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Rethinking marriage?

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The Church of England House of Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage has drawn plenty of responses.

Claims that it makes are demonstrably misinformed and incorrect. Being factually erroneous reinforces questioning the under-girding conviction that marriage has come to us unchanged in the last 2,000 years. In particular, with changes to practices around divorce and remarriage, and the near-ubiquitous acceptance of gender equality and the interchangeability of roles for genders, swathes of biblical material traditionally associated with marriage are now quietly no longer used, or their plain reading is abandoned.

Most cogently, Professor Linda Woodhead in her article An error in the House of Bishops Guidance on Same Sex Marriage, demonstrates that the bishops are incorrect in claiming that there is now “for the first time, 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”.

As one is caught up short by such erroneous claims by the bishops we pause to look at other parts of our marriage rites that have changed to see if there have been incremental changes that may have blindsided people and prevented them seeing the trajectory of the developments in the way that the bishops are.

The approach to divorce and remarriage is an obvious shift, certainly here in New Zealand. But I also want to reflect on the understanding of women and men as equal (with roles interchangeable between men and women) as a presumed set of lenses that we bring to marriage and its rites. Certainly, if you hold to men and women differing in nature, if you affirm male headship in family and church, this post will be meaningless to you – let us acknowledge there is consistency and integrity in your position. Read no further. Go out and have a coffee with a friend.

For those continuing reading, the Book of Common Prayer 1662 marriage rite had,

we are gathered together …to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony… signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church

In that BCP rite the priest expounded what it declared as the Biblical teaching on marriage:

Saint Paul, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, the fifth Chapter, doth give this commandment to all married men; Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, …
Hear also what Saint Peter, the Apostle of Christ, who was himself a married man, saith unto them that are married; Ye husbands, dwell with your wives according to knowledge; giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, …Now likewise, ye wives, hear and learn your duties toward your husbands, even as it is plainly set forth in holy Scripture.
Saint Paul, in the aforenamed Epistle to the Ephesians, teacheth you thus; Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church: and he is the Saviour of the body. Therefore as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. And again he saith, Let the wife see that she reverence her husband.
And in his Epistle to the Colossians, Saint Paul giveth you this short lesson; Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.
Saint Peter also doth instruct you very well, thus saying; Ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands;…

In the BCP rite the wife then promised to “obey [her husband], and serve him”.

We could no longer use such a rite with integrity with most contemporary couples, and if a couple arrived seeking to use this rite, most clergy would be concerned and carefully talk through the relationship of such a couple.

By the 1928 marriage rite, wives obeying their husband had gone, and with it the biblical submit-and-subject wording. In only one prayer was the allusion retained that in marriage “is signified and represented the spiritual marriage and unity betwixt Christ and his Church”. [In the CofE Common Worship rite that becomes, "they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind, as Christ is united with his bride, the Church" or "they shall be united in that love as Christ is united with his Church"].

Because the union of Christ and His church is an unbreakable union, Marriage-is-like-Christ-and-His-church imagery comes together with marriage-is-indissoluble. Furthermore inevitably with the inequality of Christ and His Church, this image comes with an inequality between husband and wife, and a distinction of their roles.

New Zealand Anglicanism shifted from a firmly-held “marriage cannot be dissolved” to “a couple when getting married should intend to stay together”. ALL references to Marriage-is-like-Christ-and-His-church imagery were completely removed from the three different rites available for getting married in the 1989 New Zealand Prayer Book. Even the Church of England’s own Common Worship rite has removed all but the tiniest single vestigial allusion (quoted above) to what was clearly once a dominant biblical paradigm for marriage.

What once again is clear when those who say the debates are not sourced in prejudice about homosexuality, but are about integrity to scripture and tradition, is that whilst a sea change has occurred in the understanding of marriage, they have only begun to register an issue when the direction heads towards committed same-sex couples.

In the discussion about whether gender difference is essential to marriage it is clear where the inner logic of the trajectory of Christian marriage changes leads, and that the Church of England bishops’ statement is on the wrong side of that trajectory.

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83 Responses to Rethinking marriage?

  1. Re Christ and his church and the mystical union, is Christ confined in the image to the male, or is it the one flesh image that is the defining aspect of the anointing? Is the church in the image confined to the female or is it the body of Christ that is referred to here?

    I would not throw the image out. It is vital and life-giving, and it is pervasive in the Scripture, not to mention other religions.

    Psalm 45 is a song of love. This is evident from the keywords that are used for the first time.

    Craigie, when he deals with this psalm under ‘explanation’, points us to the last chapter of C.S. Lewis Reflections on the Psalms as an example of a psalm with ‘a second meaning’.

    Lewis (p. 101 ff) commends the understanding within Judaism of the allegory of God as bridegroom. His comment is telling:
    Thus the allegory which at first seemed so arbitrary – the ingenuity of some prudish commentator who was determined to force flat edifications upon the most unpromising texts – turned out, when you seriously tugged at it, to have roots in the whole history of religion, to be loaded with poetry, to yield insights.

    The king, the groom, he is your Lord, has made us kings and priests to God and his Father (Revelation 1:6). If I come to this intellectually, I fail. It is ‘flat’ as Lewis
    comments. But if I come at it in obedience, the unplugged ear, the prepared body, of Psalm 40, that is, in the obedience of faith, I find that more than I asked or imagined arises out of the text.

    The power in the mother is to make the children rule. This is the role of the tradition
    of the congregation. The rule will be consistent with the mercy shown. This
    theme will continue in the psalms through to Psalm 149.

