Friday 28 February 2014

Who's fooling who about history?

I wrote today to fellow bishops, along with many academic colleagues more skilled in the field than me, to see if they might care to correct a foolish historical howler in the understanding that informed their recent letter on same-sex marriage.
It seems to me vastly unfair on those who struggled against Deceased Wife's Sister marriages between 1842 and 1907 to suggest that a marriage setup that potentially breaches Leviticus 18:18 should be a minor matter of “accidents” whilst one that potentially breaches Leviticus 18:24 should be a fundamental matter of “substance.”
What really intrigues me about the whole rhetoric of "redefinition" (as developed by the Moral Majority on the West Coast in the 1990's) is how appealing it is to those who don't want to allow gay people to marry, but how completely foolish and ineffective it has been with everyone else. 
 Not only did it pancake seriously in both houses of the UK parliament, but all the right wing websites that swore to carry on the struggle for ever, even lie down in the road in front of the bulldozers, after the legislation went through last year seem to have packed up and gone home. I wonder why?

27th February 2014 
Dear Bishop, 
Error in the Bishops Guidance on Same Sex Marriages 
We write to alert you to the fact that an important statement in the Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriages issued on 14th February is wrong.The guidance claims that: "There will, for the first time, be a divergence between the general understanding and definition of marriage in England as enshrined in law and the doctrine of marriage held by the Church of England and reflected in the Canons and the Book of Common Prayer." - House of Bishops, 14th Feb 2014, Appendix, para 9. 
This is inaccurate. Civil law and church teaching have diverged before, on at least two occasions. The first was in relation to the marriage to a deceased wife's sister, the second in relation to the remarriage of divorcees.There has been a robust discussion of this topic between experts on ecclesiastical history, law and sociology which Dr Scot Peterson summarises hereWe are all in agreement that the statement in the Bishops Guidance is mistaken and misleading. Since it forms an important part of the case which is being made, we felt it was right to draw the mistake to your attention. We respectfully ask that it be corrected. 
Our attempts to resolve this matter by writing to Mr Arora and Mr Fittall have failed. There is growing concern amongst the academic community about the situation. 
Looking to the future, some of us are anxious to improve channels of communication with the Church, so that our research and scholarship can be used constructively. If you would be interested in a meeting to discuss this issue, we would be very grateful if you would reply to Professor Woodhead. 
Yours truly, 
Professor Callum Brown FRSE, University of Glasgow  
Professor Arthur Burns, King’s College London 
The Revd Dr Mark Chapman, Ripon College Cuddesdon 
Professor Grace Davie, University of Exeter 
The Revd Duncan Dormor, St John's College, University of Cambridge 
Professor Kenneth Fincham, University of Kent 
Professor Sarah Foot, Christ Church, University of Oxford
Dr Matthew Guest, University of Durham 
The Revd Dr Carolyn Hammond, Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge (member of FAOC) 
Professor Gerard Loughlin, University of Durham 
Elizabeth MacFarlane, St John's College, University of Oxford  
The Revd Dr Judith Maltby, Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford 
Professor Iain McLean FBA, Nuffield College, Oxford  
Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch FBA, Saint Cross College, University of Oxford 
The Revd Professor David Martin  FBA, London School of Economics 
Dr Charlotte Methuen, University of Glasgow (member FAOC)  
The Revd Dr Jeremy Morris, King’s College, University of Cambridge 
Dr Scot Peterson, Balliol College, University of Oxford  
Professor Alec Ryrie, University of Durham 
The Revd Dr Robert Tobin, Oriel College, University of Oxford 
Revd Dr William Whyte, St John’s College Oxford 
The Rt Revd Dr Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham  
Professor John Wolffe, The Open University, President of the Ecclesiastical History Society  
Professor Linda Woodhead, University of Lancaster 


UKViewer said...

Well done to all who signed the letter. It just demonstrates the complete irrelevance of the HoB and the lack of integrity of the Letter and Pastoral Guidance they've provided.

Malcolm+ said...

I agree that the claim in the House of Bishops letter is utterly false. I don't, however, agree that it is central to the case for the pastoral guidance. Whether equal marriage constitutes the first, second, third or ninety-fifth time that the views of Church and State have diverged, the case for the Bishops' position stands or falls on other factors.

But that makes the whole thing even more baffling to me, since it means that Mssrs Arora and Fittal have decided to go the wall to defend a mere rhetorical flourish.

Lay Anglicana said...

What a distinguished list of signatories!

Come on, Church House - if you've made a mistake, the sooner you admit it, the sooner we can all move on. Will you look foolish if you have to retract part of the Pastoral Statement? Yes, a little. Is anything to be gained by further bluster? Nothing at all, and much to be lost.

June Butler said...

Delicious. One wonders why the inaccuracy was included in the first place.

Thomas Renz said...

I'm sorry that you've added your name to this letter which seems to me to be lacking in both academic rigour and Christian charity.

The claim that the statement in the guidance is inaccurate on the basis that "civil law and church teaching have diverged before" is a non sequitur. The disagreement does not concern this point but the question whether a divergence in the legal particulars of defining marriage amounts to a divergence in "the general understanding and definition of marriage".

The academics are entitled to their opinion that it does but it is unwarranted to pretend that there is no other side to the story, see

I am not saying that these academics are utterly wrong not have a case worth considering but that is

Thomas Renz said...

Sorry about the mess left in the last paragraph. What I meant to say is that I grant that the academics have a case worth considering but there is a good case on the other side, too, and to pretend otherwise lacks either insight or integrity.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

When I consider the large number of fundamental redefinitions of marriage there have been in Britain since 1800, I don't think there's much to be said for the idea there has never been a difference in the fundamental understanding and definition of marriage. Women have ceased to be property and be allowed to retain it. Bride prices have become unenforceable. Marital Rape is now an offence — a quite fundamental redefinition. There's the question of indissolubility, the abolition of couverture, the necessity for external registration. Allowing gay people to marry is only qualitatively more important than all of these if you have a very big thing about gay people.

Thomas Renz said...

And yet, from what I known, not one of these changes required amending canon law or the liturgy of the Church of England. At best one could point to the move of making "obey" optional in the vows - a big change but not one where civil law and the church's teaching diverged.

