Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The mystery of marriage

Rumbling around the world, well, to be precise the Western world, is a debate about marriage, with special reference to 'same sex' or 'gay' marriage. Part of me would like to post at some length and with some detail my own thoughts on this debate. But right now, and for a few weeks to come, I have no time to engage in depth. Another part of me wants to have as little to do with the debate as possible. It seems to be a debate with a lot of potential for ad hominem remarks, for more heat than light. "What? You don't support gay marriage? Are you homophobic or what?" "You do support gay marriage? How can you call yourself a biblical Christian? The sooner the church separates itself off from heretics like you the better!"

For now I simply want to note a variety of posts currently being read around the traps, directly or indirectly related to the larger debate about marriage.

Here is Peter Collier (a local colleague in Christchurch) arguing a position on consistent following of the Old Testament laws by New Testament Christians in "What about shellfish?"

Actually, local colleagues feature prominently today. Fr Ron Smith takes us on his blog to an article about reported remarks by a German Archbishop which equate heterosexual relationships to same sex relationships (but note comment to post). Could the Roman view on such matters be Obama-like 'evolving'?

Bosco Peters posts a witty chart about biblical marriage.

David Ould (local in Down Under terms, as he resides in Sydney rather than Christchurch) keeps us up to date with the logic of the Bishop of Gippsland. Troubling brewing across the ditch between New South Wales and Victoria ... but, hey, what's new news about that :)

Finally, someone I have never met nor corresponded with, a well-known Kiwi media personality, Alison Mau tells folk to chill out re same-sex relationships. I note her views here because of her use of the word 'normal' in respect both of same sex relationships and families where children are being raised by same sex parents. What is 'normal' in respect of marriage and families? Who gets to decide what is 'normal'? These two questions sit within that larger debate about marriage which is rumbling round the Western world.

My questions flowing out of these posts? How do we understand the Bible on marriage and human sexuality? Can we find a univocal voice there? How do we treat people with respect and dignity as they make choices in life which might not be the choices we ourselves would make? What is collegiality and fellowship in God's church today?

30 comments:

Joshua Bovis said...

Peter

How do we understand the Bible on marriage and human sexuality? Can we find a univocal voice there? How do we treat people with respect and dignity as they make choices in life which might not be the choices we ourselves would make? What is collegiality and fellowship in God's church today? How do we understand the Bible on marriage and human sexuality?

There are two forms of sexual expression that God endorses:
1. sex in the context of heterosexual marriage
2. celibacy of the unmarried.

Can we find a univocal voice there?

I would say yes, the voice of Scripture. When it comes to any sexual expression outside of the two above, it is always presented negatively in Scripture, be it homsexual acts or heterosexual fornication.

How do we treat people with respect and dignity as they make choices in life which might not be the choices we ourselves would make?
Those who are proponents of homosexual expression would (and do) say that the only way that homosexuals can be shown respect and dignity is to give full endorsement, legitmacy and blessing to their chosen lifestyle. However in light of the clear teaching of Scripture on this issue, for me it would seriously unloving of me to endorse homosexual expression and say that God blesses it when he clearly does not. However they would not deem me to be loving and I know no way of convincing them otherwise.

What is collegiality and fellowship in God's church today? </quote) Although this is a good question, I think this a question that should be answered on its own though I will say that I think that what is largely constituted as 'fellowship' is not real fellowship in the Biblical sense.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Joshua,
My own thinking is not very different from your own. But I recognise that some other Christians see less univocity, especially once we acknowledge a significant gap between the reality of divorce and remarriage today and what Jesus and Paul taught about the indissolubility of marriage.

carl jacobs said...

Peter Carrell

The gap you observe between the teachings of Scripture and the modern practice of the church is a marker of the hypocrisy of the church. It is not an expression of valid authority set over Scripture. We should strive to conform our practice to the Scriptural teaching and not to the spirit du jour.

What does that mean? It means you own the fact that remarriage (absent a few Scriptural exceptions) produces an inherently adulterous relationship and nothing can make it non-adulterous. It means you enforce church discipline on couples who re-marry. Teach it. Preach it. Practice it. Be willing to suffer the consequences of it.

carl

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl,
The gap might be our hypocrisy. Would you be open to considering that the gap might be our pastoral practice, flowing from our compassion, mercy and grace to those for whom a first marriage has become a human tragedy?

David Ould said...

especially once we acknowledge a significant gap between the reality of divorce and remarriage today and what Jesus and Paul taught about the indissolubility of marriage.

But surely, Peter, the correct response to that is to simply observe that many in the church today have moved away from what the Lord and His Apostle said about marriage and note that in doing so they have erred? Rather than simply stating it as a fait d'accompli that we have to somehow accommodate.

