Monday, March 19, 2012

Making sense of 'gay marriage' in a post-Christendom West

If Damian Thompson is to be believed, and I think he makes sense, 'gay marriage' is on the British political agenda because, well, there are votes in it. Not lots of Christian votes (though there will be some) but secularist, atheist post-modern young adults' votes, of which there are an increasing number and to which David Cameron's antennae are tuned. Accordingly, key political figures are lining up with key cultural figures in a kind of trans-Westminster/media/cultural elite 'three line whip' to ensure it happens. Woe betide the church (Anglican or Catholic) standing in the way of this change.

Something similar is at work in parts of the States, including a bit of a push at federal level, but the States is a little more complicated (e.g. because such changes get worked on at both state and federal level). It is also emerging in Oz, but not here in NZ (yet).

This political bulldozer threatens to flatten theological questions which push up from the legislative roadway (see reflection here at Catholicity and Covenant, and follow through to link to a provocative Milbank essay. I hope to come back to this soon at ADU).

At the very least Christians have a challenging path to walk in responding to this kind of political agenda.

It is quite correct and appropriate for Christians to ask for space (the same space Muslims seek re 'gay marriage') within our 'liberal' and 'multi-cultural' Western societies  to explore in teaching and in practice our commitment to gender difference in marriage as foundational in our traditio-biblical understanding of marriage. However I do not put it past the confusion in the minds of leaders of Western societies in the 21st century to pick on Christians and give Muslims a free pass on this particular matter. (I have no idea whether, one day, a free pass might be given re polygamy in the West). To an extent that confusion is understandable when some Christians within our midst (e.g. the Giles Frasers in Britain) have so readily given up on the traditio-biblical understanding of marriage having gender difference at is foundation.

Conversely, it is inappropriate for Christians to act and speak as though in a post-Christendom world it nevertheless retains control of legal definition of marriage. Some speech of this kind (in my view) all too easily transmutes in the media's reporting to "Look, the church is opposed to gay people" which, frankly, is not a good look since we do not generally engage in conduct "opposed to [full in the space] people".

Nevertheless if we walk this pathway well, I wonder if we are going to be unable to avoid some conflict. One problem which I do not think is being aired in the promotion of 'gay marriage' is that inevitably a lack of gender distinction in law about marriage must change the climate in which marriage may be publicly spoken about. Speaking about marriage in a presumptive way that a 'husband' and a 'wife' might be constitutive of it - a natural way for Christians to speak - could incur a day in court because of public demonstration of prejudice against 'gay marriages'. One line in the promotion of 'gay marriage' is that it is a nonsense to say that it will further the breakdown of marriage. What is not being discussed is that the promotion of 'gay marriage' will inhibit the way we discuss marriage because there will be no legal protection for those who wish in such discussions to make a distinction between marriages between men and women and marriages between people of the same gender.

Actually, so far, even the advocates of 'gay marriage' have not been able to avoid the use of the phrase 'gay marriage' which is a sign that, in fact, Christians are right: marriage between a man and a woman' is not the same as 'marriage' between two men or between two women.

I wrote most of the above in draft form before having a read of Milbank's essay. In my view, albeit with different analysis and critique, Milbank's essay underscores what I am saying here: in Christian perspective gender difference is intrinsic to Christian understanding of marriage. What may be important about his essay as we reflect on it and discuss it (and I hope there is wide discussion of it) is that it models how Christians might publicly talk about marriage in a manner which is not against gay people.

POSTSCRIPT: Austen Ivereigh has a lovely, irenic essay, also posted on ABC.

27 comments:

Suem said...

I think Miliband is writing rubbish here, and I think your fears/ points are also groundless or invalid.

You write:
Actually, so far, even the advocates of 'gay marriage' have not been able to avoid the use of the phrase 'gay marriage' which is a sign that, in fact, Christians are right: marriage between a man and a woman' is not the same as 'marriage' between two men or between two women.