    Then the question arises – who will be mother? Can this refer in the image to a same-gendered unity in Christ? Similarly with father? The nurturing father of Psalm 103:13 comes to mind. Also the instruction to read the Song on the eve of Pentecost taking the role of the bride. Our fruitfulness surely goes beyond the gendered drive to have children. Again the penultimate verse of Psalm 17 draws attention to a greater satisfaction expressed in verse 15.

    If this satisfaction can be known to the unmarried celibate, i.e. it is not confined to a consumated heterosexual coupling, then is it not feasible that those who are in Christ and also homosexual could be drawn into the same fullness by the one who is over and above all things.

    Draw me
    after you
    we will run
    the king brought me into his rooms
    We will rejoice and we will take pleasure in you
    we will mention your loves more than wine
    the upright have loved you

    • Thanks, Bob. I like the comment by Rev Tobias Haller, “One question that’s come up in my work on the A050 Marriage Task Force is the extent to which some of the traditional language may yet be not only salvageable, but actually helpful. Sometimes, as the old saying about Zen has it, one has to go through a time when people are not people and mountains are not mountains, before discovering once more that people are people and mountains mountains. I’ve long said that the best gift same-sex marriage may bring the church is a better understanding of all marriage.” Blessings.

  2. I am brought up most forcibly to the truth of what you’re saying not so much when I contemplate the tussle over Deceased Wife’s Sister marriages (against Leviticus 18:18) that ended in 1907 with the Church losing, but when I take a 1662 BCP serve in Lent at a place they want all the commandments read. I solemnly charge those present “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife; nor his ox, nor his maid, nor his ass, nor any other Thing that is His…”

  3. The English Bishops recent statement on marriage is very well described here.
    The whole business of marriage has been a church conundrum leading to what can be described as confused varieties of services. Then we do have Augustine to contend with: “yet, whenever it comes to the actual process of generation, the very embrace which is lawful and honourable cannot be effected without the ardour of lust…This is the carnal concupiscence, which, while it is no longer accounted sin in the regenerate, yet in no case happens to nature except from sin.”
    There was all that preference for virginity in the early fathers sometimes apparently for sake of women, well virgins where celibacy will ensure not suffering”governance of a husband and the chains of children.”
    One wonders if the church should have had any role. the bishop’s statement is no furtherance of thinking,
    In passing The RC and some other bodies have ignored Cyprian’s belief that man and woman having multiplied re Genesis the multiplication had occurred, indeed gone far enough. Whether this is to justify virginity or contraception is not clear.

  4. On a lighter note, Bosco, my six-year-old grandson and his friend think that boys should marry other boys because, “then they could just do fighting and stuff”. Another (girl) friend, also six, thinks girls should marry girls because, “then there would be two wedding dresses”.
    Keep up the good work. Love your blog. Here’s to love, in its many forms – it surely comes from our wonderful God.

  5. I wonder Bosco whether you have not fallen prey to that great Mythos of the West, “developmental progress” – well; it was a myth to the fore in the 19th and 20th Cs, with the 21st mercifully finding its denouement in many a postmodern setting. That is, while historical change is inevitable, how one construes that change and its possible meaning(s) is a human game many play. And much of your talk of “trajectory” might just imply you view it as all being a case of good and developmental progress. Well; is it?!

    And how might any of us ‘read’ any of these changes if we construe ‘history’ from within an immanent frame: just so Popper’s Poverty of Historicism. There’s much more afoot here than you seem to be aware of matey!

    • Your last sentence may be appropriate on other sites you contribute to, Bryden. It is not acceptable here. Please take care if you want to respond that you do so simply, clearly, and without ad hominems, and without conjecturing what people think, believe, or are aware of beyond the text provided. If you are arguing the case that the trajectory should have been stopped earlier, I think that is a perfectly consistent position – especially if you demonstrate your earlier attempts at stopping the trajectory. Blessings.

        • Thanks, Bryden. If I struggle to see how “There’s much more afoot here than you seem to be aware of matey!” is merely the trajectory of my own initial post, then I suspect I may not the only one. I seek to have people on this site neither speak past each other nor down to each other. Blessings.

          • To make the trajectory clear(er) then, Bosco, I shall simply copy a section of my letter last year to The Press re the Marriage Amendment Bill:

            “The blurb announcing the Bill cites the criteria of “equality” and “non-discrimination” as the governing principles of the proposed amendments. Yet the subsequent sections only mention provision for unions between two men and between two women. In direct contradiction of the key criteria, the Bill discriminates against for example any unions among two men and one woman, among two women and one man – or even among three women and two men.

            “On what rational basis does the Bill judge such differences? Why include gay and lesbian couples, and exclude polyandry, polygamy and polyamory?

            The short answer is the governing principles on their own are woefully inadequate to define the true nature of human marriage. This conclusion however has not halted our parliament from trying to construct an illogical outcome that obviously contradicts the essentially gendered nature of the human species, as male-and-female. Why do we tolerate such folly? Worse still: why enshrine it in law?” [ends]

            It is the entire notion of a “trajectory” that is false – trading, I conjecture, upon a key Western Myth, that of “developmental progress”, to which many would appear to be blind.

          • Thanks for the clarification, Bryden. This post is not a reflection on New Zealand’s Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act 2013 which may, of course, be amended in the future. One really would be blind not to see the removal of the passages so central to the BCP1662 from all three of our NZ Anglican rites, and similar parallels in other rites as I indicated. Blessings.