I appreciate that pastorally this is about "gay people" -- even if for the law it is not -- but I believe that it is possible to question the appropriateness of removing the requirement for sexual complementarity from the definition of marriage without having "a very big thing about gay people".

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I don't quite get what you're suggesting Thomas. The definition of woman as property of man is fundamental to the ten commandments and all Jewish and Christian thinking since. It did involve liturgical change in 1928 and 1966, and it fundamentally transformed the nature of marriage.

Sexual complementarism was a conecpt developed in the US in the 90's. It's nothing to do with Christian tradition. In the Bible we are described as married to God with absolutely no sense that this is anything to do with gender as we understand it at all. We are not all female. God is beyond any gender category. yet he can be married. Marriage int he Bible is fundamentally about property, social structure and inheritance not gender.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

The other thing that may be said is that int he teaching of Jesus marriage is an entirely secular matter — in the literal sense of something of this age. This is why and how the creeds and core doctrines of Christianity have operated in a variety of cultures without any reference to marriage definitions and customs at all. The church didn't even involve itself with marriage for a thousand years.

Manipleman said...

I think Bishop Alans analysis above is 100% correct. Gender issues were unknown in the OT and the NT as such.

Thomas Renz said...

The phrase "sexual complementarity" apparently suggests gender issues to you. These were far from my mind. I was thinking of "male and female" not "masculine and feminine" etc.

The close link between sexual intercourse and procreation was only recently broken and it was arguably paternity and inheritance issues which got secular authorities interested in marriage in the first place.

I entirely agree that marriage is "secular" but it is also a "mystery" (Eph. 5:32) and as such has long attracted the church's attention, whether or not you and I agree with speaking of a sacrament in this context.

The "mystery" signified in Eph. 5:32 is of course the relationship between Christ and the church, not between Christ and individual believers, regardless of whether one finds value in the latter as well, as many mystics seem to do.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks for the clarification.

A church that allows contraception has departed from the functional Aristotelianism of the Middle Ages.

I don't understand the idea that "secular authorities got interested in marriage." Secular authorities always owned it and defined it in the first plaec. It was the Church that, after almost a thousand years, got sucked into adjudicating marriage disputes (something Jesus resolutely refused to do) and within only a few decades was actually celebrating weddings in Church for the first time.

The 'musterion' of Ephesians is a good example of the entirely and necessarily sexless sense of the term marriage to which I referred earlier in this thread. Including sexual binary essentialism in core meaning of marriage reduces it to meaninglessness.

Thomas Renz said...

Wasn't marriage first a private contract between two families?

Did European states require that marriages be performed under legal auspices prior to the 16th century?

The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 may have been unwise to add marriage to the list of sacraments but the desire for exchanging marriage vows in church is not necessarily wrong, or do you think it is? (The church did of course never consider other marriages, maybe including "common-law" marriages, void for not having been entered into in church.)

Thomas Renz said...

Let me stress again that I do not deny that our understanding and experience of marriage has changed much over time. But this is not the exact issue at hand.

True, the Ten Commandments were given at a time when women were considered a man’s property and the same may well have been true for 1662. But the Ten Commandments do not require us to believe that wives belong to their husbands in the same way as slaves and chattel. In other words, we who do not consider wives to be the property of their husbands do not need to ditch or rephrase the tenth commandment for this reason.

Similarly, the 1662 liturgy can be used without great difficulty by people who accept shared ownership of their property etc. and there is nothing in the liturgy or canon law about bride prices. The “giving away” can function as a signal of the shift of primary allegiance which marriage entails without requiring us to think in terms of property.

There are of course significant changes in the way relationships were ordered then and are ordered today, as reflected in alternative services which drop “obey” and “serve” from 1928 onwards. I have already affirmed that this is a significant change but it is not about a divergence of civil law and the church’s understanding of marriage which is the issue at hand.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

(1) I think it was, of essence a private contract, but from the Twelve Tables, Roman Law accorded legal recognition to marriage contracts as did the great law codes of the Roman Empire later — so secular authority had its own ideas about definition and regulation of marriage which the Church never contested. So marriage was a private contract usually between families, and often recognised by the secular authority.

(2) not in the modern sense, though it's probably more accurate to answer "off and on, especially where Roman Law had held sway."
(3) I don't think it's wrong, simply a new and extraneous element in 1215. Before that the Church stayed out of the whole marriage business. Its ancient practice was to acknowledge any contract recognised as a marriage in any place it operated as a marriage. That's another reason it's rather bizarre to go to war, theologically, over the "definition of marriage" now

JimB said...

It appears to me that the argument against the scholars' letter rather makes their case. The HoB letter, and (un)pastoral guidance, speak of the history of the church and marriage as though it is settled narrative, and the authors own it, simply not the case.

It is significant that every change to marriage that has liberated someone other than straight, well-off, white, men for the last 3 centuries has been decried as against, "traditional marriage."

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

A cursory examination of the facts reveals that there has in fact been pretty continuous divergence between the Church's understanding of marriage since it sacramentalised it in the 13th century) and that of the secular power, who accorded recognition or not to what were essentially inter-family contracts providing for ownership and inheritance. That's probably why the current "definition of marriage" over which the bishops are chaining themselves to the railings, is based on an obiter dictum delivered as late as 1861. The question raised by William Fittall is almost meaningless historically, let alone his answer. When a couple of dozen history professors agree about anything, you can pretty much guarantee there is a point here that is worth considering not simply swatting aside as "Liberal Tub Thumping." It's nothing to do with that, and everything to do with the complexity and considerable variety revealed by a simple examination of the basic historical facts of the matter.

Thomas Renz said...

I read the reference to "the doctrine of marriage held by the Church of England and reflected in the Canons and the Book of Common Prayer" as making a claim about the history from the sixteenth century onwards.

Even so, from what I understand only Christian marriage was defined as a sacrament. So at least from then on the church had a (broader) definition of marriage and a (narrower) definition of Christian marriage. Was the former ever far away from the general understanding in society?

As I see it, Canon B30 gives the broader definition, while the BCP gives us the narrower.

