Monday, June 29, 2015


The gospel in a Tweet is, #LoveWins.

Funnily enough, that is also the hashtag celebrating the US Supreme Court's decision to act as the parliaments of various countries, including my own, have acted. (Wait that doesn't sound right: the Supreme Court is not the US legislature ... but that is another issue, internal to the body politic of the States).

Christians in the US are either celebrating (led by President Obama himself) or concerned. The latter include the US Catholic Bishops, a coalition of evangelicals, ACNA, and the Diocese of South Carolina.

It is worth noting, via First Things, that c.100 million US citizens likely disagree with this ruling (i.e. agree with the 4 judges who were outvoted by the other 5). Chief Justice Roberts himself disputes whether this matter had anything to do with the constitution. Arguments about this will run and run. Yet where will it end, since some conservative Christians' minds may be changed?

Obviously 'marriage' in the sense of a permanent contractual relationship between two people is undergoing redefinition in Western culture, supported by legal redefinition. In the majority judgement, Justice Kennedy writes,
"No union is more profound than marriage for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family."
That Kennedy is willing to include same gender couples in this otherwise admirable definition of marriage demonstrates that in this redefinition of marriage, gender diversity is immaterial.

There is now no legal sense in several Western countries that 'marriage' means: 'The most profound human union because it embodies the union of male and female bound by the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.'

Yet it is difficult to see that a majority of Western Christians are going to let go of the concept of a 'something' (which used to be called 'marriage') being a union of a man and a woman. For this majority the US Catholic Bishops speak:

'The unique meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is inscribed in our bodies as male and female. The protection of this meaning is a critical dimension of the “integral ecology” that Pope Francis has called us to promote. Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children. The law has a duty to support every child’s basic right to be raised, where possible, by his or her married mother and father in a stable home. 
Jesus Christ, with great love, taught unambiguously that from the beginning marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. As Catholic bishops, we follow our Lord and will continue to teach and to act according to this truth.'

Nor is it possible to see that the ever increasing Muslim population in Western countries is going to let go of the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

Might we yet see a new word for what 'marriage' used to mean?

Meanwhile for those Christians not supporting gay marriage, who believe the Gospel = #LoveWins, there is a question of how we connect with those who believe that Gay Marriage = #LoveWins.

What can we affirm about the love which binds two people of the same gender together according to the law of the land on marriage? 

If we cannot find affirmation I suggest we are in grave danger of being viewed as those who discriminate against gay and lesbian people in a society which rightly abhors discrimination against people groups.

The gospel does not require gays and lesbians who commit to loving another to be put beyond the pale. While conservative churches rightly claim that they seek to put no one beyond the pale, the difficulty now is that we are being perceived as putting people beyond the pale.

Incidentally, this is also a time for conservatives to continue being, well, conservative.

The Supreme Court ruling does not change the fact that conservatives in Western societies have concerns about the future of the family: we should continue to argue (as the US Catholic bishops do) for the rights of children to be brought up by a mum and a dad, as well as arguing that the word 'mother' or 'father' should not be demeaned by a person of the opposite gender claiming to be what they are not.

We should continue to ask what 'bisexual' means in a context where commitment to monogamous marriage (gay or straight) is being celebrated. We should continue to be wary of future progression towards legal polygamy (given that no rational arguments against legalisation now exist in Western countries which have legalised gay marriage).

Speaking more personally about the state of my own inner thinking, as I read across the internet through these days, finding impressive arguments for and against the Supreme Court decision, I am freshly struck by the way in which what I have personally understood marriage to be all about is undergoing examination. I realise, to give one line of questioning, that within a Western cultural framework, fuelled by childhood books and TV programmes in which the hero and heroine met, fell in love and got married, I have assumed marriage is primarily about love and secondarily about faithful commitment between two people intending to create a family. (Someone I read said that much better but I cannot find the link). From that 'romantic' perspective, Western culture has always been on track - though we knew it not until recently - to affirm gay marriage because the State, in the end, cannot and should not stand in the way of love between two people.


It is from the 'family' perspective on marriage that the greatest objections to gay marriage arise (so it seems from my reading). If marriage is about two people uniting to reproduce, committing to fidelity in order to provide security for their children, then should the law permit marriage between two people whose union does not lead to reproduction? (A secularist could ask that question.) Ditto: ... then should church canons define marriage to include two people whose union does not lead to reproduction? (That is an ecclesiastical question tied to permitted actions of ministers in respect of blessing and (for some churches) sacramental action).

In sum: is God at work through this time to refine our understanding of marriage? Not merely refining us in the sense of 'getting back to the Bible' or 'recommitting to tradition' but also in the sense of challenging specific cultural assumptions that have become enmeshed with our understanding which we have described confidently as 'biblical' or 'traditional'?

