Monday, May 14, 2012

awkward

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.

(Just one?)

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.

Or...

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.

17 comments:

camillofan said...

Well, see, never mind gay marriage; I think the church *has* gone all wrong on the divorce issue (and I have thought this for a couple of decades). What does that make me?

Marcus Green said...

Christian.

You aren't alone in thinking that. I had an excellent comment on my Facebook page from someone you know well on this issue.

My point is that there is genuine divergence amongst genuine traditionalists & evangelicals on divorce. That's not addressed by the CEEC report which regards itself as a pretty complete statement on the traditional Scriptural view of marriage. The reason many do exegetical backflops here is because they care so much about people invovled, and understand so much about the people involved, and therefore work past the surface of the words to the context of the words and place proof texts in the wider framework of the whole counsel of Scripture.

That generosity & care - that grace - is by and large (and certainly within this report) not afforded to gay people.

The Scripture does not say gay people may not marry and must always be celibate; it's a position worked out from inference. It's a respectable and honest position, but it comes from applying a text to a reality. The Scripture does say divorced people may not marry and must remain celibate. Yet CEEC do not threaten to break fellowship with any fellowship that contradicts Scripture by condoning this practice.

I'd gently say that this is, well, not exactly consistent.

In the church, we do hold differing positions. That happens. We are human beings, we are going to disagree. But grace and generosity should not get lost here, and we should always try to tone down stuff about breaking fellowship with others we don't quite get. Especially when there's a whopping great logical loophole in the argument.

Especially when it's about us, like we're the focus.

I mean, isn't our faith kind of about God? If we find we believe fundamentally different things about God then perhaps we should travel in different planes, but if we simply disagree about each other - there is something in me (me, of all people) that wants us to welcome humility back into the room.

Oh yes. It's about us. So not crucial then. Ho hum, let's muddle on.

And point people to Jesus again.

Marcus Green said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marcus Green said...

So I have received a tweet from Sean Doherty, the ethics tutor at St Mellitus, quoted in the CEEC document as commending their work. I posited that his commendation was being used by CEEC to say that St Mellitus were backing the report. This is Sean's tweet:

swdoherty
@salvationssongs Hi Marcus - someone sent me link to yr blog. I signed St Matthias statement in personal capacity not as rep of St Mellitus!

I stand corrected. The CEEC just wanted Sean's commendation. He's an ethics tutor. It's an ethics issue. However, by using St Mellitus' name, there's a confusion - and perhaps the CEEC seem to be indulging in what many of us have done in our time - a little weighted commendation. Kudos by connection. It's what the back cover of books were made for!!!

Anyway - Sean, many thanks for the clarification. St Mellitus haven't so far been asked to, and have not backed the CEEC statement.

Sean Doherty said...

Thank for clarifying that so graciously Marcus.

Best wishes

Sean

Marcus Green said...

Sean - thank you. You are genuinely too kind - my first attempt lacked a little grace, so thanks for waiting till my second go!

But I'd really be interested in hearing your answer to my basic point. I heard your Godpod on Divorce, so I know how generously and caringly you worked with context and wider cultural and Scriptural worldview as you talked about that.

I also occasionally felt that you sounded more like an academic than a pastor, if I'm honest, but that's not a critique - that's just to observe the terms of that discussion!

Given all of that, does the generosity and care and context and wider cultural and Scriptural worldview you employ on divorce to help us understand Jesus' absolute prohibitions as not quite the words they at first seem have nothing to say in any way re the issue addressed by CEEC? Is this so different an issue in every way that ignoring Jesus on divorce is a matter of debate, but debating Paul on homosexuality is reason for schism?

I'd love to debate this further. Thanks for your tweets. I really appreciate your openness. Please feel free to answer here, or if you'd rather, Graham has my email.

Sean Doherty said...

Well there is a short answer and a (very) long answer. My short answer is that questions about divorce AND about gay sexual relationships can ultimately only be settled by exegesis. My long answer is the relevant exegesis (which I am not going to do in a blog comment!).