    • “There’s much more afoot here than you seem to be aware of matey!”

      Do I get the impression of some sort of overbearing superiority here? If so, it does seem that too much of theoretical ‘knowledge’ might breed an offence against Christian charity.

      Incidentally, Bosco, it may not surprise you that I’m with you on the need for a more open acceptance of the broadening of our understanding of what marriage is all about – especially when one considers the implications of The Marriage Feast of The Lamb – to which all are invited – irrespective of sexual-orientation or gender.

      • You’re right, Ron, to highlight the element of superiority. For the sense of superiority is inherent to the trajectory generated by the myth of “developmental progress”. But there’s also an immediate, serious problem. As pointed out in the original comment, “historicism” of itself is incapable of adjudicating between or gauging the relative values of the sorts of changes Bosco is talking about. Rather, the sense of ‘improvement’ or superiority over time is a preconception or indeed a prejudice of the myth itself. But why so?! What’s it based on – other than sheer bias and prejudice?!

        Only if we have some genuine transcendental point of reference may we gauge relative moral worth. And where pray tell may we locate such?

  6. The way I read what you are saying here, Bosco, is that (a) marriage has ingredients formerly agreed by the church and supported by Scripture: lifelong, a man and a woman, monogamy, no incestuous relationship, husband is head of wife; (b) the church has changed its understanding of ‘lifelong’ and of ‘headship’; (c) it ought not to stop its willingness to change (d) thus there is no consistency if it attempts to stick with ‘a man and a woman’ and does not change to allow ‘a man and a man’ or ‘a woman and a woman.’

    Is that a fair reading of your post?

    If it is a fair reading of your post, do you support the church also letting go of monogamy in favour of polygamy or polyandry? If not (and I would be surprised if you do), what is your argument for retaining monogamy? (This is a genuine question because I am trying to engage with where the logic of your argument might lead and I do not understand (so far) why the church would stick with monogamy.

    • If we are sketching this trajectory backwards, Peter, from the BCP1662 back towards the New Testament texts it quotes, then, yes, as we continue that arc back into the Old Testament, we do indeed arrive at polygamy thousands of years ago. So polygamy (one man in charge of many wives) moves to one man in charge of one wife, and then an increasing stress on the equality of this committed partnership as we reach the twentieth century. I struggle to see how that arc for you, in equality with your spouse, leads you to want the church to head to polygamy. Blessings.

      • … because Bosco the “arc” (to use that word now rather than your original “trajectory”) goes something like this: from equality between spouses – still “spouses” at this stage – to fully “interchangeable roles”, to why not interchangeable partners, to why not multiple partners. That is the inherent logic of the trajectory assuming the sorts of observations initially made in your post (let alone some of the subsequent comments). Which was why my specific argument re NZ Amendment material was right on the money, as well as being directly relevant to the CoE’s HOB’s Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage, 14 February 2014, the opening line of your post.

          • Yes, Bosco, but questions remain.

            ‘Any partnership’ could include an incestuous relationship which could qualify on the grounds of ‘equality.’ (Or am I misunderstanding the logic of ‘equality’ as criterion for partnerships to be included in a revised doctrine of marriage?)

            Further question, who defines ‘equality’? [If (for example) supporters of polygamy among religious communities (a few Mormons; some Muslims) acclaim equality as a virtue in such relationships who could deny that?

            In NZ currently the state (it seems to me) has made that determination but it would be interesting to see where arguments would go if ever challenged in court. As we know, responding to polygamy as a possibility is somewhat theoretical here for NZ Anglicans but a reasonably lively issue for fellow Anglicans in Africa.]

          • That questions remain should not surprise us, Peter.

            I can understand your point that there may be future revisions of the schedule of forbidden relationships. That was implicit in the start of this post, and you would acknowledge the current list is not sourced in the scriptures. That Christians may support safeguarding rights in law of second and further wives of Muslims in NZ is also an interesting discussion. Blessings.

          • May your arc land safely, then, Bosco. For all that, I strongly suspect it might not be on Ararat after all.

    • A partial answer to Peter’s question might be that the trajectory Bosco discerns has a healthy relationship with the social contexts in which it has emerged. So in completely Western cultures it has become very difficult to accept any model of marriage that is not built on gender equality, whatever your reading of scripture. On the other hand, some otherwise conservative Anglicans in Africa, valuing economic justice and social cohesion over gender equality, argue that the Church should be open to polygamy as a godly option for their society. Trajectories can be complex!

  7. I don’t want the church to head towards polygamy, not least because that would be wrong according to the witness of Scripture, Old and New Testaments.

    Anyway I think I understand what your argument is against polygamy, consistent with your logic: the arc of history of Christian marriage is bending towards equality of partnership, any partnership.

    • “What once again is clear when those who say the debates are not sourced in prejudice about homosexuality, but are about integrity to scripture and tradition, is that whilst a sea change has occurred in the understanding of marriage, they have only begun to register an issue when the direction heads towards committed same-sex couples.

      In the discussion about whether gender difference is essential to marriage it is clear where the inner logic of the trajectory of Christian marriage changes leads, and that the Church of England bishops’ statement is on the wrong side of that trajectory.”

      I begin with these last two paragraphs Bosco in order to try to orientate ourselves clearly. For from the assembly of comments to date, it would seem we might have a degree of confusion about the “inner logic of the trajectory” – or at least, debate about various conjectures re that trajectory. So; an immediate question: what do you actually reckon that trajectory to be? And what in your view is the ‘engine’ driving that deemed trajectory, justifying that form of arc? So that: you successfully avoid the conclusion of landing up with “multiple partners” – of polyandry, polygamy or polyamory?