The term "gay marriage" is often used to specifically refer to the proposed marriage of same sex couples. Equally the term "marriage" is sometimes used, as in "the Government is proposing to extend marriage to all." In the same way, if someone is divorced and remarried, I might refer to their "remarriage". A mixed race or mixed orientation marriage might be referred to as such. I have never heard anyone claim that this is "sign that it not in fact a marriage". My husband was widowed before he married me. He sometimes refer to his "second marriage" - I have never heard anyone say "Ah, so that is a sign it is not actually the same as other marriages..." I suppose a second marriage is both the same, and different from "other" marriages. It is the different because it is a second marriage and it is the same because it is a marriage! It is simple really, isn't it?
Thus same sex marriage is different from opposite sex marriage in that it is between persons of the same sex and the same because it is a marriage.

Shawn said...

Peter,

"It is quite correct and appropriate for Christians to ask for space (the same space Muslims seek) within our 'liberal' and 'multi-cultural' Western societies"

For me, this approach is the fundamental flaw in much Church thinking on this issue.

First, rather than "seeking space" (which we will never get anyway), we should be carrying out our God-given mission to make disciples of the nations. A disciple is one who sits at the feet of his teacher and learns in obedience. The Biblical phrase "the Nations" means not merely a few individuals, it means the nation, from the state to the individual. Playing political games with an ideology (secular humanism and its various offspring) that is inherently Godless and anti-Christian is pointless.

Either the liberal state will disciple us, by force, or we will disciple the liberal state and bring it under the rod of Christ's rule. Those are the only two possible outcomes.

Make no mistake. The liberal state will, and already is, using the law to force Christians to abandon their faith and their loyalty to Christ. Cameron, who is not remotely a Conservative, is fine about this. And the New Zealand parties on the left (and possible National as well) will sooner or later follow.

Sadly, the Anglican Church in the West has such a narrow and truncated view of mission that it has allowed a cancer to grow in the West unchecked. In fact many Anglican leaders have happily enabled and supported this cancer.

Nor is this just about our relations to the state. It manifests in "inter-faith dialogue", where we grant "space" to false religions (and in the case of Islam, a religion that has always been a serious threat to the Church). How is that making disciples?

So we need to radically re-think our understanding of mission, and return to Christ's own words on the matter. "Make disciples of ALL nations."

The other issue is less about the Church than about the West. Liberalism and multi-culturalism are the ideologies of a minority of urban/global elites, forced upon Western peoples through a mixture of deception, guilt-mongering, legal threat, and outright treason.

That is why we have such things as the Race Relations Conciliator, the Human Rights Commission, and the various other organs of elite power. They do not exist to actually protect or promote any reasonable notion of rights or ethnic relations. They exist to force an alien ideology on the peoples of the West, and to enable the destruction of Western people’s traditional faith and culture.

Worse, this process has been allowed to corrupt the Church, through the so-called "social justice" commissions, which have nothing whatever to do with real justice.

At some point Western peoples must awaken from their sleep, and throw off this alien state and the power elites which enable it, and renew and restore their traditional faith, culture and rights, both in the Diaspora and in our ancient homelands.

Both of these reformations can only come about if we stop thinking small, and allow ourselves to think big, to dream big dreams, and stop playing pointless political games. We have been given a mission by our Lord. Not to surrender to Caesar, but to tell him to get on his knees and repent.

carl jacobs said...

Western man has largely abandoned the idea that he is a created being. His vision of himself is fundamentally evolutionary, and evolution provides no space for created boundaries on the will of man. He lives in a world of self-creation where he may bend reality to his desires. Does a man fancy himself a woman in defiance of his chromosomes? Then he is a woman. Does a man desire to have sex with another man in defiance of complementarity? Then he should act on his desire. There is no limit because there is no law. There is no law because there is no lawgiver. There is only the radical freedom of man to do as he pleases - subject only to his fear of what might be done to him in turn.

