I thought I would have a break from the Green Report and the nature of episcopal leadership and write about something far less contentious (irony being deployed here): human sexuality, or more specifically same sex marriage!
Now here is the challenge I am setting myself: I am going to try and be gentle, for as I reflected in my previous blog (see below), the nature of some of these debates has become a little heated; and that’s being polite!
By way of introduction I would identify myself as a robustly ‘liberalish’ Christian (this is a phrase borrowed from my publisher Richard Hilton of Sacristy Press,- which makes me sound really posh. If I can give a cheap plug for my book its called Theonomics, and is available from Sacristy).
By ‘liberalish,’ I mean that I believe in the importance of progressive revelation, I tend to be more interested in what I believe to be the big Scriptural themes: justice, love, fidelity, judgement (apologies to any universalists out there),covenant, redemption and so forth, rather than working out what each and every verse, or even word, might mean.
On the whole I am suspicious of arguments deriving from a strict interpretation of particular words and phrases, especially as they relate to broad and ‘culturally enhanced’ terms such as homosexual. I believe that it is entirely possible to over interpret Scripture and, to inappropriately extrapolate from Scripture. By the same token I have to hold my hands up and say ‘yes’ it is entirely possible that I am guilty of under-interpretation.’
As a ‘liberalish’ Christian I would want to affirm the authority of Scripture and, its truths, I absolutely do. I also have no problem affirming the creeds without crossing my fingers behind my back. However I would stress that meaning is found in dialogue between the authority of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. One more thing: liberalish means, for me, regarding tradition as a set of gifts or an inheritance, but also a history to be critiqued.
I find it hard to accept that Scripture can, in reality, be read in isolation from tradition, reason and experience. Having said all of this, liberalism as a theological process should not be equated with relativism, for the output of ‘liberal thinking’ is a ‘good decision’ based on a rigorous methodological approach (thank you Henry Major!)
Often our understanding of Scripture is a reflection of the traditions that have shaped us. I think we need to be up front and honest about this. I know many disagree with the conclusions I have arrived at, but what I would ask is that they are not dismissed as ‘mere opinion.’
From time to time the Church deliberately decides to revisit tradition and critique its own history, this is what it is doing through a process called ‘structured conversations.’
I have given a few insights into how ‘I do theology’ because I think it is really important that we understand where each other is coming from. After all you may be able to show me the weaknesses in my approach and vice-versa.
I think my support from same sex marriage would come from my persona as a both a dad-priest and, a priest-theologian.
The priest in me would want to affirm that where love is found God is found. Archbishop Justin hinted at the universality of this when he said that he knows same sex couples who have loving, stable and monogamous relationships of a ‘stunning quality.’
The theologian in me would want to suggest that love can be known by both its content and its manifestations. Love, in other words is not simply a sentiment, it is an epistemologically observable phenomena (just as Jesus, the epitome of love was observable).
The content of relational love comprises amongst other virtues: monogamy, fidelity and, covenant. The manifestations of relational love could include neighbourliness, hospitality and charity. And yes, such manifestations of love are also displayed by celibates and single folk. But, I suspect that many of us are largely schooled in such virtues through marriage, for when we are married we acquire a whole new set of relationships as part of the deal!
The recently retired Bishop of Oxford said, (the day after he retired): ‘I want to affirm covenanted, faithful, life-long relationships either gay or straight.’ I agree. But here is the sting in the tail, and its the word ‘covenant:’
How, in the absence of a liturgical rite (such as Holy Matrimony) can we talk of covenant? I don’t think we can, at least not with any integrity.
Archbishop Justin has also said, with the noblest of intentions, that he doesn’t want to judge gay people. But his remark raises a couple (excuse the awful pun) of questions:
- Isn’t it the case that through the so called structured conversations the Church is actively, purposefully and rightly seeking to exercise judgement?
- Could it be argued that that inclusion or exclusion from liturgical rites are the concrete acts which testify to a a prior set of judgements?
We could talk about the difference between judgement and judgemental but I suspect this would be an exercise in splitting hairs.
So the priest-theologian in me would like to offer marriage to same sex couples, but what of the dad-priest?
No difference, for as I reflect on this issue it is clear to me that what I would like above all else for my girls is that they find a life-long partner who is going to cherish them. Someone who is going to give to them and, receive from them. Someone who is going to complement them and, be complimented by them. Someone who is simply going to stay the journey with them ‘for richer, for poorer.’ If this is a boy wonderful, if its another girl wonderful, for the wonder of God is simply this: that two people can live to give in mutual cooperation and love until ‘death us do part.’
The priest-dad in me would like to see God’s covenant love explicitly brought into my children’s most special relationship, through a liturgical rite, for there really is no other way that the Church can affirm God’s participation ‘life long, stable, monogamous relationships of a stunning quality.’ Is there? And, it this is what I desire for my own children surely it is what I should desire for all God’s children?
Liturgical rites and sacraments are, yes part of the mystery of faith, but also the Church’s proof statements – they are our living epistemology.The offering and withholding of rites of passage testify to the judgements we make, and it seems to me that there is simply no getting away from this.