Monday, February 13, 2023

Christian Marriage (2 of 2) [updated] [again]

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?

(1) Church of England General Synod: two ++Welby addresses you may wish to look at: his Presidential Address here, with excerpt below, and his address re the Living in Faith and Love debate is here.

"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:

"‘That this Synod, recognising the commitment to learning and deep listening to God and to each other of the Living in Love and Faith process, and desiring with God’s help to journey together while acknowledging the different deeply held convictions within the Church:

(a) lament and repent of the failure of the Church to be welcoming to LGBTQI+ people and the harm that LGBTQI+ people have experienced and continue to experience in the life of the Church;

(b) recommit to our shared witness to God’s love for and acceptance of every person by continuing to embed the Pastoral Principles in our life together locally and nationally;

(c) commend the continued learning together enabled by the Living in Love and Faith process and resources in relation to identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage;

(d) welcome the decision of the House of Bishops to replace Issues in Human Sexuality with new pastoral guidance;

(e) welcome the response from the College of Bishops and look forward to the House of Bishops further refining,

commending and issuing the Prayers of Love and Faith described in GS 2289 and its Annexes;

(f) invite the House of Bishops to monitor the Church’s use of and response to the Prayers of Love and Faith, once they have been commended and published, and to report back to Synod in five years’ time;

(g) endorse the decision of the College and House of Bishops not to propose any change to the doctrine of marriage, and their intention that the final version of the Prayers of Love and Faith should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England.’"

(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 :):


Interesting debate between Ian Paul responding to David Instone-Brewer. (The latter scholar, re his work on divorce and remarriage, is often quoted in support of Jesus/Paul on divorce and remarriage has basically endorsing the changes mainline churches have made in the past hundred years or so). Here Ian takes David to task.

My reflection:
- David's post is genuinely interesting. Could he be right? He himself is uncertain! Is he presuming too much about ancient insight into human sexuality tallying with ours today?
- Ian (as with many commenters these days) focuses on the wrong question which, IMHO, is not, "Does the Bible uniformly teach X and therefore we must maintain X?" but, "Noting that the Apostle Paul himself said, It is better to marry than to burn, how do we appropriately regularise sexual intimacy between people willing to commit to each other in a bonded/covenanted relationship for life?" We have found a way to so regularise when a divorced person seeks a new marriage ...


Mark Murphy said...

Thanks Peter. I especially resonate with (5) and (6) above.


"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.."

As I written about before here on ADU, an intimate partnership between two people of the same sex always involves principles of differentiation, contrast, compliment - a making of 'one flesh' out of two bodies and souls, including differences of masculinity and femininity. This principle is not dependent (for a significant, persistent, human sub-population) on outer bodied sexual contrast, though this reality is profound and important and much more figural for many of us (though even within heterosexual relationships, sexual difference makes up only one part of the greater phenomenon of differentiation, contrast, encounter, and uniting).

I don't see why you can't believe in the differentiation of creation and support equal marriage at the same time. Allowing same sex attracted persons to marry is hardly going to knock out the pillars of the cosmos in this regard. Even if heterosexuals are especially fortunate to be the standard bearers of God's complementarian design principle, they'll still be enough of us doing our thing that the universe will keep reproducing and holding together, as it always has.

"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."

I think you're probably right, and it may be less personally costly for those in favour of equal marriage (such as myself) to make peace with this. Human beings are resilient and creative, however, and will no doubt adapt 'prayers of blessing', inwardly and locally, into church celebrations of marriage. Even historical Anglican tradition has a precedent for this: for sacraments to be received inwardly and spiritually when outer circumstances do not (yet) allow for the full physical symbolization of God's present grace.

MsLiz said...

Dear +Peter, I'm genuinely curious about (8) "...Is that not an argument against the ordination of women?!"

Do you mean that even these days, there would still be a "majority of Christians throughout the world" who disagree with womens ordination?

When you say "majority of Christians", who do you mean by "Christians"? Anglican Communion or Christians in general? Leadership only, or all Christians?

