Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Marriage and friendship

Marriage is between a man and a woman, and always has been. But friendships are not so gender particular.

As we digest the recent Hermeneutical Hui, news from Britain of gay marriage passing the first legislative hurdle (by a very clear margin), and the fact that both our church (if Taonga's headline about the hui is correct) and the British parliament is out of sync with the CofE by being in disagreement with the ABC, it is worth thinking as clearly, as carefully and as care-fully as possible. We are, after all, as Christians, called to love God, Christ, his church, our brothers and sisters in Christ, family, friends, neighbours and even enemies: that is just a little bit suggestive of clarity, care and cherishing one another as we discern the right thing to do.

One of the most important things I heard said at the hui was said by a friend of mine who is both openly gay and living transparently with his partner. (In my words, save where quotation marks are used) he said that he sees marriage as involving complementarity and thus it does not work for two people of the same gender, rather he proposes the idea of "committed friendship."

Interestingly this line of thought (which he freely acknowledges is not a majority view within the gay community he moves within) accords with a perceptive note struck by Doug Chaplin as he reflects on the British parliamentary debate:

"There are, in short, new queer as well as old straight voices insisting that the two relationships are not the same kind of thing. Whether these relationships should be given equality in the same institution, or be given two equal but different institutions is a serious and genuine question."

(In passing, two good opinions re the Brit situation here and here).

"A serious and genuine question" strikes an important note as we debate matters here and elsewhere in these islands. Changing our definition of marriage whether at a popular or legislative or ecclesiological or theological level is "serious" and thus we should be able to ask "genuine questions" about what an alternative approach might be.

Notwithstanding some bold and imaginative attempts at the hui to argue that marriage, theologically, could be understood as encompassing any two persons and not simply a man and a woman, I and other conservatives remain unpersuaded that the case has been made. I would go further, personally, and say that the case cannot be made, that the embeddedness of complementarity, of the couple needing to be gender differentiated for marriage as revealed by God to his people to be the one flesh, potently procreative relationship intended by God is as unchangeable as 1+2=3.

Nevertheless if that conclusion is clear and careful thinking in respect of Scripture-based theology, what about the matter of care-fullness or cherishing of one another in Christ? How do we make space in our church, for instance, for my friend and his partner? From a conservative perspective can anything supportive be said about same sex couples who understand their relationship as a "committed friendship" and who may have entered into a "civil union" here or a "civil partnership" in the UK?

Something I hope we can say is that we believed in the value of committed friendships, of friends who identify their closeness in specific terms, "Fred is not just one of my many friends but my best friend. We are mates for life." Biblically we see such friendships in the obvious and much discussed examples of Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, and Jesus and the Beloved Disciple. That some make more of these examples in respect of blessed partnerships than others would like need to not deter us from finding common ground, that the Bible praises friendship and offers examples of 'particular friendships.'

Naturally the question arises (at least, I find it arises when these matters are discussed at an event such as the hui) whether sexual engagement between such friends is sinful or not. Alongside which question I also find very quickly we engage with (putting it politely) interesting interpretations of the stories of the three sets of characters mentioned above. (Indeed The Love of David and Jonathan is the title of a very recently published book by James Harding, one of the presenters at the hui, who lectures in Old Testament at Otago University. No greater depth has this relationship been explored than the words laid down therein by James). Such interesting readings of these stories, in my view, represent a fixed view that there are same sex relationships in which sex is not sinful and may even be in biblical contexts blessed by God

It is no part of my conservative reflection here to argue (again) that homosex is sinful. But it is part of my reflection to point out that while we are a church in which it may not be too late to steer towards "committed friendship" rather than "marriage" as description for covenanted same sex partnerships,  it is too late to undo the determination made by many that in such partnerships, sex is right, not wrong.

Thus, at least for those of us who are determined not to depart from our church, we must ask whether there is a way forward other than disunity. That is, if we could agree in our church, even better in the Communion as a whole, on affirming committed friendships while disagreeing on whether sex between two men or two women is sinful, how could we live together in Christ?

That, I think takes us to Romans 14-15, and the question of living with sharp disagreement in a united church. We should stop by there for a while before assessing other options, whether +Jim White's "we just would stay together, like pacifists and militarists" or (without attaching the idea to any one named leader in our church) the possibility of new episcopal arrangements for our church.

On Waitangi Day, here in Aotearoa NZ, where we celebrate our differences as two peoples and wonder about our unity as one country, that might be an appropriate point to end this post. I will come back to Romans 14-15 when time permits.

25 comments:

Father Ron Smith said...