Did the House of Bishops make reference to 1861? (In my, maybe not well enough informed, opinion this dictum in any case was not even suited for the purpose at hand because it wrongly interprets polygamy as group marriage.)

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I'm not sure the whole idea of defining marriage apart from its social context makes any sense at all. The point Mr Fittall entirely ducked was that those in the past who claimed that the particular divergence they were protesting believed sincerely and strongly that this was the first time there had been a divergence! Gladstone actually believed Hardwicke's Act was such a thing. The whole rhetorical device about "definition" very soon reaches vanishing point. That's probably why it has been so completely ineffective in the past year in parliament and elsewhere, as it became, in the end, in the Californian spats over proposition 8 for which it was invented. As one distinguished church lawyer (not a signatory) pointed out to me this week, there are clergy who live outside pretty much every aspect of Canon B30 except the same sex one (which won't be possible for another four weeks or so). The interpretative question there is how it should be read, exhaustively (narrowly) or descriptively (broadly). Apart from gay people it is generally applied in the latter way.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Nothing proved the case for me as much as the arrogant, defensive and ignorant reaction it drew int he sequence of tweets now released. If a consortium of a couple of dozen medical teachers including professors and fellows of the Royal Society wrote to me to say I was ill, I would consider the possibility I might be, not just ignore them as "tub thumping liberals" Res ipsa loquitur, as the lawyers say. "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise..."

Thomas Renz said...

I don't think William Fittall denied that the Church had been protesting against divergences in the past.

The question is whether we can allow the House of Bishops to distinguish between a divergence in the _legal_ understanding and definition of marriage and a divergence in the _general_ understanding and definition of marriage. Only the latter requires a change of Canon B30. I don't think this is nit-picking.

I don't know how others read the Canon. You'd probably call mine a narrow reading. I'd prefer to call it a reading that takes the text seriously. I actually mean what I say at the end of and my concern here is not with counselling against same-sex marriage.

Thomas Renz said...

I have not seen the Twitter conversation.

An interesting question is whether the facilitated conversations are meant to bring "the arrogant, defensive and ignorant" on both sides together, of which there are plenty, hoping that they will be healed, or the humble, open and informed on both sides at the risk of zero impact on the self-righteous.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks for the link. I think it is very hard to make any sense of marriage at all by viewing it entirely in the abstract. WF denied that there had been as radical a divergence in the past. All the academics were saying was that there had been multiple divergences that were held, at the time, to be as radical, by archbishops as well as campaigners. This assertion is entirely unhistorical, and many, many examples can easily be adduced, and have been, that deny it. The final irony of rhetoric about redefining marriage is that the OED first definition, current in English since 1297, can apply perfectly cogently to a same-sex marriage. Therefore there is no need, in the dictionary sense, to redefine marriage at all. Just to allow gay people to enter marriages.

Thomas Renz said...

To be fair, the Bishops do not deny gay people the right to enter marriage, even with people of their own sex, they only claim that a sexually active union between two members of the same sex diverges from the historical and current teaching of the church with the result that those tasked to uphold and proclaim afresh this teaching are ill equipped to do so if they enter into a marriage with a member of their own sex.

(I'm of course not implying that the church's teaching on marriage is of the essence of the Gospel. Neither are Bishops. Nevertheless, it would be right to question the suitability for ordained ministry of those who object to episcopacy.)

Thomas Renz said...

By the way, the pastoral issue I had in mind uppermost when writing on definitions of marriage was 'pre-nub' see - it was not at all abstract.

Being able to legally agree the terms of a divorce before marrying would surely change the definition of marriage.

Should the church go along with the state in this case? I don't think so.


Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Something like prenups were all the rage in the Middle Ages, with those for whom marriage was basically dynastic alliance. It's only the injection of the concept of personal consent and love in some way making the marriage that they become a problem? Interested by Jewish traditional prenups...

Thomas Renz said...

Prenubs planning for the eventuality of divorce do not sit easily with a vow to love and to cherish "till death us do part" and on the face of it do not reflect an understanding of marriage as permanent and life-long.

By the way, while I believe that the introduction of same-sex marriage can be said to re-define marriage (for OED see, and certainly does so in law, it is maybe more accurate to speak of it as the logical _consequence_ of a new understanding of marriage adopted in Western societies in the second half of the twentieth century.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

On prenups there's been an interesting conversation on my FB page, including someone who explains how and why his prenup enriched their marriage. Interesting reading. He didn't see it as in any way weakening his vows. Just saying...

Interested by your OED reference. Mine was to the primary meaning of "Marriage" (a way of life) in my complete OED (1991 edition). The one in your link seems to be to "Marriage" (Ceremony). I would say the way of life meaning is prime...

Thomas Renz said...

I agree that marriage as a way of life is more important than marriage as a ceremony. Alas, my concise OED has only one entry which gives first "condition of man and woman legally united for purpose of living together and usu. procreating lawful offspring" before talking about the ceremony establishing such condition.

Not that I think it's all about definitions. In fact, the HoB guidance, in referring to "the general understanding and definition of marriage" seems to me precisely to avoid a narrow definitionalist approach. (I consider the use of "general" rather than "legal" and the addition of "understanding" significant.)

I have ceased to be active on FB some eighteen months go but now had a look at the discussion on your page. I am with Dave Percival. Good marriage preparation should provide the benefits which Jim Pappas received from going through the prenup procedure.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

The OED is the OED. not the concise one, not the pocket one, but the OED. I agree it's about more than words. Thank you for this (extended) conversation... all best.

Thomas Renz said...

And thank you for engaging with me. It's time to call it a day.

Let me just clarify finally that I do not believe that for most people in the UK the establishment of legally binding prenup agreements will do much to change their understanding of marriage. It is only those who hold to an understanding of marriage as reflected in the canon law and liturgy of the CofE for whom prenup agreements are an issue.

(The same goes for same-sex marriage. Those who think of marriage as "the contractual union of two people for the sake of living together" or something along those lines need not re-define marriage in order to include unions which do not reflect sexual difference. It is those for whom sexual activity, indeed exclusivity, procreation and marriage belong together who cannot easily include unions of the same sex without changing their understanding of marriage.)