Against this tide stands the Christian who says "Thus is it written..." and the modern world responds "Written by whom? There is no one in authority over me but me." That world knows the boundaries it desires to transgress. It understands quite well the nature of the restraints it seeks to cast aside. Those restraints exist to limit behaviors in the service of selfish and self-centered ends. It is precisely those selfish and self-centered ends that it seeks to enable. The "judgmentalism" it perceives from the Christian faith is nothing but an affirmation of those moral boundaries that the world has rejected. There is very little the Christian can do in response to accommodate this reaction of the world. Good and evil are what they are. We must be faithful in our witness.

As the western word slowly reverts to the natural pagan state of man, it will become increasingly difficult for the Christian to maintain that witness without substantial risk. We really shouldn't be surprised at this, however. It is the natural state of the world for most believers. We have existed so long in a culture that is defined by its Christian roots, we don't know how to stand in opposition to our own culture. It time to learn, I guess.

In the meantime, we will have to live with the consequences of what will happen as the states in which we live systematically dismantle civilization around us. They don't know what they are doing, and by the time they learn, it will be too late. The easy secularism is too unstable to endure. What comes after will be considerably less civilized and considerably more lethal.

carl

Peter Carrell said...

I am not sure, Suem, that John Milbank would feel particularly flattered to be mistaken for one of the Labour band of brothers!

I simply disagree with you. Whether it is my third or fourth marriage and my wife's first or sixth marriage, in our marriage we are engaged in working out a union of difference, male and female trying to comprehend and care for the differentiated other, while developing, in Milbank's theology, the 'story' from which our children come. The same does not apply in a 'gay marriage' and no amount of parsing of marriage or passing of laws to change definition overcomes the difference in realities.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Shawn,
What you say and what I say are, I suggest, compatible. The church simply has to seek the space it needs in the context of the world and its socio-political realities today but it should also be re-evangelising the world!

Suem said...

I know that you think that, Peter, but that is entirely different from saying that the very WORDING "same sex marriage" is "a sign Christians are right" ( ie: that it is not a marriage.)It would mean that logically the same would apply to any marriage which we sometimes "differentiate" ie "mixed race marriage" or "second marriage".

Peter Carrell said...

I do not agree at all, Suem with your argument here.

"same sex marriage' or 'gay marriage' is being challenged in terms of it being sensible or non-sensible, because (so many argue), "same sex" or "gay" consitutes a contradiction of the meaning of "marriage".

A "third" or "mixed race" or "Christian-Muslim" or "new" or "long-lasting" description of marriage involves a completely sensible, non-contradictory description about a marriage.

Suem said...

Let's think about second marriage in the case of the death of a spouse.

You might be interested to know, or might indeed know, that both Tertullian and St Augustine and many of the early Church fathers and writers considered a second marriage after death (ie such as my marriage) to be adulterous. St Augustine (generally one of my favourite writers and thinkers) said "even from the union of the man and woman, marriage has a sacramental character which can no way be dissolved by the death of one of them." Athenagorus linked his ideas on this to Christ's teaching on divorce.
http://www.theologicalstudies.org.uk/article_divorce_snuth.html
So, these gentlemen might argue that the term "second marriage" was illogical. So, our ideas about marriage seem to have changed quite a lot don't they? You in fact are terribly liberal compared to Augustine and Tertullian.
The Church has not always thought, or taught or preached a consistent view of marriage.

Suem said...

Anyhow, your point wasn't whether you thought it was contradictory or non sensible. Your point was that the fact of it "needing" a qualifier (not that it does always need that qualifier) invalidated it in some way. Which, as you see, is not the case.

Peter Carrell said...

I wouldn't follow Tertullian and Augustine on everything (and, as you probably know, the latter is particularly ignored in the Christian East!).

But Tertullian, Augustine and I would be agreed with Milbank on differentiation.

Peter Carrell said...

I don't think my point, Suem, was about 'gay marriage' needing a qualifier, but about the fact that by using a qualifier proponents of 'gay marriage' offer a sign that they know it is a different kind of relationship to a 'marriage.'

Joshua Bovis said...

Peter,
On the question of how Christians might publicly talk about marriage in a manner which is not against gay people is very difficult.

