On Thursday, a group of us offered an amendment that would have kept the canon on marriage as it is (that is, between a man and a woman) but would have included a conscience clause that would have permitted those who want to marry people of the same sex to do so. This was to be a gracious way of allowing there to be change. It would have cost us a great deal as other biblical Christians would have criticised our compromise. We are grateful that the Primus, David Chillingworth, spoke in favour of it. Because we love the Body of Christ, we offered this compromise as a way of holding us together. Sadly it was rejected and now we are the ones who will have the conscience clause to allow us to say, "No!". We offered a clause which allowed some to say, "Yes!". All we are now offered is a clause that allows us to say, "No!" with the basis of our understanding of marriage completely undermined. You see how that would have worked - we could have said, "I won't do this, but I know someone who will". It was a positive and generous move on our part but I really don't think that members of Synod realised that or if they did, cared. The activists scented victory and went for it. Of course, that rejection means that we don't have to defend our compromise, and in the longer term that may well be a good thing. However, I wonder whether Synod's rejection of the compromise amendment will be appreciated in quite the same way? An opportunity lost?
In the end, even the "least worst" option was rejected. This option would still have changed the canon by removing the man/woman wording, but inserted a clause that said that there were two expressions of marriage in our church, one between opposite sexes and one between the same sex. This would have reflected the messy and divided nature of the Church and perhaps we might have learned to live with that. At the very least it would have given the re-affirmers of a biblical understanding of a marriage with a shred of dignity. Unfortunately even that was rejected.
We're left with a situation where we either simply roll over and accept the will of the General Synod or we resist, believing that this is neither biblical, nor the work of the Holy Spirit. Let's be clear - it will be the latter.
I could go into a downer over all of this, but I'm not. I'm very conscious of the prayers of people around the world who are praying for us and this Church. Things are a lot clearer and a weight has been lifted from us. My hope is in Jesus and not a human created denomination. I can also pray that the bishops (who are meeting today) and Synod realise that it's never too late to turn back in humility and admit that the path chosen is not the best one. That it was rushed through without much thought of others. Isn't grace wonderful? We were told constantly that the world was waiting for us to get on and do this. Really? How strange it is then that, since Friday, there has been minimal press coverage of the decisions made. There's still time to rethink this, isn't there?
One final thought. We had a glorious morning of worship at St Thomas' yesterday. There was a lovely freedom in the worship and in the preaching on Jesus invitation to us and the deep dangers of religion (from Luke 14). We know where we are and what we are to be about. We kept the focus on Jesus and will go on doing so.
The announcement at the beginning of the service of the engagement of a young couple, Jo and Matthew, was met with joy by the congregation. They were leading the musical worship yesterday, so the congratulations were very public. Their announcement caused confusion for a visiting Southern Baptist couple from Sumter, South Carolina, who told me at the end that they worried that I'd indicated that Joe and Matthew had got engaged and that they'd thought it was the two male guitarists up front. I reassured them on today of all days, that was unlikely!
At its meeting in Edinburgh from 11-13 June, the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church chose to delete any reference to marriage as being between a man and a woman in order to facilitate its clergy in marrying two people of the same sex.
In contrast to that decision, we reaffirm the doctrine of marriage as given in the Old Testament in Genesis 2:24, reaffirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19:5 and by Paul in Ephesians 5:31 - ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’
We are committed to loving and supporting all the people in our congregations, including many gay people, and in particular at this time those who are left confused and distressed by the decisions of the General Synod.
We will take some time to pray and reflect on what the General Synod has committed to, before we discern what must be done to support people in congregations all over Scotland who will be unable to support this innovation.
Canonical change is coming which will allow people of the same-sex to marry. It will involve the removal of the theological description of what marriage is from Canon 31 (this bit: "The Doctrine of this Church is that Marriage is a physical, spiritual and mystical union of one man and one woman created by their mutual consent of heart, mind and will thereto, and is a holy and lifelong estate instituted of God"). There will be a conscience clause which will mean no clergy have to marry anyone they don't want to. It will take two readings of the new canon in 2016 and in 2017 for the new economy to come into place. For the record - I dissent completely from this decision.
We must be grateful for the gracious way the Primus, David Chillingworth, tried to give some space to those who would disagree with this new direction. Sadly, there was little sign of grace from the majority of Synod members towards the Biblical vision of marriage which perhaps a quarter of Synod subscribe to. I hoped there might be some compromise, but those who want change scented victory and they got it.
I'm doubtful that the vision of "visible unity with functional diversity" is now attainable. This was the most extreme outcome imaginable, but at least we now have clarity and we can begin to plan accordingly.
