Wednesday 10 April 2013

Gay Marriage: Must Try Harder

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?

I agree that broadening access to marriage to include gay people and abolishing the unclarity inherent in forcing them to pretend to be heterosexual in order to get married can only reduce confusion, frustration and disappointment all round.

Nobody is proposing gay relationships should be substituted for straight ones, merely treated equally.

Paragraph 8 is pure waffle:
The marvelous ordering of the created world has not lost its force for a generation made more aware than before by discoveries in physics and biology of the dynamic unfolding of the universe, the interplay between innovation and constancy, variation and intelligibility.
If the author of paragraph 26 which states “persons are not asexual” were to explore discoveries in biology they would learn that a tiny proportion, up to 1% of the population are, actually, asexual.

Paragraph 29 makes a clear and helpful claim that
In God's image we bring spiritual creativity to our natural endowment without denying or overthrowing it.
One would expect the author to recognise that for some people their natural endowment is gay. Someone in favour of equal marriage would agree. But hang on, the report goes on to imply that only heterosexuality is, actually, natural.

This is the crux of the argument and exposes its genteel homophobic assumptions. If gayness may be regarded, as a matter of fact, as part of the natural order, the whole argument of this paper works in the opposite direction to what it intended. It does not speak for all Christians, as it claims to, because many Christians do not regard gay people as in any way inferior.
The conviction they are equal arises from primary gospel values.

Whilst agreeing with 95% of what is said in this report about marriage, the whole thing unravels as an argument against marriage equality the moment one accepts that gay people are not freaks, crooks, or straight people being naughty. If you believe they are any or all of these things, most of its arguments stack up against equal marriage. If you don’t, they actually stack up in favour.

I recently met a Lesbian in church who was telling me that her worst experience of Church had been when it posed as the source of some cheesy form of pastoral care whilst continuing its essentially homophobic stance towards her personally.

Thus I quake in my boots when I read in the accompanying press release
this report also underlines the role of the Church in seeking to provide care, prayer, and compassion for those who, for whatever reason, are unable to receive the gift of marriage in the form that the Church has understood it and continues to uphold.
Many of my gay friends will find this tendentious statement wildly patronising and offensive. Offers of comfort from the very people whose homophobia caused the pain in the first place will not be received easily. If the Church wants to provide compassion, it can stop talking about gay people and start talking with them. It can demonstrate the genuinness of its care by ceasing to belittle and patronise them and start taking them seriously. If it wants to pray with them, this institution which cheerfully blesses nuclear submarines, hamsters and buckets of cement can start blessing their often stunning relationships.


Ann Memmott said...

Thank you, Bishop. Those of us not worth even as much to God as a bucket of cement (allegedly) are thankful for your love and care.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Alan. I am so angry here I couldn't sleep for hours when I read this feeble and gratuitously offensive rubbish. How are LGBT anglicans supposed to carry on in the C of E?

Anonymous said...

So very disappointing. Another missed opportunity for the CofE

Lesley said...

Oh my goodness. Facepalm. I guess we just carry on in spite of ludicrous documents like that.

Anonymous said...

It is because you refuse to admire the Emporer's new clothes that I can still believe there is hope for this crazy church. Please keep shouting this truth from the rooftops as well as behind the closed doors. Thank you so much for all you are doing.

LLM Calling said...

thankyou for being a voice in the darkness this morning, it's mighty hard to read reports like this and not want to walk away from the church. and then I realise that this report does not speak for us all, by any extent of the imagination, thankfully churches on the ground do love and care and embrace wider.

Erika Baker said...

"this report also underlines the role of the Church in seeking to provide care, prayer, and compassion for those who, for whatever reason, are unable to receive the gift of marriage in the form that the Church has understood it and continues to uphold."

As in: "I feel so sorry for you that you cannot be equal because I will not let you be equal"

Is there no-one in that church to advise them on just how ridiculous they come across?
One must assume that they are perfectly serious, but, really!