Even when we speak the truth in love, the truth being that homosexual sexual expression is contrary to the created order and to Holy Scripture,and that it is symptomatic of an anti-God state of mind (just as heterosexual fornication is), those engaged in homosexual sexual expression will see us as being against them. The logic would be "If you really loved us and were not against gay people, you would endorse homosexual sexual expression and support gay marriage! The fact that you don't on both counts shows that you are homophobic".

Shawn said...

I endorse what Joshua has said. There just is no way to avoid the fact that no matter how carefully we phrase the issue, we are going to be labled as "against" people who struggle with homosexual compulsions, (which is, of course, not true). This does not mean that we should not be careful, we should. But the liberal world will hate us and attack us regardless.

The use of the term "homophobia" is proof of that. There is of course, no such thing. A phobia is a serious psychological condition, such as agoraphobia.

Being opposed to the normalisation of homosexual "marriage" is not a phobia, it is an opinion. But liberals use the word (in the same way they use words like racism) to demonise anyone who does not agree with their political ideology.

It is a no win situation.

Anonymous said...

Carl, I have to agree with your analysis - we live in very uncomfortable times, not aided by the inability of liberal and nominal Christians to 'get the big picture' of the dramatic cultural decline that has overtaken the west. People like Suem and Ron Smith don't get it any more than fish in a tank notice the water around them slowly turning toxic. This is the perennial error of liberalism: to privilege the contemporary as the apex of culture, to imagine that "progress" means going into the light rather than going off the road.
I am far from agreeing with Roman Catholicism on numerous things, but its inherent stability arises, I think, from its adherence to the ideas of revealed truth and natural law. Liberal Protestantism believes in neither and so is constantly revising and shifting its ground.
#Martin

Father Ron Smith said...

As I have said before, the word 'Marriage' in the Bible, is not restricted to heterosexual connubial partnerships. Indeed, we read of the "Marriage Feast of the Lamb", which has little to do with any solely human concept, and is a relationship of Christ with God's people - without any gender connotation whatsoever.

So let's not isolate 'Marriage' solely within the understanding of a heterosexual relationship! It simply is not Biblical!

The more I read on this site of people's objections to Same-Sex relationship, the more I identify them with the theocratic ethos of 'other religions. Christianity, in it's welcome to loving, monogamous relationships, is different from the legalism of the Scribes and the Pharisees. God made us different!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
I respectfully suggest to you as a colleague in ministry that you find better arguments for justifying the church changing its understanding of marriage. You do your cause no good at all by suggesting that the subtle metaphors involved in the marriage feast of the Lamb somehow manage to open up an understanding of marriage away from "man/woman" dualism (given that the Lamb = Christ = groom and the church = bride), nor by vilifying those who wish to hold to what I am calling a traditio-biblical understanding of marriage as adhering to the tehocratic ethos of other religions. If Christians are going to turn on one another in this way then we have not much going for us if we wish to acclaim the gospel of God's love.

I urge you to consider that there is everything in the gospel of God's love which calls upon Christians to treat all people with dignity and respect and nothing in that gospel which requires us to redefine marriage.

That some Christians such as yourself wish to redefine marriage is one thing: you are entitled to make your case. It is quite another to make a presumption that what you wish to argue may not be resisted by other Christians in the name of the God who blessed and sanctified marriage between man and woman.

Your argument would be better for not making that unnecessary and, frankly, unloving presumption.

Suem said...

I don't think my point, Suem, was about 'gay marriage' needing a qualifier, but about the fact that by using a qualifier proponents of 'gay marriage' offer a sign that they know it is a different kind of relationship to a 'marriage.'

Then (by pure logic) by using a qualifier, proponents of mixed-race marriage or second marriage, or remarriage must also offer a sign that they know it is a different kind of relationship to a "marriage".

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem,
Marriages may have qualifiers (we are agreed).

Qualifiers may offer a description of some aspect of a marriage which may be of pertinent in some form of communication. Thus it might be relevant to a conversation for me to note that "This is my second marriage" or "I am completely in favour of mixed race marriages". In some conversations it might be, analogously, relevant to note that "I am in a gay marriage" or "I am in favour of gay marriage."