"marriage, theologically, could be understood as encompassing any two persons and not simply a man and a woman, I and other conservatives remain unpersuaded that the case has been made. I would go further, personally, and say that the case cannot be made"
- Dr. Peter carrell

In other words, Peter. It simply is not worth people like me offering any challenge to you on this matter. Your mind is irrevocably made up.

I wonder what you will do if the ACANZP decides, in General Synod, that they accept the theory of Same Sex Marriage Would you resign your position? After all, it seems that you would not be able to live with the consequences of such a decision.

Or, on the other hand, do you believe that your stance is so obviously unassailable that G.S. would never make such a decision?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
I am always open to being shown that I am wrong. There may be a mathematician out there who can show me that 2+2 = 5!

I would be a little bit surprised if (say) GS decided that clergy could not only bless same sex partnerships but that these would be deemed in the liturgies used to be 'marriages' AND simultaneously made no room for those who do not think this to be theologically supportable. (Nothing at the hui indicated that we are heading in a "totalitarian" direction).

However, if, in the end, our church made no room available for people who demur on this matter, then, yes, I would need to consider my position. At that point there would be many, many clergy doing the same thing, along with many parishioners. I hope that GS would not be so foolish as to drive out, say, 40% of the church.

It is not so much that my position on the matter is "so obviously unassailable that GS would never make such a decision", rather than there is a very strong case, well recognised even by those who disagree, so that I do think GS would never make a decision to exclude my/our conservative view from the church.

Peter Carrell said...

Perhaps I should say, Ron, at the end of the last comment "in my lifetime."

I do not want to second-guess what Synod will do in 100 or 300 years time should the Lord tarry.

Father Ron Smith said...

"That, I think takes us to Romans 14-15, and the question of living with sharp disagreement in a united church. We should stop by there for a while before assessing other options, whether +Jim White's "we just would stay together, like pacifists and militarists" or (without attaching the idea to any one named leader in our church) the possibility of new episcopal arrangements for our church."

This suggestion, Peter, sounds very much like the abysmal intervention made in the Church of England for those who did not believe that women could be priests. I think many in the C.of E. now find that situation to have been divisive.

The only 'Flying Bishop' in N.Z. I could think of that might minister 'in extremis' could be one already placed roughly in the centre of our two islands of Aotearoa. But this would not solve the problem of institutional division, neither would it be cognisant of the existing contradictions of Romans 8: 1-4.

A 'sinless Church' sadly, simply does not exist. And to make a fetish of the possibility of human sinlessness is an illusion. We are saved by God's grace, not by human sinlessness - except it be that of Christ, himself. And therein lies a very deep and insoluble paradox.

Joshua Bovis said...

Peter,

The Bible never ever presents homosexuality in a positive way.You know this, so I really cannot understand why you are asking the questions you are asking when you know what God's Authoritative Word says. For example you write:
Naturally the question arises (at least, I find it arises when these matters are discussed at an event such as the hui) whether sexual engagement between such friends is sinful or not.

This is not a natural question that arises from one who believes in and submits to God's Word.

There are two forms of sexual expression that God blesses:
1. Celibacy in singleness
2. Sexual intercourse in the context of a heterosexual marriage.


I do not believe that the homosexual issue us a Romans 14-15 issue as it has to do with the very nature and definition of the gospel itself. Yes of course homosexuals can become Christians, so can adulterers and alcoholics but we would never say to the adulterer:

Oh yes you become a Christian and continue to commit adultery as long as it is in the context of a loving faithful relationship. In fact, we will call it a committed friendship.

What nonsense!

Thus the unity you hope to achieve will not be Gospel unity but organisational unity which is clearly not the same thing.

Surely Peter you can see that there are two competing unities within the Anglican Church;

The first unity:
1. regards Scripture as God's sovereign word written
2. believes and proclaims Christ as the unique and only saviour of the world—meaning there is salvation in no-one else.
3.Defines mission in terms of proclaiming the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ; of conversion to Christ from sin through repentance and faith, of lifelong growing discipleship, of presenting people mature in Christ for the last judgment.

Joshua Bovis said...

Peter,

The white elephant is that we have two different gospels, proclaiming a different Christ.

