Monday, February 20, 2012

be careful what you sign

At St Catherine's I conducted 80 or so weddings. It was always a privilege. The minister has a special view of proceedings matched by no-one else - you get to see the nerves, the hopes, the fears, the little signs that go on between people. Mostly, you get to see the love up close. 

It's terrific! So I support anything that supports marriage.
But I won't be supporting the Coalition for Marriage's online petition that is currently doing the rounds, & I urge you to with-hold your support as well.  
Let me explain why.
The Coalition for Marriage, on their website, have as their tagline "Don't play politics with marriage". That, however is exactly what they are doing here, and a quick look at their four statements of belief make it clear.
1.MARRIAGE IS UNIQUE: Throughout history and in virtually all human societies marriage has always been the union of a man and a woman. Marriage reflects the complementary natures of men and women. Although death and divorce may prevent it, the evidence shows that children do best with a married mother and a father.
What's wrong with that? Well, it's a bit of a twisting of history. A man & a woman? Virtually all human societies? Well, except for pretty much all Islamic nations where polygamy is still legal; and many Buddhist ones; and of course throughout Old Testament times in Israel itself polygamy was common - think David, think Solomon. Marriage has changed a lot over the years even in Anglican England, where current practices have been shaped by hundreds of years of legal, parliamentary interference as well as pure Bible thinking. After all it's not that long since any argument about the uniqueness of marriage would have referred to its "for life" status. I'm a wee bit disappointed this coalition doesn't dare go there.
2.PROFOUND CONSEQUENCES:   If marriage is redefined, those who believe in traditional marriage will be sidelined. People's careers could be harmed, couples seeking to adopt or foster could be excluded, and schools would inevitably have to teach the new definition to children. If marriage is redefined once, what is to stop it being redefined to allow polygamy?
What is the logic here? This reeks of scare tactics, of Reds under the beds, of finding enemies & making people who are different into people who are evil. That's just not on. I tell you, traditional marriage has been redefined - in my time as an ordained priest - and these guys are happy with it. The change that says "divorce is OK" is in many ways far more fundamental than the change that these guys are wanting to object to. For here we are getting to the core of things. Really, they aren't just saying "marriage is good" they are saying "marriage for straights is good". They are kind of happy with the sentiment that second & third marriages are fine, for people should be allowed to make mistakes. Now, I agree. But I think all people should be allowed that right - the right to be wrong. And I’d argue it's the Church's role in the midst of that to stand tall and and say "BUT the ideal is love for life". 
Love is no respecter of orientation. And if someone is gay, why should their love be worth less? Why should we not offer them the same recognition, the same hope, the same joy? The same opportunity to begin a life - or to make a fool of themself? 
This sidelines no-one. Careers aren't harmed. As a minister I married some divorced people, and not others, so why not grant the church that role when it comes to gay weddings & the state the blanket duty? And why don't we, the Christians, instead of fighting a line that sounds frightfully close to "these dreadful people aren't quite as good as the rest of us & their love certainly doesn't get to qualify as being on our level" shout out that marriage is for life? For life! Love is for life! Let's have schools teach that new definition in the mix. 
What's to stop polygamy being allowed? For goodness sake - it already is for Moslems. And so are arranged marriages, for various sections of society, and though I don't like these, I don't think they belittle the way I'd want to get married. Creating monsters reveals ignorance. Get over it.
3. NO NEED TO REDEFINE: Civil partnerships already provide all the legal benefits of marriage so there's no need to redefine marriage. It's not discriminatory to support traditional marriage. Same-sex couples may choose to have a civil partnership but no one has the right to redefine marriage for the rest of us.
In our munificence, we have granted these people certain privileges, why are they asking for more? Where do they get off? You'd think they thought they were equal to the rest of us!
That's the issue here. This point simply stresses how much the Marriage Coalition doesn't like gay people who want to enjoy equality with their straight peers. Who want to be looked at in the same light and given the same respect and name. Who don't want to be told, "Yes, but you're not married". Gays don't want to stop anyone else getting married. They don't want to devalue marriage. They just want to have access to the same rights as everyone else. Same taxes, same vote, same value on their love. They aren't re-defining anyone else's marriage, but everyone else gets to define their relationships. Gay people don't get to tell straight people the value of their love; straight people like the Marriage Coalition believe its their right to judge others. I'm not sure it should be like that.
4. SPEAK UP: People should not feel pressurised to go along with same-sex marriage just because of political correctness. They should be free to express their views. The Government will be launching a public consultation on proposals to redefine marriage. This will provide an opportunity for members of the public to make their views known.
Because of political correctness? That doesn't enter into it. How about - because of fairness? Because of love? Because people are people? Because there's something wrong here and we can right it? How about because people feel second class & as Christians we should always fight to put that right, even if we are uncomfortable with the outcomes of that fight? It's better to raise people up than to put them down, period. That's not political correctness, that's what Jesus did. I can just see him now - he's spoken to some Canaanite woman, or to a gentile centurion, and in the background a fundamentalist pharisee says, "Political correctness gone mad; call himself the Messiah? No Messiah of mine would be seen dead talking to these folk." 
Jesus smiles. Half turns, holds his hand up and speaks just loud enough for everyone to hear: "But who needs a doctor? The well or the sick? You should learn what the Scripture means when it says - I desire mercy, not death."
Don't play politics with people. Don't play politics with love. Don't play politics that make some second class - it's unlovely, uncaring & unChristian. We may or may not be fans of marriage being for everyone regardless of orientation, but I urge you not to become one of those who thoughtlessly adds your name to the number of those who sign this petition. It's not nice.