Unknown said...

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.

If this is the case - “PERMANENT” then why does the Church of England re-marry divorced people??


Anonymous said...

Yes! Why can't the CofE get with the programme? Obviously marriage equality is coming and the heel-dragging merely makes for a fuddy-duddy old fashionedness that leave an ever wider gap between the church and the majority of the population.

Mark Vernon said...

The report is so dismaying not because of no policy change - that's realpolitik - but because it is theologically, psychologically, biblically and spirituality so weak. I've tried to offer a few first thoughts:

Perpetua said...

It's at times like this that I'm thankful to be retired and no longer expected to stand up and defend this kind of mess.

Mike Peatman said...

Tried following the press release link and it didn't work. Perhaps they are rethinking the PR?

AndrewSillis said...

Thanks for the post, Bishop. That needs to be made clear, but perhaps we need to look at this document as an opportunity.
The F&OC was asked to produce a 'summary statement of the Church of England's understanding of Marriage', not a description of how our understanding was developing or what it ought to be in the future. Perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to shoot the messenger.
They have commended this for 'study'; so after some study perhaps we can use the areas of argument which the document sets out to establish exactly how those arguments do "actually stack up in favour".
It will always be the case that the official statements and publications lag behind the general direction and discernment of the church on any subject. It is understandable that there is frustration and anger, especially that we are not moving more quickly, but we simply need to take this one step at a time. The F&OC were asked to produce this document. If they had been asked to produce a document which set out the ways in which same-sex relationships reflect God's grace, love and blessing of our society, they would have written something else. Maybe that should be the next step.

Kurt said...

Thank you Bishop Alan.

(FYI: your final "press release" appears to be broken)

Kurt Wiesner

Anonymous said...

The saddest thing is, though it was clumsily written to keep gay folks out of the institution, I now feel like writing a 'Sincere and Earnest Apology to my Straight Brothers and Sisters in the Church of England.' You do not have to believe that complementarian tripe with some 'theology of the body' seasoning to be married in our church. You really should not have to.

Lorenzo Fernandez-Vicente

A S Grey said...

Thanks for your clear and explicit analysis, Bishop Alan. The whole thing is immensely patronising and must be incredibly hurtful to the many Anglican parishioners - not to mention clergy - who are in loving relationships with people of their own gender.

The whole gist seems to be: "Dear gay people, Sorry you can't be as good as straight people - you're trying, but unfortunately your love will never be the real thing, because you're not an opposite-gender couple. Not to worry, this problem you have (even if you don't see it as one!) is one that we can help you through."

Jana JG said...

"26. Biological differences do not simply cease to matter at the level of personal relationship; persons are not asexual, but are either malemor female. Their sex attains a personal meaning, as relationships are built constructively on the endowments and strengths it offers. The
relationship of marriage is more personal, not less, as the partners
come to it in receptiveness of what only the opposite sex can bring to their own."
I'm not sure they understood what they were trying to say here. Asexual = a person who is not a sexual being (and there are some, as Bp Alan says - people for whom sex is not at all important, and who choose to live life without sexual relations)
What they seem to be talking about are people who are transgendered, of whom there may be as many as 5% (it varies, in some places unusual expressions of the Y chromosome mean that it is much higher). It is simply not true to say that all of humankind was created either male or female. Some are neither, some are both; some appear female but have a Y chromosome and so on.

GrahamBC said...

Of course there are a few verses in the bible that have to be ignored if you want to support marriage between two members of the same sex. In addition the entire tradition of the Christian Church

Kachi sXd said...