      For consider this: if we already have within marriage full “equality” between man and woman and so “interchangeable roles”, which thereby seems to lead to interchangeable partners – that is, partners who may now be of the same gender, then what is ‘driving’ this “logic”? In your view?

      • I thought, Bryden, that you had let this discussion rest as having come to some natural conclusion. And so I also wonder what is ‘driving’ you to restart this engagement with another five questions?! Especially since I have already answered the very questions you once again ask – including previously pointing you to an answer. If there is something new you can contribute, I suppose there is some merit in your restarting afresh. Otherwise I do not have the time or energy to go round and round the same bases. I would have thought that most would hope the Spirit of God is driving the arc. If you do not, I have already asked you what steps have you previously taken to reverse the trajectory – to this you have not responded. Blessings.

        • Mmm… I’ll take that long answer as a non answer – as in fact Bosco you have only pointed me to a comment that I also know from private off-site comms was deliberately a half comment. Which was why I have sought to get direct from you (rather than anyone else) more succinct clarification about what was otherwise a rather convoluted and general post.

          • Sorry Bosco but I am NOT speaking of any private comms between yourself and me; rather between another commentator and myself. If I had meant what you suggest, then why would I now be asking for your own specific “clear, simple” answers to certain direct questions? All of which I sense is well within the bounds of your blog, as I seek to advance the discussion by clarifying some apparent differences. [PS Please assess this 'reply' in light of how else one might be tempted to reply to what you have written ...]

          • You continue to miss the point, Bryden. How from these private comms between you and another commentator can you know that what I wrote “was deliberately a half comment“? As to your questions – I do not see essentially new ones that have not been responded to. I do, however, continue to see a lack of responses to my straightforward questions of you. Blessings.

  8. I want to suggest, as Bosco alludes to above, that the imagery of Ephesians may still be useful if we can avoid the tendency to over-read the metaphor. Paul does occasionally get entangled in his own metaphors, and has to backtrack and clarify — as in Ephesians, when he adds the parenthetical, “But I speak of Christ and of the Church.” In other words, he starts with a disquisition on ideal relationships in Christian marriage, but then gets a bit off-topic in his enthusiasm for “the great Mystery” of unity in Christ that serves as the main topic of the Epistle, and for which marriage is a metaphor (or as one modern translation has it) an allegory.

    But as with all allegories, it is important not to over-read it and attempt to match every single element in marriage with that for which the allegory serves in general (as in the misreading of some of Christ’s parables). To do so would be, in a way, to query the poet who compared his love to a red, red rose by asking, “Tell me more about her thorny stem…”

    • Thanks, Tobias. The particular lenses that I mentioned are already on for most of us and I look forward to further insights from your A050 Marriage Task Force. Blessings.

      • Thank you, Bosco. One of the important insights is to recall that in Ephesians the church is not only the Bride but the Body of Christ (“of his flesh and of his bones” as the KJV has it — a reminder of Gen 2) and that he loves it, cleanses it and nourishes it: which are reflections of the mission of salvation, baptism, and eucharist.

        Which are not limited to mixed sex couples.

  9. Hi Bosco
    I understand the difficulties of moderation and being vigilant about what is ad hominem and such like.
    But in that vein I would point out that this comment has its own difficulties about what it implies about the state of people’s minds:

    “What once again is clear when those who say the debates are not sourced in prejudice about homosexuality, but are about integrity to scripture and tradition, is that whilst a sea change has occurred in the understanding of marriage, they have only begun to register an issue when the direction heads towards committed same-sex couples.”

    In some ways I do not think I would have engaged with this post without the provocation of that comment.

    • Thanks, Peter. Your engagement with this post is appreciated.

      Are you suggesting that there has not been the sea change I describe, or that those who now say the debates are not sourced in prejudice about homosexuality, but are about integrity to scripture and tradition, have previously been vigorously battling this sea change, and if so could you supply some actual details? This is only a slight variant of an unanswered question in this thread.

      Blessings.

  10. Hi Bosco
    Christians have understood marriage to be between a man and a woman and have grappled with various marital issues (e.g. divorce and remarriage) on the basic or core understanding that marriage is between a man and a woman.

    It is a sea change to introduce the notion that marriage might not involve a man and a woman. Understandably many Christians are not persuaded that this sea change is warranted, from scripture or tradition or both working together. Thus there is resistance to such a sea change.

    I can think of no Christian engaged in issues concerning marriage such as divorce and remarriage or headship who has not sought to work out responses to modern life that lack respect for the integrity of Scripture. I see no sea change in Christians battling the novelty of marriage not being between a man and a woman by continuing to respect scripture and tradition and their overwhelming approach to marriage as being between a man and a woman.

    It is therefore quite concerning to find other Christians positing that ‘prejudice’ is involved in this resistance. While I know (as I am sure you know) of Christians who do exhibit prejudice in these matters (e.g. because of a lack of relationship with homosexuals) the charge that prejudice is generally involved as a driver in the debates is undermined by the presence in the debates of Christians who are not working from prejudice. As best I can tell most Christians I personally engage with who share my convictions do not work from prejudice.

    • Thanks, Peter.