Not at all a loaded question as I was genuinely taken by surprise, and would love you expand a bit on what you meant. Thanks in advance :)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Mark
You provide food for thought - thank you!

Hi Liz

The majority of Christians in the world are Catholic and Orthodox, both of which churches do not officially support the ordination of women (notwithstanding whatever views made be held in private by members and even clergy of those churches).

The appeal made, which I reference, as I understood it, appealed to the strength of opposition to same sex blessings as being the majority of Christians in the world (cf. Catholic and Orthodox) though it is also the case that the majority of Anglicans globally do not support either.

Opposition to the ordination of women is fairly widespread in the Communion once we get beyond Western Anglicanism; though not all non-Western Anglicans are opposed.

MsLiz said...

Thanks Bishop Carrell, it's actually quite sobering to me to realise that.

Anonymous said...

Human beings have aural and cognitive capabilities which enable pleasure in the the activities that we call music.

Is there then music that is more musical because it is Christian?


But surely some music is so associated with churches as to comprise sonic representations of Christianity?

Yes, but they are not for that reason any more musical. Music is music because of ears and brains, not because of what anyone says about them.

But God created ears and brains, so isn't that a reason to see a theological meaning in music?

If so, it is a reason to see that same meaning in Sufi chants and Hindu temple dances and Balinese gamelan orchestras and the Rolling Stones and honky tonk piano players and marching bands as well as in anything sung in church.

But we talk about "Christian music" as if it had some further character beyond the acoustic.

It does-- words we believe. We don't describe Korean rock songs about Jesus as Christian music because we do not understand Korean.

Would it help to have a synod pass a resolution declaring those songs about Jesus to be Christian music?

No. If we cannot hear a Christian meaning in it without help, it does not have one for us. If a tree falls in a forest without ears, it makes no sound.

But suppose a synod says-- on behalf of all of us-- that it believes trustworthy Korean-speakers that there truly is a Christian meaning in a Korean rock song. Wouldn't that make it-- among us-- Christian music?

No. Trust is not transferable. And anyway, we should not say that we have heard a meaning that we have not actually heard. Humanly-- even to the Korean rockers-- that would not mean anything real.

It could mean that Korean rock songs could be performed in our churches.

Synods can speak for buildings, but not for persons.

So to your mind, it is really sheer coincidence that a bit of music gets to be called Christian...

Yes, just as it is a coincidence that a rose is called yellow rather than white or red. If we see yellow in a rose, we say yellow; if we don't, we don't.

MsLiz said...

Well worth following BW's wikipedia link re Messiaen's Quatuor pour la fin du temps, not only for the back-story (special) but also for the outline that reveals the meaning of the music ~Generally speaking I'm a Philistine when it comes to this type of music but I'll return and listen to more later, especially now I have the extra info.

Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter, despite your dismissal of my attempt to use the word 'marriage' in a context different from that of the union of male and female; I still cannot see how this can be borne out in Scripture; which clearly speaks of 'The Marriage Feast of the Lamb'; wherein Jesus presumably invites the presence of everyone related to him by the means of sacramental grace: e.g. Baptism and Eucharist; to share in what is still biblically described as a 'marriage'. This is Not based on gender identity.
(Interestingly, Jesus did not marry, but he did have a 'special friendship' with John, his male disciple that the other disciples were jealous of).

The fact that heterosexual (or even same-sex marriage) is only for 'this life' - having no eternal sacramental significance - ought surely to help us all understand its essentially ephemeral quality - (:to be faithful to each other to their lives' end) - as compared with the eternal value of the non-gender character of our relationship with one another in Christ.

For Christians to try to legislate for their own distinct status of human marriage as necessary for all humanity - according to their own binary values - is to outlaw the values of all the other couples that God has created to enjoy their socially- recognised faithful pair-bondings.

As marriage is not for everyone (see Jesus' homily on eunuchs) it is not for every single Christian (or anyone else) - a matter necessary for eternal salvation. The Church, therefore, may be bringing undue pressure by raising marriage to a Christian sacrament necessary for eternal life.

