Thursday 19 April 2012

But mummy, he hasn’t got anything on!

One way Bishops can respond to the government's consultation on gay marriage is sitting on our hands, staring out the window, going ho-hum, hoping that the whole thing will just go away.
Yesterday the archbishop of Wales showed a better way:
Dr Barry Morgan said the Church would not be able to ignore the new legislation on civil marriage proposed by the Government, despite the fact that the legislation would not allow gay couples to marry in church. He called on the Church to discuss how it would respond.He said, “If the legislation to allow civil marriage is passed, I cannot see how we as a church, will be able to ignore the legality of the status of such partnerships and we ought not to want to do so.“The question then as now is, will the church protect and support pastorally, faithful, stable, lifelong relationships of whatever kind in order to encourage human values such as love and fidelity and recognise the need in Christian people for some public religious support for these..."
What this discussion is uncovering for me, is the extent to which I am, at heart, an Evangelical who believes in Marriage. That’s not “Evangelical” in a Fundamentalist sense — I don't think fundamentalism is particularly good news to anyone, not even fundamentalists. 

I am Evangelical enough to believe that Christ is, in fact, risen and we are, actually, his body in the world, charged in Matthew 28 to be good news to the whole creation, by observing his commands. He didn't say “keep everything the same” let alone “suppress gays.” He did say “Love your neighbour as yourself” and “Judge not that ye be not judged.” He did say “take the beam out of your eye before you try and remove the mote from someone else's” and “Love as I have loved you.” 

Is there  anything unclear about any of that? I don't think so.

Therefore the highest duty of the Church is not to preserve institutions, but to be, simply and completely, good news. The gospel isn't “good news/bad news” or “good news as long as you buy it properly.” It isn’t even “what would Jesus do?” It’s “What is Jesus actually doing through the whole creation, and trying to do through us if only we got real?” 

Jesus referred marriage back to the way God actually made us. Marriage is a gift of God in creation that strengthens community and expresses divine love — that’s what’s meant by calling it “sacramental.” 

In fact a very small but significant proportion of every human population is gay. If some of these people want to build stable faithful relationships based on love, that has to be a good thing. Love is love wherever it is found. We know it by its fruits, not its origins. But the fruits reveal the origin. God is love and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them. This is the good news.

Thus the prime question Christians have to ask is not “is the idea of ay marriage right or wrong?” but, whatever we make of the theory of the matter, “how can we be good news to the real human beings involved?” 

Whatever the rights and wrongs of gay marriage it could be advancing the Church towards a rather healing Emperor's New Clothes moment.

Art h/t —


David said...

'Love is love wherever it is found. We know it by its fruits, not its origins. But the fruits reveal the origin. God is love and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them. This is the good news.'

Thank-you Alan for this.
Deep Gratitude

Steven Hunter said...

Alan, as ever some thoughtful words on the issue.

I particularly liked your points:
The gospel isn't “good news/bad news” or “good news as long as you buy it properly.” It isn’t even “what would Jesus do?”

These issues are so often seen in such a dualistic fashion which is so sad.

Jon said...

Maybe I'm just crazy, but I've begun to think that it might be more helpful to look at marriage as an ascetic discipline, a school in which one can learn how to actually love another person. Certainly it isn't the only school of love, and plenty of couples fail to love each other as fully as possible, but perhaps giving more prominence to this sort of self-work (and the work of developing virtues more generally) would be helpful in the modern world.

Kathryn Rose said...

I think my definition of sacramentality might be a bit different than yours... when I'm thinking about these things I usually rely on "a sacrament is an outward sign of an inner or spiritual grace" for clarity, rather than looking for a sacrament as a gift of God in creation (is baptism such? Eucharist? Well, maybe... but it seems much easier to make this claim for marriage than for other sacraments, generally) that strengthens community and expresses divine love, though perhaps the way we engage with sacrament could benefit from a long hard look at the last two criteria.