J.I. Packer says the same thing when he writes:
Within Anglicanism there are two diametrically opposed views of Scripture that J. I. Packer has called the ‘objectivist’ and ‘subjectivist’ positions. The objectivist view is that the Bible is the actual and pure word of God, the supreme authority in all matters of faith and life, and that accordingly ‘it is not lawful for the church to ordain anything that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another’ (as Article XX puts it). The subjectivist view is that the Bible is a ‘witness’ to the true word of God, and should inform our understanding of what God wants us to do, but is not finally ‘authoritative’ in an external or timeless sense; that is, the Church in its subjective understanding may decide that God is leading her beyond or even against what the Bible says, and thus may ordain something which is contrary to God’s word written, if circumstances so dictate.

Shawn Herles said...

"I and other conservatives remain unpersuaded that the case has been made. I would go further, personally, and say that the case cannot be made."

Agreed.

I also doubt that GS is likely to take any action that would certainly drive at least 40% of the Church away. Apart from anything else it would make the NZ Anglican Church financially unsustainable. The Church would be broke and unable to function, especially given that a large part of it's financial base is made possible only by the fact that large and growing evangelical churches are keeping it afloat.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Joshua,
Life in ACANZP is, well, interesting, and I suggest that whether we were having a debate about homosexuality or not, we could have many a critique of what passes for theological enquiry here and wonder very much if there are two or more gospels at work in our midst. That we hold together is not just a matter of organisational unity but also of friendship, family ties, old school and university ties, general camaraderie and such.

What I may be poorly expressing is the question of what we do in a church when one group thinks X is a sin (and puts forth fine reasons for thinking it to be so) and another group thinks X is not a sin (and puts forward fine reasons for thinking it to be so). Of itself these differences do not entail the existence of 'two gospels'. +Jim White's analogy about pacifism/militarism makes that point quite well. John Stott objected to serving in the military in WW2, many evangelicals did not and they were at one re the gospel.

However, this is not to be naive: some of those who differ from me on homosexuality differ on many other things and there is a prima facie case for charging that we serve different gospels; but some of those who differ from me on homosexuality are similar on many other things and I find it harder to say that we are serving two different gospels.

There are many other things which could be said in order to properly honour the very significant point you make here, but cause brevitatis I will stop here. Groceries to be gotten ... tea to be cooked!

Shawn Herles said...

"A 'sinless Church' sadly, simply does not exist. And to make a fetish of the possibility of human sinlessness is an illusion. We are saved by God's grace, not by human sinlessness"

Nobody is advocating a "sinless" church, but advocating one that takes our discipleship call to obedience and the authority of Scripture seriously.

carl jacobs said...

Peter

So if a man has sex with his (adult consenting) daughter, are you going to justify tolerating that behavior as well by relating it to 'pacifism/militarism?' Since you aren't going to do that, I wonder if you have any consistent reason at all for the difference besides "a lot of people think we should change our minds about homosexuality but very few want us to change our minds about incest."

Disagreement isn't a sign that truth is rightfully contested. The number of advocates doesn't make a proposition more or less true. In the days of Elijah, how few were the knees in Israel that refused to bow before Baal? Was therefore the truth of God any less true as a result? It's a matter of authority. You have to trust your authority more than those who would overturn it. Even in the face of "friendship, family ties, old school and university ties, general camaraderie and such."

carl

carl jacobs said...

btw, on the difference between marriage and friendship. Marriage is foundational to civilization. To extend marriage to homosexual relationships is to say that homosexuality can be just as foundational as heterosexuality. It is a declaration by positive law of justification for homosexuality that natural law can never and will never provide. That's why homosexuals would want the status. In fact, homosexuals do not want to get married. They want the right to get married. It purports to declare their relationship is natural. It is a legal ruling that their desires are not perverse. A designation of friendship could never accomplish that task.

carl

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl,
You are entirely correct that the number of people supporting a point of view do not make it right, etc.

But the number of people supporting a point of view does matter within certain contexts, such as within an organisation or a society. Within our church I do not have to contend with anyone advocating incest (which you rightly pick that I disagree with) but I do have to contend with people advocating that same sex partnerships are blessed states, at least as blessed as the remarriages of divorced persons.

Part of the reason why I am not about to leave the church because of people in same sex partnerships is that I have not left the church because of people who have remarried after divorce (which occurred for reasons other than those allowed). Part of the reason why I am prepared to grant recognition that there is a case to consider re same sex partnerships being accepted by God is that I seek recognition that there is a case that remarriage after divorce is accepted by God.

I have a feeling from previous correspondence with you that you are consistent between same sex partnerships and the remarriage of divorcees when I am not (speaking broadly, not specifically, in case certain commenters are reading here :) ). I can only admire your consistency and proffer my inadequacy.

Father Ron Smith said...