So, what I am saying is that my exegetical conclusion is that I don't find a strong parallel between the two cases. My understanding is that the New Testament explicitly permits remarriage after divorce in certain cases and that it explicitly prohibits gay sexual relationships and does designate any exceptions.

That's the short answer and I acknowledge I have not provided the exegetical evidence necessary to persuade you or anyone else of it. But at least it indicates *why* I think they are such different issues.

Marcus Green said...

And here we have the heart of the issue.

Generosity to those like us; strict adherence to the letter of the law for those who are different.

Sean, I heard your podcast on divorce, and I took on board all the ways you were dealing with exceptions and I see the rigour with which you were working and also the kindness you were trying to exhibit.

So without knowing you I know the grace that is there.

And so I will push a little. Because despite your shorthand here, the New Testament nowhere explicitly prohibits gay sexual relationships. I'm being pedantic here, but pedantry is sometimes its own reward. The NT prohibits certain gay acts. Not relationships. Relationships are never considered. Should a man fall in love with another man and act on that passion? Question never asked, question never answered. The acts it prohibits may well be acts which (and this is where we should meet for exegetical debate, not rely on a comments form, you are right, but I'm making a larger point, so I'm going to go with this for a moment, please bear with me) would be critiqued in a straight context. Indeed, I'd say pretty clearly that happens in Romans 1 & 2.

Against that, that there is an exception made to the divorce prohibitions that is almost wiped away by Jesus' pretty clear words that if you don't hit that exception, you must be celibate. An instruction that is never given to gay people: "Gay people, you must all stop having sex" - never said anywhere in the NT.

The Bible has 6 or 7 injunctions against gay sexual acts. It has 360 or so injunctions against straight sexual acts. The answer to that comparison is not "Ah but how many times does it commend straight sex? Zero for gay sex"; the answer is "And in what context did those injunctions against those acts come? Why were they made?"

But to get to this point, and to walk down this tricky road, and to do so with an open heart and open Bible and with grace and humility should not be to receive warnings from fellow evangelicals that a person has placed themself beyond fellowship.

Dill, mint & cumin have been well tithed today by CEEC, but what price mercy & faithfulness?

Forgive me, because we don't sit on different sides. I don't believe in sides, though sometimes it seems as though I have to fight to say that! We belong together, and it takes kindness to get us there. Kindness I hear in so many voices on so many issues that just slips away here. So I speak out because I don't get why it slips away here. We should be kind here too. We are such a blessed people, we should never stop blessing.

6eight said...

To be frank with you, I worry that this argument is proof of the death of classic evangelicalism.

Because the debate is simply *not* about what we pretend it's about. We (evangelicals) act as though we stand either, on the side of the clear warrant of scripture - or we stand firm in the gracious tradition of love, which Jesus set before us.

Let's be fair, those positions reflect neither side in this debate. We are arguing about church tradition, and whether the Church can be a source of revealed morality.

Joystep said...

I agree with Camillofan, I dont know where that leaves me.... Abandoned by my husband leaving me with two children babe in arms and a three yr old, my life was shattered, picking up the pieces but to feel then the church didnt really accept me, I felt abandoned by God too... This was many years ago and I have struggled with this rejection till I know of God who loves me and who loves to see love in action....... where indeed does it leave me......Joyce

Marcus Green said...

Joyce - may I say a little here. I bring the subject of divorce up & how the church works around the Scriptures on the subject not to make people worry about this (though I know this happens, & I worried that doing this would achieve this end, even given my initial clear word about that) BUT because there's a difference on how the two subjects (divorce & same sex relationships) are treated.

Sean sees them as fundamentally different: one has some exceptions granted, the other none. He fails to recognise that the texts on divorce deal with a situation analogous to what we call divorce, but the texts on homosexuality may well be dealing with situations far removed from the relationships we face today. Grace for one situation; letter of the law for the other. CEEC all the way.