But if this is true, then how is it for me to decide who else is in a relationship that is sacramental? It isn't. Care must be taken, but if people want to participate in the outward sign then it seems important to give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they are prompted by an inner or spiritual grace.

Which, I think, is very much what you're saying later on with "Love is love wherever it is found. We know it by its fruits, not its origins. But the fruits reveal the origin."

UKViewer said...

At last a voice of sanity among those who are shouting loudly against same-sex marriage, and who just think in black and white terms about everything.

I think that 'Love conquers all' is a pretty good maxim. Those who unselfishly give themselves to each other in love, deserve to be both accepted and recognised by the Church and Christians as just as valid as any other couple, married or unmarried.

I hope that the Government's proposals are put into law. It will oblige people to face up to the situation instead of ignoring it, hoping that it will just go away.

We need provide the same Sacramental recognition for same-sex couples as straight couples. There is a huge, largely silent majority among the pews and clergy who would support such services being provided. Legalisation of same-sex marriage might encourage them to speak out about the continuing discrimination within the Church.

Lay Anglicana said...

Yes! Yes! Yes!
Now will you bite some of our other bishops please?

June Butler said...

1+1=2. It's a start. Think of it! Bishops proclaiming the Good News!

Just joking, Alan. You've been giving us the Good News of God's love for quite some time now.

Mike said...

Dear Bishop Alan,
What you analysis ignores is that marriage is not just about love; it also embraces the concept of procreation, and hence can be only between a man and a woman. The future of the human race depends on an ability to sustain life from one generation to the next; and the mechanisms for doing this, based on loving heterosexual relationships, are the most prized and ancient institutions of all societies. This is not to devalue same-sex relationships; it is just to recognise that they are different in that they can have no procreative function. The term marriage should be retained to define only those relationships which involve love with procreative possibility.

Michael Graham

tpot123 said...

Thank you so much for these thoughts. It is indeed time to celebrate love and commitment in all it's guises.

This will be forwarded to all my friends and it'll no doubt cause passionate debate over a pint at the 8 Bells.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Mike, it is perfectly possible to procreate without being married and male-female couples who have no procreative possibility at all are just as married as anyone else. Following this analysis would in itself dissolve a fair number of present marriages... which is probably not what anybody intends.

In English tradition the specific provision in BCP1549 of marriage for those past childbearing proves that its possibility was not integral to marriage. So does Puritan theology from the following century that identified the essence of marriage with partnership not procreation; thereby paving the way for the invention of divorce in England in the 1650's.

There is a different discussion to be had about the meaning of words (explored very well in Christopher Roberts PhD thesis Creation and Covenant). It's interesting, however, what lengths he had to go to to find any significance in sexual difference in a collection of classic theologians' work over the past 1500 years.

Anonymous said...

"'Judge not that ye be not judged.” He did say “take the beam out of your eye before you try and remove the mote from someone else's'"

I'm not sure where that leaves the expensive mistake of the Clergy Discipline Measure, Alan, without the 'Ah, buts' qualifiers that you said we mistakenly similarly apply in other contexts.

That aside, I think you're side-stepping the question. Just as Morgan says the Church can't ignore the issue - of course it can't; bleedin' obvious! - and the Church should offer love and support - again, the bleedin' obvious (and somewhat platitudinous) - because to do anything other is contrary to its nature - this gets us nowhere in addressing whether 'gay marriage' is right or not - for the Church to sanction, or not.

Laity rightly expect the quality of debate in the Church to transcend the givens of love and pastoral care. The authentically pastoral is only so if it's based on theological truth (whatever that is); otherwise it's just the niceness of the social worker with spiritualised ethics thrown in for good measure

"Whatever the rights and wrongs of gay marriage" is precisely the matter that bishops must address, regardless of government diktat - and that will not go away. We require rather more than Morgan is offering...