Dan said...

1 Timothy 2:1–4 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Thank you for raising some interesting points, I am glad we don't just follow the crowd but petitioning or supplicating is urged upon us.

If you saw a child blindly walk into a road and they were about to be hit by a lorry surely you'd shout as loud as you could to save them?! Surely to stay silent is not loving to our nation or those who don't see what's coming?

My priority is petitioning and prayer for politicians.

Marcus Green said...

Dan - I don't usually let comments that are basically anonymous go up here, but I'll make an exception for this.

I had a comment on twitter that talked about not wholly agreeing with me, but making the person think, and really I'm pleased to do that. It's good to add to a reasoned debate.

I'm afraid your use of Scripture isn't going to work well with me. The 1 Timothy passage you quote is clearly calling us to pray, both in terms of intercession & thanksgiving, for those who govern us. It is not a biblical proof text for sending in online petitions to parliament. That's really an interpretive stretch too far!

I'm not saying petitions are bad - I've been involved in some myself. But this is a bit weak, sorry my friend. And for me, it's about the level of the whole use of Bible involved in the argument from C4M, and that's a problem. We can't call people back to Bible standards & then offer them this - if we are going to call people to Bible standards (and cut me, I hope I bleed Bible) we need to do a lot better. A lot better.

Ethical issues are complicated, and not the place for the church to make a public stance. People get hurt. I'm sorry, but no-one (no-one - and I have asked, many times) can explain to me why organisations like C4M are making a stand over opening marriage to all orientations when they were were (comparatively) quiet over divorce -and indeed, by there online work now have gone totally soft on the issue. I mean - by all means, the Scripture makes marriage normative between a man and a woman, but nowhere adds "and not between a man & a man". It does condemn certain acts, but not a union. Whereas it does, roundly, repeatedly, condemn divorce. And because the state sets the law on marriage, the church & the Christian community have fallen in line & said OK to a standard that is hard to justify by the type of Scriptural work you gave me in your comment.

I raise this not to attack divorce - don't get me wrong; divorce is complex and sad and terrible and painful. I point this out rather simply tocompare two conflicting approaches to ethical situations reflecting contemporary marriage.

And as for your child analogy, we are dealing with adults, and with free will. As a minister I conducted the marriage of many straight couples who I was certain should not have been in front of me. It was not my job to refuse; indeed I was not allowed to refuse! And in fact some of them are in very successful marriages, and I was totally wrong. By contrast, some of those who looked ready & on quite the right track hit very fast divorces. You just can't tell. As I said, people have the right to be wrong. Actually, at his trial, Jesus was silent - sometimes it turns out it is loving to say nothing so that people do get to make their own mistakes and to choose their own joys. This is a right some in our society are not currently equal enough to receive, and that is a scandal.

It is a scandal because we, the Church do not treat all as equal. We judge. There is one judge, and it is not the Church, but her Lord. Until he decided to judge, he calls for wheat & tares to grow equally together. We cannot complain that we are not allowed certain equalities when we do not grant them to others (do unto others, anyone?) so perhaps if we did follow one or two more of Jesus' words, we might have a few more friends and a few more opportunities to personally, as well as prayerfully, seek for good & to draw many closer to our Lord?

That would be my priority.

Anonymous said...

Interesting point of view. God’s Word clearly states that marriage is for one man and one women, yes we can see a history of polygamy, and even see it in many cultures today, even in the old testament, like, as you say King David, it doesn’t mean that King David was right for doing it, he was still sinning, just like me and you and it got him into big, big trouble. Are we really acting as Christians if we put up no fight against this, and let people sin? Why shouldn’t we stand against sin – yes we are sinners, but we are also Christians and are called to be salt and light to the world, and stand against the Devil, sin and the Devil’s plans.