I want to say that we wrestle with these things. We do not put aside Scripture - we put ourselves under Scripture. But when we do so, we put ourselves under the whole of Scripture, not under the odd verse. Otherwise, we might find an unbearable burden placed on our shoulders.

An example: CEEC 5.c would have churches break fellowship with those who refuse to accept their understanding of sexual practice. I guess a text like Matt 19 comes into play here- if someone sins against you, go to them give them chance to repent, take others, take them to the wider fellowship - and if they refuse, treat them "like a pagan or a tax collector". Which sounds pretty final.

Until of course you remember more of St Matthew's Gospel. St Matthew's Gospel. Remember what job he was doing when Jesus found him & called him? So how does Jesus treat tax collectors? Does he exclude them, break fellowship & have no more to do with them? No - he puts them in his leadership team, nurtures them, and gives them a chance to change the world.

Mark - this is where I come to you. I just don't like sides. I just don't. I ask one question of CEEC, but my burning issue in this whole debate is - why are there sides at all? It is a false dichotomy to say "these are the people who are all about the Scripture" and "those are the people all about love". I hope I am about both, and I hope those I disagree with are, too.

I certainly believe the Church should be a source of revealed morality; there's a problem - the revelation comes to people. And people see things in a context. Revelation comes to us when we are wearing glasses. Sometimes we make mistakes, and make them last. Overturning these things is hard; we do not do it in order to fit the spirit of the age but because we understand we have got stuck in the spirit of a past age which we thought was godly, but now we see was not as godly as we had hoped.

It's unfortunate when the world gets it before the church; but the church should get it deeper.

People are people. Not abandoned by God but loved. Often not perfect, but forgiven. Receiving grace and pouring it out.

I'm far from perfect in all of this. But I will keenly argue for equality as a justice issue (in disagreement with the Archbishop of York today) because, even if I am wrong, I think it's the better mistake. Scripturally I just don't see Jesus reminding people of their moral limits & putting them in their place; well, not unless they happened also to be religious leaders...

Sean Doherty said...

Hi Marcus and all. Sorry not to reply sooner. Thanks for all the constructive comments. Lots here so forgive me for only responding to a few points.

First, I certainly recognise there's a debate to be had as to the interpretation of what the biblical verses refer to and whether it's applicable to loving consenting lifelong gay relationships today. Like I said that's ultimately a big exegetical question and I certainly recognise its existence and legitimacy.

Second, it's unfair to paint this as being about evangelicals who are against people not like them. This ignores celibate gay Christians and the postgay experience. I used to believe I was gay, now I consider myself to be postgay (and I'm married). So I'm not standing for anything I'm not prepared to live by!

Marcus Green said...

Sean - many thanks for this.

One of the great things about conversation is that we build better understanding and break down false barriers. I spoke this morning in church here on the John 17 text where Jesus prays that we might all be one; I don't for a moment think he supposes we'll all agree on everything. He's lived thirty-odd years amongst real people. He prays (amongst other things) that when we disagree, we do it Christianly - with genuine care & love and kindness and grace. Personally, I think that's why St Paul ends Galatians the way he does - it's a letter about a fight; and then towards the end of chapter 5 he changes gear and he says some things are more important, and the way we are with each other is even more crucial. Loving each other when we disagree shows we are for real.

I'm interested in your experience, and I'm really grateful that you talk about it. I had a teacher once who would have described himself in very similar terms.

I suppose I have a couple of questions in my mind (and again please feel free to ignore, to answer here, to email or to meet up some time!) and they are -
1. Notwithstanding, I think the basic point holds. It's a human condition. We best understand those like us. We sympathise least naturally with those unlike us.
2. I am interested - do you think your experience affects how you see the wider issue at all?
3. Understanding that there are different voices here (something I hope I have made clear throughout) why should the gay & celibate Christian, and the post-gay Christian get a preferable hearing amongst evangelicals do you think, but the Christian (gay or straight) who with integrity works with the Scriptures and in the wider context finds that the texts used to call all gay relationships sinful in fact cannot be so applied - and this person is then worthy of 5.c?

