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Some thoughts on same-sex marriage (plundered from others)

Wedding-rings-300x274Here is Andrew Errington's Same-sex marriage - what is really at issue?

His central point is that there are two visions of marriage going on behind the same-sex marriage debate.  One is set out in the Book of Common Prayer, in which the three purposes of marriage are:

  • the procreation and nurture of children
  • as the only proper place for sexual intimacy; and
  • for the sake of lifelong companionship.

As against this, the modern, romantic view of marriage disregards the first two purposes and is, essentially, two 'grown-ups', part-couple-part-sofa, watching boxed sets till they fancy another sofa-mate. (That's my cynical overstatement, not Errington's.  But marriage-as-companionship reminds me of Alain de Botton's comment that love today is about finding someone in particular to save us from people in general).

One implication at the political level is this:

The success of same-sex marriage will not only marginalise the principle that biological parenthood is normal and best. It will mean that the discussion of whether children need their biological mother and father is over for good, because such a claim will be regarded as discriminatory against the necessarily non-biological parent or parents in a same-sex marriage. To be as equally married as anyone else requires that we never again question the various ways children enter these marriages, and whether these means of having children are best for children.

So there are some sobering implications for society at that level.  And if Christians want to exercise their political freedoms in pointing such things out they should be able to do so without being called bigots.  Calling Christians homophobic for having a view on sexuality is like calling Buddhists carnophobes for having a view on meat-eating. Errington's contribution is a model of clear-thinking Christian engagement at that political level.

On this blog, Paul Blackham has written Legal Recognition of Marriage and the Way of Jesus. Without denying the gravity of the social shift we're witnessing , Paul's introduction gives a much needed sense of perspective:

Pagan and non-Christian societies provide legal status and support for the kinds of marriage that express their basic beliefs about humanity, sexuality and marriage.  Pagan societies almost universally see marriage as polygamous [and occasionally polyandrous] with various legal provisions made for concubinage.  Under both communism and fascism, definitions of marriage have been used that were quite alien to the local Christian churches.  Greek and Roman definitions of marriage and sexuality are a well documented point of deep divergence with the local churches of the early centuries.  If Europe returns to its pagan ancestry then, naturally, it will return to those ancient, non-Christian definitions of marriage and sexuality.

Someone asked me, with evident shock, if I could imagine what would happen if the current redefinitions of marriage led to things like polygamy?  It was very sweet really.  Christian churches have often lived under legal systems that recognise polygamy and it has been [and still is] quite a common form of legal marriage around the world. Local churches have lived under legal systems that recognised same-sex partnerships in the ancient world and we are doing so again now.  Yes, it can be a shock to realise that we live in a non-Christian society and we do not have any privileged status or power.  Yet, this has been quite normal for local churches down the ages and it is, in fact, what Jesus told us to expect...

Paul goes on to hold up the local church as the place where the true meaning of marriage needs to be fought for and displayed (read here).

(If the consequences for the Church of England concern you, Jonathan Chaplin offers a solution that works just fine in many other countries - it involves getting out of the registrar business!)

And if all this sounds like a retreat from the public sphere, let me assure you I'm all in favour of preaching the gospel publicly.  Not the fruits of the gospel, mind you.  The gospel.

Here's an evangelistic talk seeking to make sense of the Christian vision of sex and sexuality (and these are some other posts: here and here).  You'll notice that integral to these approaches are beliefs about Trinity, creation, fallen-ness and union with Christ.  It seems to me this is the properly Christian footing on which to stand. But these things are not at all obvious to anyone debating at the political level!

So, yes, let's grieve for a society that has drifted so far from the gospel. Let's prepare for more of the persecution that is the norm all over the world (not to mention in the Bible). Absolutely, we can be concerned for the freedom of Christian expression - maintaining our right to 'appeal to Caesar' as Paul does at points. But let's not be shocked that new generations, so ignorant of the gospel, find gospel living incomprehensible. Of course they do. And let's not be under any illusions about how to "fight" this trend.  Let's look at our own marriages, our own churches.  And let's get preaching the good news of Jesus.

3 thoughts on “Some thoughts on same-sex marriage (plundered from others)

  1. Cal

    "The success of same-sex marriage will not only marginalise the principle that biological parenthood is normal and best. It will mean that the discussion of whether children need their biological mother and father is over for good, because such a claim will be regarded as discriminatory against the necessarily non-biological parent or parents in a same-sex marriage."

    I don't understand this concern. Nature should never be a guide-book on what Christians do. Kill rather than be killed is also a 'natural' ethic, but that doesn't mean that's the sort of behavior Christians ought to engage in. Rather, it's the contrary. I believe in a common grace where the order is upheld for the Kingdom to work, but I'm not natural-theologian.

    And in this same vein, what does this say about adoption? It implies that couples adopting children is inferior to a biologically generated one. I don't think that's his intent, but you can run the argument that way.

    The Church needs to cut itself from this race. It's nonsense, and as Paul said, if Europe/America goes back to its Pagan roots (which I'd argue they never quite abandoned, just more syncretism) then what else would we expect?

    I'm comfortable acknowledging that homosexuality may have some of its reality tied up in a natural disposition. But so is the desire for multiple partners heterosexuals may be engaged in. The natural does not justify what constitutes The Way.

    I agree with you Glenn about the Gospel being a public proclamation. However, that means we ought to be loving and dying with Christ on our lips. Let anyone call the Church bigots, however let them choke it out as they reluctantly realize the fact that Christians welcome in all, love all, and sacrifice for others. That's not how it is, but something we ought to strive towards.

    I'm convinced that marriage is constituted by a man and woman in a life-long one-flesh union that can image the Gospel. I'm also convinced the celibate life is a dependence on the Lord that can image the Gospel. The Church needs to be pro-Gospel, not pro-marriage. Marriage/family-life is a common thing, like work or friendships, that can echo the message that Jesus is Lord.

    2 cents,

  2. Glen

    Hi Cal,

    I think Errington's point is that biological connection is "normal and best", not that it's "the only" or the "always optimal" option. I think he's right that this is one (of many) breaks in the link between marriage and children and one that will be very difficult to reverse, since to disagree with "normal and best" will be to discriminate against same-sex couples.

    But that whole section of the post was merely to say that 1) there are much deeper issues than sexuality going on here and 2) there are ways of making a case for traditional marriage that are not homophobic.

    The real burden of what I wanted to say was in the second half of the post. And you have summed that position up brilliantly: "The Church needs to be pro-Gospel, not pro-marriage."

  3. Howard

    De Botton's observation is telling. If, as Atheists see it, religion's value is "to serve two central needs which continue to this day: the need to live together in communities in harmony, and the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to failure", then the emerging attention on gay relationships, not only in our society, but, as witnessed in the Church of Scotland this week, amidst the Christian community itself highlights the continuing fracture of the first (Christianity itself rightly nourished by the Gospel) because, at least in part, of the agony of the latter (behavior and definition derived from personal and individual experience) - hence, the need for finding "someone".

    Fallen culture will always be primarily grouped around the desire to be rid of the claim which God has upon us (Psalm 2:3), either through atheism (2 Peter 3:3), or religion (Luke 18:11). The trail of our times for us may well become focused on the wound of the mutilation of God's redemptive purposes within the church (as it has, for many reasons, in previous times), whilst a polarization of secular and religious forces occur around us.
    As Glen rightly concludes, we must indeed seek to be those who are blameless, holding out the word of life amidst such a crooked and twisted generation (Phillippians 2:15, 16).

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