I think the arguement here is fundamentally faulty. Call me old school but the bible i own still abhors homosexuality just like it does fornication and murder. If we say homosexuality's no more sin does the same hold true for the other two?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

No. There are other behaviours which were abominations in the Bible. like mixed fibre clothing, shellfish, and seething a goat in its mother's milk which few today would regard as sins or abominations. We are not under the law but under Grace, and whatsoever commandments there may be are briefly comprehended in this, love your neighbour as yourself. You can't love people you don't take seriously. That's the bit that needs fixing in this silly one-sided document before it can be of any value to anybody, except to reinforce the prejudices of those who produced it.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Graham, yes. You're right. The same as slavery, an universal institution in Bible times and up to the eighteenth century, endorsed and supported on many levels, and the notion, universal in both Bible and tradition up to modern times that a woman is not an item of property but someone with the right to own property.

Anonymous said...

"If the author of paragraph 26 which states “persons are not asexual” were to explore discoveries in biology they would learn that a tiny proportion, up to 1% of the population are, actually, asexual."

As one of the 1%, I want to say thanks for remembering we exist. I'm not entirely sure what the authors were trying to say in that extremely muddled paragraph, but asexual is definitely the wrong word.

Jennifer said...

Thank you for this, Bishop Alan. I hope that this is read far and wide and that you continue to speak these words of truth. As a priest in the diocese who has been contacted throughout the afternoon by distressed and disappointed parishioners who have read this report (including an adoptive parent who finds paragraphs 23 and 24 incredibly hurtful, offensive, and enough to make her question why she should stay in the Church), I am most grateful for your words.

Unknown said...

Spot on analysis as always, sir: thank you. Not sure about the lion roaring, though: at times like this the C of E seems more like a pathetic, self-obsessed mewling pussycat. Thank you for offering hope and shining a light in this present darkness.

Jane said...

Don't despair, Good People, let's come back to this document on 10 April 2023 and see just how much traction it gained over the preceding decade. It is a 'digging ourselves further into the bunker' approach, fearful and resistant to change to the last.
Please be encouraged by those making the crossing to an inclusive view - Steve Chalke, Rob Bell and Jim Wallis already this year - and it's only April.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that when they have just realised that to move the female Bishops discussion on they actually need to talk to and include females in their discussions that they have not worked out that to pastorally responded to issues relating to gay people that hey need to talk to some gay people otherwise this report wouldn't be so patronising pastorally insensitive and at times factually incorrect. Another opportunity missed by the CofE. Especially when the Bishop heading up this commission is my Bishop and he knows there are several gay clergy in his diocese.

A S Grey said...

" GrahamBC said...
Of course there are a few verses in the bible that have to be ignored if you want to support marriage between two members of the same sex. In addition the entire tradition of the Christian Church"

Much the same could (and was) said when women priests were first proposed in the Church of England.

Except...the argument is flawed in both situations, for two reasons:
(1) No Bible verses are "ignored" - on the contrary, those considered relevant are examined very carefully (rather more carefully than in many traditionalist readings). But reading them carefully involves placing them in context, and being honest about what their authors would most probably have originally had in mind.

(2) Going against tradition isn't, in itself, an argument against something. Every movement of progress is going against tradition - including the abolition of slavery, to which Bishop Alan has already referred.

Of course, tradition is a source of ethical authority - but it isn't infallible. Like other sources of moral authority, if it seems inconsistent with other sources, it can be questioned.

Neither of my objections make a slam dunk case for gay marriage, of course - but, my point is, neither do yours make a slam dunk case against it.

Manon Ceridwen James said...

Seems to me that whatever your position on this theologically, any study document needs at least to be informed and well written. This document reveals a shocking ignorance about gender and biological sex and an extremely sterile view of marriage. It is arrogance to put something out there without knowing what you're talking about. Did they look at any research or any non theological writings about gender and sex?

silvia said...

Thank you for your words Alan. I read the CofE statement yesterday on my way to work and made me seriously question whether I want to ever set foot in church ever again. It's so badly constructed and based on assumptions that are in my eyes purely based on biased interpretations, that I do not believe it should have any authority, and I really feel for those who will be its victims. Please sort it out!

Anonymous said...