"There are two forms of sexual expression that God blesses:
1. Celibacy in singleness" - J.Bovis

This is nonsense. How is this (point number 1 - Celibacy) a form of sexual expression. More likely, it is a form of sexual suppression. Let's try to at least be logical here.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
You are a brave man.
I would not myself tell a celibate person that their life involved 'sexual suppression.' I would allow them space to be themselves and to work out what it means to be a sexual being in a celibate life.
But if you would like to tell monks, nuns, various parish priests and even one bishop I can think of what their lives are really like, well, who am I to stop you!

mike g said...

"Marriage is between a man and a woman, and always has been" You must know that is not true Peter.

As for "committed friendship" rather than "marriage" -why bring the gender of the participants into it? If it is an ok concept, then it is good for all.

Friday night drinks with my best friends suddenly takes on new possibilities...

Shawn Herles said...

"This is nonsense. How is this (point number 1 - Celibacy) a form of sexual expression. More likely, it is a form of sexual suppression. Let's try to at least be logical here."

Er...no, THAT is nonsense.

I cannot fathom how anyone claiming to be Anglo-Catholic could possibly hold to that view. The vast majority of those people the church upholds as heroes of the Faith were celibate.

Jesus was celibate.

St. Francis of Assisi was celibate.

St. Therese of Lisieux was celibate

St. Jeanne D'Arc was celibate. (hat tip to my French ancestors)

St. Julian of Norwich was celibate.

St. Teresa of Ávila

The list goes on.

Celibacy is not "suppression". It can and often is deeply relational. It allows people to minister to others in a way that is unique and important.

Our own diocese is held up in part spiritually by the prayers and good works of the Sisters of the Sacred Name.

I think Ron that your on your own here. I doubt many Anglo-Catholics, Anglicans in general, or even most Christian liberals, would agree to your dismissive view of the celibate life.

Andrei said...

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2013/02/british-parliament-redefines-marriage.html

Shawn Herles said...

On Celibacy.

"authentic sexual freedom is not the liberty to indulge one's compulsions, but liberation from the compulsion to indulge."

http://www.tobinstitute.org/newsItem.asp?NewsID=50

Shawn Herles said...

Liberalism, sentimentality, and cheap grace.

"By advocating for redefinition, (of marriage) people can buy cheap grace by advocating that we bring the goods to the supposedly downtrodden.

It also requires a preference for what we would like to be true rather than what is actually true. For instance, it requires people to believe demonstrable falsehoods such as the interchangeability of men and women as parents, the dispensability of fathers as parents, and other things.

Remember what happened the last time the sentimental lefties got their hands on the institution of the family?

Most muggers probably come from radically loveless homes but they come from loveless homes because family structure was destroyed by the fatuous, sentimental notion that if only family relations could be based upon love and affection, and nothing but love and affection, without the influence of convention or contractual obligation, then personal happiness would be complete.

And so was created the inferno of the British inner city. It is economic reality that will put paid to our sentimental dreams but at the cost of much suffering that could have been avoided if only we had taken the trouble to think well.

Maybe if we just close our eyes and wish hard enough, a same sex relationship will be just the same as male-female relationship. Maybe if we hold on to our four leaf clovers and say the right incantations, same sex parenting will not have the bad effects that other forms of widespread fatherlessness have. Maybe if we do the right dance around the fire to drums played at the right rhythm, the laws necessary to enact same sex marriage will not create the predicted havoc.

Then again, maybe not."

http://www.ruthblog.org/2010/08/04/the-evils-of-sentimentality/

Father Ron Smith said...

Just a small note here: Those on this thread who appear to be advocating celibacy are not all celibate. I wonder why not, if that's really what makes one 'a Hero of the Faith'. Surely, if celibacy is so highly regarded (and certainly counselled in parts of the Scriptures) why aren't these 'purity advocates' all embracing it"

N.B. Saint Peter, and a number of Popes were actually married. Does that make them inferior Apostles?

The state of Marriage is actually neither here nor there when it comes to being saved. Jesus never married, so obviously it wasn't necessary for salvation. Neither is marriage a requirement for any Christian. It a just a state of licensed co-habitation, wherein a couple can enjoy connubial benefits - with or without having to procreate or nurture children.

Saint Paul Paul said: "It is better to marry than burn". Why should that apply only to heterosexuals?

Father Ron Smith said...

"Celibacy is not "suppression". It can and often is deeply relational. It allows people to minister to others in a way that is unique and important." - Shawn Herles -

I find this, and similar remarks about celibacy, most interesting (having once endured the state as a Franciscan Friar). If, indeed, the 'sin' of sexuality lies in its overt expression, then the celibate life can be sinless - in that it affects not to overtly express itself sexually.

