold and rainy winter night (that's how they are in Southern California) I want the man who loves me next to me and not some theologian hectoring me that because I was born intersex I must be celibate, and as added punishment I must read papers like this one. When theology is dry bones it is time to invite the Holy Spirit to move over us, to breathe on these bones and to wrap them in warm flesh.

Isn't our faith about Incarnation?

Posted by karen macqueen+_ at Thursday, 17 May 2012 at 7:53am BST

Well, quite, Erika!

Experience tells me that they probably offer the "pastoral care and a call to repentance" to confused and ashamed people. Those of us who are out and proud are the kind of folk they avoid like the plague as that kind of approach would get a very dusty response! But just because we are not hung up over our sexuality doesn't mean that we don't at times need pastoral care as we travel along the way - and do we get it? On the occasions I could have appreciated it, it totally failed to materialise - because offering it would have meant talking about my life and circumstances, and that would have taken them into territory they simply were desperate to avoid. So you end up feeling that there are these people who are happy to pontificate, but when it comes to it keep their holy distance.

You are so right - it is an enclave, and a deservedly shrinking one at that.

Posted by JeremyP at Thursday, 17 May 2012 at 7:57am BST

There is one other feature of this thing that I find odd/objectionable.

It is the list of commendations at the end. First, there are nine and a half men and two and a half women - no surprises there, then. Secondly, are they so uncertain of the merits of the thing that we have to be told, both in the ghastly introduction and then by all these big cheeses at the end, how marvellous this thing is? Some of those names are pretty underwhelming - and you would only know them if you are in that particular ghetto anyway. Lastly, it all comes from a culture where what is wanted is to get people to submit intellectualy to what they are told is good and right - and not think for themselves. Most unhealthy.

If the statement has merit, put it out and let us evaluate it for ourselves, but don't go telling us what we ought to thnk of it. It isn't a candidate for the Richard and Judy book club.

Posted by JeremyP at Thursday, 17 May 2012 at 8:05am BST

Jeremy,
my experience has been different to yours. Whenever I have needed pastoral support I have had plenty of it from priests who were completely comfortable with me talking about my life and who looked at relationship and not the dry remote theology Karen McQueen rightly despairs of. In all my years as an "out" Christian I have never personally come across anything but compassionate, theologically literate and accepting priests - and that in small village churches.

The enclave is even smaller than they think!

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 17 May 2012 at 8:54am BST

Three serving bishops are among the commenders. None is currently a member of Parliament but any of them could become a member of the House of Lords, even under the reform proposals now on the table. Therefore this is particularly troubling:

"3b. Because marriage is instituted by God, neither the Church nor the state is
authorised to re-define it.
3c. A relationship between two men or two women cannot therefore be a marriage and
neither the state nor the Church should describe it as such".

This is no less than a claim to theocracy. According to this document, an elected government is not entitled to make civil marriage law. Only the singular Church (which presumably excludes Quakers, Unitarians and United Reformed - it sure as hell doesn't speak for them) can state what marriage is.

Bishop Pete sometimes comments here. I hope that either he or one of the other two will reassure us that he is not actually a theocrat.

Posted by Iain McLean at Thursday, 17 May 2012 at 10:59am BST

2b. The Church is not free to use certain parts of the Bible, such as the commandment to love our neighbours, as a justification for setting aside teaching contained in other parts of the Bible, such as the rejection of same-sex sexual activity.

Do I understand this correctly? So, we are called to love our neighbours and invite them to our churches but we are also called to (vocally) reject their same-sex sexual activity? So, when is this, please, Revd Lawson? After their first visit….or when they’ve been coming for a month or two ….or when they’ve joined a housegroup? Should I have them fill in a questionnaire so that I know exactly how much same-sex sexual activity is going on…..I would hate to get it wrong, I might offend them. I will, of course, explain that I am just adhering to the tenets of the St Matthias Day statement, so no harm done….(except, of course, that they never set foot in a church again…)
It may offend you, Revd Lawson, but I believe that couples in civil partnerships should be afforded exactly the same privacy, autonomy and respect that we extend to married couples, not least on a very basic ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ premise and that I have no desire whatsoever to control and manipulate other people’s journeys to faith, belief systems or sexuality. How heretical is that!

Posted by Jane N at Thursday, 17 May 2012 at 11:12pm BST

Around half of the endorsements come from people who are members of the council.

Posted by Conrad Henley-Calvert at Friday, 18 May 2012 at 5:47am BST

It's signed by my diocesan bishop, by the principal of the local theological college and by someone I had thought to be a highly intelligent member of the teaching staff there. This civilly-partnered Area Dean in Southwell & Nottingham diocese - where mission is supposedly in our DNA - is very confused (and trying not to become depressed...).

Posted by Jonathan MacG at Friday, 18 May 2012 at 11:09pm BST

@Iain McLean - I'll try to elucidate.
Marriage is a gift of God in creation (a creation ordinance, if you like). Like the imago dei, our understanding of work and leisure, our responsibility for the stewardship of creation, the doctrine of marriage is inherent in our createdness. It's given to us (as Jesus reiterates) for the good of all in society.

Because the UK doesn't have two versions of marriage - the law doesn't know of "civil" and "religious" marriage (these are fond inventions in the Government consultation paper), we are talking about a single construct. It's just "marriage". It would be perfectly possible for HMG to devise two separate categories (indeed, arguably the consultation document seeks to do so). But it is pretty lazy for that reinvention of marriage to take place without proper discussion of whether that change would be a "good" in society. When I raised that question on Newsnight, the Minister responsible didn't even get the issue.

It would be irresponsible of an Established Church not to ask HMG to think with more clarity about what it thinks it is doing in changing our received Judaeo-Christian understanding (and the single understanding of marriage that exists in English law, whereby the same legal entity is solemnised in register office, church or elsewhere).

Civil partnerships were introduced to right various injustices in the laws of inheritance etc. between people who were not in a marital relationship (though arguably the parameters of who should be allowed to be in a civil partnership should have been drawn wider than just gay couples). Marriage is a different construct - and the Government consultation document itself highlights the difficulty of addressing some of the issues that the idea of a "gay marriage" raises. Marriage is about complementarity, the potential of children, consummation, and Canon B30, which I referenced in my commendation, expresses the view of marriage that the CofE shares with HMG.

That's not, I think, a theocratic view. It reflects the shared understanding of Church and State that has existed up till now in relation to marriage law.

Posted by Pete Broadbent at Saturday, 19 May 2012 at 8:23am BST

Jonathan -
I understand one of the new Diocesan buzzphrases to be "Seeking Justice".

That makes it even more depressing that they can all sign up to this stuff, and campaign to enshrine bigotry and discrimination.

Posted by JeremyP at Saturday, 19 May 2012 at 8:15pm BST

I'm sad that the term 'Evangelical' has been so debased by the actions of certain bishops and clergy of the Church - for whom the 'Good News' they purport to represent has become little more than a re-presentation of Pharisaical shibboleths.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 21 May 2012 at 1:31am BST
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