Why every Christian, including fundamentalists and literalists, should approve of same-sex marriage.

I’ve been thinking about this one quite a bit. It might take a while to get it all out.

My main contention is however simple – there are very good reasons why every Christian (particularly the reformed, literalist kind) should believe that same-sex marriage is a prophetic new way of God speaking to us today. And similarly, there are no good reasons why to think that it isn’t.  

My main contention was partly in response to Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brian’s interviews and writings on this issue (I have blogged about this a little while ago). I am by nature a churchy sort, and I do believe the church sometimes speaks prophetically to society on issues (fair trade, for instance, abolition of slavery, society, the alleviation of the poor, environmental concerns, you know the things that actually matter). I also however believe that a church which claims to possess exclusive access to God’s will and prophesy tend to die out, pace the Pharisees around 70AD. I’m quite keen this doesn’t happen for more reasons than having to find another job.   

It seems to me that we should examine the claims of prophesy of any kind with some kind of criteria.

A recent trawl of websites of all kinds of Christian theologies (not to mention all my lovely catholic catechisms and textbooks) has produced many different criteria, but happily there seems to be a broadly agreeable themes:

1)      Does it bring people to Jesus? i.e. is it evangelistic?

2)      Is it from the Spirit?

3)      Does it agree with God’s word? i.e. is it in accordance with the teaching of scripture?

4)      Does it give new, clarity on an issue on which the bible has been unclear/silent?

5)      Does it liberate people into the “glorious liberty of the children of God” ie does it free people up to being God’s people?

These are many ways in which these arguments need to be nuanced, but looking at that list I believe the idea of same-sex marriage fulfils all those criteria much more powerfully than, say, the abolition of slavery. It is liberating, it is evangelistic, it certainly agrees with the teaching of Jesus, and does not disagree with anything in the bible. Whether it is from the Spirit is arguable of course, but in reality that is what the other criteria are there to judge. I cannot think of any single issue which fulfils the idea of prophetic teaching than the idea of same-sex marriage. Of course I’ll elaborate on this later, but if you agree with those criteria, then I would have thought the case is all but closed. 

In terms of the arguments against, I confess I’ve had real trouble getting arguments which are specifically against same-sex marriage rather than the idea of homosexual practice in general, but I believe there are four main themes.

1)      The Bible is against it in specific texts.  

2)      The main thrust of biblical teaching is for single, monogamous heterosexuality to be the foundation of a Christian society.

3)      The history traditions and theology of the church is against it.

4)      It would have deleterious social effects on marriage and society.

5)      Gay people can’t swim. 

One of these I made up.

Of these four arguments, I believe none of them can be substantiated by being loyal to the bible, and there are very powerful reasons why some of them really shouldn’t be used as arguments at all. I’ll elaborate on these next time, specifically the issues raised by the most public contributors, Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brian and Archbishop John Sentamu.  

Where you, dear reader, might be of help would be in steering me if I go awry. Do you think my criteria for prophesy is correct? Are there main arguments against same-sex marriage which I am missing? Do let me know.

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About frpip

Priest, Dad, A long way away. You can call me Father Father Father.
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11 Responses to Why every Christian, including fundamentalists and literalists, should approve of same-sex marriage.

  1. David Todd says:

    Thought provoking Pip.

    I’m struggling to understand how same-sex marriage can be considered prophetic, particularly in the third point of your criteria, that prophecy should agree with God’s word, when you clearly say before your arguments against that there are no specific passages of scripture dealing with same sex marriage (as opposed to homosexuality).

    To be honest I’m struggling to see how same sex marriage specifically fits into the first three parts of your criteria or how fitting into the fifth is any different from saying ‘just because we want it’.

    Does same sex marriage bring people closer to Jesus? Perhaps, inasmuch as love abounds, but actively evangelistic? I struggle with that.

    Is it from the Spirit? Love is of God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God, so love comes from the Spirit. But love and same sex marriage are not the same thing, besides I think the Spirit uses tradition and the wisdom and teaching of those who went before us to guide His will. Whilst you dismiss the argument from tradition, I don’t think it can discounted so easily.

    What interests me in all this however is the question of who defines marriage? For me, reflecting where I am with this (and I suspect it’s a very different position from you) I have to differentiate Christian marriage, as I understand it, from secular marriage and say I could not conduct a same sex marriage before God. However I don’t believe that Christians have the sole right to define marriage, neither do I have the sole right to define Christian marriage, it is a matter of personal conviction or the doctrine of a particular church or denomination.

    I think it’s a scary and divisive issue for the Anglican Communion though. When I was in Africa in 2010 there was a Bishops conference on the ordination of gay priests and the African church is ready to leave over this, South America and South East Asia too. It would be tragic to see the Anglican Communion split over this when holding common ground in the face of massive diversity has been such a powerful strength over the years.