Erika Baker said...

I'm coming late to this conversation and Thomas is probably no longer reading.
But your last sentence, Thomas, leaves me with a question.

After my divorce my ex husband remarried a woman with a teenage daughter. They did not want any more children.

I got Civil Partnered to a woman with two adult children and, at that time, 2 grandchildren. Together we brought up my then primary school aged children. We did not want any more children.

By what rationale is my former husband's marriage a marriage, yet mine isn't?

Thomas Renz said...

Good question, Erika, and thanks for sharing your story by way of putting a face to the question.
Let me say first that I’m not interested in dictionary definitions as a way of denigrating people and their relationships. I do believe, however, that what we call or don’t call marriage is not entirely irrelevant.

The Christian understanding of marriage has been about more than hitching together two adults who love each other. The basic concept, it seems to me, has been of a man and a woman coming together to form a stable unit in which children are born and nurtured.

Life is messy and many marriages and families do not conform to this basic pattern and they often develop other strengths as a result of “shortcomings” (I hope it is possible to speak of an arrangement as falling short of an ideal without denigrating the people involved in it; their relationships are not for that reason of an inferior quality).

The question is where one draws the line, distinguishing between arrangements that are a variation on the theme of marriage and others that may be marriage-like but too removed from the pattern to count as marriage. (Everyone must draw lines somewhere; refusing to define marriage altogether empties the word of all meaning.)

Traditionally, most churches in the West would have thought of neither of the two current relationships you describe as marriages, or not as Christian marriages at any rate, while churches in the East might recognise your former husband’s second marriage as a marriage but not your civil partnership. The CofE has, in effect, come round to the Eastern position which interprets life-long as meaning marriages _should_ not be broken rather than _cannot_ be broken. Your former husband’s second marriage cannot “bear a full and clear witness to our Lord's declaration of what marriage is” (Geoffrey Fisher) but it remains recognisable as a shortcoming of the ideal rather than something else.

Your civil partnership, by contrast, also fails to reflect the pattern of children ideally being nurtured by a father and a mother.

You may well think that this idea is totally wrong, the idea that –all other things being equal (!) – children are better brought up by a father and a mother than two mothers or two fathers or someone on their own, in which case what better way to challenge the idea than by removing sexual difference from the concept of marriage (and maybe from birth certificates)?

But I still hold to the idea that children are best brought up by a union which includes a father and a mother, without of course for a moment meaning to suggest that an acrimonious marriage of neglectful different-sex parents is better than what you have! It’s not a question here of evaluating individual partnerships but a question of whether there is a pattern worth recognising in law.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Oh dear. My parents in law have a happy marriage of over 50 years that, as a matter of fact, failed to reflect the pattern of children ideally being nurtured by their father and mother. Is their marriage lesser in some way than if they had procreated? How?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Oh dear. My parents in law have a happy marriage of over 50 years that, as a matter of fact, failed to reflect the pattern of children ideally being nurtured by their father and mother. Is their marriage lesser in some way than if they had procreated? How?

Thomas Renz said...

I'm not in the business of sorting between greater and lesser marriages. Indeed, the very attempt to do so would seem to me to miss my point.

Erika Baker said...

does it matter who the mother and father are as long as they are of different sex?
Or are you also disqualifying adoptive parents and step parents from being married?

It strikes me that everything seems to be incidental to marriage apart from the sex of the partners.

The ideal is a biological mother, a biological father and children who are the biological offspring of both parents.
But any variation thereof does not invalidate straight marriage. Not wanting children, not being able to have them, fostering them, adopting them, step parenting them… all that is acceptable.
But when I parent my own children with the help of my wife, then suddenly we must draw boundaries and not call it marriage.

It does not strike me as particularly logical. It some down to the circular “it has always been between a man and one or several women and it therefore follows that it can never be anything else”.

I would not want marriage to be reduced to a purely biological function, that is to make it so much less than it is. The goods of marriage go beyond one particular form of sex. If that’s the overwhelming, unchangeable meaning of marriage for you, then I think you are badly missing the depth of this particular sacrament.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Surely very few marriages tick all the boxes; and almost of the boxes any particular marriage doesn't tick destroy its character as a marriage. At every time, the myriad of different marriage customs around the world (including the small number of historic same sex ones) have been social/ legal saecular constructs. The arguments that difference of gender is necessary to constitute the marriage is purely circular. You need difference of gender to make a marriage, therefore every marriage needs gender difference to be constituted. Except the one between God and his people in the Bible, obviously. But that's a proper marriage because it's only a figurative use of the term, which is surprisingly used to figure something it inherently can't be for the most basic reason of all. The way these arguments deflate into pure circularity is most significant.

Thomas Renz said...

Erika, I'm sorry that you heard me say that marriage is "a purely biological function". I am clearly failing badly to make myself understood here.

Thomas Renz said...

Your position seems to me extreme. I do not believe that shortcomings in a marriage destroy its character as a marriage.

As for circularity. I can see why you believe (your understanding of) my understanding of marriage is circular but I struggle to see how you can say so with a straight face.

What's your definition of marriage? How is marriage distinct from civil partnership or other arrangements?

I hear you say that marriage is whatever current social/legal constructs say it is. Maybe I mishear you.

Erika Baker said...

my definition of marriage as a sacrament is a couple consisting of two not too closely related adults coming together before God asking him to bless a relationship that is intended to be for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

How is it different from a Civil Partnership? A civil partnership is an artificial legal construct designed to give those not straight couples legal security who society at that point had decreed could not be married.
It is not a state many Christians in particular would chose for ourselves because it is a mere legal document. It includes no vows, no promises. Our friends, family and Christian family are not asked to pray for us, to celebrate with us, to support us throughout the years. God is kept neatly in a box because it's somehow shameful that these people have to be given legal security when we'd really rather they all went away.

That may be a bit extreme.
But, you see, my husband hated religion with a passion. My wife and I met in a church context. We have faith at the core of our relationship. And yet, our church doesn't even think we're worth a prayer. The radical post Pilling discussion point is that we might just be worth a prayer provided it be accompanied by an admonition that this is not actually a marriage and falls short of the Christian ideal.