Though I know that the Episcopal Church in the USA and the Anglican Church of Canada will no doubt applaud this innovation, I'm most interested in hearing how Christians in the two thirds world will respond. I have a feeling it might not be positive.
To some people's surprise, an amendment was put that would have allowed people who wanted to marry two people of the same sex to do so, but we'd keep the doctrine of marriage as being between a man and a woman. This would have put us in a similar situation to that of the Church of Scotland.
However, this gracious compromise was roundly rejected by around two thirds of the Synod.
I don't know that people understood just how costly this amendment would have been if it had been accepted as a compromise that held the Biblical line but offered space to those who want to depart from the teaching of the Church to do so. It was too messy an option apparently. Those evangelicals who put it forward would have faced a great deal of criticism from around the world for even suggesting it. It would have hurt us a lot. Yet it has now been rejected, and we are left with a situation where there are no options on the table tomorrow that someone like me will be able to support.
It does seem that this is a situation where the winner must take it all, and those who are holding to what the majority of the two billion Christians around the world would understand marriage is about will be the new minority, who might have a conscience clause to protect them, and that will be it.
It will leave me having to think carefully about what my future relationship can be with a denomination that chooses to go its own way.
A friend shared a hard word with me this evening, that stopped me in my tracks. The context of this verse is even more sobering:
Judah’s leaders are like those who move boundary stones. I will pour out my wrath on them like a flood of water. Hosea 5:10
There's still time to re-establish those boundary stones.........
This time next week, the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church will be considering what we as a part of the Body of Christ believe about marriage. The Doctrine Committee has produced a paper on the theology of marriage which is available here. The process for discussion and decision-making is outlined on pages 46-50 of the document available here.
If the process leads to a preference for canonical change, it is possible that the SEC will become the frontrunner in terms of churches which have reappraised their understanding of what God has said about human sexuality. This will sadden and confuse many, not least those in congregations who are gay but who have chosen to hold on to Biblical teaching.
What follows is a brief response, written by the Revd Dr Iain MacRobert, which details the many concerns with, and inadequacies of, the Doctrine Committee's paper.
A brief critical review of The Theology of Marriage
General Synod members have been sent a document produced by the Doctrine Committee entitled, The Theology of Marriage. This paper, according to the Faith and Order Board, is "thorough and coherent" and "should enable General Synod members to engage with the topic in some depth".
This document, however, is not a balanced presentation of the case for and against same-sex marriage to encourage well-informed and reasoned debate and decision-making. It does present some material which advocates orthodox marriage but the overall trend and argument is to promote same-sex marriage. While claiming to be a consideration of the issue using scripture, tradition and reason, its consideration of Biblical texts and the contexts in which they were written is extremely superficial and partial. Reason is often given short shrift and references to the findings of science ill informed. The paper is strong on assertion but weak on evidence, both Biblical and scientific.
While referring briefly to the creation narratives of Genesis, it does not consider the relationship between sexual differentiation and complementarity and the Imago Dei (Genesis 1:27). It does not consider the Fall (Genesis 3) but moves from creation to eschaton. The impact of the Fall: the human propensity to ignore God and usurp God's authority to define what is good and what is evil; and the subsequent brokenness of humanity is not addressed. This brokenness means alienation from God and others and death. It affects all of who and what we are individually and in relationship: spirituality, physicality, intellectually, ethically and sexuality.
Sections 86-96 advocate taking a broad view of marriage that includes polygynous marriages, marriages that are not life-long and same-sex relationships. However, God's ideal for marriage is unambiguously clear in the creation narratives of Genesis 1 - 3 and is affirmed by Jesus and Paul:
between a man and a woman;
sexually exclusive and faithful;
open to procreation and the nurturing of children.
That marriage and sexual relationships often deviate from this ideal in a fallen and sin-damaged world is not surprising. The Bible, which addresses both the way the world is and the way God wants things to be, includes such accounts of humanity's fallen and sin-damaged state. Accommodating people in preexisting polygynous, adulterous or homoerotic relationships within the church is an exercise of grace and pastoral care. The church is for broken, sin-damaged and sinning people. Jesus reminds us that he did not “come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). However, this inclusion needs to recognize that these relationships are departures from God's ideal for marriage. Whether or not they are defined as marriage within a particular culture or legal system, they are not marriage as God intended it to be.