We’re not called to just let people descend further and further into sin are we? How loving would that be? Yes there may be other reasons why C4M are doing this, but if the governments was taking away Christians right to profess their faith in public, would we sit back and let it happen, on the basis that if we don’t then it’s alright because otherwise we’re getting involved in politics? We’re called to spread the Gospel, and tell people about Jesus, of course C4M has its own reasons, and some of them may be wrong, but the essential reason, and the reason that I have signed is that we should not support something that so clearly goes against God’s Word.

Marcus Green said...

"We're not called to just let people descend further and further into sin are we?"

Two things:

1. The Bible does describe some gay acts conducted in the context of idol worship as sinful. It describes straight sex in the same context in the same way. But it never calls the state of being gay sinful, nor does it apply that term to two blokes who fall in love with each other & want to spend the rest of their lives together. Of course, it actually doesn't deal with either issue - and that's why Christians don't see eye to eye here. I'm afraid I'm not going to get into arguments here, but I am going to confess I side with those who see the Bible as viewing everyone as equally human, and not with you on this one.

2. I am convinced that prejudice goes against God's word, and that failing to allow people equality under the law goes against God's word. How people live with that, and how they use the freedoms and responsibilities granted them is up to them. We may guide - that's a fair thing for us to do. We may not force others to live as we see fit - that's not evangelism, that's coercion. Giving an opinion, sharing advice - of course these are things we do with friends and family over a million things; but when we seek to enshrine this stuff in law, or keep these opinions enshrined in law when it is clear many do not share them, I fear we have to be really, really careful about what we are doing.

Just generally we need to be really careful as Christians when we enter the public forum. We have no right to be right; there is no reason why the vast majority should listen to us and accept us because we say "the Bible says so" like that's the argument sorted. After all, we don't agree amongst ourselves how the Bible should be read on the application of many issues - and I don't mean homosexuality here, I mean baptism, the Holy Spirit, how to organise a church or run a service or even what to call a minister/pastor/priest.

What we do need is to be able to talk to each other, to listen, to be a bit humble. I'm clear where I stand on this one, but I've purposely posted the only comments I've received that have disagreed with me to show that it's important we work hard, think clearly and try to retain a little humility!

People loved being with Jesus because they got that he loved them. Here's my final thought for now - in all of this, does anyone get that from us?

Marcus Green said...

After I'd written that last line, I put a version of it on FaceBook as a status - "People loved being with Jesus because they got that he loved them. Lent project: How successful am I/is my church on that score?" The following is a FB conversation that then happened...

Richard Wood: Might make it to 1/10. Good status, though. Shingles must be good for your theology. The marriage coalition piece was good. One question though; how do 'human rights' fit in with our faith?

Marcus Green: Ooh - nice question. I think if people are made in the image of God, and Jesus is the light who lightens everyone, and we are called to love our neighbour as ourselves - human rights should be important, because people are important. Again, I think if you look at whether Jesus sees Scripture or people as more important, I'm fairly confident where that line falls - and not because he doesn't care about Scripture. If we love God, we love the things God loves; what does he love? Well - I think Jesus shows this by dying not for purity of doctrine but for dirty rotten sinners like you & me. So where do human rights fit in with our faith? Our faith is about a God who loves all people, and if we ever give the impression it's a club for those who are good enough & look right & pass a morality test - let's all go home.

Richard Wood: Agreed, but does being loved equate with having rights? I've been coming towards thinking that it's healthier in its negative; not a right to life, but no right to take life from another, for example. But negatives always seem so, well, negative! Then I tried thinking about responsibilities instead of rights. Not sure where I'm ending up. Sorry to hijack your status!

Marcus Green: Think of it not as a healthy negative, but as a healthier gift: not as something we should expect to receive, but as qualities of life we should delight in giving to others and in ensuring as many as possible may be able to enjoy. Is that a helpful way of tackling this?

And that was where we got to. I think Richard, as usual, made some excellent points. I hope I began to answer some of them. I do believe in human rights - not because we as Christians can demand to be treated in certain ways, but because we as Christians should want to see all people treated with the love that takes Jesus to the cross for all people. That's the gift we give. When we fail in this, or make some folk feel second class or just not good enough, I do feel we are not following Jesus very well, and should aim higher. I do view doctrine & right belief as being very important (which may not seem obvious) but I do not view them as being anywhere near as important as people - and in that I think I am simply following Jesus' priorities. He didn't die for abstract truths, but for sinners. People who were far from God. For me, for you.