But we know our lives, we know our faith, we know God in it. My wife and I have been given to each other as gifts from God. He is present in every moment of our lives. Our marriages are deeper, more self giving than any relationship we ever had before.

We will change our CP certificate to a marriage certificate at the first opportunity. Because we know the difference.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Well, we need a definition of definition perhaps. When I want to to define marriage, I look at the dictionary — the complete one, not the station bookstall one. Marriage is basically a social/ legal construct and always has been. Since the Patriarchs wandered through the desert and implemented nomadic marriage customs with every sign of endorsing them, to the 1861 definition handed down in a divorce court by Lord Justice Penzance that seems to have become "the Christian definition of marriage" the whole definition thing, historically, is a bunch of tosh. There never has been any such thing as a Christian definition of marriage. The church had nothing to do with making marriages for well over a thousand years. As Christendom unravels and the Church retreats from making civil law, we are simply coming back to the historic majority position.

Erika Baker said...

I hear you say that all straight couples can be married and remain validly married, whether they are knowingly infertile, unknowingly infertile, want children, don't want children, are too old for their own children.

The only thing that makes gay couples different from these straights is the reason they cannot have children who are the biological offspring of both.
It's a purely biological function.

And if all those things are not essential to straight marriage, then this biological difference is the only thing that makes it impossible for gay couples to be married.

So I have to conclude that unless you can give me any other, non biological material difference between gay relationships and straight ones, I will have to assume that the essence of Christian marriage is reduced to mere biology.

Erika Baker said...

I thought I'd posted another comment, must have got lost.

You asked about the difference between civil partnership and marriage.
Civil Partnerships are a purely legal construct devised to give straight couples legal security.
There is nothing spiritual about the concept, there are no vows, no promises.
Churches only recognise them begrudgingly, no blessings are offered. The height of radicalism is the post Pilling suggestion that prayers might be offered provided they are accompanied by an admonition that this relationship falls short of Christian marriage and is emphatically not a marriage.

But what really matters, especially to Christian couples who know that their love is the greatest gift from God, are the public promises made before God and carried by those present:
for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.

That, for me, is the essence of Christian marriage.

Thomas Renz said...

Erika, that is not quite what I am saying. Two persons can enter into (Christian) marriage only, if they are not already married or otherwise committed; they have to be adults; they must not be closely related to each other; they must do so voluntarily. There is more going on than two people being of a different sex from each other.

It is in any case a logical fallacy to conclude from “x is essential to y” that “y can be reduced to x”. If I claim that it is essential for a Christian marriage that the two partners involved are adults, I do not thereby assert that the essence of Christian marriage can be reduced to mere adulthood.

Thomas Renz said...

Even if it were true that “the church had nothing to do with making marriages for well over a thousand years” (a claim contested by, e.g., K. Stevenson, Nuptial Blessing: A Study of Christian Marriage Rites; New York: OUP, 1983), the idea that the church had no real concept of marriage until then is bizarre.

Samuel Rubens (Lunds University) argues that Christianity introduced three basic changes in the understanding of marriage, a) social equality in respect to marriage rights; b) gender equality in respect to demands for sexual fidelity; c) rights of children to their father.

P. L. Reynolds, Marriage in the Western Church: The Christianization of Marriage During the Patristic and Early Medieval Periods (Leiden, Brill, 1994) also argues that a distinctively Christian understanding of marriage emerged early on.

Erika Baker said...

That's "to give non-straight couples legal security", of course!

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I am not saying Christians did not think and talk marriage in a Christian way — when St Paul told husbands to love their wives he was suggesting something that was distinctive, though not exclusively so. But Christians did not have their own definition of marriage, but were married and given in marriage like everyone else. The Church only gradually got sucked into arbitrating disputes over it. And it did not claim any special theological expertise about who should marry whom. I don't know Lunds book but would point out that much as I would laud these aims and ground them in Christianity, in England at any rate (a) arrived in 1882 (b) arrived in 1923 and (c) according to Families need Fathers has yet to arrive.

Erika Baker said...

the vows we make, how old are they? And were they ever changed fundamentally?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I believe the BCP wording was based on pre-reformation precedents, some of which would strike us as strange — among others I seem to remember one form that had brides promise to be "bonny and buxom in bed and in board."

Thomas Renz said...

Samuel Rubenson compared marriage views and regulations in the non-Christian late Roman empire with established Christian tradition in about 800 A.D. He argued that it was under Christian influence that marriage was no longer restricted to free citizens and was considered to change the status of the man as well, not only the woman (and the children she bore).

The big imperially approved Latin dictionary would have given a clear definition for matrimony (for Roman citizens only) as distinct from cohabitation but we have little reason to believe that if there had been such a dictionary the leaders of the early church would have been content to reach to their bookshelves and accepted that slaves could not get married.

Thomas Renz said...

Erika – I see why you’re longing for marriage, even if in fact the Civil Register Office doesn’t “do God” – not for civil partnerships but not for marriages either.

My question was actually directed to Alan because his description of marriage sounds to me a lot like yours of civil partnership.

Erika Baker said...

"Erika, that is not quite what I am saying. Two persons can enter into (Christian) marriage only, if they are not already married or otherwise committed; they have to be adults; they must not be closely related to each other; they must do so voluntarily."

Is there any reason, other than biology, that these two persons cannot be of the same sex?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Many thanks for the RUbenson article:‎
I am sure Christians influenced marriage practice in all kinds of ways. Various Roman law codes laid down various regulations about the subject... I would strongly endorse his conclusion that " there was no well-defined Christian understanding of and practice in regards to marriage from the beginning of Christianity in the first century A.D. Instead, Christian marriage traditions were formed on the basis of the social and historical setting of early Christianity and became fairly fixed in Western as well as Eastern Christian tradition only towards the end of the eighth century." He goes on to admit that " laws and ideals are not the same as social reality". I must take another look at Kenneth Stevenson's book. It may be that " already in the first centuries A.D., Christians began to think of marriages and instituted by formal act blessed by the church" but it's quite a step through to Rubensons next sentence which points out, quite correctly, that there was no requirement for a formal wedding in east until the ninth century, and in the West until the 16th!