Best wishes,


Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Marcus, what is driving this isn't government diktat, but the intentions and experience of couples who regard themselves as married to each other. The notion that the Church, or for that matter the state, is the gatekeeper of who is entitled to regard themselves thus is completely wrong. But the state does have to decide who can get legally married. I have to question whether what the the Church has offered, in fact, has always been experienced as love and support.

Anonymous said...

Alan: Where the CofE went wrong, it seems to me, and causing certain chickens now to roost, is the failure to offer blessing of a civil partnership, much like that of a civil marriage. Partnership isn't (and in my view can't be) marriage, so what was the problem? It seems to me that this would have satisfied gay Christians in such circumstances, many of whom I know not to consider that they could ever be married but we indeed hurt at clergy refusal to bless in church, as their discretion, because or episcopal diktat. I'm gay, as our many friends: we're church-goers in the Catholic tradition, and think it nonsense to talk of gays as being able to be married. I don't think we're very untypical, actually, of gay Christians...

You mention 'entitlement'. I'm not suggesting that the Church should be a gate-keeper even if it could - who much cares what it thinks these days? but that it must express a clear view on the rightness or wrongness of gay marriage because this is properly an (socio-)ethical dilemma. If the Church can't, who can? To reduce to, and therefore reject because of, what you think maybe its effect - gatekeeping - is, I think, totally wrong as a matter of ethical reasoning (with respect!)

"I have to question whether what the the Church has offered, in fact, has always been experienced as love and support."

No, it hasn't always, of course, primarily because of demented evangelicals obsessing about genitalia - but hard cases make bad law.

Best wishes._

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Marcus: Many thanks — I have long wondered if a good way forward could have been to develop an enriched theology of covenanted friendship around the "brother-making" liturgies from the medieval Church. As it is, we chose not to do that when we could have, but instead kicked and screamed about civil partnerships in a mealy-mouthed and duplicitous way. We should engage with the socio-ethical dilemma , but I fear we have gotten into the habit of playing this thing according to the requirements of internal church politics, not truth. We lost the script after the Osborne report, and we need to recover it before we can engage honestly with the real question at issue. If you are right, and I'm not saying you're not, the necessity for gender difference will emerge over the next hundred years, and that in itself will induce change. As it is the law has already been changed in Sweden, Holland and by His Most Catholic Majesty the King of Spain. Stable door. Horse over the hills. We brought it on ourselves, if indeed it is a bad thing. Perhaps it's God's future? I fear a lifetime of establishment thinking, institutional self-obsession, and steering round or difficulties rather than facing them has scarce prepared C of E plc for an hour such as this. It's the local church that's the hope of the world, thank God...

Anonymous said...

Alan: That's interesting - because the local church - localism - may be the pan-congregational church, where bishops don't have an obvious place!

I don't think the CofE has considered at all adequately the meaning of gender. It's a parody of its thinking - but only just - that liberal bishops appear to consider gender socially constructed (and therefore deconstructable), and that's it. I recall a Bishop of Swindon, when confronted with a so-called 'transgendered' priest (male to female - whom I know) calling a press conference and suggesting that this was of no significance, which I thought very poor indeed (his intention was, I'm sure, good, but he was misguided). That's one quirky illustration of a matter that needs robust thinking re gay marriage. Perhaps another connection is women priests (which I'm opposed to, partly because I think sex - gender - is so ill-considered in the CofE and if it were better understood, interchangeability would be rejected (which I think is what's entailed). We, of course, disagree on this...

Basil Mitchell, a former ChCh, Oxon priest and philosopher remarked, some 20 or 30 years ago, that the quality of Church reports on theological matters was often poor because they were written by sociologists, not theologians using decent conceptual analysis. I think that's true - and rather more so today.

Simon said...