Also, not all marriages are so preoccupied with the need for sexual fulfilment as to render them capable of procreation. My wife and I, in fact - as I mentioned once at an archdeaconry meeting where Bishop Victoria was present - are both party to such a marriage. I wanted a family life, and she, as a widow, needed protection and nurture for herself and her orphaned children. "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.." - as well as to the bishop who married us!

It seems to me, as a 'celibate' gay, that too many Christian heterosexuals are far too interested in the bedroom lives of same-sex couples for their spiritual good. Love is so much more than sexual activity!

Mark Murphy said...

Does the Church of Cockaigne have a copy of Maximus's Ambuiguum in it's library? They may find help in there for the vexations of Christian music and the New Sound.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Mark, they have everything by Maximus and actually read his Mystagogy and Chapters on Charity. 🙂

In general, they accept that the life of tradition is a certain patience with firm subsidiarity. Realizing that worthwhile agreement is recognized and cannot be fabricated or forced, they bet on the centripetal force of the Holy Spirit in the Body over time.

This is why That Topic is so little discussed there. Decisions about it are rarely needed. When they are, local bishops have been taking their decisions case-wise, which is of course what Jesus commanded. Eventually, some single best practice may win out in Cockaigne. Or not.

Alas, some other Anglican churches have set bad examples of empty centralism and clashing mob certitudes that even Cockaigne finds it difficult to resist. Nearly all seem to know a bit more than is likely to be true.


Moya said...

I have discovered Cockaigne - illuminating! 😃

Father Ron said...

Partly relevant to this conversation is the Opening Speech at the ACC Meeting by the ABC:

MsLiz said...

ABC speech shared by Father Ron ... awesome!
~didn't expect to listen to all of it (but I did).

Mark Murphy said...

An enviable library indeed!

But why does the Church say Jesus commanded such decisions on a case by case basis? And (how) does The CoC discern between case by case and across the board doctrines and decisions?

Mark Murphy said...

An enviable library indeed!

But why does the Church say Jesus commanded such decisions on a case by case basis? And (how) does The CoC discern between case by case and across the board doctrines and decisions?

Anonymous said...

St Matthew xvi 19, St John xx 22-23.


Anonymous said...

Mark, a more general form of your question is intriguing: why is the holy man or woman who gives advice and invokes powers a human universal? Here, as in discussions of marriage, we are in interfaith waters.

But the case of the Church of Cockaigne is straightforward. After disestablishment, it reformed itself into a church with denser observance within but still a national horizon without. Scandinavian churches have often followed this trajectory.

So spiritual direction became its dominant mode of pastoral care. Relationships formed that way are the ones in which the old canons are applied. Hence economy does not seem so odd as it might in say the CoE.


Mark Murphy said...

"Realizing that worthwhile agreement is recognized and cannot be fabricated or forced, they bet on the centripetal force of the Holy Spirit in the Body over time."

I feel an intuitive resonance with the Church in Cockaigne. I feel I could worship there in safety, or at least duck in for chapel if the sky was raining cheese.

I imagine the port-wine is of good quality.

Does the Holy Spirit move slow or fast? It seems that God has incredible patience, and takes a very long term view of life. Or: a century in our mind is a cup of tea/glass of sherry in Hers, sorry, His.

Yet to quote the Monk of Snowmass, "God is so fast! By the time you've caught sight of him he's already come around again. That's why Moses in the cleft only saw him from behind."

Members of the body discern the Spirit's movement is very different ways on That Topic. I suppose that's the crux of all our frothing. What is a community, the Body, to do? What's the process - synodal, via media, waiting (waiting, waiting, waiting) in the light (for consensus), discerning and acting on one's conscience even when it is different from the collective, outer Church?

I suppose we all have our part to play. We can discern the Spirit's movement for our soul while recognizing it blows where it pleases in another. That probably takes quite a bit of maturity. Maybe the Spirit is asking us to grow (as it always does)? What theology would support that?

Whenever Justin Welby or + Peter speak on this topic I sense an embodiment of the above. I'm almost over being surprised - the evangelical bishops are making a better job of this than the Anglo-Catholic liberals! The Spirit is moving us all to wholeness?

