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Divorcees & Committed Same-Sex Couples part 2

holding hands

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.

If you appreciated this post, consider liking the liturgy facebook page, using the RSS feed, and/or signing up for a not-very-often email, …

Postscript

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.

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18 Responses to Divorcees & Committed Same-Sex Couples part 2

  1. The biblical story of the love between David and Jonathon, described as greater than that between a man and a women, while it may have no sexual connotations, is certainly an approval of a very close, intimate, and loving same sex relationship. Certainly the kind of relationship that could be blessed.

    Mark 7:14-23, “Nothing that goes into a person from the outside can make him unclean. It’s what comes out of a person that makes a person unclean.”, seems to emphasis the priority of intention over physical acts (one wonders if this passage is appropriately interpreted in a sexual sense ?).

    IMHO, the controversial NT scriptural passages (eg Romans 1) seem to be more about sexual abuse of male slaves by their male owners, something very common in those days.

    Many Blessings

  2. I wish we would stop talking about ” same sex” and rather use the term ” same gender” – much more loving, respectful and preferred by those in same gender relationships.

    • Thanks, Yvonne.
      With respect, I disagree with you.
      Gender generally refers to one’s identity and its expression,
      sex refers to what is more objective.
      A same-gender relationship would be where partners regard themselves of the same gender regardless of their biological similarities or differences.
      I would be very interested in your evidence that “same gender” is preferred; in my experience, it is the opposite.
      Furthermore, increasingly such binary distinctions are being eschewed.
      The following diagram, I think, is helpful.
      Blessings.

  3. I don’t have any strong views on homosexuality Bosco, to be honest I think what consenting adults do in private is their business so long as it is not abusive.

    And that would be one of my concerns about remarriage- it often is extremely abusive of the family which precludes the second ( ‘darling’ ) wife, and it hurts children and the first wife.

    We see this over and over in daily life yet few people seem to comment or care whilst a committed gay marriage or relationship makes people angry?

    We have discussed this many times over the years but using the Bible as an instruction manual for modern morality is tricky unless it’s about the teachings of Jesus!

    Unkindness, inhumanity, it’s never right, most of the evil on this planet would stop overnight if people stopped trying to substitute a faux moral code for innate kindness.

    Moses’ divorce and remarriage came with restrictions, Jesus said this was only granted because people were hard of heart then. Later he just said don’t do it.

    On my observance of things happening to abuse others in the world, which christian religions should challenge in the name of Jesus, homosexuality is a relatively minor issue.

    Let’s address the global rape, mutilation and violence to women and children first, and come to some church international consensus on that massive problem.

    Three stories I read on the BBC this week: a woman who started giving birth age 12, the rape of a baby, a dozen siblings chained and starved by their so-called parents.

    Surely these are more important issues in a world where so many would still have no concept of a chosen consensual committed relationship?

    And I hope it’s not an ad hominem but the Catholic Church should definitely be reviewing their own position in religious rules after such a catalogue of disgrace from religious teachers not just breaking their own rules not just even abusing others but being protected for doing so.

    Didn’t Jesus use the word ‘hypocrite’ more than any other in the Bible…

    • Thanks, Tracy.
      Yes – I have regularly expressed my distress that this is the topic that attracts so much energy. But then I get pressed by those who are not safe to do so to be a voice within this.
      You may have noticed that your final point dovetails into my post today.
      Blessings.

      • I think that’s what makes me most upset, those who are doing no harm are afraid to speak yet abusers on all levels get to say and do what they want because of some weakness to draw a line in the sand not just by their own lack of discernment and self control but the people around who turn a blind eye or support an anachronistic social norm.

        When the US president joked about abusing women it should preclude him being a world leader in 2017, not encourage people to vote for him!

        There are strange ideas prevail, eg even amongst intelligent people who know there is no health reason to perform circumcision on their male babies many people do anyway.

        I think a lot of stuff I tried to ignore or rationalize when I was younger because I did not want to be culturally insensitive or ‘disrespectful to my elders’ has come back to bite the world on the backside.

  4. The biblical story of the love between David and Jonathon, described as greater than that between a man and a women, while it may have no sexual connotations, is certainly an approval of a very close, intimate, and loving same sex relationship. Certainly the kind of relationship that could be blessed.

    Mark 7:14-23, “Nothing that goes into a person from the outside can make him unclean. It’s what comes out of a person that makes a person unclean.”, seems to emphasis the priority of intention over physical acts (one wonders if this passage is appropriately interpreted in a sexual sense ?).

    IMHO, the controversial NT scriptural passages (eg Romans 1) seem to be more about sexual abuse of male slaves by their male owners, something very common in those days.

    It is encouraging that the idea of blessing the love between comitted same sex couples in slowly gaining traction in the Church.

    Many Blessings

  5. Out of interest, you’ve skipped over one issue there: why limit to monogamous couples?

    It’s s tightrope, treading a line between throwing out scripture altogether as only pertinent to other times and cultures, and choosing what bits to retain – to bind and loose – across the divides, given that that presupposes validity of an external source of morality.

    One thing I will come down on a side of a fence about: in common with the worst kinds of collects, “will not be disciplined” is hardly the most positive expression of celebration I’ve ever heard.

    • Yes, Tim, you are correct, the Bible does have a lot of polygamy in it. The contemporary issues around that are often from polygamous families converting to Christianity. That, of course, is a live discussion in Africa, and may become one here, for example, for people converting, say, from Islam. Blessings.

  6. I’ve read both approaches to the WG report on yours and Peter’s blogs. Peter’s blog is so much more restrained than I remember it in the past where I experienced some nasty comments, but it’s like these folks over there are discussing math theorems, not the lives of real people. And as a non-native English speaker, I got so lost trying to follow trains of thought about a & b and the former and the latter.

    Of course, except for you, Father B, and Father Ron, one can expect that pretty much anyone who opines on Peter’s blog is dead set against same-sex relationships, especially when it comes to them being acknowledged by the church as anything less than sin. let alone the church considering blessing and honoring them.

    The rocking chairs are a-rocking!!!!

    • Thanks, David. I think your point that this is a discussion with and about real people is a very important one – you see me stressing this within the post:

      be conscious that, reading your comments are real people – many readers have suffered significantly around the issues dealt with in this series

      It is a more general issue on the internet generally – to remember that reading these screens are real people…

      I’m pleased you see less heat entering this discussion beyond here, but I also don’t want to get into triangulated comments (where comments better on another site end up here and so on) 🙂

      Blessings.

    • Yours is a very important point David and one which Pope Francis has stressed in recent years : the priority of real human lives over ideology. If we focus on the love between committed couples then we will see divine grace at work. If we focus on our own ideologies all we will see is our own prejudices expressed ideologically.

      FWIW, nowhere in scripture does the Father or the Son speak against loving same sex relationships and the Church does not claim that God does, instead basing her historically conditioned opinions on moral theories about the meaning of sex.

      BTW, there is a counting discussion in the Catholic Church on Humanae Vitae, the teaching against contraception, which appears to be undergoing serious development under Pope Francis. If it turns out that every sex act need not be open to conception to be morally good (for which the Catholic case is already very strong indeed, even expressed by Pope Benedict in the homosexual case), then it’s basically over for the idea that same sex sexual relationships are inherently sinful.

      Many Blessings

  7. Chris, you may be interested in Alan Bray’s “The Friend”, a history of friendship from 1000AD till the time of John Henry Newman. It’s a very dense read, but might be the closest historical account of a non speculative nature of David and Jonathan type relationships (at least in England). Reviews will add more than I can: in 2 months I’m only up to page 104…
    Jonathan.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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