Let that be first understood - especially by those who quote 'catholicity' in support of their arguments, without really embracing traditional 'catholicity' (or, maybe, celibacy) in their own faith/praxis.

Every single human being is 'sexual' - by their very nature.

Celibate people are usually willing or counselled to repress any sexual activity (sin?). Therefore, by pure definition, they suppress/repress their innate sexuality. I don't think any monks or nuns that I know (and I do know a few) would take offence at that remark.

Indeed, they probably would be glad to affirm what I have said of their commitment to Christ in this way - They are "Eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom" - Jesus

"Let no-one trouble me after this" - on the matter of celibacy!

dougchaplin said...

Hi Peter,

Thanks for this and your many posts on the topic. Reasoned discussion from either "side" on this argument is rare, and very welcome, so I always appreciate your arguments whether I agree or not. I think the varied comments on this post illustrate how hard some people find it to listen to arguments they disagree with.

Shawn Herles said...

"Those on this thread who appear to be advocating celibacy are not all celibate. I wonder why not, if that's really what makes one 'a Hero of the Faith'."

Well, for a start, I was not advocating celibacy, I was defending it as one possible option commended by scripture.

And I did not say that celibacy itself makes on a hero of the Faith, I was merely pointing out that many who are were celibate, which means that BOTH Scripture and tradition commend it as one possible option

"The state of Marriage is actually neither here nor there when it comes to being saved."

Nobody said that it was. Why are you always responding to arguments that nobody has actually made?

" If, indeed, the 'sin' of sexuality lies in its overt expression, then the celibate life can be sinless"

This is just a bizarre statement, but I will deal with it anyway.

Sexual sin does not lie in its overt expression. Within the covenant of marriage its overt expression is good and holy.

Sexual sin lies in its expression outside that covenant.

"Every single human being is 'sexual' - by their very nature."

Nobody has said otherwise.

"Celibate people are usually willing or counselled to repress any sexual activity (sin?). Therefore, by pure definition, they suppress/repress their innate sexuality."

Incorrect. Celibate people channel their sexuality in different ways. But they do not repress it.

Repression is actually a rare thing. It involves pushing something into the unconscious so deeply that the person doing it is no longer even aware of what they are repressing.

Channeling one's sexuality however, is not repression. It is yoking that that energy through discipline and grace into forms of non-physical expression.

The common misunderstanding that any limitations on sexual expression involve repression is liberal pop-psychology at its worse. It has no basis in real psychology.

Thus, we can now say that celibacy is one option commended by Scripture, tradition and reason.

" especially by those who quote 'catholicity' in support of their arguments, without really embracing traditional 'catholicity'"

According to my understanding I do embrace true catholicity. I just don't confuse that with modern liberalism, which has nothing to do with catholicity in any of its varied expressions, Roman, Eastern or Protestant.


"Saint Paul Paul said: "It is better to marry than burn". Why should that apply only to heterosexuals?"

Because Jesus said marriage is one man and one women for life, thus our Lord's own words on the subject do not allow for any other definition of marriage.

Thats why.

Rosemary Behan said...

Jesus never married, so obviously it wasn't necessary for salvation??????????????????????????

Shawn Herles said...

"Jesus never married, so obviously it wasn't necessary for salvation??????????????????????????"

Yeah, that one had me scratching my head as well.

At no time has anyone said that marriage was necessary for salvation.

Ron,

I do not understand why your constantly claiming that anyone here is imposing conditions for salvation, or trying to impose the Law on anyone as a condition of salvation.

That is not the case. Nobody here is saying that, or implying it.

Evangelicals believe that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone.

I also think your confusing Christian virtue, which is a result of sanctification through God's grace, with legalism. But they are not the same thing. Christian virtues, including sexual morality and honouring marriage, are not conditions for salvation (and thus legalism) but the RESULT of salvation. Thus they are the result of grace transforming us and healing us.

Being saved by grace alone does not mean that we have a license to sin, as Paul says. It means we are freed from the guilt of the Law, but freed not to sin, but to incarnate virtue. And again, this moral effort and virtue is not a condition of salvation, but a result of it.

Thus while marriage is not a condition of salvation, we nevertheless honour its nature as a permanent covenant between one man and one women. We do so, not to be saved, but because we are saved.

It would really help if you could respond to what we are actually saying, and what evangelicals actually believe, otherwise the discussion becomes pointless and fruitless.

I do not know where you have obtained the view that we are advocating legalism (conditions for salvation) but it just ain't so.