David Ould said...

Bosco Peters posts a witty chart about biblical marriage.

It's witty, but it's a bogus argument making no distinction between (as Josh so helpfully points out) that which the Scripture endorses and good and holy and that which it describes as either a plain aberration of the norm or a gracious concession.

David Ould said...

Would you be open to considering that the gap might be our pastoral practice, flowing from our compassion, mercy and grace to those for whom a first marriage has become a human tragedy?

It really depends, doesn't it? It seems to me you're almost at the point where you're going to have to argue that our Lord and His Apostle had flawed pastoral practice.

Joshua Bovis said...

But I recognise that some other Christians see less univocity, especially once we acknowledge a significant gap between the reality of divorce and remarriage today and what Jesus and Paul taught about the indissolubility of marriage.

Peter, I don't think people have changed that much down the centuries as we would like to think. I think the issue of divorce, adultery and remarriage were real issues for God's people in the 1st century as it is for Christians in the 21st century.

My understanding of divorce is:
1. There are only few circumstances when it is valid (adultery, if an unbeliever leaves). I must confess that I believe that there needs to be discussion of what constitutes a person 'leaving'. It is only physical leaving, or if a husband is abusive to his wife - in effect has he left the marriage (I would say yes).

2. Christians are not to committ adultery. I remember once hearing the account of a minister talking about adultery and he said this:

The problem I have seen with Christians couples when it comes to adultery is that they say to me "Pastor, I know adultery is wrong, I know what Jesus says about it"; the problem is that they simply don't do what Jesus says.

I too Peter acknowledge the significant gap between the reality of divorce and remarriage today and what Jesus and Paul taught about the indissolubility of marriage but as you and I know, we must filter our culture through the grid of Holy Scripture, not the other way round. So I think the burden of proof is not on what Scripture teaches about marriage, but on Christians who have a view that is inconsistent with what Scripture teaches about marriage.

carl jacobs said...

Peter Carrell

Would you be open to considering that the gap might be our pastoral practice, flowing from our compassion, mercy and grace to those for whom a first marriage has become a human tragedy?

By what authority would you overturn a Scriptural imperative? "Pastoral practice" isn't an authority. And what limits would you apply? Is there any sin you wouldn't accommodate for the sake of "pastoral practice?" If so, then what is the point of church discipline? If not, why not? Why does divorce get special treatment?

carl

Anonymous said...

I always find it interesting that people draw a live between homosexual activity and the blessing of the same and divorce and remarriage to the extent that they imply it’s both or none.

If you take a hard line on divorce and remarriage I guess you would have to hope that you are “lucky” enough to have your spouse commit adultery (as John Stott points out with a certain tragic irony) Or maybe you would be “lucky” enough to have say the mother or father of any children die.

What about the one like myself who did not want divorce. Did not ask for divorce. Did not sign papers to initiate divorce and refused to co sign papers but I’m divorced.

Do I have to hope that my ex commits adultery or even the mother of my children dies. The first one does not worry me, but the second certainly does for the sake of my children.

When I think of Jesus words in regards divorce it was a pastoral one in light of the fact that we don’t live in a perfect world. Stott does have some interesting comments about what constitutes marital unfaithfulness and we somewhat limit faithfulness when we make it a purely sexual thing.

Personally I think as long as there is acknowledgement that marriage is meant to be for life, that it always takes two to make and or break a relationship.

Further, there is repentance over the fact that the ideal had not been reached and work in the how that there will not be a repeat of the first failure remarriage I think is an option.

I have not even opened up the pastoral implications of a mother or father caring for children alone and the positive effects of that job being shared by a healthy and I hope somewhat healed cross gender couple.

Please forgive that I am doing this as an anonymous post. I am doing so for the sake of my ex.

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Anonymous, Carl, David, Joshua

Anonymous, you are most welcome to post such an email as 'anonymous'.

Carl, David and Joshua: if in my pastoral practice I stand accused of bending towards compassion, mercy and grace rather than upholding the strict letter of Jesus and Paul teaching ... excellent! But I am most concerned to learn how you respond to people when they come to you seeking to be remarried after a divorce. Are they all turned away unless an act of adultery etc led to the breakdown of the first marriage? Please don't tell me you find some way to soothe the teaching of Paul and Jesus to fit the circumstances ... and, are you going to tell me that a young person who made a bad mistake in a first marriage (perhaps entered into within the pressured context of Christian life re expectations) is unable to ever marry again, must be denied having a family with a supportive spouse because ... we cannot find any accommodation between life today and Jesus' and Paul's teaching?

David Ould said...

hi anon,

What about the one like myself who did not want divorce. Did not ask for divorce. Did not sign papers to initiate divorce and refused to co sign papers but I’m divorced.