John, in his gospel, talks about those who were cast out of the synagogue. Jesus doesn't seem to be a fan. It's a power exercise, and can only be performed by the majority over the minority. Is it beautiful? Is it lovely? Is it faithful? Is it pure?

Again - many thanks for commenting, and apologies for my verbosity.

Sharon said...

This is really interesting, the church makes it standpoint on scripture using jesus' own disciples text.

Shouldnt all reationships gay or straight start with God at the centre.

Divorce is hard enough without having the guilt that you are letting God down in his eyes, coming out as being gay is hard enough coming to terms with it I dont know of any gay christians in my circle of friends but i can sympathise with the rights they are trying to achieve no-one can be excluded.

Divorce is still a taboo subject because i dont think anyone enters a marriage thinking thats where it will end. Marriage is still a marriage, but there are people who have more than one wife or husband living with them, I find this more bizarre that accepting a gay marriage.

There are no sides here i agree with most points and i can also understand that the church doesnt want to change its doctrine.

Sin is a broken realtionship from God.

Sharon

6eight said...

The Post-Gay experience really interests me - because if I am to have integrity when I talk about acceptance, it would be strange of me to reject out-of-hand this path.

I have read much on the issue over on Peter Ould's blog.

What I like about the Post-gay movement is that it encourages the individual to give their sexuality over to God, so to speak, and to persue Him. Something commendable for gay and straight alike.

However, I am skeptical whether the "post-gay thing" is (A) possible for all gay people; (B) Right for all gay people.

It seems to me, that some people experience a fluid sexuality, in which case it is right to seek out God's will for their sexuality, perhaps becoming post-gay.

And some people do not have a fluid sexuality, and should not be despondent or forced into celibacy *if that is not their calling*.

Marcus Green said...

Thanks 6eight. I say wholeheartedly that there should be no sides - that means everyone is welcome to be heard. And every viewpoint. Much of my protest about CEEC is that it doesn't allow that, though the method for allowing this exists already. Extend the grace!

And likewise, if I make such a request, then there are bound to be times when I find myself under the same challenge.

The post-gay experience is something I have come across a couple of times. I know one or two gay blokes who have prayed & prayed, and tried & tried to change. It hasn't happened. They will say clearly this movement is not the solution. I used to know someone who was happily married, but told me that in his youth he was gay. He prayed for this to change. It didn't. But - he fell in love with a girl who turned his world upside down. And, though his basic orientation didn't change, he loves her dearly, and is as faithful to her as any husband should be to his wife. So in effect - post-gay.

Anecdotally, that experience has been related to me of others.

But your point is well-made: I worry about any one-size-fits-all solution; unless it be that people should pursue God with heart & mind & soul & strength. 'Sexuality' is not as clearly delineated, I would feel, in the Scriptures, as some make out. Faithfulness on the other hand is a key concept.

There's a couple of statements worth disagreeing with!

There's an amusing photo on twitter today - a bloke with a text from Leviticus condemning homosexuality tattooed on his arm. "Lev 18 tattoo - $200. Not knowing Lev 19 condemns tattoos - priceless."

We all have areas of ignorance about each other, the wonders of God, the riches of Scripture. What is truly priceless is when we stop and listen and learn and grow.

Marcus Green said...

I read this today: http://seedbed.com/feed/creedal-christology-in-the-age-of-osteen/

It's a great piece on the Seedbed site about core Christology. What we believe about Jesus is what makes us Christians. Not believing this stuff is cause for us to walk different paths. Actually, not believing this stuff means we are walking different paths.

Disagreeing on who can get married - that's not core article of faith stuff. Even when I make it about understanding humanity. It's still understanding humanity, not believing in Jesus.