You really need to read Part 1 of this series.
Following the pattern of that Part 1, we can look at the variety of interpretations of how the Bible addresses the question of committed same-sex couples. Many would say that the concept of committed same-sex couples, in its current experience, is not addressed by the Bible. It is akin to asking the Bible a question like how should we use digital fitness devices in military and other locations? Or, is altering our DNA acceptable?
The concept of sexual orientation is relatively modern. The word “homosexual” is not yet a century and a half old, being the nineteenth-century combination of homo, the Greek word for ‘same’, with the Latin sexual. It was not used in any English Bible translation until eight decades later. All translation is interpretation, and many would dispute the accuracy of using the word “homosexual” in the manner that some English Bibles do.
Even the concept of orientation continues to be disputed. Many now talk about “same-sex attraction”. Others argue that they are attracted to individuals – the sex of the person is secondary.
In the centuries that the Bible was produced, same-sex attraction was certainly known and written about, as was same-sex genital activity. But we may be completely misreading those texts. Status was a primary focus of Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern Antiquity. So the distinction, in this context, was regularly between taking an active or insertive role, versus a passive or penetrated one. The passive role was acceptable only for inferiors (women, slaves, male youths). There was a problem for sex between free, adult males – because of status.
People can find about about half a dozen biblical texts which appear to condemn homosexual genital activity. Again, when the Bible describes same-sex acts as “unnatural”, some would argue that the meaning is more “out of the ordinary” rather than as immoral. Twenty-first Century heterosexual acts that might not raise many eyebrows now, might have fallen into a similar “unnatural” category in Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern Antiquity.
Hence, with the Bible, it is possible to hold a variety of positions with regard to committed same-sex couples including that
- Those who engage in same-sex genital activity should be executed;
- People with same-sex attraction might commit themselves to each other but they must refrain from sexual activity;
- Committed same-sex relationships are of equivalent status to opposite-sex relationships;
- Homosexuals would be sinning to enter into a heterosexual relationship because it conflicts with their God-given nature.
This series is reflecting on The Final Report of the Motion 29 Working Group [on blessing Committed Same-Sex Couples in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (ACANZP)]. The PDF of this report downloads by clicking here. The Ven. Dr Peter Carrell has a series discussing it: Part 1; Part 2. This will be debated at the Christchurch diocesan synod (March 3), and there are four pre-synod meetings on this. General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW) meets about this in May 4-11.
My Part 1 argues that the doctrine of marriage in ACANZP holds it to be between a man and a woman, life-long, and monogamous, but the Canon of Marriage means that anyone who, in good conscience, decides to marry after divorce will not be disciplined; and that the Church does not discipline those clergy who, in good conscience, decide to officiate at such a wedding. Remarried divorcees can participate fully in the life of our Church; they can hold any office in our Church without prejudice – as can those who officiate at such weddings.
One might argue that the summary of our doctrine of marriage is not fairly summarised by, say, A Way Forward report (it is their summary I am quoting). One might argue that the Church has been unwise in creating an exception for divorce. But this is where we have lived, without controversy, for decades. I am unaware of discipline being exercised for any number of breaches of our formularies in other areas – but in the case of divorce and remarriage, that has been made explicit. You will not be disciplined, and it will not affect your life in the Church.
As I have explained, my Part 1 pointed out that the Scriptures can be interpreted in a variety of ways. This is the case for, say, baptism. People find scriptural justification for the age of baptism candidates, for the amount of water to use, for the words they say. Our formularies become a lens through which we read the Bible.
In the case of marriage we have made explicit a principle that we regularly use instinctively: whilst we understand the Bible to say A, we have decided that not following A is now OK.
One way forward would be for GSTHW to alter the formularies so that marriage is defined as being between a couple, intended to be life-long, and monogamous. Such an alteration widens the tent to include, for example, those who believe that divorcees can validly remarry, but it does not exclude those who continue to hold that marriage is for life. It includes those who accept that committed same-sex relationships are of equivalent status to opposite-sex relationships, but it does not exclude those who continue to hold that marriage is for those who are opposite-sex. A similar width of belief is allowable, for example, on understanding the nature of the Eucharist – Anglicans can, with integrity, hold that it is no longer bread and wine, or that it is bread and wine and Christ, or that it is simply bread and wine, unchanged.
This way practice and teaching would be aligned. Lex orandi, lex credendi would be restored.
A second approach would be for GSTHW to use the Canon of Marriage as a template for blessing committed same-sex couples. Gender-specific words in the marriage service would be modified [cf 2.10(2)], and so on. Following the Canon-of-Marriage model, any minister would have full discretion to decline to conduct any such services.
A third approach is presented by the Motion 29 Working Group. Their Final Report will be reflected on in the next post in this series.
Comments are to follow the usual culture of this website: no anonymous comments; no ad hominems. We have a culture here of light not heat – we can disagree with each other’s positions respectfully. Also be conscious that, reading your comments are real people – many readers have suffered significantly around the issues dealt with in this series.
Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, vice president of the German Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference, has called for consideration of blessing of same-sex unions.
At a recent meeting with young people, Bishop Stephen Lowe, Roman Catholic bishop of Hamilton (NZ) said the issue of homosexuality may be a “Galileo moment” for the Church. Galileo Galilei was convicted of heresy by the Church in 1633 for teaching that the earth is not the centre of the universe but actually revolved around the sun. It took the RC Church more than 350 years to acknowledge it was wrong and Galileo was correct.