I think I'd say that it more than goes towards grounds for the "abandonment" that Paul writes about. You should, however, decide in your own mind if you are free to remarry and also find a minister who, in good conscience, also agrees with you.

David Ould said...

if in my pastoral practice I stand accused of bending towards compassion, mercy and grace rather than upholding the strict letter of Jesus and Paul teaching ... excellent!

What a curious position to be in that you would uphold a "compassionate" position as contrary to what Jesus said. He is the most merciful man that I've ever met and yet you imply His position is incorrect.

You then make a number of assumptions as to what I would or wouldn't do, but this last sentence is telling:

we cannot find any accommodation between life today and Jesus' and Paul's teaching?

Again, you give every impression that Jesus and Paul didn't really know what they were talking about and that we need to somehow "accomodate" them. Are they the Lord and His Apostle or not?

Joshua Bovis said...

Peter,

I realise that even amongst Reformed Anglicans there are differences. This is off the cuff, but there are three views pertaining to a Christian remarrying after divorce:
1. Re-marriage after divorce for any reason is wrong.

2. Re-marriage after divorce is allowable in some circumstances but the new spouse must be a believer.

3. Re-marriage after divorce is allowable for any reason and it does not matter if the new spouse is a believer.

I hold to the 2nd view. As for what those circumstances are, it is pastorally difficult and must be approached discerningly, sensitivel and scripturally. I have met Christians who divorced for reasons other than adultery, but they were (for the want of a better expression) divorced against. They did everything to try and reconcile. They ended up divorced, and devestated.

The other issue I wrestle with Peter pastorally is a situation I have not dealt with, (perhaps you have?); what if a Christian marriage dissolves due to immaturity, stubborness and pride and these three factors prevented reconciliation and lead to divorce? (Are you with me?) Then, one or both parties remarried, but then realised that it was their sin that lead to their divorce. Of course they cannot divorce their new spouse and go back to the old one. Of course I would want to meet with such a couple before divorce happened. What to do?

We live in a such a sinful and also messy world don't we?

Of course the ideal (and one that in Christ is attainable and desirable) is that divorce should not happen in the first place.

Father Ron Smith said...

"it would seriously unloving of me to endorse homosexual expression and say that God blesses it when he clearly does not." - Joshua Bovis

Well, here's a case of 'sola scriptura' if ever I saw one. It might be nice and comfortable to have such a clearly unequivocal understanding of God's mind on human relationships - and so good when one's-self is 'not -guilty' of sexual activity outside of the covenant of heterosexual marriage (once only - unless widowed).

However, the Good News of Christ's Gospel may not be for you blokes; who are clearly righteous in the sight of God - sexually, anyway, if not pride-wise.

I hope none of you has to deal with a genuine 'sexual sinner' outside of your own righteous enclave. You would be of no use in the important ministry of reconciliation. Jesus seems not to have been so picky as your good selves, on the sort of sins he was really concerned about, and hypocrisy was one of them.

"I came, not to heal the well, but the sick" - The Church's Ministry!

You all seem to be so fenced off from the real world, I'm not sure you'd survive a ministry out there.

God have mercy on me, a sinner!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David,
I hope I made no assumptions about what you would or wouldn't do in such circumstances, but I did invite a response to questions. That's okay if you do not want to answer them.

I am intrigued by your response to 'Anonymous' as I had not thought that such 'abandonment' was what Paul was talking about. I must not assume I know all there is to know about Paul!

As for me and the teaching of Jesus and Paul: it is not clear to me that Paul or Jesus would say exactly what they said if posed with the kind of question which (say) anonymous raises above, or the kind of situation which tragically arises all too frequently in Western Christianity, where a youthful first marriage irretrievably breaks down (without adultery being committed). I appreciate that some readers here might understand Jesus and Paul being perfectly clear about such things. I am not so clear myself.

In general terms I find that pastoral practice/reality often throws up challenges best negotiated with grace, mercy and compassion rather than strict application of the words of Scripture.

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, I'm seriously wondering whether I should continue to presume upon your hospitality on your thread. Now that David Ould is a frequent visitor and preacher on ADU, I think my work here might just be done.

God has gone up with a merry noise, Alleluia!

He has gone up with the sound of the trumpet, Alleluia, Alleluia!

David Ould said...

But Peter, I think you know all too well what Jesus actually says, otherwise why would you have to "accommodate" it?

I've told a couple before now that I can't, in good conscience, marry them and explained well. They were very gracious. On another occassion I've been quite prepared to remarry a man in your described situation of "youthful first marriage" since his former wife was remarried. I just required him to go back to her and her family and apologise to them for the breakdown that he himself admitted he was responsible for. He didn't want to do it and so he went his own way.

