So now the Equal Marriage vote has happened, how is everyone feeling? I’ve seen some interesting comments from all sides. I kind of make the choice to believe that people are struggling as they try to be generous all round.
After all, in the run up to Tuesday night there was an acknowledged degree of...vitriol. I’m not a fan of that kind of thing. Kindness is at times a harder call, but a better challenge.
I wrote to one person, on Tuesday, with whom I have been friends for over 25 years. I did the music for his wedding. We disagree on this issue. We have sat over coffee and discussed our different Biblical perspectives. We are both passionate about it. But I wrote to him that there is no issue, no cause in my life that is more important than the people in my life.
This isn’t because I don’t hold issues and causes dear; it’s because people matter more.
Difficult issues bring hard choices and I suppose it is impossible to keep everyone happy. There’s a temptation to decide matters on a “hurt quotient” which should certainly be avoided. Actually, I saw a lovely spoof of that way of thinking on Facebook today, where ethicists were said to have discovered a new theory - it is better to kill an old lady’s cat than a little girl’s puppy. This is either because the little girl will be introduced to death and the old lady has already had pain, or because it will traumatise you more to distress the little girl than it will to grieve the old lady. Either way, the old lady loses.
(Mind you, part of me feels that a “perfect Anglican compromise” would be for everyone to fail to get what they want...)
No: It’s not about hurt. It’s not even about causes. Christians face tough choices and have to do the best we can for people given that we live in the real world. And we genuinely struggle with what that means. Struggle is good.
I confess I struggle with the procreation argument. As far as I can understand it, “for thousands of years” this has always been part of marriage. (Ever since 1662 or even earlier...) Forgive me - but the church’s line on this is an application of the Bible, is it not, rather than a simple reading of straightforward Scriptures? Indeed, the pressure of the procreation expectation led to shame and to people being cast out from society - as the Scriptures themselves evidence. The facile Labour argument on Tuesday (no fertility tests at the altar) was a great soundbite but it’s also true: older people, infertile couples - ‘barren’ couples in the view of some societies because of our emphasis - are yet able to be married at the altar. It seems this is because an archetype of procreativity between man and woman exists, so the specificity does not need to. But because this archetype does not exist between gay couples, very many people hit a problem. I hope that’s fair - I mean - as a description of the argument?
Because I don’t think it’s fair as a description of reality.
This is my struggle: I think if this is anywhere near a description of how reality is working then the power of an argument has just trumped the value of people. So to speak, the Sabbath is ruling man. And by this positioning of argument over people, of the importance of a theory (which is often kept already only in archetype as it is), I fear that those of us who disagree will be kept separate across our battle lines instead of coming together as God’s family, holy and dearly loved.
May I push further on the children in marriage question? It’s not ‘procreation’, it’s children, isn’t it? People. In contemporary terms we have to look freshly at this irrespective of the gay question. In a world where we will see population increase by a third in the next forty years and food demand rise by a half in the same time, is it godly to tell everyone heading to marriage - be procreative! Have kids! That’s the point! Exhaust the earth! I was with an academic last term who said that Africa will see the equivalent of 24 New Yorks created in the next 40 years (I think that was the figure - it was astronomical). Where will these children find food? Where will they find water? These will be real people and we can’t be tempted by an attitude that even has the possibility of sounding like: “Never mind - when everywhere was as populous as New Zealand, the rule that we drew from Biblical principles worked. We’ve always done it this way before.”
My boss sometimes struggles with me because there are times I don’t work well with rules. I love to live outside the box.
I get that this occasionally makes me a difficult customer in an institution - but surely, putting my cussedness to one side, this is a fair question to ask: Where does Jesus make a rule bigger than a person (other than a religious person)? Where does he find a law to be more important than a sinner? I will lose all my principles in favour of my relationships because when I see Jesus I see that it’s better to be righteous than right - by which I mean, I’d rather be right with you than beat you in an argument. Truly. I’d rather be in a good relationship with you than be correct.
I love to be right -don’t get me wrong - anyone who knows me knows this! But the fundamental Gospel imperative I find in the Scriptures is not about being right - it’s about being right with God and right with one another. It’s about righteousness. It’s about love.
Which brings me back to where I began.
I guess my point is that with regard to the current situation around marriage, the status quo isn’t acceptable because it doesn’t treat enough people as people. One MP put it: not making anyone special, just making everyone the same. The change offered is (for sure) far from perfect, but I do find it is an improvement. With flaws. The church should have a role to point out things that deeply matter - but we need to work on what those things are, and that doesn’t mean simply returning to how things have always been. We all know (deep down) that saying “Bad, bad, bad,” about the argument or about each other won’t get us into the discussion. Nor, might I suggest, do comments that imply the law makers don’t know what they are doing and don’t have the ethical chops required for the job. Four minutes per speech is a pretty tough call for a reasoned work-out on this; from what I heard, many of them did a great job.
So what do we do? What do we as God’s people do now? How do we act?
What’s my magic answer?
What it always should be. In John’s words - little children, love one another. We, we of all people, have to do what we have been re-made for. After the vote, I hurt because my friends hurt. I pray that they might also have been rejoicing because I was.
Equality is about making each other as human as we can. As in-the-image-of-God as we can. It’s about going too far, because that’s what He did for me, so I should do it for you.