      Christians have understood marriage to be between a man and a woman for life where the man is the head of the woman, the weaker vessel, and the woman is subject to the man whom she is to obey and serve. That, I have demonstrated, was a basic or core understanding of marriage until relatively recently. There has been a sea change in that understanding in the absolutely total removal of the swathe of this biblical material I quote from the tradition now embodied in our marriage rites so that in the four options provided in our province there is not a single allusion to teachings that were so basic or core.

      You fail to acknowledge, Peter, that more than once, and from the outset, I have recognised those who are consistent in their methodology. But those who change their hermeneutic when the inner logic trends in a direction they had not foreseen, nor go back to revisit the sea change that they have accepted, it seems to me, demonstrate a preconceived position about the uncomfortable conclusion.

      Blessings.

      and have grappled with various marital issues (e.g. divorce and remarriage) on the basic or core understanding that marriage is between a man and a woman.

      • Hi Bosco
        I readily acknowledge that you applaud those who are consistent in their hermeneutic.

        I suggest a question remains whether the church taking a new look at a position re Scripture which had evolved to treating women as inferior (and I say ‘evolved’ because it is not clear to me that in original context Ephesians equates to, say, Aquila treating Priscilla in the way you say the church came to see women in relation to marriage) amounts to a necessity to see such willingness to change through to changing the core of marriage being between a man and a woman.

        A preconceived Scriptural view that marriage is between a man and a woman has quite a history and is writ through many pages of Scripture. Whether such a preconception, supported in the way it is by tradition and history of theology equates to ‘prejudice’ is, I suggest, a question you have not yet answered.

        On the matter of consistency I suggest your claims work in other directions. Once we change our understanding of Scripture to include same sex marriage why would we stop to stick with anything Scripture witnesses to about God’s will? The thrust of Bryden and my comments here is that the consistency of your hermeneutic has an arbitrary brake on its full development.

        • Thanks, Peter.

          I am struggling to see why you are so ready to use the word “preconception” but balk at my use of its synonym.

          You have not, in this thread, been fully clear as to your own position vis a vis the texts proclaimed in BCP1662 that I quoted. If you are not upholding their plain reading then, it seems to be you, following your methodology you outline in your last paragraph (a methodology that I have been at pains to stress is not identical to the one being employed in this post), who places an arbitrary brake on which texts are taken on their plain reading and which are not.

          Blessings.

          • Like all synonyms, “prejudice” and “preconception” have some subtle differences in connotation. The former has an additional emotive implication in modern use, of unwillingness to accept another’s person or opinions, out of unworthy motives. Not helpful!

          • Fair enough, Howard, if people have a preconception about “prejudice” or a prejudice about “preconception”.

            The most contemporary definition of “prejudice” that I can see is a “preconceived opinion“, and the most contemporary definition of “preconception” is a “prejudice“.

            Some prejudices I acknowledge may be sourced in unworthy motives. Others will not be. Some preconceptions may be the result of unworthy motives. Others, again, will not be. The words themselves do not speak of the sources of prejudices or preconceptions, and my post has not either.

            Blessings.

          • I suggest, Bosco, that preconception does not have quite the stigma of prejudice. But we may have to beg to differ on our assessments of these words. Nevertheless I posit that preconception gets closer to ‘presupposition’ that ‘prejudice’ and I suggest that it is presuppositions which are important here.

            I am struggling to see how one gets from “you do not follow a plain reading of Ephesians 5:21-31″ to “you ought, to be consistent, ditch the whole witness of Scripture that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

            (I won’t waste time and space re Ephesians 5:21-31 and my reading of it, suffice to say that this ‘Suggested Reading’ on p. 806 in NZPB would be a happy text for me to preach on at a wedding, and the reading would be pretty plain.)

            The logical criterion you appear to apply here, it seems to me, would work something like this in another argument:
            “So, you had a lamb chop for tea last night. That means you are comfortable with killing animals.”

            “True.”

            “Humans are animals so to be consistent you must be comfortable with killing human beings.”

            “No!”

            Why would “No!” be a consistent conclusion to a lamb chop eater? Because of a presupposition that not all animals are equally important since only human beings are made in the image of God. On this presupposition rests human respect for human life (while killing sheep for chops is okay). One could say, through the notion of the image of God, the Judeo-Christian tradition has been ‘prejudiced’(though I think a kinder term would be ‘biased’) in favour of respect for human life!

            Analogously, I suggest, with marriage: marriage between a man and a woman as a possibility imaginable within scriptural theology compared with not-imagined marriage between two people of the same gender is presupposed on the basis of the theology of creation writ into the account of Genesis 1 and 2.

            Just as I do not think a chop eater is committed to killing human beings, nor do I think a couple refusing to have the wife vow to obey her husband are committed to supporting gay marriage. (This, as I understand it, being your argument).

            Obviously you are entitled to think differently, and on your own blog call such inconsistent folk prejudiced, but I wonder how persuasive your ‘consistent logic’ will prove to be to the wider church?

            In the end, your call for consistency also involves a call to set aside the presupposition that marriage is for a man and a woman. Perhaps that will happen. Meanwhile, for those of us happy to assert the bias of the Judeo-Christian tradition in favour of marriage between a man and a woman, it would be helpful to the conduct of debate if words such as ‘prejudice’ were dropped from assessment of the arguments.

          • I’m not at all concerned, Peter, if you read “preconception” wherever “prejudice” is written if that helps you. It really makes no difference to my point. I cannot tell from the rest of what you write whether you are in agreement with the plain reading of the texts quoted in BCP1662 as you seem to have me reflecting on “if I eat meat then I’m in favour of murder”. If, as you suggest, you hold to the plain readings of those texts then I have already said, and repeatedly, the rest of your concepts of marriage hold consistently. Blessings.

