Thinking Anglicans

initial reactions to the CofE marriage document

Updated again 9 am Friday

Bishop Alan Wilson wrote Gay Marriage: Must Try Harder. Here’s a portion, but do read it all:

The Lion has Roared. The faith and order commission of the General Synod, no less, has uttered its mind on marriage equality.

Marriage is the faithful committed permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between a man and a woman central to the stability and health of human society

What would happen if we simply substituted “between two people”?
Well, very little has happened, actually, in jurisdictions that have done that.

Belgium remains, after ten years, a drably conventional place, where people are married and given in marriage.

In Belgium, Gay people are not forced to marry people of the opposite sex and pretend to be what they are not. A small number of them choose a life of marital commitment together. Er, that’s it.

But apparently this is what will happen in the UK:

When marriage is spoken of unclearly or misleadingly it distorts the way couples try to conduct their relationships and makes for frustration and disappointment. The reality of marriage between one man and one woman will not disappear as a result of any legislative change, for God has given us this gift and it will remain part of our created human endowment. The disciplines of living in it may become more difficult to acquire and the path to fulfillment in marriage and in other relationships more difficult to find.

Really? How would that be? Has anyone ever met any couple to whom this happened?

Changing Attitude has three articles:
Colin Coward Church of England refuses to bless gay relationships – another nail in the coffin and
The Telegraph’s inaccurate optimism about gays in the Church
and Christina Beardsley Keeping us all in order.

Tobias Haller has written Status Quo Vadis.

Maybe the Beaker Folk have understood the report best, Ceremony of Not Blessing Things We’d Rather Not Think About.

Mark Vernon has written Where’s the good news? Here is an extract, but again do read it all:

…3. What is dismaying, then, is not that there is no overt policy change. Rather, it is the poor quality of the theology, history and psychology on display in the document. This highlights the deeper impact of a prior policy constraining a genuine process of discernment and exploration. The document reads defensively and often rather literally-minded. There is little good news in it, not fundamentally because there is no policy change, but because it conveys such a narrow vision of human love and sexuality.

4. The non-negotiable, hard place is that marriage is a ‘creation ordinance’, defined as between a man and a woman, as apparently implied in Genesis. This is either making the norm the rule or reducing the rich myths of Genesis to a formula. If it’s the former, it’s simply a category error. If it’s the latter, it’s an appallingly reductive reading of scripture that strips it of life. (In fact, the Biblical treatment often amounts to little more than proof-texting. For example, St Paul in 1 Corinthians is cited to show that men and women are ‘not independent’ of each other, which is tantamount to a truism, the proof-texting charge evidenced as if that was St Paul’s last word on the matter.)

5. The idea that Genesis sanctions the nuclear family is, actually, a modern idea: I believe it can be traced to John Locke’s 1690 Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent and End of Civil Government. Then, a legal definition of marriage was required because before, committed relationships had gained their social sanction by being made before God. Also, before then, families rarely looked like Adam and Eve under the fig tree because people died too often: hodgepodge families seem far more likely to have been the norm. (The document inadvertently shows it’s modern roots by quoting the slightly earlier Jeremy Taylor. Presumably one of the committee had a dictionary of quotations to hand, as there is no sign that Taylor’s thoughts on love and friendship are reflected upon in any deep way. Further, Taylor is quoted as if in support of marriage as a paradigm of society, when the word ‘society’ did not mean a form of social organisation at the time, but merely human company.)

6. The point about modern prejudices is important because it makes the report blind to the diversity of relationships available to Christians in the medieval and ancient periods. We live in an exceptional age in which marriage has a monopoly. As writers from Alan Bray (The Friend) to Rowan Williams (Lost Icons) have argued, ours is actually the idiosyncratic period, one that has depleted our relational imaginations. (In a presumably unintentionally humorous moment, the document considers the ‘exogamy’ of the Old Testament, arguing that it was intended ‘to be of limited scope’. Lucky Abraham.)