My general rule is

if "abandoned" (and I take Joshua's caveat on this) then they are free
if the other party is remarried, they are free
if their relationship was itself the cause of a previous marriage breakdown then I will not be part of it.

The interesting thing I've found is that I've never come across a situation that was not actually clearly addressed by the Scriptures. I've felt the pull once to marry a couple that I knew I shouldn't and, by God's good grace, I was able to hold to what He had already set out in the Scriptures. After a while one begins to suspect that the "accommodation" is actually simply a breaking of the good law which Christ gave us and, to be frank, a rather presumptuous arrogance that we know better than He. Your description of "strict application of the word of Scripture" might be better understood, I would suggest as, faithful trusting obedience to the word of the Lord Jesus.

I guess the way to find out how seriously we really do take Jesus' injunctions is to try out test cases.

Joshua Bovis said...

In general terms I find that pastoral practice/reality often throws up challenges best negotiated with grace, mercy and compassion rather than strict application of the words of Scripture

Can one be faithful to Scripture and show grace, mercy and compassion? Does the former abrogate the latter? In my view it should not.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
You and David Ould are most welcome here. However I need to say to you that your reply to Joshua Bovis only just made it through moderation: there is absolutely no need to move from disagreeing with a quite reasonable proposition put forward by him to more or less calling him a hypocrite. Tell us why you disagree with a statement rather than your presumptions about the moral state of the statement maker!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Joshua (@5.43pm),

I agree with much of what you say. With respect to the issue you raise, I have no question in my mind that no good is served by a remarried person divorcing in order to go back to a previous wife. Two wrongs don't make a right. Divorce in such a situation would be most unjust to the new spouse.

Re @6.32pm: A key word in what I said is "strict".

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David,
I think we may have to agree to disagree. In my reading of Paul I find what he says applies to one and only one ground of abandonment (re believing in Christ), and I do not find Jesus making an exception on the grounds that the other spouse has remarried. (I am not saying you are wrong; just that I am not reading Jesus across the gospels saying such a thing).

I admire your clear handling of tricky situations, and I am glad that you have found people to be mostly gracious and kind about the way you handle such matters.

David Ould said...

and I do not find Jesus making an exception on the grounds that the other spouse has remarried

Granted, He does not address that directly but, as we all agree, once one party has remarried that surely leaves the other free? Once the other party has remarried the possibility of the original marriage being restored is over.

and Ron is a fine one to speak of others lacking in grace.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David,

I think I should frame your words,

"Granted, He does not address that directly but, as we all agree, once one party has remarried that surely leaves the other free?"

Once we acknowledge that Jesus does not deal with some situations directly, grace, mercy and compassion may be our best guides as to what to do.

David Ould said...

Peter, I'm not sure that's what you're advocating for, is it? You repeatedly seem to suggest that we should do things that Jesus has said we should not do, on the basis that it is merely a "strict reading of the law".

So I'm advocating for common sense where there's silence in the scriptures - you appear to advocate for contradicting the scriptural commands. It does well for us to recognise that difference.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David,
If I have said things which suggest I am advocating contradicting Jesus then I have not written very well.

My point re "strict" would be closer to your point about "silence" and "common sense." I would say that strictly speaking Jesus does not allow for the exception you think is allowed for; but your argument is that Jesus has not directly addressed that case, so common sense applied to it leads to it being permitted.

David Ould said...

I see. So can I cheekily test your principle?

A 35 year old man comes to you. Divorcee. He got married at 22 and his marriage "fell apart" at 24. He recognises, with the maturity of hindsight, that he contributed no small part to that break-up, mainly by immaturity on his part. There was no adultery on either side. His former wife is not remarried and is not in a long-term relationship.

Would you marry that man to another woman?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David
On the face of it, no.

The thing I find about life is that it rarely matches the hypothetical cases. The first wife turns out to be locked up in a mental hospital, or a nun. The 35 year old has come to be married because his bride to be is expecting triplets. Or its my favourite nephew and there will be a chill in the air at Christmas if I refuse to take his wedding :)

David Ould said...

then Peter I honestly am befuddled as to why you make such a big deal of "showing grace"? What is this hypothetical (or, better yet, actual) situation where you went against the "strict letter of the law"? You obviously have something in mind.

If there was no such situation then why paint yourself in such a way?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David,
My point is that in the real life cases (starting from your example ... the former wife is incurably mentally ill, the proposed next wife is pregnant), I do not think Jesus' words strictly speaking permit a marriage to take place. Grace and mercy lead me to take the wedding. Saying 'no' to the example as you stated it is honouring the words of Jesus: the first marriage still exists and might be restorable.

I am sorry if you remain befuddled!