    • Peter’s notion of a sea change interests me on two counts. The first is his assertion that the present issue in which we are considering the possibility of same-sex marriages between Christians is different in kind or maybe just vastly greater in magnitude than previous changes in Christian marriage the Church has previously embraced. There is no doubt that it involves a conflict with some parts of scripture, but then so did divorce, as Bosco has repeatedly written. I am not so sure about tradition however. What I mean is that there is a significant difference between the Church allowing something it has previously forbidden such as no-fault divorce and allowing something it has not previously seriously considered as in the present case. Is one truly more momentous than the other, and if so which?
      The other interesting aspect of sea-change is raised by the image of King Midas valiantly standing in the engulfing tide. Is it possible that our faithfulness to the revelation we have already received from God can be the very thing preventing us from recognizing what God is doing around us? This question runs through the whole of our tradition and is at the heart of scriptural wrestling with the nature of God’s self-revelation. “Who is as blind as my servant?” is an integral part of the prophetic job description. So maybe motivations have nothing to do with our present differences. Something deeper and more transformative may be going on.

      • Make that King Canute? Midas on the other hand, or with both hands perhaps, had the gold-making touch, which might solve some of our other problems…

      • Hi Howard
        It could be so.
        But when we engage with Scripture as you are encouraging another theme to consider is the possibility that we are engaged in the oldest hermeneutical tradition of them all, “Did God really say that?”
        As for sea change, I think it is a big sea change to remove the importance of gender differentiation from marriage. But if you don’t see that then I am not sure what would convince you.
        What I am asking here is that those who happen to think it a big sea change are not charged with prejudice.

        • No, I don’t think it fair to label the snake’s question as a hermeneutic of Adam’s evening conversations with God, to which he was not privy. Maybe the oldest hermeneutic was Adam’s adult responsibility to be faithful to the gracious purposes of God revealed in those conversations and not to lapse into childish suspicion of God’s motives as voiced by the tempter. Adult responsibility for what we read out of scripture, based on faith in God’s goodness is still a sound principle for us all to follow in our present conversations.

          • Perhaps Howard. I would be inclined to add into your last sentence something about recognition of human propensity to bias interpretation towards our own ends. As a good Calvinist …

          • As I recall we sorted out the proper place for Calvanists within the Anglican fold somewhere in the 1600s. Welcome as long as they didn’t dominate proceedings? Seen but not heard? Or did we not lump them in with the children after all? I forget. Anyway if the label makes you comfortable, you are welcome to it. A good Calivanist then OK, bad Calvanists not OK.

    • A further response to Peter’s comment, this time considering what he is affirming about man and woman relationships being a “core” aspect of marriage in scripture and tradition. In recent marriage workshops in Waiapu we considered marriage as a complex idea, within scripture as in later tradition, composed of a cluster of features whose relative importance shifted as God’s people moved through changing social contexts. When we surveyed participants’ convictions about the importance of these features for the sanctity of marriage, the man-woman aspect was important, but less so than others such as commitment, intimacy, equality and love of God (some of which would certainly not have ranked so highly in biblical times).
      Two things surprised me: many people who placed high value on marriage being between a man and a woman were also open to the Church considering the possibility of same-gender marriages; and there was a low correlation between belief that God has provided an unchanging revelation concerning marriage in Scripture with all other convictions about marriage except one – that the Church should not consider same-gender marriages. Think on these things…
      It will be interesting to see if our survey results are reinforced when we run the workshop in Waikato next week.

        • No – doctrinal change by a process of consultation and conversation that includes opportunities for less vocal participants to have their views registered as clearly as those who often presume to speak on their behalf and may miss the complexity of their positions. A salutary process for the likes of you and me, Peter.

          • Yes, that is a good way to proceed, Howard, and sounds better than change by survey!

            As for you and me and the way we proceed, I don’t know about you but I always feel I am in the business of persuading people not inclined to listen to me … if only I had some real power :)

  11. I’m joining this discussion late, but there is a matter that I want to raise for inclusion in the rethinking that you want to encourage in respect of marriage.

    I agree that the Church is traversing an arc and growing in its understanding of the mind of God in respect of certain doctrines and practices. I also believe that some of the changes that have been made in respect of the marriage rites are a right and necessary consequence of the place to which our Father has now brought us – for instance, the total reciprocity of the vows made now by the husband and the wife.

    I don’t believe, however, that references to the relationship between Christ and his Church needed to be culled from the authorised liturgies. The Church in past centuries was quite right to follow Paul and include that imagery as part of the doctrine and liturgy of marriage, but the Church was quite wrong to extrapolate from the imagery and infer that human marriage was therefore to be indissoluble. Indeed, divorce was not to be the easy thing that some Jewish traditions had made it: Jesus makes that clear in Matthew 19. However, divorce was still permitted when there had been such a breach of the marital covenant that the Christ Church image had been obliterated. The Church has largely caught up to where it ought to have been all along in respect of divorce, but nothing in that change makes it imperative to expunge the Christ-and-Church imagery from the marriage liturgy. It has a continuing role to play, I believe, as the ideal to which couples should commit and aspire in their care for one another and their mutual faithfulness.