7. The document says that the lack of a clear understanding of marriage makes for ‘disappointments and frustrations’. I doubt whether marriage guidance experts would agree. Rather, it’s an inability to tolerate difference and diversity in marriages that makes it so rigid and unbearable that it falls apart in people’s hands.

8. Discerning the goodness of God in the natural world is advocated. Now, of course, natural goodness is tricky to discern in a fallen world. The document nods to the arts and sciences in helping with that. But a paragraph or two after this moment of openness, it shrinks back to a narrow biologism that would embarrass even Richard Dawkins: our biological existence, apparently, means one man, one woman. The fact that homosexuality exists in nature is ignored. God can bless same-sex swans raising cygnets together, but not same-sex humans…

Lesley Crawley has usefully provided us with a wordle of the report in her article: How would you describe marriage? and also So has the Church of England changed its stance on Blessing Civil Partnerships?

Frank Cranmer and David Pocklington have written Men and Women in Marriage and the Church of England

…The Report itself actually has very little to say about same-sex relationships (it is, after all, about marriage) other than a rather gnomic statement in paragraph 49 about

“… accommodations for specific conditions, bearing witness in special ways to the abiding importance of the norm. Well-designed accommodations proclaim the form of life given by God’s creative goodness and bring those in difficult positions into closer approximation to it. They mark the point where teaching and pastoral care coincide.”

The problem, it strikes us, is this: that the Church appears to be trying to have it all ways at once. Either you decide on biblical grounds that same-sex relationships are wrong in all circumstances and stick to that (which is an entirely consistent position even if it is one that looks increasingly at odds with the views of wider society) or you decide that they are not – in which case when you try to accommodate them you run the risk of getting tangled up in conflicting arguments in the way that is currently engulfing the C of E. But seeming to suggest that same-sex relationships are not always wrong and then maintaining that, nevertheless, they are basically second-class strikes us as the worst of all worlds – and much the most difficult position to defend, whether intellectually or pastorally.

Two more articles by Colin Coward Reactions to “Men and Women in Marriage” and Critiques of “Men and Women in Marriage”.

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11 years ago

For those concerned about a creeping doctrine “complementarianism” in connection with men and women, as reflected in this report, take a look at footnote 2. The document has moved from a “complementarianism” to a “polarity” between men and women. I haven’t a clue what that’s supposed to mean. But if I were a woman in the Church of England, ordained or not, I would be very concerned about the theology, much less the science, connected with such a word.

11 years ago

Thank God for Bishop Alan!!! The voice of decency and healing.

I have to admit that I found the report by the Faith Commission deeply hurtful. I don’t take too much personally. But the extraordinary lengths that they went to to dehumanize me was hurtful. The offensive and horrifically patronizing bits were salt in that wound. The illogic only underscores their level of bigotry against me and my LGBT brothers and sisters.

Those people don’t leave us with much hope. Just the opportunity to watch the clock until they are retired. But then it’ll be a new day.

Father Ron Smith
11 years ago

Both Bishop Alan and Fr. Tobias Haller have much to commend their distinctive articles here. Let’s hope the Bishops of the Church are taking note.

Chris Fewings
11 years ago

Because the report seems to represent inertia at best, my first reaction was: It is time for “lay” Anglicans in the Church of England to start celebrating public thanksgivings for and blessings of committed same-sex relationship – in churches where possible, in church halls and church porches, in parks and on village greens.

I expanded on that here:

Father Ron Smith
11 years ago

I wonder if any of you have seen the excellent riposte given by the ‘Mad-priest’ ?

11 years ago
11 years ago

Bishop Alan asks ‘What would happen if we simply substituted “between two people”?’, and comments – as far as I know, correctly – that ‘very little has happened, actually, in jurisdictions that have done that’. Given that the opponents of same-sex marriage style themselves “traditionalists”, it’s a bitter irony that, at least liturgically, from 1549 to 1646 and again from 1662 to 2000, we in the CofE were one of those jurisdictions, since the phrase in the BCP marriage liturgy is always “two persons”, not “one man and one woman”. I still can’t help but wonder to what extent the… Read more »

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