Arguably the bigger of two challenges to expanding the doctrinal understanding of marriage is whether marriage in Christian understanding requires a man and a woman, or whether marriage can be about any couple of human beings who wish to make the required vows.
The lesser challenge is whether marriage can be redefined so that a sin is no longer a sin (e.g. that two men or two women may not have sexual relations ever).
Something I keep missing in responses to the recent CofE General Synod which can be summarised as "we may not bless sin" (effectively, = we may not change a sin to not a sin) is that for many Christians through many centuries of Christian marriage, marriage after divorce while a previous spouse is alive has been sin (adultery, in Jesus' own teaching), so that, when priests and ministers bless a married couple where this is so for at least one of the spouses, there is a blessing of sin - a previously defined sin being redefined. That is, the current debate appears to blot out the memory of previous debates and subsequent agreed changes on divorce and remarriage. Hence my suggestion above that the greater challenge for those advocating "equal marriage" is the matter of Christian marriage requiring a man and a woman (noting last week's post, at least one of whom is baptised or intending baptism).
Before a thought or two on that, what has been of interest to me in the past week in the life of the CofE, and more generally?
"Unity that we ourselves conjure up has, as its first casualties, those who are different. Look at the church’s history of antisemitism, racism, slavery and collusion with evil structures of power. Look at how we have, and do, treat those of different sexualities. But to be such people – directed by fear of the outsider, those who are different – is to be those who simply live to establish our purposes and not God’s. We become the very image of the world around us, not the ikon of God.
Then at Pentecost, rightly linked to Babel, God the Holy Spirit does something spectacular, something that creates possibilities beyond human imagination or ambition.
Pentecost is not a gift of translation, but the creation of a new people grafted into the old. This is a gathering, not a scattering, but on an entirely new basis of gathering. Those gathered are gathered by love of Christ and by being saved.
The day after Pentecost must have been very difficult. People from all over the Roman world, all new Christians and no common language, except the language of loving, of being found in Christ. And that defined their identity."
(2) Here is the final Church Times report of the last stage of the CofE GS debate, and below is the final wording of the resolution agreed to:
(3) Reactions, there have been a few (i.e. many), so literally just a few here:
Of course Sydney has something to say, and it is not appreciative! Here.
Ian Paul has a wrap up of the debate and the final decision here (albeit with a commenter calling it a one-sided look etc).
Miranda Threfall-Holmes argues that there never has been (for more than a period or so) an unchanging doctrine of marriage. [see pic below]
Then this random conjunction of two Tweeters - identities crossed out because the point is not about who made the Tweets:
(4) Needless to say, if you Google, you'll find GAFCON etc expostulating (there really is no other word for it).
A couple of thoughts from me, but not directly on the question of gender differentiation in Christian marriage:
(5) Taking a cue from BW's references to paradosis/tradition here in recent posts, as we engage in these matters, to what extent may we be "biblical" and attend to the tradition of the church on adaptation to circumstances. In this instance, a growing adaptation within Scripture itself. For instance, is there an unfolding tradition as we make our way from Matthew's Gospel (noting Jesus' strong teaching on divorce and remarriage in yesterday's Gospel, 5:21-37) through to 1 Corinthians 7, because we then find in Matthew 19:1-9 and in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, two "exceptions" the apparently fundamentals of Jesus' own teaching. On what grounds do we say that this unfolding tradition then gets frozen in time and no more exceptions may be entertained ever again by the church? As an historical fact, of course, we have so entertained (and without unity across Western and Eastern Christianity as to what we have permitted).
(6) If celibacy is a great option for homosexual Christians (indeed, the only option, as commended in speeches at the CofE GS), well-known as beeing pressed for by heterosexual Christian teachers (and Tweeter!) within conservative evangelicalism, the Catholic and Orthodox churches, why are not more heterosexual married Christians choosing it as a way of life because they are committed to standing in solidarity with the gay Christians?
(7) I have been somewhat bemused by remonstration that the CofE decision makes a personal decision from a personal conviction redundant and/or rejected (e.g. the "B" Tweet above). How so? Are not one's convictions before God, one's convictions before God and beyond trammelling by a church decision?
(8) I am also bemused by seeing an argument from a member of the female clergy of the CofE arguing that the CofE resolution is wrong, at least in part because the majority of Christians throughout the world disagree. Is that not an argument against the ordination of women?!
Gender differentiation required for Christian marriage?
(9) The strength of the case for what the CofE (and ACANZP in 2018) have resolved is that there are goods to marriage such as companionship and mutual support (Genesis 2:18) which all should be able to enjoy because nearly every one of us humans enjoys sociality and support, to say nothing of intimacy and sexual fulfilment. Most of us find celibacy challenging, living alone difficult, and many of us, sometimes even when we are not looking for it, fall in love and find a life partner with whom we want to enter life partnership. Whether or not we also press for equal marriage, should we withhold prayers of thanksgiving and prayers for the success of a partnership (such as civil marriage, civil union, covenanted friendship) which offers those goods?
(10) The same Genesis story of creation of man and of woman extends to a story of oneness in marriage (Genesis 2:24-25) between the man and the woman, a story repeated countless times in the history of humanity, and told many times within the whole biblical narrative. Marriage in the Bible is always marriage between a man and (at least) a (one) woman. When Jesus speaks about marriage, he speaks about the travails of marriage between a man and a woman. When Paul and Peter speak about marriage in their epistles, they speak about marriage between a man and a woman. Christian understanding of marriage, from then until very recently, has uniformly been about marriage as the joining together of that which in creation was differentiated, a man and a woman, not least, of course, because one intended outcome of marriage-in-creation is that reporduction of our species requires the conjugation of a man and a woman.
(11) Put a little differently, it is actually a big theological step to change the Christian understanding of marriage to include marriages of two men or two women. (And, to head off one possible rejoinder, sometimes made here by Fr Ron Smith, I do not see that talk in the NT of, e.g., marriage between Christ and the church, diminishes the size of this step because the step we are talking about is the step on which humanity in relation to itself stands, rather than the step on which humanity in relation to God stands.)
(12) Whether or not the CofE or our church ever becomes a church which does specifically change its doctrine of marriage (e.g. by changing the wording of its marriage services so that references to man/men/male and to woman/women/female are removed), it is not actually some (allegedly) unfortunate conservative tendency on the part of some (allegedly) theologically short-sighted wing of the church to insist that any such change must be matched by some warmly endorsed ways and means for the view that Christian marriage does require gender differentiation to be supported and cherished.
(13) Put a little differently, while there are arguments for equal marriage in the church - arguments from justice, from wishing to avoid deeming some marriages (according to civil society) "second class" marriages (according to the church), etc - the one argument that cannot be directly made from Scripture and from tradition is that Scripture and/or tradition is, one the whole, indifferent to sex differentiation in marriage.
My argument here is that Christian marriage is unlikely to yield easily (re theological discourse) or quickly (re time for people's minds to change) to a redefinition which squares with the aspirations of equal marriage. It may do. Things do change. One generation gives way to another. It may even be in my lifetime. But there has been and still is, in Christian understanding of marriage resting on Scripture and tradition, a heavy investment in marriage being the conjugation of male and female.
In the Miranda Threlfal-Holmes speech above there is a reference to the CofE 1938 Doctrine Commission report on marriage. Church Mouse on Twitter has posted this pic of a section of the report which - in 2023 - appears to speak of marriage as gender undifferentiated :):