But I am talking about a public conversation in which proponents of 'gay marriage' are arguing that such marriage is no different in kind from marriage as normally understood (i.e. to be a relationship between a man and a woman). I am suggesting that it is not possible to escape using the qualifier 'gay' in such conversations because of the embedded character of the definition of marriage in all human societies and thus the need to constantly and consistently overcome that embeddedness.

I am also suggesting that such embeddedness means that in such conversations the qualifier 'gay' is different to qualifiers such as 'second' or 'mixed race' or 'long-lasting'.

I do not think I can make myself clearer than that thus if you persist in disagreeing with me then we shall need to agree to differ.

Father Ron Smith said...

"That some Christians such as yourself wish to redefine marriage is one thing: you are entitled to make your case. It is quite another to make a presumption that what you wish to argue may not be resisted by other Christians" - Dr. Peter Carrell -

Peter, you misrtake me. I do not wish to 're-define Marriage'. I wish, rather, to extend it's meaning to other than that attached by Christian rigorists to solely heterosexual connotations.

If 'Marriage', in the Bible, can be a term related to a state of union 'betwixt Christ and His Church', it
may also, perhaps, humanly speaking, be extended to that relationship of deep unity between Same-Sex partners. That is all! And what is so repugnant about that?

Parameters of relationship are being extended all the time by modern civil society. Is God necessarily against such? - This might be a legitimate theological argument for you professional theologians to have to answer.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
We might keep talking past each other when you write this kind of thing:

"Peter, you misrtake me. I do not wish to 're-define Marriage'. I wish, rather, to extend it's meaning to other than that attached by Christian rigorists to solely heterosexual connotations."

My "redefine" is your "extend its meaning". I maintain you are redefining!

Incidentally I find it objectionable when I join with many Christians around the world in maintaining that marriage means a relationship involving a man and a woman that we are "rigorists". That is quite an unfair way to characterise those you disagree with. If you wanted to extend the meaning of 1+1=2 to include 2+1=2 would you call those who maintained that the latter was an interesting but invalid suggestion "rigorists"?!

Of course God is not necessarily against parameters of relationships being extended all the time by moder civil society. Who is arguing that?

What is being argued is whether each and every extension of the parameters of relationships is necessarily a good thing, blessed by God. Recently our society through parliament legitimated prostitution. We Christians do not jump to the conclusion (at least I hope we do not) that God is for prostitution.

Rosemary said...

It worries me somewhat that nobody ever speaks on behalf of those Christians who identify as gay, but who don’t identify as liking or wanting liberal theology. Here in New Zealand, one of our best known is Michael Parmenter who if you read this link printed in one of our more prestigious magazines .. http://www.listener.co.nz/culture/the-animal-body/ .. does not wish the church to declare good that which God has not declared good, but he DOES want us [I presume] to all identify as sinners. When we point the finger at others, and declare them good or bad, we are really saying an awful lot about ourselves, and not about anyone else.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary,
There is a real 'gap' as you point out. Apart from Michael Parmenter and one or two others, for instance, I cannot think of many gay Kiwi Christians who affirm orthodox theology.

Shawn said...

Ron,

"If 'Marriage', in the Bible, can be a term related to a state of union 'betwixt Christ and His Church', it
may also, perhaps, humanly speaking, be extended to that relationship of deep unity between Same-Sex partners. That is all! And what is so repugnant about that?"

The issue is not about it being "repugnant", the issue is on what Biblical grounds such a radical redefinition of marriage can be accepted. And Ron, widening the definition of marriage to include homosexuality IS a redefinition. No amount of words games can hide that.

The problem is that Christ Himself defines marriage in a "rigorist" way. He was far more restrictive than the Pharisees, who wanted to allow for easy divorce. So if you against a rigorist definition, your against Christ.

Human marriage in Scripture is positively defined and blessed by God in only one form, heterosexual monogamy.