To return to the question above concerning the gospel = #LoveWins, in our engagement in so-called culture wars and in church debates over marriage, how might Christian love win?


Peter McKeague said...

Thank you Peter for this thoughtful and thought provoking post. The whole issue of couples marrying to reproduce and the objection to same sex marriage on those grounds, loses a lot of its force in this age of IVF and surrogacy. A child having a father and a mother ideally may still hold, but again there are many single parent families, many very successful, at least in terms of well adjusted children and loving relationships. Heterosexual marriage is no longer necessary for producing and raising children. And the plague of abuse and domestic violence has not done much for the image of traditional marriage, not that it only occurs there. The churches have enormous challenges before them around these matters, not just same sex marriage. In 14 years of ministry I have done approximately 50-60 weddings. Only one couple were not cohabiting, and probably not having intercourse.

Peter Carrell said...

I sometimes think, Peter, that we have not begun to realise how big the challenges are!

Andrew Reid said...

While a slightly side issue, I've been struck by how the argument for traditional marriage was weakened by same sex-couples already having access to assisted reproductive technologies to enable them to have children. Advocates of SSM were able to say, "it's not about parenting, same sex couples are already parents". I don't remember there being nearly the same level of public debate or controversy when same sex couples were given these rights. Either those of us who support traditional marriage weren't being consistent at the time, various governments slipped them through quietly, or some mixture of the two. If we really think children do best when raised by a mother and father, why were we silent when same sex couples were given the ability to become parents?

Jean said...

Andrew you have pointed out an issue that has mostly slipped under the radar. The adoption of parents by same sex couples or heterosexual couples in civil unions was not permitted. Only in marriage and since this became law in NZ has it been possible. Individuals could adopt children, however, men could not adopt female children. I believe this is the same in the the US States so the recent ruling will also allow this to be possible in States where it was not previously. I guess there wasn't more critical attention re the possible repercussions to children done because of the lack of media around the issue.

It does, however, give credence to Peter's post re marriage being associated with the possibility of having children in people's minds.

Re affirming same sex couples committing in a Christian sense I think the positive is, although imperfect as all human covenants are, the willingness to be with one person as opposed to living a promiscuous lifestyle.

Re the question of Love wins:
"Love The Lord your God with all your mind, heart and soul, and Love your neighbour as yourself"

Christian love isn't always about what feels right but based on the knowledge that God's will for us is what is best for us because He loves us. Yes many people live in de-facto relationships before marriage but is God's will to save sex for marriage about preventing love or safe-guarding us - de-facto relationships do make it easier to walk away; once it was described to me as marriage being having all your terms and conditions in place before signing the contract. Sometimes maybe always authentic love costs.

As a Christian I guess our 'First Love' lies with God so our premise on love necessitates in discussing any issue is in this act are we are first loving God with all our mind, heart and soul. Secondly, without trespassing on the first commandment how would we wish to be treated if we were in the situation of our neighbour.

At present my Loving God with my mind and his teachings lead me towards the directions of same sex behaviour as being contrary to His wishes. My loving my neighbour leads me to respond with compassion for those who are same sex attracted and their struggles whether it be discrimination or simply the inability to talk openly in a faith environment about what they experience and feel.

So my opinion at present as mentioned previously is keep the churches stance on marriage as it is yet focus on how to open up pastorally so those with other sexual attractions can 'live in the light' and not have to hide their personal lives in a church environment.

I remember reading C.S.Lewis statement about you can't expect a person who is not a Christian to act like a Christian. So it doesn't surprise me when the state , law or predominant cultural view is not in accordance with a faith view. I noted in the paper that only 11 of all the US States voted democratically for the passing of same sex marriage, the rest were legal decisions as NZ's was a government one. The concern for Christians lies not so much in culture or the law (albeit we can voice an opinion) but what does the church say about and respond to this issue from a faith perspective.

Anonymous said...

The first steps for polygamy are already set as polygamy was illegal but still practiced by some Mormons. They will even have allies among America's Muslims. They did what the LGBT did-got a TV show about it to show people it's not scary and they were just waiting for the same-sex marriage argument to be decided. It won't be long.

At least in America IVF and surrogacy are considered private for the same reason as abortion--a woman has the right to do what she wants with her body, so privacy laws exist around it and stop a lot of info. being made public. By allowing fake birth certificates for adopted children, they opened the way for birth certificates for same sex couples.

Jean said...

I think it may be a little obvious to children who grow up with same sex parents that there was some-one else involved despite any
'fake' birth certificates : )