    The Church was also wrong to put the Christ-and-Church imagery and the procreation imperative in the forefront of its teaching about marriage and to assign the physical pleasure of sexual intercourse to the realm of concupiscent lust. The latter thinking was neo-Platonic and dishonoured the God who had made our bodies as well as our souls.

    Therefore, my hope is that those engaged in the rethinking of marriage will ask what lessons can still be learned from the Christ Church imagery, and how those lessons can be incorporated in a new way into our teaching and liturgy; a way that honours the imagery without reintroducing old errors.

    Warm regards.

  12. I would like to flag here just one cautionary note: and that is, echoing some comments above, about the complexity of “trajectory”: While being aware of the existence of trends (perhaps a safer word?) I think it more prudent to judge any changes on a more stable basis than the apparent track of the trend itself. Things can go off-track as well as improve. (This is the danger both of progressivism and the slippery-slope fallacy.)

    The real test of the goodness or badness of any development will be twofold: in its bases and its results. For the former, are the same moral touchstones appealed to to retain one thing yet reject another? For the latter, results may be mixed (and I do shy away from consequentialist ethics, myself, but due note ought be taken of things that lead to harm).

    Thus, it seems to me, that the approbation of marriage equality for same-sex couples is a trend towards recognizable virtues of fidelity and monogamy, with results of greater social stability, including provision of care for children either orphaned or from broken homes. A development towards polygamy seems to me not to rest on any recognizable virtue, and to be destabilizing by the multiplication of relationships and their necessarily unequal and more precarious balance.

    • Agreed, Tobias. And I have from the outset and more than once affirmed the validity of an approach of those who view this trajectory/arc/trend as in error.

      I think it is far too early to make some of the positive claims for results from marriage equality of your last paragraph.

      Blessings.

  13. Tobias says:
    “The real test of the goodness or badness of any development will be twofold: in its bases and its results. For the former, are the same moral touchstones appealed to to retain one thing yet reject another? For the latter, results may be mixed (and I do shy away from consequentialist ethics, myself, but due note ought be taken of things that lead to harm).”

    Thanks Tobias for the general approach, and its seeming simplicity. First off “bases”: this is to flag (again!) a key feature of our elaborate exchange of last August elsewhere – since when I have done some further work naturally. Such a base needs to be able to show how it ties in directly with any moral result; that is, more formally, ethics needs to be a function of ontology/anthropology. Which is why I resolutely return, not to the contingent histories of either Israelite history or Western society, as does Bosco mostly on this initial post, to track “changes” (although naturally they have to enter at some stage), but rather to Gen 1 & 2. And while I note your insistent exegesis of Gen 1:27, it has to be said that viewing the “image” in both a relational and complementary manner, and so as reflecting furthermore something of the Trinity, is by far the majority position today. This does not negate the more traditional views of seeking to locate the image in some property like human rationality or free-will. But it does suggest an idea whose time has come – and perhaps providentially come, on account of Barth’s own proposals, which were ahead of the more recent cultural tsunami that tends, in my opinion, to ‘confuse’ and ‘blur’, in the typical postmodern style of “homogenization”, the human genders of male and female.

    In which case, according to both Gen 1 and Gen 2, the anthropological “base” for the institution of human marriage is indeed the specifically genderized nature of human being, “a male and a female created He them”, “ish/ishshah”, “a helping companion matching him”. That is, we have both likeness and differentiation when it comes to both human being and then notably marriage according to how we most commonly present as either male or female.

    “Thus, it seems to me, that the approbation of marriage equality for same-sex couples is a trend towards recognizable virtues of fidelity and monogamy, with results of greater social stability, including provision of care for children either orphaned or from broken homes. A development towards polygamy seems to me not to rest on any recognizable virtue, and to be destabilizing by the multiplication of relationships and their necessarily unequal and more precarious balance.” – Tobias

    As quoted in the Press Letter above, “the short answer is the governing principles [of “equality” and “non-discrimination”] on their own are woefully inadequate to define the true nature of human marriage”, March 12, 2014 at 6:47 pm. In other words, while the “recognizable virtues of fidelity and monogamy” might go some way towards mirroring the sorts of “results” we are seeking for the institution of marriage, they reflect, as I say regularly, only, in the end, a “tragic irony”: they are doomed to fall short of the full & necessarily genderized form of marriage as per “the beginning”, the authentic “base”. And as such I cannot go along with your “approbation”; indeed, I have had to conclude what is called “equality for same-sex marriage” a tragic and ironic counterfeit of the real.

    As for your further “results”. I agree wholeheartedly with your brief comments re polygamy. They concur with my own experience in Africa – notwithstanding some present calls from there to revive polygamy and some “recognizable virtues” in situ. However, your first line of argument re children would again fall under my summary conclusion of a “tragic irony”. All the longitudinal studies of the past 35+ years show conclusively children flourish best when in the long term care of their biological mother and father.

    • [Removed at the request of the author of this comment.

      Note to others who comment: this is an unusual action; my removing this comment is not a precedent. Please take care in the comments you make.

      Blessings
      Rev. Bosco Peters
      ]

      • Having done a bit of research, I think I now get this remark, Howard: you’re the “Diocesan Theologian of Waiapu”. Mmmm … I too wonder what that means.