    • frpip says:

      Hi David, and thanks for the reply. Most of the issues you raise here I’m intending to explain (I didn’t above because it would make for a mighty long blog post!).

      In terms of fulfilling the prophesy criteria (and I would be very keen to know if you agree with those or think there is something missing etc) my contention would be that, as there are no specific passages of the bible which deal at all with same-sex monogamous relationships of any kind (unless you are prepared to interpret David and Jonathan in that which, which personally I don’t) then we need to look a little wider than individual verses, and ask (a) is it in keeping with the teachings and principles of Jesus, specifically with respect to individual relationships, and (b) is it an area where there has been movement within the passages of scripture, and therefore, without anything definitive from Jesus, we might expect new revelation to come? Again, slavery is a good example of this – Jesus was silent on the issue, but there was clearly development of the idea of slavery within the scriptures, it is open ended, and the abolition of slavery is in keeping with the teachings and principles of Jesus.

      I won’t dismiss the argument from tradition out of hand, (indeed, one of my criticisms of Keith Patrick is that he is appropriating tradition and history in a way which is not faithful either to the past or the present) but I am arguing that to rely on it to the extent that God can say nothing new to us – on the grounds that the church has decided, rather than God, what is right – is simply flawed thinking on the part of Christians.

      In terms of who defines marriage, I’m not that interested about “civil marriage” as distinct from religious marriage. At the end of the day, words are words, emotive as they are, and they carry different meanings for different folk. What I am interested in is that same-sex, lifelong manogamous sexually expressed relationships are treated with the same honour and care and support that different-sex relationships are. It seems to me that this is no more than a different expression of an age-old principle – God is love, and so our task as ministers of religion is to find where love is and make God known.

  2. Margaret Hart says:

    My understanding, limited thought it is, of the nature of God based on the teachings of Jesus is that God would leave the 99 sheep in the fold to go and find the lost one. That lost one would be lovingly lifted and brought back on his shoulders and placed back where it belonged in the safety and comfort of the fold. I read the above comments with interest and a little sadness. The African Church is ready to leave the fold of the Anglican Communion over the gay issue. It would still be in a fold – just one that excludes gay people.
    Many gay people believe themselves to be lost to the church and to God because of something they cannot change. For me the church would be at her most Christ like if she went out and lovingly lifted up those who have been excluded and welcomed them into the fold. When some of the 99 threaten to leave because the lost sheep has returned they can be supported to remain safe in God’s hands but in a different enclosure.
    Not wishing to labour the analogy but presumably once in the fold the sheep gets to share all its sacramental offerings.

    • LF Buckland says:

      A – no doubt apocryphal – story tells of the refinement undertaken in a sub-branch of the Ch of Scotland. Self-selection segregated all who differed until a lonely outpost remained.
      But, surely, the hurtful debate over gay marriage is also becoming a displacement activity: fiddling while Rome burns?
      Is it too much to hope that the next Abp of C will re-unite splintering groups to focus on the Church’s marvellous calling to ..go out to all people.. ?

    • frpip says:

      Thanks for that Margaret. The passage from Ezekiel 34 springs to mind:

      11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

      17 “‘As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? 19 Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

      20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.

      What is sobering to all of us (and I do mean all, not just those who would think differently on this issue) is that there is both intentionality and non-intentionality here. There is deliberate shoving and also just being too focused on one’s own thing.

  3. LF Buckland says:

    I don’t have any problem with ‘prophetic’ or ‘evangelistic’ which I understand as:- foreshadowing/reflecting Kingdom values, welcoming, hospitable, and encouraging. Thanks, Pip, look forward to future unfolding!

  4. Innes says:

    I think marriage represents a wonderful opportunity for evangelism. Our churches should be saturating their instruction courses in the gospel of Jesus, regardless of whether the celebrants have welcomed Him as Lord. In that way, we give the Holy Spirit the opportunity He loves to come into people’s lives at a crucial time.

    And welcoming couples into our churches where only one partner has been saved, provides another opportunity to get the good news across. I can think of couples where this has worked wonders (sadly, also where the non-believers stance has hardened).

    If the above hold true for hetrosexual marriages then surely it also does for same-sex unions, regardless of whether we think that God approves of them or not.

    And yes, please let’s pray that the church gets through, round or under this issue without damaging ourselves any further. After all, we have the hungry to feed and the heart-broken to comfort.

    • frpip says:

      Hi Innes. That’s a very generous and faithful way of looking at the issue, and to be honest, if the church was less judgemental and more open to God’s indwelling then the world as a whole would be a better place.