The church does not have a monopoly on marriage and if the secular state wishes to redefine it (to include people of the same sex marrying) then that is up to it. As ever the CofE doesn't live in the real world - "not all who marry are christians" the document asserts - the majority of people who marry are not Christians!

Unknown said...

Would love to know what's going on in the minds of those in the C of E's PR department who issue these statements — do they live in a little bubble disconnected from the wider church? Where was the Synod debate about marriage? Was there even any discussion in the House of Bishops? Upon what basis does the ominous-sounding "Faith and Order Commission" offer its Orwellian Thought Police services to the rest of us? Are those of us who disagree with the FOC's dictats now heretics, damned for all eternity?

Wakey wakey C of E PR dept: you do not have the people's mandate for this nonsense.

Anonymous said...

My response to paragraph 26. Briefly, it ignores the existence of intersex people, does not address trans* people and doesn't realise that some of us identify as asexual, ie not experiencing sexual attraction. I'm not sure how you are using asexual your response. It might be for intersex people.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I'm not entirely sure the writers knew what they were trying to say. Its sub secondary school knowledge of biology is but one factor that makes this a terribly shoddy piece of work.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Dr Charlotte Methuen from the University of Glasgow, a highly regarded Church historian on the FAOC did advise them, as I think any competent professional in the field would have, about the actual history of marriage, and I'm delighted to see her wisdom published now:

I only wish whoever was manipulating the material in such a tendentious homophobic direction had taken the blindest bit of notice of the good advice they were given on this subject. If so they would look less foolish now.

Unknown said...

Interesting bit in the opening para:

"... the Commission (made up of bishops, clergy and laity who advise the church on doctrine) was asked to offer a theological justification for the Church of England’s current position."

Seriously, is that what this document is supposed to be: a "theological justification"?? Would love to see these people in debate with a theologian...

ffewsh said...

This document, endorsed by our Archbishops, seems to take a step backward from some of the warm remarks made by Justin Welby about same-sex relationships recently, and according to the Church Times report is even less enthusiastic about such relationships than last year's official C of E response to the consultation the Equal Marriage bill. As he is now stepping out of the closed world of the House of Bishops, James Jones has pointed out the obvious: the institutional church is enthusiastic about civil partnerships when they can be used as ammunition against equal marriage, but refuses to recognise them in church as expressions of the love of God.

As the House of Bishops seem to have committed themselves to permanent inertia at best, and as some clergy are effectively under threat of dismissal if they officially 'bless' civil partnerships openly in church, I've called for lay people to take matters into their own hands:

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

just noting the leader in this weeks Church Times’ (semi-official house mag of the C of E — moderate and positive when it can be): "The kindest thing to do with the new report Men, Women and Marriage is to ignore it. It contributes nothing new to the present debate about how different forms of relationship might constitute marriage. It speaks of a unique relationship between a man and a woman without ever explaining this contention. Seldom clear, the text adopts a particular obscurity whenever a contentious matter is touched upon, such as the complementarity of the sexes. Yet it combines this with a dogmatism that is at odds with its purpose as a study document. What on earth were the Bishops thinking when they agreed to its publication?"

Erika Baker said...

Seriously, though, I think this is bringing the CoE to a new low and it marks a real shift.

Until now it has been just about possible to credit that the "theological" objections were based on something that somehow, however tenuously, said something about a person's faith.

This is a turning point. This is a completely incoherent document published by people who have had theological training. It is an obvious attempt of finding ways of fitting homophobia into a theological framework - a completely and obvious back to front approach.

It's very very sad.

Rob said...

Sin is sin and to ok it's action doesn't nullify that homosexual behavior is always seen as negative throughout the Bible. I for one don't want to marry a homosexual couple because it was be slapping God's holiness back in His face. The church should be continually vocal against the idea of homosexual marriage.
Bp Alan you have put out of context what Paul said in Romans chapter one which says nothing about the Old Testament issues you raised. He spoke purely on the shamefully acts associated with homosexual acts. This is after the Jesus fulfilling the law. Please reconsider

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