forsaking all others

While many individuals and churches (including my own Anglican province) uncritically bless unrestricted serial monogamy for heterosexuals (ie. more to have and to hold; less forsaking all others), many of those same people insist that homosexuals not be able to commit to one person they love before God.

Many still see marriage as giving permission “to have and to hold”, publicly pledged to a “love waits” position. In a culture, then, where for probably the majority of people the understanding of marriage has become the commitment, the discipline to restrict sex to one person (“forsaking all others”), the understanding of many Christians remains that marriage is the licence to finally have sex (“to have and to hold”).

Reflection on the recent GAFCON conference (eg here quoted here), with its focus on (as in against) homosexual love, may start in the real world where “sexuality can be fluid… And … there are … much more simple than that – just people – and more complex – fluidity of attraction and appetite.” But this soon becomes totally self-assured in declaring:

At the heart of the liberal revolt against this call to surrender our right to please ourselves lies two things:

1 The first is a determination to claim as a right access to pleasure, and in particular sexual pleasure; and more, to rage against anyone who threatens this right rather like an emotionally incontinent child.

2 The second is an insensitivity to any form of spiritual conflict. There is no sense that there is a real agency of evil that sets itself against the patterns that God has laid down. There is no awareness that evil sets out to twist and deform what God has made good.

So the liberal is certain he or she is doing good by giving affirmative permission for people to do what they like, and calling this ‘love’ – while the conservative or orthodox thinks that he or she is trying to be obedient to a pattern of hierarchical holiness, in which our sacrifice and submission play a part in freeing us from the lure of self indulgent evil.

At the heart of this is a struggle for the Church; a struggle to define Christianity itself.

The author recognises when something is “too blunt an instrument of analysis to wield as carelessly and ubiquitously as it generally is” but fails to apply this sensitivity here. The original contention that for “liberals” “There is very little power of the Holy Spirit in this vapid self indulgent spirituality” has now been removed, but the binary dualism of right/wrong, orthodox/heretical (for heretical read liberal), pure/sinful continues as the blunt instrument of uncritical presumptions (read, prejudice).

Many claim homosexuality is a choice. As if, like greed or laziness, it can too easily become the default position that all or most people would capitulate to given half the chance. And (in this view) only God’s laws, often gratefully (for them) supported by the state, keep people generally from their universal natural tendency to homosexuality, and instead aligned to the holy, disciplined, self-sacrificing-of-our-corrupt-nature life of heterosexuality. The argument continues – let homosexuality through the restrictions of divine condemnation, and soon most of us will be lustfully eyeing up our neighbour’s donkey or dog on the slippery slope of following our natural desires.

The reality is, of course, for anyone who meets real homosexuals and real heterosexuals, and real “just people… more complex… [with all the real] fluidity of attraction and appetite”, that real “liberals” seeking to allow homosexuals to commit to “forsaking all others” are not all universally claiming “as a right access to pleasure, and in particular sexual pleasure; and more, to rage against anyone who threatens this right rather like an emotionally incontinent child.” Nor are they all “insensitive to any form of spiritual conflict”. Quite the opposite. They are often, in the commitment of “forsaking all others”, seeking to limit “access to pleasure, and in particular sexual pleasure” and, being conscious of “spiritual conflict”, are seeking the support of the community to maintain such a monogamous commitment.

The demonising and black-and-white oversimplification, disconnected from any real pastoral engagement with actual individuals, will do little more than reinforce prejudices and alienation, rather than furthering real mission and ministry.

Nothing much has changed since more than three years ago I said

Our culture has shifted, without much reflection, from focusing on the positive of marriage, allowing one to now “have and to hold”, to its negative – the realisation that in marriage one ends up “forsaking all others.” It is little wonder that divorce is so prevalent. With compassion towards those who have genuinely found their commitment impossible to maintain, one wonders at Christians, even clergy, moving through their third or more marriages. Anyway, when it comes to sex, Christianity has a pretty bad track record currently – riddled with scandals, obsessing about sex as a primary issue, and generally giving a negative impression about sex (why is the term “living in sin” associated with sex, and not, say, anger, or video piracy,…). It is understandable Christians cannot be heard about a positive attitude to sex. Maybe Christians need to be silent about sex for a generation. And after that slowly begin talking about sex again, but solely in a positive, encouraging way,… starting with the Song of Solomon. Visually illustrated.

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