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I can't see evidence there's any such thing as "Christian marriage" any more than there's such a thing as "gay marriage." There's just marriage. But Christians do marriage, of course, and always have done it, as Christians, and will find spiritual significance in it that other people may well not.

Erika Baker said...

Thomas, I don't 'long for' marriage, I am married. That's where, for me, there is a Christian marriage, the marriage a couple makes before God, which under normal circumstances the priest would confirm and celebrate.
It doesn't even matter whether the state recognises it or what name it gives it. And all the church can do is to withhold the ceremony. It simply has no deeper power than that.
Yes, it hurts. Very much. It matters, but it does not change the facts. Because God is not bound by the churches arbitrary biological admission criteria. God can see the truth of our relationships.

Thomas Renz said...

Alan – I’m not sure we disagree on this last point. There is no trying to sort people into “single,” “married”, “partnered,” “Christian-married” etc. A marriage solemnized in church may have a different character (most notably because of a difference in vows) but it is nevertheless a sub-set of the general category “marriage”.

Where we disagree is that you seem to think that for the first 1000 years or so the church pretty much went along with whatever definition of marriage the secular authorities gave them, then it started to meddle in the marriage business and since then has found itself frequently defining marriage differently from the secular authorities to whom marriage properly belongs.
While I believe that the Christian understanding of marriage has led to disagreements, including about what “counts as” marriage, between secular authorities and the church from early on and that there were rather fewer of these in England since the Reformation.

In the West such earlier disagreements seems to have concerned mostly questions to do with the social status of the people involved (can only citizens marry?), the question of parental consent (can elopement ever lead to marriage?), and indeed the question whether the bride had to consent (these are discussed by Reynolds).

I don’t know about other places, e.g. how the church understood marriage in places where child marriage was widely practised.

Thomas Renz said...

Erika – “Is there any reason, other than biology, that these two persons cannot be of the same sex?” In some ways I want to answer your question with a simple “no” but I would not be happy with that for two reasons.

First, because “biology” (as a way of thinking about living bodies) is a product of the human intellect and I suspect there may lurk some fundamental disagreements here between a worldview which sees only openings and dangling bits and a Christian theology of body.

Secondly, because we experience the world differently as men and women. I have no stakes in “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” –and especially not where gender stereotyping becomes prescriptive – but our biological differences (still) have an impact on how we experience life. It would therefore be reductionist to pretend that the difference is only biological.

Erika Baker said...

Thomas, thank you.
So what part of experiencing the world differently is essential to marriage?
What aspects of that experience are always only present in the male and never in the female in any conventional pairing? And vice versa?

Because if that difference is so pronounced and so important that we must prevent a whole group of people from getting married, we ought to be a little more precise about it.

Daniel Hill said...

I think that the point at which the House of Bishops was trying to get was that this will be the first time at which the Church has not regarded as marriages things that the State does regard as marriages. This differs from the Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Act 1907, as is shown by this comment by the then Master of the Rolls in _R v Dibdin_ (1910 Probate 101)
‘the Established Church has never refused to recognize any marriage which by our law is valid as being otherwise than a good marriage for ecclesiastical purposes’ (at 109). The point was that if someone (Mr Banister in the actual case) did marry his deceased wife’s sister then the Church had to regard it as a real marriage, even if it disapproved. In the actual case Canon Thompson refused to recognize it as a real marriage, and was disciplined for acting on this refusal. The same goes for remarriage of divorcees with first spouse still living: the Church has to recognize these as valid marriages, even if it thinks them illicit. But the Bishops’ point, as I understand it, is that the same does not go for same-sex marriages: the Church will not recognize them as real/valid marriages at all. So this will be the first time that the State has pronounced a marriage real and the Church demurred.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Well, the process described by Dibdin is exactly the same as now. Canon Thompson was acting on the basis of the Church's conviction that a marriage outside the terms laid down by Scripture and tradition was not a marriage. This was the basis of the whole Church campaign 1842-1907. In 1910, the state was compelling the Church to accept its definition of marriage against the Church's. I don't feel this should happen now in the case of same sex marriages, but Dibdin's judgment was required because they were, in their day, in an exact parallel of the situation we are today. To say it is qualitatively different because there is homosexuality involved is merely to say homosexuality is worse — something many people, including many int he Church, do not believe.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

PS the only difference is that now Canon Simpson could have appealed against Dibdin's judgment on the grounds of ECHR Article 9... so in some ways matters are better now than they were in 1910.

Erika Baker said...

My comments seem to be disappearing.

thank you. Could you please tell me how, precisely, all men experience the world differently to all women? It would seem quite important to know just what different experience it is that is so important that gay people must be not be married.

what do you mean by the church not recognising same sex marriages as valid marriages? From a legal point of view it will have no choice. If any of its employees are same sex married it cannot pretend that they are not and ignore, for example, survivor's pension rights for the wife of the librarian at the Diocesan office.

It can continue to say that, theologically speaking, there can be no same sex marriage. But that will be no different from when it used to say that there can be no marriage after divorce while the divorced partner is still alive.

Daniel Hill said...

Thanks for the comments, Bishop Alan. You're right that Canon Thompson would have more protection now than he did in 1910, but my point was that in 1910 the Church as a whole accepted the State's judgment on the validity (though not the liceity) of marriages with one's deceased wife's sister, whereas now it seems that the Church is not going to accept the validity of same-sex marriages. I was wondering whether it was at this difference that the House of Bishops was trying to get in the statement you are discussing. I hope that clarifies things.

Thomas Renz said...

Erika - if you believe that your life experience would have been just the same, if you had been born male, or if you think that the differences are irrelevant because they are not the same for every man and woman, I don't know what to add to help you see what the world looks like from where I stand.

Erika Baker said...

I'm sorry, but if you want to deny me marriage you will have to do better than to refer to differences in experience of life between men and women which you can then not even remotely quantify.

And that's before I would then ask you to explain what those difference have to do with marriage and why they are so important.

If this is the level of argument against marriage equality you don't really have a coherent argument against it.

Thomas Renz said...