Thank you for your post and for displaying the courage of your convictions by signing the recent letter to The Times.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Marcus, I don't think localism is the whole way forward, but neither is top-down. The role of bishops in a bottom-up Church is indeed different — servant ministry after the manner of the apostles rather than G&S imperium.
The problem with transgendering and our present legal arrangement is that when people are assigned their proper gender (as medical knowledge would have it) they have to divorce. This legally breaks up families that, in one notable instance be known round here, chose to stay together on the grounds of Christian obedience to their marriage vows. It's an uncommon phenomenon, but one there present law is, from a Conservative point of view on marriage like mine, inadequate.
Finally I have no idea whence the idea that people who campaigned, back when it was controversial, for the ordination of women somehow believe men and women are the same. I have never found that notion to be borne out by the facts.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, Simon for your kind words.

I have to interrupt normal service to say that someone left an anonymous comment on this thread concerning a named person that was rather off topic.

Whilst it wouldn't be right to publish the comment, and it would add nothing to this discussion to do that, if the anonymous poster believes they should follow this matter up, they will have to email me directly (using the biography and contact page above).

Erika Baker said...

not sure if you're not updating the blog comments or if mine got lost...

regarding your comment "I have long wondered if a good way forward could have been to develop an enriched theology of covenanted friendship around the "brother-making" liturgies from the medieval Church"... I do believe that could only ever be a stepping stone.

The fact is that lgbt people are asking for marriage. Not all of us, I agree, but enough of us to have stimulated this debate in Government in the first place. Government isn't known for forcing rights on people they haven't loudly asked for in the first place.

There are lot of people who are happy with gay relationships but who insist that "The Government" or "The Church" or whichever "they" they are addressing doesn't call them marriage.
This is out of anyone's hands. Language evolves around how people use it. And gay people wanting marriage who are currently in a civil partnership are often calling their relationship a marriage already. As do their friends and families and, increasingly, the general public.

Of course, the church can offer a half way house for a while and it would possibly calm the debate for a little moment.
But ultimately, this is not about words but about substance. We believe our relationships to be precisely equal to those of married couples in every respect. So whatever “equal but different” ceremony the church agrees to will eventually be seen as discriminatory and will be fought – yet again!
Do we really need this?

It might be that we do. It might be that we need the ecclesiastical equivalent of civil partnerships as a stepping stone to marriage.
Or it could turn out to become another ecclesiastical nightmare like flying bishops as stepping stone to women as fully equal priests and bishops.

What it isn’t is an easy way out of the dilemma, nor is it a long term solution.

Andrew Patterson said...

Dear Bishop Alan

I was interested in your comments about the gospel as being good news - and the implication that, if it is not seen as such, we must have got it wrong.

Is the gospel good news for those who refuse to repent or insist on self-rule? Paul reminded us that for some, the heart of the authentic gospel message (the Cross) would be offensive and scandalise. Peter also spoke about those who stumble over Christ as they disbelieve the message.

If the message we proclaim is not welcomed as good news by all should we automatically assume we are preaching the wrong message? Is there a danger of allowing the response to the message to determine the message itself?


Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Erika, thanks for your comment Nothing came up, and then there were two. I think the delay was probably blogger's end, so my apologies. I've come, at long last one may say, to agree with you. I was very taken with the idea of ecclesiastically recognised partnerships, partly because its a halfway house in an evolutionary process, and partly because it would have given a space in which to discern the particularity of gender difference in marriage; if it had emerged as the sole significant variable we're told it is, all well and good, we'd have learnt it was this. If not, press on, kind of thing. As it was we didn't follow the Osborne Report way forward; all the kicking and screaming was about "Gay Blessings" (sic) before this question came along and now its comical to see people who were raving about that telling us what a wonderful idea they were. That's rather discredited the idea for me, I'm afraid. As has always been the case the lived experience of people is driving this. All the many redefinitions of marriage there have been continuously downy he years came from this source, and I don't see that process stopping, however unsatisfactory it may seem from a neoplatonic inductive point of view.