      I think my response would be that I still think it is worth pursuing as an issue. As long as there are priests and pastors who feel unable to conduct gay marriages for reasons of integrity, then there will always be exclusion of gay Christians who want to get married. David for instance is someone whose worth and opinion I value immensely, but I suspect would have a real problem blessing a gay marriage, and that is not due to him not being nice, or kind, but because his integrity does not permit it. Sorry if I’m speaking for you here David, but I imagine that he feels it would be disloyal to god and to the bible to do so. I want to at least share with him my thoughts, and everyone else who reads this, that even if they cannot agree with me, then at least they might be able to see that although they disagree with my decision, they do know I have tried to be faithful to God and to the Bible.

  5. Thanks Pip for raising this question in such an open manner. The issue of gay marriage seems to have become a marker for “them” and “us”; which I guess means that it has come to stand for wider issues. Being aware of how much heat this issue generates I am reluctant to join the debate but where angels fear to tread……….

    I don’t have any answers, but feel it may be helpful for me to try to tease out some of the questions. The issue of legalising gay marriage has perhaps become a proxy for the debate about marriage in church – and perhaps separating these issues is a helpful place to start.

    In bald legal terms my understanding of the current legal situation is that there are two legal terms for legally recognised relationships. “Marriage” is the legally recognised term for a strait partnership, and Civil Partnership for a gay relationship. The only legal difference (as far as I can tell) is that to be valid Marriages have to be consummated by particular heterosexual acts (and civil partnerships do not legally have to be sexual relationships). The proposal I think is no longer to maintain this distinct nomenclature, so that Marriage is used as the term for either relationship, and to drop the need for marriage to be a sexually consummated relationship. I guess that this will also mean that you are no longer able to enter into a new civil partnership. (The only equitable alternative would be to open up civil partnership to both gay and straight couples). This use of language is not a trivial issue. Many couples would struggle with the idea of being married and would still want the option of partnership (and I guess if it were opened up many strait couples of they could would choose partnership for the same reasons perhaps because it is not sexually defined or because of the often negative historic legacy of marriage). Current media indicates that many gay couples would also value the opportunity to marry and find that historic weight creative and sustaining. The answer may be to de-couple the way we use these terms culturally from the way we use them legally.

    Secondly there is the issue of the sacrament of Marriage. This does not seem to need a legal underpinning (none of the other sacraments depend on being recognised legally). There a lot of people who are very anxious for the church to extended the sacrament of marriage to gay couples. Arguably for some of them this is because they want to contain and make safe an active queer sexuality. For example the idea of a priest being part of a married gay couple seems very safe and traditional – and much safer than the idea of a queer priests having sex with people to whom they are not married. Again there seem to be two separate questions here. Firstly what is it that we as a church say prophetically to sexually “liberated” people (both gay and straight)? Secondly how do we as a church understand the operation of tradition in sacraments? The ordination of women provides an interesting parallel (where this was often justified by finding early church presidents for the ordination of women). Do we have to find examples of gay Christian marriage in our tradition or are we free to develop sacraments in a new and radical way? There are also further questions to unpick about entitlement to sacraments. For example is it OK to refuse heterosexual marriage if we feel that the relationship is exploitative or abusive? Would gay marriage be equally subject to the discretion of the priest? (Traditionally only baptism and communion have been sacraments all God’s people. We should perhaps be cautious not to equate refusing other sacraments with excluding people from the church)

    I don’t have good answers for many of these questions – but it would be great if as a church we could discuss them in a creative and imaginative way (without getting angry with people who take different positions to us).

    reuben

    • frpip says:

      Hi Reuben and thanks for your reply – which is very thoughtful and probably extends beyond my areas of competency!

      As I said to David, I’m really only interested in the religious aspect of it, as that matters to me more than civil matters. I think to extend my thoughts beyond the bounds of same-sex marriage into sexually liberated folk who don’t find any difficulty in having numerous partners, possibly even simultaneously would be simply a different kettle of fish.

      In terms of the other “criteria” of marriage, I should imagine that an over-arching rule of any sacrament is that it is an outward sign of inward grace. If a priest feels the grace is not there, and has used her compassion, understanding of God, prayer and conscience to get there, then gay or straight, (s)he is making a decision along sound theological methodological grounds. Refusing a sacrament which giving it would only lead to the spiritual diminishment of someone is the loving thing to do. I don’t however see how you can make blanket statements about individual God-given sacraments to whole sexualities. Pace women priests – what was prophetic about that was that society’s ongoing “fairness agenda” – which is only tangentially to do with morality, and sometimes not at all – made the church ask the question about women priests. And when they had answered, the answer was exactly as I said above – that a sacrament is a matter of God-given grace, and we should not limit God’s grace by suggesting a whole gender cannot receive it.

      I really do hope these issues can be discussed here with kindness. I don’t see friends as on political wings, I only see them as friends, and whether they agree with me or not, they remain friends.

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