Section 61 of the paper states that, "the prohibition against sex between two men at Leviticus 20:13 follows a list of forbidden incestuous heterosexual acts, and it is at least probable that it refers specifically to the homosexual equivalence... and is not a blanket prohibition". Such an interpretation is perhaps possible but certainly not probable. The surrounding context is not just about prohibiting incest but also adultery and bestiality. Similarly, the parallel passage in Leviticus 18: 20 to 23, places the prohibition of male homoerotic intercourse in the context of prohibiting adultery, infanticide and bestiality rather than incest. This probably is a "blanket prohibition" of male homoerotic acts and there is good evidence, in his letter to the Church in Corinth, that Paul understood it in this way (compare the Septuagint's arsenos koiten in Leviticus 18 and 20 with Paul's arsenokoites in 1 Corinthians 9:6).
Section 63 of the paper simply fails to deal with Jesus' teaching on 'eunuchs': those for whom “it is better not to marry” because of how they were born or made by others or because of their commitment to the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 19:10-11).
Section 76 makes the point that "we cannot be certain that there is any condemnation in the Bible of consenting, non-exploitative, homosexual relationships ..." However, the overwhelming weight of evidence in Scripture is opposed to homoerotic behaviour per se. Romans 1:26 strongly implies consent and mutual sexual gratification rather than coercion. In 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, the behaviours of both active and passive participants in homoerotic intercourse are condemned.
The argument from nature in section 51 asserts that, "homosexual orientation among animals is natural, or to put it theologically, if homosexual orientation within creatures is part of God's creation, then we should find ways of being true to that". This is a very dubious argument in favour of same-sex marriage. It takes no account of God's good creation being damaged by the Fall. Many animals, such as bonobos, are bisexual and sexually promiscuous. Others, such as lions, kill their own young. Extrapolating this kind of argument from nature and applying animal behaviour to humans is both naive and dangerous. The same argument can be used to justify sexual promiscuity and infanticide as 'natural'. In fact some researchers, such as Ryan and Jetha (2010) claim that promiscuity is humanity's natural sex drive. Arguments from nature are not a good basis for social ethics including sexual ethics.
In section 52 the claim is made that, "it is now realised that sexual orientation is a natural 'given' and enduring disposition" and that "biological explanations have come to the fore". These are sweeping and unsubstantiated claims. For example, the 2011 Williams Institute survey of the US population found that 1.7% identify themselves as lesbian or gay, while 1.8% identify themselves as bisexual. Some people have a fluid sexual orientation that changes over time (see, for example Diamond, 2008, and Savin-Williams, 2005). The assertion that sexual orientation is an enduring disposition is far from proven and the evidence for fluid and changing orientations is strong. The evidence for a genetic basis for a homosexual orientation is also very thin and tentative. More recent and less-biased studies of monozygotic (identical) twins have found large proportions with different sexual orientations (e.g. Lamgstrom et al, 2010). Sanghir and Robins (1973) found that a much higher proportion of homosexual men (18%) and women (35%) had lost their father through death or divorce by age ten. For heterosexuals this was 9% and 4% respectively. Human behaviour is complex and biological causes rarely explain it adequately. Similarly, evidence for environmental causes is also inconclusive.
In section 53 of the paper the argument from nature continues. Here the claim is made that a homosexual orientation is, "a given or a natural aptitude". It seems to assume that strong feelings or emotional drives should determine human behaviour. There is certainly secular support for this view. Feelings of lust (Ryan and Jetah, 2010), anger, jealousy, greed and covetousness have all been identified as 'natural' and therefore justifications for human behaviour but few Christians would argue that they should be the basis for determining ethical behaviour. We don't claim that envy sanctions stealing or lust legitimises adultery.
In section 54 the assertion is made that, "same-sex marriage carries the potential to nurture children as equally as heterosexual marriage". This is another sweeping assertion. The research is currently inconclusive but Sullins (2015) study of a random sample of 512 children in the US raised by same-sex couples should give us cause for grave concern. Sullins found that about 17% of children raised by same-sex couples experienced serious emotional problems and about 19% developed problems like ADHD or learning disabilities compared with 7% and 10% respectively for children in opposite-sex households.
To keep this review brief, I have not commented on two millennia of Church tradition that has upheld the orthodox view of marriage, or on the historical liturgies of the Anglican Communion in which this same orthodox view is expressed. To follow the spirit of the age (in our secularised, post-modern, first world) by redefining Christian marriage is not just to overthrow two millennia of Christian tradition, it is to distance ourselves from the majority of the Church in the two-thirds world, from the teachings of Scripture and from the revealed will of God for marriage.
British Journal of Education, Society and Behavioural Science 7(2):99-120, 2015
Ryan, Christopher and Jetha, Cacilda, Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, 2010. For a critique of Ryan and Jetha see Lynn Saxon, Sex at Dusk: Lifting the Shiny Wrapping from Sex at Dawn. Createspace: Lexington, KY, 2012.
Williams Institute survey: https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Gates-How-Many-People-LGBT-Apr-2011.pdf