Andrew, I understand what you're saying and have believed it myself in the past, back in the seventies when we all believed homosexuality was simply a pattern of chosen behaviour. To cut a long story short there is much compelling evidence that this isn't the case, not only from gay people themselves, but from the abject failure of all attempts to "cure them" or to punish them out of being the way they are.

The biological basis of the small proportion of any population, human or animal, being gay is emerging, mostly a matter of endocrinology in the womb — hardly something you can repent of.

That does not mean all gay sexual behaviour is free of moral constraints, any more than heterosexual behaviour is. But the orientation is a fact of life, and blowing the almost negligible amount of material in the Bible up into a Big Deal instead of interpreting it as part of the major narrative of salvation is, IMHO inadequate.

We can know whether our gospel is good news to those who are perishing by how it is received. That's how it was in the gospels, which don't spend ages explaining to lepers that leprosy is a bad thing, but simply record the impact of Jesus in people's lives.

And yes, our highest calling is to be good news, not pharisees, however well-intentionedand nice about it. My job makes me a Pharisee in a way, so at least I try to be the Gamaliel/ Nicodemus sort of Pharisee, not the Annas / Caiaphas sort.

If the Church's behaviour is reducing real people to depression, despair and sometimes suicide, on the good Samaritan principle, we need to take responsibility for the fact, not hide behind ideology.

Anonymous said...

Bishop Alan

You speak of the gay orientation - I presume you mean the gay identity, otherwise you are merely describing desires of the flesh. Even people like Matthew Parris are honest enough to admit that in his view - there is no such thing as gay identity, and many people who have these desires would also agree with him. As Christians we are of course concerned with the New Identity. So how can we talk about a God given identity, when what we are talking about are ways of the flesh. I know you like to dismiss any concern that people may have with the "Do not judge scripture". But we are also asked to evaluate teaching - and this is really what you pronounce - that this is the narrow way - because you have decided. Exactly how love may be expressed in a godly way is surely also a question of what are God's ways. We are asked to follow the way of the Spirit rather than simply way of the flesh.

Your words are of course a slap to those who do have homosexual desires and by faith choose to remain celibate - not I hastened to add in some loveless situation, but as children of God - this is how they strongly feel led. These are the ones people like to refer to as the gay christian homophobes . I know of some who have been persuaded to enter the gay life after years of celibacy, even marriage(I have 3 friends who have done so) - not because they believed the arguments of liberal theologians, but because there gay friends thought they were fools - they still believe they are sinners,but think Jesus love is theoretical - and have little desire to show Him love. Well it is a good biblical principal to be a fool for Christ. When you know He is living you care what He actually thinks and if He has not said anything in favour of such a way of the flesh then why should I take that as an endorsement - He has been gracious enough to save me from death, so I should value living to please Him - rather than myself or my friend. People say Jesus never said anything about gay, or even homosexual desires. But why should this surprise us - Jesus was addressing the Jews - and this was not a cultural norm but would have been viewed in light of Leviticus.

Anonymous said...

I would add that 2 out of my 3"gay" friends who have started a gay life have left the church completely - not just my church. They started to attend "gay-affirming" churches, but left finding the message empty of the gospel you proclaim. I bumped into one in the city - he didnt see me at first - but if I am honest he looked dead. He did brighten up when I spoke to him, but you could see His heart was heavy. Sometimes he wishes he was back with his wife of 18 years. YOu might say that I am not surprised he looks down having a friend like you. He did once tell me how crushed he was when he realised how little love his gay friends had for him. What he yearned for were people who would love him as themselves - that is how David described Jonathan - and therefore prompts gay activists to say they were gay. Ironic as David was always know as being consummed with lust to the point of murder. Yet liberal theologians continue with this argument. It is doubly ironic that Jesus calls us all to love our neighbour as ourselves - I think we can safely assume he wasnt suggesting a multiple partnership - but that we die to self in loving our neighbour - and this is when we love like God, rather than love ourselves.

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