The Church of England Evangelical Council today published an irenic, finely argued, biblically articulate monograph on the issue of same-sex marriage. Well, that's their description...
I am certainly awarding them marks for very high class self-publicity!
What the statement did was re-state a familiar position: though it does so very well, and breaks it down into five points.
1. Love is at the heart of all we do (but that doesn't mean anything goes)
2. The Church is subject to the Scripture & can't just re-write it when it's a problem
3. Marriage in the Scripture is one man, one woman, exclusive of all others, for life, with children usually attached. This is God-ordained so the state can't alter it.
4. True faith leads a holy life - sex in a marriage context, abstinence otherwise, no exceptions, repentance possible.
5. The Church is the place where God's people live by God's word; if people change the rules on marriage, they break his word & this is a reason to see them as beyond fellowship.
Full text here.
In the introduction, and in the many commendations from many good people, there is much said about how this is a very full & helpful statement about the traditional, Anglican, evangelical position on marriage. Irenic. Finely argued. Biblically articulate. There is room made to include gay and lesbian people in conversation.
But I have a question.
No really, just one. It goes to methodology.
Now - before I get there, I need to make a disclaimer. Because I know many people who read this blog, and I can only imagine many of the rest of you, and I don't want anyone to think I am (in what follows) being pastorally insensitive. Please - what comes next is an exercise in rhetorical logic. I am doing this to demonstrate a fundamental - fundamental - flaw in the CEEC's document which is nowhere addressed in their document today. I made this point in a video recently. I make it again now.
In ethics, everyone wears blinkers. There is no level ground. The only level ground there can be is to understand that there is no level ground. We all have life experience and that life experience shapes how we handle Scripture. There is within humanity a normal predisposition to be more understanding to "people like me" than to "others". Seeing this sometimes helps us remember grace. Grace is good.
So my question, my one question, to the authors of the CEEC document on marriage & same sex marriage on St Matthias Day is -
What about divorce?
You see, if I apply to divorce everything that is applied in this document to the issue of same-sex marriage, then this is what I find.
"I hate divorce" Malachi 2.16. Men weep because God does not accept their offerings; why does he not accept them? Because they have divorced the women God joined them to. They have been faithless. So he has rejected them.
"Anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery". Matt 5.32 Jesus speaking. Couldn't be clearer. Only one exception, and it doesn't include rape or abuse or neglect. It certainly rules out anyone marrying anyone who has ever been divorced. Once married, always married (unless the partner dies, obviously).
In Matthew 19 Jesus goes further. He rams home the point, using the Genesis language about being "one flesh", adding his own take about "what God has joined together let man not separate," and then in 19.10 the disciples are so wowed by this they say perhaps it's better never to have married. Jesus' reply?
Be married & have all that comes with it, or be a eunuch. Be single & celibate. And he's not giving a friendship consolation for gay people here, as I've heard put forwards, this is what's on offer if you have been divorced. This is the only offer that exists if you have been divorced.
So I presume that all the people that signed up to the CEEC document, because they want to see the letter of the law administered, without context or explanation admitted on homosexuality, want the same on all issues surrounding marriage. I presume that you allow no discussion on divorce, but hold to the traditional and plain understanding of Scripture on Divorce, and not a softened approach as society has forced on us over the last 40 years, as is pointed out has happened over same-sex issues.
Fulcrum. St Mellitus. New Wine. The Bishops there. St John's Nottingham.
Is this right?
Love is at the heart of what we do - but it doesn't mean anything goes. We can't just re-write Scripture when it's inconvenient. Marriage in the Scripture is one man, one woman for life. For life. True faith leads a holy life - sex in a marriage context, but abstinence outside that. We'll look for ways of promoting friendship to help, won't we? The Church is the place where we live around God's word; if people won't do this, we will break from them. Over divorce, obviously, and all those so-called churches that allow people to re-marry just to satisfy carnal urges when the Scripture places such a clear and better path before them, really aren't places we want anything to do with.
Just in case I have made my point...
Perhaps we bring grace back into the room. Perhaps we allow that when we understand a person, we allow them to live. And we don't break fellowship because the church is not about breaking fellowship but following Christ in all our fallenness with his hand helping us. Raising us. We are endlessly obsessed with the specks in one another's eyes; but love actually means appreciating there are the odd logs in our own. And grace allows our speck-laden friend to help us take out the log so we may be blessed by them and then we may actually bless them in return, and not simply curse each other across fences and walls and barriers and pain.
The Scripture does say all these things on divorce, but it also speaks of healing. The Scripture does speak about certain homosexual acts, but it also speaks about the value of people. All people. Ethics is sometimes an imprecise sport, but when it becomes an exclusive passtime, we have made ourselves too much the focus.
The CEEC statement is clear, but incomplete. As all such statements are. I don't mean to be awkward, but I do want the church to be better than this.