That the word marriage is also used as a metaphor for Christ and the Church does not mean God is therefore open to homosexual relationships, and it is frankly a sign of how desperate the pro-SSB minority is that this kind of facile and pseudo-theological speculation has to be resorted to. In fact, given that the Church is our Mother, as Calvin said, then the marriage of Christ and the Church is in fact an affirmation of heterosexuality.

But the real problem Ron is that there is not one place, anywhere in Scripture, that says anything positive about homosexuality. Every Scriptural statement is negative, and in fact the hermeneutical trend in Scripture is from mildly negative to strongly negative.

Thus there is simply no basis on which to bless same sex marriage.

So do we follow the Pharisees in watering down marriage to suit ourselves? Or do we follow Christ's rigorist model?

Father Ron Smith said...

" I cannot think of many gay Kiwi Christians who affirm orthodox theology."


And now, Peter, all depends on what each of us, I suggest subjectively, identifies as 'orthodox'. For instance, my 'orthodoxy' may be your 'heresy', (and vice-versa). I suspect that to be the case when it comes to gender & sexuality.

Being a supporter of monogamous Same-Sex relationships, I maintain that my faith is orthodox, in terms of my belief in the seminal credal definitions of God in Christ. Please do not question my orthodoxy against your orthodoxy. Only God is the judge of what is truly orthodox

As for all this talk of sinners. We are ALL sinners, no-one is immune.

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, on your remark about the new attitude towards prostitution; you may be forgetting the attitude of Jesus towards the 'woman caught in the act of adultery' where the Righteous Ones were going to subject her to the legal punishment of the day -they were going to stone her to death! Whom did Jesus criticise, on that occasion? was it the adulterous (female) sinner? Or was it the self-righteous Pharisaical Sinner?

This delineation between categories of Sinner may please the so-called 'righteous'. But it may not please God.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
I am not thinking about stoning prostitutes, but I am thinking about not approving men paying women for sex, men objectifying women as sexual objects from whom they may obtain pleasure via cash transactions.

I trust that doesn't make me a modern day Pharisee, and I very sincerely hope no Christians think prostitution is morally okay for men to engage in.

Yours in gospel rigourism
Peter

Shawn said...

Ron claims:

"you may be forgetting the attitude of Jesus towards the 'woman caught in the act of adultery' where the Righteous Ones were going to subject her to the legal punishment of the day"

In fact they were not. The legal requirement was that both partners caught in adultery had to be present, and that was not the case. So Jesus was not overturning the Law, but pointing out that those present were not truly following it.

I find it interesting that Liberals always conveniently miss out the part where Jesus tells her to go and "sin no more."

"Please do not question my orthodoxy against your orthodoxy. Only God is the judge of what is truly orthodox"

We would not have the creeds were it not for the fact that holy men and women were prepared to question the orthodoxy of the Arians, and prepared to defend true orthodoxy, setting it out in creedal form. So Ron's claim about only God being able to judge makes no sense, and is contrary to the Anglican tradition, or any orthodox tradition for that matter.

On the issue of Ron's claim that other's are judging and being Pharisees, I would point out this extremely nasty and judgmental diatribe when he writes:

" The mean-spirited exclusivism of GAFCON has ensured that the Communion is now so busy fighting over 'moral rectitude', it has become bereft of Gospel Hospitality to the poor and the marginalised existing at the edges of society - even in the very dark places of GAFCON's own home territorial enclaves.

One could be very unlucky to meet a GAFCON Primate on the road when in real need."

This is one of the most hateful, unfair and judgmental posts I have read on this blog. Ron is claiming that Gafcon leaders would walk past someone who was in pain or need. He has no evidence for this, other than that they do not agree with his liberalism.

I cannot think of anything more Pharisaic and judgmental than that hate-filled screed.

So apparently we cannot judge Ron's orthodoxy, or anything he and other Liberals say, but he can make virulent judgments about the compassion of Primates living thousands of miles away, whom he has never met and that is acceptable.

Liberal hypocrisy at its best.