It's safe to go out and collect cheese now.

MsLiz said...


Just finished reading this New York Times opinion piece about relationship. The writer speaks of relationship in terms of her own marriage and also the relationship of her husband with his identical twin brother.

Easy to apply what's discussed to Christian spirituality and relationship to Christ, I found this a really fine read.

E.g. from the final paragraph, when his joy *is* your joy [emphasis mine]

"I think our “we” is more an accumulation of small moments. The table tilts, you slip into another frame, and the world looks the same but different. The language of sacrifice, for instance, doesn’t make sense. You can’t sacrifice for that which is you. His joy is not simply important to you because he’s important to you. It is your joy. The boundaries don’t dissolve, but they’re porous."

A gift link for the full article (i.e. you can read the article without being a subscriber). Sorry the url is so long but copy it into your address bar and it should work ...

The article is by Michal Leibowitz (editorial assistant in Opinion).

Anonymous said...

"resonance with the Church in Cockaigne"

At disestablishment, the CoC stopped treating its participants as citizens in church and started treating them as believers navigating actual lives. Less drama, more faith.


Anonymous said...


Liberal democracies cede ultimate spiritual questions to churches etc so that they can tend to simpler matters of state. So we might expect the latter to run with those ultimates far beyond anything the civil community can imagine. But in fact, church debates echo political debates, and some seriously complain about theology that unbelievers or the ignorant cannot understand. Why?

When we find it, exuberant spirituality is far from civil power. Establishment, legal or merely conventional, establishes a strong synergy of two not-so-good things-- (a) churches that identify themselves with their public face to the local body politic more than faith allows, and (b) participation in the Body that is predicated too little on faith and prayer and too much on citizenship and class. Kierkegaard lampooned the sharp ironies of established religion mercilessly.

For most liberal democracies, SSM has been a simple just reform, but for their churches That Topic has been a hypertrophy of that bad synergy. The Church of Cockaigne is an interesting outlier where the state has done the right thing, and the disestablished church has done its own right thing.


MsLiz said...

I finally gave up and did a search on "Church of Cockaigne", and it's just too funny :D

MsLiz said...

"Opposition to the ordination of women is fairly widespread in the Communion once we get beyond Western Anglicanism; though not all non-Western Anglicans are opposed." +Peter (Feb 13 12:41)

+Peter, I responded earlier I find this info sobering.

In similar vein, I find this, from 'The Guardian', also sobering..

Title: First Ardern, now Sturgeon: leaders echo ‘dehumanising’ pressures

“We had a period in time in the 90s and early 2000s where we had more women in politics. Social media wasn’t so present, and actually the quality of the discourse was better than it is today,” she said. “What I suspect is a minority of individuals have managed to lower and brutalise the debate for everybody. It’s something we have got to tackle because not only will it force good people out of politics, it will have consequences in terms of the quality of legislation that is passed.”

~Rosie Campbell, a professor of politics and director of the Global Institute of Leadership at King’s College London

Mark Murphy said...

1938 Doctrine Commission ahead of it's time! (Re Peter's addendum to the initial OP)

MsLiz said...

+Peter, I've done a quick read of the new links you've posted and then I wondered what happens in NZ currently in these situations..

Q1. Within the Pakeha Tikanga/ACANZP if a non-Christian gay couple in an already existing long-term relationship became Christian, would they be welcomed into church, baptised, and free to participate in fellowship within the church as a couple?

Q2. Would an individual from a couple as described in Q1 be eligible for ordination?

[Apologies for my general lack of knowledge in Anglican practice let alone NZ in particular]

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Liz
All people are welcome in all parishes [and I notice that parish leaders get upset if anyone implies that in their parish some peopl would not be welcome.

A request for baptism (for any one in a partnership which is not a marriage) will engender a conversation about the meaning of baptism, the connection between baptism and discipleship, and - potentially - the question of whether marriage as sign of intention in following Christ is recommended prior to baptism ... but, I should stress, where that conversation ends up will very much being in the flow of that conversation as mutual discernment about the Christian life takes place between enquirer and vicar - there is no policy I am aware of which says A and not B should be the answer.