      • Bryden, I cannot imagine what thoughts have been set off in your mind upon discovering the title given to my role in Waiapu, so let me help you out if I may. Among other things, this position recognizes my long-term vocation to foster theological conversation among a wide range of lay and clergy colleagues. To that end I need to assure others, no matter what their level of theological education, that their own process of theological reflection is valid and important. This requires me to exercise self-control over unnecessary displays of advanced learning that would mystify or disempower others, but can also fuel my ungracious intolerance of academic peers who, for whatever reasons, seem to lack a similar commitment to accessible discourse. I apologise for making you a target of my sarcasm.
        Howard

        • You are right Howard. It was John Cobb who taught me “every believer is a theologian” – of sorts. For “faith will always seek understanding” – to defer to that famous definition of theology derived from St Augustine. The only question thereafter is how “competent” (Cobb’s word) a theologian are they, where competence is, to some degree at least, a function of context.

          In our Anglican setting, I myself have found the majority of believers tend (almost inevitably) towards both a semi-Pelagian and semi-Arian theological position. To be sure again, almost none of them would have heard of either that Briton or the Libyan; why/how might they have? But that’s not exactly the point. If competence is to have any sort of authenticity, then our Christian Tradition nonetheless offers us all genuine guide-lines, rooted in the Scriptures themselves, as the norm of norms.

          Happy (de)schooling Howard! And BTW, as and when you catch up with my original line of argument, I’d be interested to hear what you think – seriously; thanks!

  14. Kia ora Bosco,

    I note Bryden’s comment “All the longitudinal studies of the past 35+ years show conclusively children flourish best when in the long term care of their biological mother and father.”

    This is just not true. What studies show is that the gender of parents is not a statistically significant factor in children ‘flourishing’. What is a factor is marriage.

    • MG – 14 March 15:20: “This is just not true”: au contraire; it might very well be a case of whom you listen to. My source is a fellah who was hounded out of North America due to the prevailing ideological proclivities, and who then set up shop in UK for many years. I shall dig out the reference from my files when I can and get back to you.

      • “prevailing ideological proclivities”

        Does that translate as “the collective wisdom of internationally peer reviewed, best practice research”?

        • No Mike; it would mean precisely and only what it says. Meanwhile, he belongs to one of the oldest institutions of its type in the world, and naturally his (joint) research is “peer reviewed”. I have yet to dig out my archives, BTW.

  15. Dear Bosco, In light of some earlier remarks of mine, which being not clear enough were sufficiently ambiguous for you to construe in ways other than those meant, I apologize now for my contribution to what became a spat of words between us. I trust this will now help to settle the dust between us, as you too enact your own appropriate apologetic quid pro quo, to reconcile us to fuller and greater clarity on a topic that would appear to be central to our Church and world at this time. Pax tecum, Bryden

  16. “It is a sea change to introduce the notion that marriage might not involve a man and a woman.”
    – Peter Carrell -

    I can think of more ‘sea-changes’ in spiritual v. physical relationship to faith issues; only one of which might have been even more painful than the same-sex marriage issue – that of cicumcision, once being a necessary element of adherence to the Jewish God. And we all know what Paul had to say about that one.

    Why are conservative Christian so frightened of changes that might just help solve a problem of enforced sexual relationship outside of marriage? And this has absolutely nothing to do with poly-amory, incest, or what ever other nasty things they might like to presume would follow in the path of same-sex marriage. We are talking here of one-to-one loving monogamous realtionships.

    • Hi Ron
      Conservative might answer your question if you can answer ours, Why are catholics who value the traditions of Christianity so intent on changing the tradition of marriage while holding on to other traditions with fervour and passion?

      • Dear Peter and Ron,

        I am not convinced that labels of “conservative” and “catholic” are helpful – as if conservatives aren’t catholic and catholics aren’t conservative etc. I prefer to discuss things issue by issue rather than pile all into a barrel with the assumption that beliefs about one thing means assuming beliefs about another (see point 4).

        This conversation is very much a clone of repeated conversations on Peter’s site between you two. I would prefer you to continue the conversation there, rather than this site become a mirror site.

        I would encourage you to return to the point of the post: catholics and conservatives have accepted the significant changes that I have described in my post. If you do not agree with those changes, no one has yet provided any indication either of working against them when they were implemented, nor of initiating a movement to reverse them.

        Blessings.

        • Fair point, Bosco!
          But does commenting/posting/engaging with issue by issue work? The point of your post is that issue by issue may lead to inconsistency if one takes an overview. Part of my point in raising the question of ‘catholic’ approaches is that it can seem (at least on first sight) to be ‘conserving’ of some elements of church life while ‘liberalising’ of other aspects. And, that, surely, is a reasonable question to raise in a post which links issues and asks whether a consistent approach is being followed between them.

          In response to your question above about changes:
          - your general approach to these matters is that I am doing some rethinking about what I have previously accepted;
          - without getting into questions of whether I would take the seventh wedding of a six times divorced person [an example you have previously here or on ADU brought up!], in general I am comfortable with considering the possibility of conducting the remarriage of a divorcee (providing repentance from past sin is evident);
          - while continuing to think attentively and considerately about the kind of critique you bring in the post above, I do not see this understanding of marriage after divorce as inconsistent with continuing to remain uncertain that Scripture can now be understood to be (via long hermeneutical pathway) supportive of marriage between two people of the same sex.

          • Yes, Peter. Good point: linked points should be taken together. I am not sure that unlinked points can so easily. Possibly, then, as you suggest, divorce and remarriage can be unlinked from marriage as reflecting Christ’s union with the church, but if the submitting to Christ is also removed, at which point is the metaphor lost? It seems that in all three NZ marriage rites, revising the 1662 rite, the decision was consciously made to remove all those inherited images as the metaphor seemed to no longer work. Blessings.

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