Erika, some of the differences can be quantified by sociologists, I suppose, e.g. "glass ceilings" in institutions. They don't become a non-entity just because some women manage to break through them. Of course many of these differences are vanishing,thankfully, but you're not seriously arguing that they've already all gone, are you?

We ourselves may not want to bring up boys and girls differently from each other but the particular challenges they will face and some of the expectations they will seek to fulfil or strive against are shaped by their sex. We would fail as parents if we pretended otherwise.

Erika Baker said...

Thomas, while it is true that there are differences in the way society regards men and women I don't really see the relevance of this.
My life experience would not have been the same if I had been born a man. Nor would it have been the same if I had been born into a different family, in a different country or in a different year, or if we had lived in a different town…
None of those normal variations in life experience make it impossible for me to marry. I’m not quite sure why the different life experiences a man and a woman have in our society make them eligible to marry whereas the different life experiences two men or two women have don’t.

There is nothing in the state of marriage that is based on how the participants experience the world. I think you really are clutching at straws here.

Thomas Renz said...

Erika - you seem to have forgotten that my argument as to how the experiences of man and women are differently patterned is in effect a footnote (explaining my unease about classifying the differences between men and women as solely biological) to a footnote (saying that there are several conditions which need to be fulfilled for a relationship to count as marriage on the received understanding of marriage).

The question here is not whether same-sex couples can express the same love and commitment to each other as different sex-partners.

The question here is not whether same-sex parents can do a good job at bringing up children.

The question is also not whether adoptive parents can do as good a job as natural parents.

Nor, for that matter, is the question at hand about the ethics of artificial insemination and/or surrogate motherhood.

The question is whether the church can still be allowed to keep to a conjugal view of marriage as a comprehensive union of will, body and life which brings a man and a woman together in the hope that they will become father and mother to their children.

Such a view raises questions about infertile couples and couples who do not want to have children and there are good arguments, to my mind, about why the former may nevertheless be married and the latter should not enter marriage.

Since you have resisted so hard any recognition of this basic pattern of man-woman becoming husband-wife becoming father-mother, I suspect that you agree that if marriage is considered to be "ordered to procreation and family life", it cannot be a union of two members of the same sex.

Current laws that define marriage to include same-sex partners put in writing a re-definition of marriage (prevalent in Western cultures) as essentially about an emotional union and cohabitation.

Bodily union, procreation, and nurture of children have become optional. (Traditionally a marriage may have been said to be "childless" which was understood as a deviation from the norm; no such norm exists any more.)

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

"Such a view raises questions about infertile couples and couples who do not want to have children and there are good arguments, to my mind, about why the former may nevertheless be married and the latter should not enter marriage."
Indeed it does, and that's the problem. It also makes complete mincemeat of the Biblical imagery of marriage. When the Scriptures say God is married to his people, the core and essential meaning of the term is to express his different gender sexual union with them to produce children, and those concepts are integral to the whole meaning of marriage? I don't think so. In those terms if a non breeding couple can't get married, how can God beyond gender, without body parts pr passions, and stretching a point to say there are kids, the kids become part of the "marriage?" The imagery is meaningless, almost blasphemous, if the core meaning of marriage is what has been suggested. I think the imagery rests on a core definition of marriage as ownership, the structuring of life, and belonging — all the things same sex couples can do every whit as well as intersex ones.

14 March 2014 06:58 Delete

Thomas Renz said...

I can imagine a discussion about the core definition of marriage as the basis for the biblical imagery. What I cannot get my head around is your apparent refusal to acknowledge that the conjugal view of marriage is the one presumed in our canon law and liturgy, nor the claim that this would make a non-sense of the biblical imagery. For the latter, you sound to me like one denying that "lamb" has anything to do with "sheep" on the grounds that "Jesus is the Lamb of God". Where does this insistence on a one-to-one correspondence come from? The children of God's marriage with his people are obviously not biological descendants although the question of legitimacy still arises (cf. Hosea).

Erika Baker said...

what you say is absolutely true. Children have become optional, and whether individuals believe that those who do not want them should not be married, the church will marry them.
And as gay couples also have children, just not those who are biologically the offspring of both, the raising children's argument isn't really helpful here.

As I said, my ex husband is step parenting, as is my wife. There is no difference at all in our marriages.

And if a couple can marry when one is knowingly infertile and it is clear that they cannot have children together, then there is no logical reason why a same sex couple that cannot have children together cannot be married.

The real problem lies in your assumption that the church has a "conjugal view of marriage as a comprehensive union of will, body and life which brings a man and a woman together in the hope that they will become father and mother to their children."

That is simply not true and has not been true in any real sense since the church married the first obviously post menopausal woman, the first elderly widower and widow.

What is wrong here is not that gay couples want to be married, but that Christians claim that the church has a view of marriage it patently does not actually have.
Gay couples are just making that apparent by challenging unexamined assumptions that, on close examination, turn out to be fallacies.

Thomas Renz said...

In claiming that the church's understanding of marriage is conjugal I have the actual words which we use in the liturgy to outline what marriage is on my side. I do not accept that church practice proves that the words of the wedding preface are mere verbiage.

Infertility of married couples does not prove that marriage has nothing to do with the reproduction of the human race. The question of childless couples has been discussed long before anyone proposed to dispense with the requirement that the two partners to a marriage must be of a different sex from each other.

You may convince yourself that the church came up with the idea that marriage is structured in the way I outlined to prevent gay couples from getting married but you'd be wrong. It is there in discussions of marriage which long pre-date our current discussions.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I am not aware of the word "conjugal" in any Anglican marriage liturgy. What you get is a summary of Augustine's "goods" of marriage - not the definition of marriage but good purposes that follow from it, but could exist without it, as it could without them.

Thomas Renz said...

The word "conjugal" is merely to distinguish the received understanding of marriage from the more recent one. Of course the liturgy speaks of marriage as being "given as the foundation of family life" not of conjugal marriage, as if there was any other form of marriage.

I do not think the "goods" are as loosely linked to marriage, as you suggest, and would be interested to know where I can find Augustine's summary.

Thomas Renz said...

O, I see Augustine has written De bono conjugali (“On the Good of Marriage”) - De bono conjugali (“On the Good of Marriage”)

Erika Baker said...