So I believe in a world where Christians should fight for all people to be seen as equal, even the ones we don't understand or like. That's a gift we can give. And when we give it, I tell you what - we'll receive back what we give away. Whereas now, with loud voices like C4M both demanding special rights for Christians & limited rights for others, we'll also get what we give - nothing. And quite right too.

Berkeley Young said...

Marcus, I'd be interested to know what shaped your thinking on the issue of how the Bible views loving homosexual relationships. I've heard some arguments along the lines of the one you express above (condemnation is for acts in the context of idol worship, not a loving relationship) but I've never found them persuasive. Is this a view you've come to recently, or have you always believed this is what the Bible teaches?

Btw, in reference to your comment: "I am going to confess I side with those who see the Bible as viewing everyone as equally human, and not with you on this one." I hope that Christians who hold the view that homosexual relationships are intrinsically sinful would never describe homosexuals as sub-human or would want in any way to limit their access to fundamental human rights.

God bless,


Marcus Green said...

Berkeley - thanks, these are two good questions, and I have so much to say I'll do it over two comment box replies...

I guess my thinking has developed over the years. It's difficult to give a full run down in a comment on a blog, but I would say that two or three things have shaped how I am seeing the Bible here.

1. I am unsatisfied with the proof texting that goes on in this debate. There are more ways we look at people than a handful of verses on homosexual acts. We look at the way Jesus deals with people generally - and people on the edge, people regarded by society on the basis of Scriptural understanding as being sinful. We understand the difference between acts & orientation & then ask serious questions of that distinction: I am unhappy with "hate the sin, love the sinner", because this has decided gay people are by nature sinful, perhaps an understandable decision, but one the Scripture does not make for us - and one which goes flat against the distinction we make in my last sentence. I see all people being made in God's image, but as we increasingly understand that image to be about persons in loving relationship (with the Trinity as the fundamental understanding of the nature of God) then I become discomforted by a blanket refusal to allow gay people the option of reflecting that image in the forming of faithful relationships. This only comes because we see them being gay as fundamentally sinful - and I'm just not sure the Bible goes anywhere near there.

But if I'm going to deal with a single text, Romans would be my test case, & I'm going to do this no justice in a paragraph. The reflection of Romans 1.18-28 with Romans 12.1-2 where the same ideas are turned on their head, and the sin of the world, idolatry which leads to broken relationships & immorality, is healed & redeemed and becomes worship that makes sense & leads to restored relationship & loving community just isn't about a condemnation of homosexuality. To use that text in that way is bad exegesis. Why would St Paul use homosexuality as his example of immorality that comes from idolatry at this key point in his argument? It only makes sense to us modern people - it makes no sense to anyone whose world view is the Old Testament. But, if he is still dealing with idolatry and reflecting on idolatrous practices & what Jews thought Gentiles got up to - it's perfectly in place, and he doesn't start to move to questions of immorality coming from wrong worship until verse 28/9. I need more time & both of us sitting down with the text in front of us!

Marcus Green said...

2. The problem with any prejudice is not that it is expressed by bad people, but that good people say things which have enormous power without realising what they have done.
Jesus says really clearly "The son of man did not come into the world to condemn the world". This is in John 3. Then in John 4 he meets the woman at the well - and talks about the man she is with who isn't exactly hers. But somehow he does this without any tone of condemnation, anything that makes her turn away. She's there in the middle of the day cos she has to hide from everyone else, but she doesn't hide from Jesus. And, interestingly, having raised the point - Jesus doesn't then tell her she needs to get this sorted before they can go further. He doesn't force her to take it the next step. He doesn't go back there at all.
My point is - Look at the guys who've already commented here: "If you saw a child walk blindly into a road..."; "We are called to...stand against the Devil and his plans". Do you think these guys (whom I have no doubt are decent, good people) are fulfilling Jesus' call for us not to condemn people? Do you think any gay bloke reading words like that don't feel like Christians treat them as second class and want to refuse them human rights? I'm beginning to understand that the basic ability to engage in loving relationships is a fairly bottom level human right, coming from how we are made in God's image. And in the current debate it really looks like straight people want to define how gay people get to do this. I'm uncomfortable because this looks like judgement, because it looks like we make people less - and Biblically it just doesn't look like how Jesus deals with people on the edge to me.

So - it's more than the proof texts. I think if we as evangelicals are reducing the issue to a handful of verses we have become fundamentalists, and are not evangelicals at all. We should know our Bibles better than that. I think ethics should be hard, and should make us feel uncomfortable. Do you think offering paradise to a terrorist on a cross looked right to everyone else when Jesus did it?

I'd rather make the mistake of making other people too equal than judging harshly and making myself too great. That seems the more Biblical choice.