Freedom to participate in fellowship (which I assume may include a question of freedom to, say, get involved in music, ministries of care, potentially leadership thereof, and so forth) - again, for any couple not in a married relationship, will be a matter of local values and discernments about expectations for leaders within parishes.

Something similar is in the mix of discussion when the question turns to ordination but the questions are much sharper because the role of an ordained person is both within and beyond parishes and involves diocesan discernment, matters of common standards for all the ordained and so forth. I cannot think of any of our dioceses which would not expect a person to be single or married (i.e. not in a partnership which was not marriage). The specific question of whether a person in a civil same sex marriage would be accepted as a candidate for ordination is a matter for which each diocese would need to be enquired of re the answer.

Anonymous said...

Brett Provance. Romans 1:26-27 in its Rhetorical Tradition.


MsLiz said...

Thank you +Peter, it strikes me ordained clergy shoulder a lot of responsibility at the local level that surely requires much love, patience, discernment, bible knowledge, 'church system' knowledge, *and* well developed communication skills.. and many more skills too! I didn't understand about local decision-making but what you wrote really helps.

MsLiz said...

BW's link didn't work for me, this is the same pdf I think...

Anonymous said...

"Does the Bible uniformly teach X?"

Tricky. The texts bear such divergent yet plausible readings that we may never have complete confidence in just one of them.

Why, for instance, should we choose Ian Paul's exegesis over the radically different ones of Brett Provance or Douglas Campbell? All are plausible.

If one single obvious reading cannot clear the field, then we are not constrained by anything like an explicit law in scripture. Rather, our practice is constrained by the canon's picture of human life in God's creation.

Yet this does not satisfy exegetes who very much want to find a law against gay sex. Why?

My guess-- the idea that the Body is simply a custodian of the scriptures with little or no discretion is at stake in the debate. People who do not trust bishops or synods would rather trust their own bibles. + Peter argues from scripture, of course, but concludes that churches have discretion that some could find crazymaking.

But Jesus himself committed a certain case-wise judgment to the apostles at St Matthew xvi 19 and St John xx 23. And as mentioned a fortnight ago, the NT says more than we acknowledge about the tradition or paradosis in which this judgment is exercised.

Obviously no apology is required for doing as Jesus commanded. But to do this without splitting churches may require the more explicit pneumatology suggested here from time to time.


Mark Murphy said...

William will be pleased:

MsLiz said...

"But the Grand Topic eats That Topic." ~BW in the last ADU post comments (Feb 06, 9:51am)

BW, not sure what you mean by 'Grand Topic' (the above quote being the latest example)

~for the record, I'd guess 'Reconciliation'

Does the term have a generally understood meaning?

Mark Murphy said...

Dear Father Ron,

Your daughter and son in law's relationship is showing us how the Spirit works.

Anonymous said...

"...not sure what you mean by 'Grand Topic'"

Disestablishment and competition. The schools of churchmanship that inform much of our thinking arose to at least informally lead the cultural life of our societies as wholes.

They no longer succeed at this, but we keep trying (like those mice digging through the sand) because we would be disoriented without those schools. Where churches are small and most people do not belong to them, we need new churchways. Personally, I tend to find those in the early, not so Constantinian fathers, but others have other worthwhile inspirations.

"the Grand Topic eats That Topic."

The psychiatric view of homosexuality (ie it has some biological cause) rivals the medieval scholastic one (ie gay sex is against nature like usury). It would do this whether churches were robustly established or cheerfully small.

In the former case, their authority would be too deeply respected for accommodations for SSM to inspire rebellion and schism. In the latter case, those rare accommodations would be for undoubted disciples-- internal, pastoral, maybe improvised, scarcely noticed.

But guided as we are by untimely churchmanship, we are in a twilight between the two. With no influence on our societies, both sides still debate the matter as though it they were legislating for multitudes. Distracted by this delusion, neither side has adequately answered your question to + Peter: what should a pastor do if a same sex couple married in a registry office comes to church?

So the Grand Topic eats That Topic. Debaters of SSM are as sincere as they can consciously be, but the course of the events that we can see is better explained by their anxiety about disestablishment and competition.