I have not convinced myself "that the church came up with the idea that marriage is structured in the way I outlined to prevent gay couples from getting married"

What I am saying is that, looking at the kind of people the church does marry in practice, there is absolutely nothing that stops marriage from being extended to gay couples.

Apart from not being of the opposite sex we fulfill every criterion that is deemed to be essential to marriage by our church today as evidenced by the varied constellation of straight marriages happily accepted and conducted by that church.

Thomas Renz said...

"Though procreation is the sole purpose of marriage, even if this does not ensue and is the only reason why it takes place, the nuptial bond is loosed only by the death of a spouse." (Augustine, The Good of Marriage, chap. 32;

In the traditional view the links between sexual union, procreation and marriage are far from incidental, even if, with Augustine (as I understand him here) and against some church tradition, we do not allow infertility, sterility, and impotence as grounds for annulment or divorce.

There is of course no age limit for marriage – in any society that I know of. This is right not only because such would be arbitrary in practice and the goal posts on infertility are far from fixed but also because an elderly marriage testifies to the norm that marriage is for life, not for the child-bearing years only.

Infertility and old age inhabit a grey area. There is no birthday which suddenly puts anyone out of the realm of childbearing and even today the causes of infertility are often hard to detect and may be reversible. By contrast, a same-sex union is inherently and permanently sterile even when both partners are not. Such unions are therefore structurally different. They cannot witness to the link between sexual union, procreation and marriage.

Erika Baker said...

Which would all be fine if the church didn't marry women who had a hysterectomy etc.

Whichever way you twist and turn this, the church does marry people who are inherently and permanently unable to have children and who know this at the time they marry.

What you say is simply not born out by reality. That may be regrettable to you, but it is an undeniable fact.

Thomas Renz said...

Would it really "all be fine" if the church required a medical examination prior to marriage? Is that what your opposition to the claim that the church holds a conjugal view of marriage boils down to?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

OK. I hope we're not reaching another vanishing point. Marriage is "Conjugal" — in other words, marriage is "Marriagey."(in Latin). I don't have a problem with that. I can't go along with people agglomerating all the pathetically few conceptually possible reasons gay people might not be able to get married and rolling them up into a synthetic construct that is then served up as historic doctrine. I suppose it's a nice way of saying "sorry, mate — I'm not homophobic but I have to believe the same abut your marriage as people who are. I don't make the rules." It makes it possible to deny the reality of the lives of the nice gay couple next door without having to take responsibility for the consequential diminishment of their humanity, let alone considering how the speaker would react if said nice gay couple started doing the same to them.
(1) Exhaustive and exclusive definitions of the terminology and canons make mincemeat of everything.
(2) Confusing the goods of marriage with the definition of marriage is unhelpful. Augustine is trying to defend getting married against his Manichee chums who believe celibacy is superior.
(3) Trying to square this circle led on to the "marriages blancs" of the Middle Ages, held to be the highest form of marriage, where the whole damn point was that there were no children and no sex involved. These were held to be the highest form of marriage by people every bit as traditionally minded as anyone today, and every bit as secure in their doctrine of marriage.
(4) If on the other hand, the concept of marriage as sacramentalised breeding had any validity at all, yes, the Church would require a will to breed as a pre-requisite of marriage, otherwise the sacrament would be invalid through defect of intention. It doesn't and it never has. This whole notion is simply trumped up to try and scrabble together an argument for the impossibility of same sex marriage. That works very well when preaching to the choir, and cuts no ice at all with the people that are actually being talked about.
As to the possibility of gay people being married, as a way of life, it happens all the time and from very soon will be legally recognised for what it is. The encouraging news from travels in the States and Europe is that when this happens there is no discernible bad effect whatsoever, a sall number of gay people get married, and everyone else carries on. Very soon indeed almost everybody forgets what all the fuss was about.

Erika Baker said...

It is a truth universally acknowledged that marriage is an extremely flexible commodity in the CoE, provided you're not gay, in which case it becomes impossible for a number of reasons related to consummation, procreation and fertility that, strangely, do not apply to straight couples.

Thomas Renz said...

Alan – I believe your hermeneutic of suspicion blinds you to the facts. What you call the “the goods of marriage” is not a long list from which you can pick and choose what suits your own marriage but a simple outline of the purposes of marriage, what marriage has been ordained for by God. It’s pretty much the same in Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, canon law and the BCP except that Anglican theology has been more ambivalent as to whether marriage should be called a sacrament. Which church theologian adopted the Neo-Manichean view that sexless marriages are a higher form of marriage?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

It's really simple. the goods of marriage do not equal the definition of marriage, That's all. Cranmer pulled them into his marriage liturgy, and that's great, but the absence of none of them prevents a marriage being a marriage.

Anonymous said...

This discussion while interesting even if a bit repetative is simply an argument about what the CoE defines as marraige. I am far more concerned with what the Bible says about marriage and also what Jesus said on the subject Matt. 19;5 one MAN joined to one WAMAN and they become ONE FLESH. Pray tell me how two men or two women CAN become on flesh. simple biology of course. Jesus didn't say they have to procreate but they do have to be male and female.

Erika - I am sorry you are upset that your marriage ended badly but to claim that you are MARRIED to a wife is nonsense. you and she can't become one flesh you are biologically unable. You may have a loving relationship or not as the case may be but marriage - sorry - it isn't. Adultery too I imagine can be very loving and fulfilling or so we are led to believe but it is sinful as are same sex relationshiops if physical. The tone of your posts sound very defensive.

Anonymous said...

The words of Jesus as recorded in Matt.19;5 define marriage as one MAN joined to one WOMAN to become one flesh. Basic biology really. Anything else is contrary to the will of God, since Jesus is God incarnate. Same sex relationships are sinful. Debating the pros and cons of Church tradition is a pointless excerise. True Christians accept and obey Gods' word. Gay Marriage is an oxymoron it cannot exist. That fact is recognised in law as there is no way to define the consumation of a gay/lesbian so-called marriage.

rev rajendra mekala said...

Hearty welcome revered Bishop Alan and Rev Rosy to CSI Christ Church Kurnool, AP,India.

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