MsLiz said...

Oh! Interesting answer BW, and much appreciated.

Father Ron, your daughter's loving relationship reminds me how most people do their best within a given situation but we often don't know all they're dealing with.. I admire their honesty.

Anonymous said...


We believe things and argue for them. Some agree, more or less. Others demur.

We are not often curious about how those who agree with us came to do so. Yet we feel that we must have some ego-saving explanation for why others persistently disagree. This asymmetry is not reasonable.

Indulging that weakness, we underestimate the power of another one, what my old teacher Robert Kegan calls "immunity to change." Self-protective ideas unconsciously adopted in response to trauma tend to be fortifications without gates, traps in a new situation.

An overweight boy bad at sports learns to screen out his classmates' jeering on the playing field. But then decades later, he is an accomplished scholar of St Paul, who can lecture hours on "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," but simply cannot obey his physician's urgent orders to diet and exercise.

When people cannot change, we do ourselves no favours-- and possibly do them sad injustice-- in speculating about why that is so.


Anonymous said...

Bowman writes: "we feel that we must have sone ego-saving explanation for why others persistently disagree."

No doubt true. C. S. Lewis wrote a famous essay exploring this ccalled "Bulverisn" - "you only say that because you're a man/capitalist/transphobe etc."

But as Lewis famously concluded, "you must first show that a man IS wrong before you show WHY he is wrong."
Speculations about another's inner mental states and emotional drives may be interesting but they don't do all that much in arriving at the truth, whether proposition X about Scripture is true or not. It is better to stick with an objective study of biblical texts and the reasonings of historical theology rather than to indulge in theological Bulverism, even one dressed in high flown psychological language.
Human beings are really quite opaque, even to ourselves: or as St Paul put it, "we know ourselves only in part.:
So it's a good rule to do as they say in soccer, play the ball, not the man.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Mark Murphy said...

"I could see what they were doing, these priests and their people, when they read the scriptures and vehemently denounced Cain, Esau, Judas and other wicked people of the past mentioned in the holy scriptures. They were failing to see the characteristics of Cain, Esau, Judas and others in themselves. These people would say it was 'they, they, they' that were the bad people, putting it off from themselves. But when, with the help of the light and the spirit of truth, some of them came to see themselves, then they came to say 'I, I, I, it is myself that have been the Ishmael, the Esau etc'. When these people, who were so much taken up with finding fault with others and thought themselves clear of these things, came to look into themselves and with the light of Christ thoroughly to search themselves, they would see quite enough of these things in their own lives. Then the cry could not be 'it is he or they', but "I and we are found in this condition'."

George Fox, Journal (1648)

"These things you must all find inside, there is your peace and there comes refreshment to your souls from the Lord."

George Fox, Epistle 79 (1654)

George Fox

MsLiz said...

"I know there is fear of a slippery slope, of what may or may not happen at some point in the future, but let us not give in to the fear of a future which we can neither predict nor control. Fear leads us to do the wrong things - trying to secure the future for God tomorrow, rather than trusting the Holy Spirit today."

ABC Justin Welby. ~Living in Love and Faith debate at General Synod on Wednesday 8th February 2023 (+Peter's 2nd link, top of this post).


"those who build walls are their own prisoners." ~Ursula Le Guin

Seen on Facebook yesterday and tonight I found a review of the book 'The Dispossessed' which is the source of the quote.

The review discusses the double-nature of walls and expands out to thoughts on freedom...

"While there are certainly situations and regimes which allow for more or less freedom, we shouldn’t let this seduce us into seeing freedom as a simple quantity. In many cases, an increase along one axis of freedom comes with a corresponding decrease along another axis."



Moya said...

I can understand William’s position in ‘play the ball, not the man’ and to some extent agree with it. But I am thinking who I am, my experiences and circumstances, do often condition the view I have of whatever facts I am engaging with. So I can appreciate BW’s comment too.

Moya said...

PS maybe life is more like rugby than soccer with sufficient limits so no-one ends up with a broken neck! 😀