Monday, March 12, 2007

Guest Blog

I'm having a first today: a guest blog entry from my friend Hugh on the subject of the new marriage liturgy for the Scottish Episcopal Church. One of the drawbacks of the Diocesan Synod was the shortage of time to discuss any of the issues covered, with the result that anyone with a point they wished to make was inevitably hustled to fit into a very restricted timescale. I asked Hugh to present his take on the new rite in the form he would wish it to be considered, and it is this written version that I am publishing here:

May I firstly make clear where my own personal stand is regarding the background debate on human sexuality.

I have no difficulty with Civil Partnerships. Indeed I welcome them as giving legal rights to those of the same gender in committed relationships, comparable to those who are married (that is as husband and wife.) I welcome too that they are now openly able to acknowledge their relationships. I do not know what form a civil partnership takes. I presume that there is an exchange of vows comparable to those in marriage. I am equally supportive of those of the same gender who would wish to make these vows in church and in the context of a service of blessing.

What I do not like is changing the meaning of words to accommodate different situations. The word ‘Marriage’ should retain its ancient meaning – the union of a man and a woman. That is male and female. You might like to think about the language of a plumber, who speaks about ‘marriages’, ‘unions’ and ‘male and female connections’. You cannot plumb a house using the language of ‘civil partnership’.

However that little aside highlights the essential difference between Marriage and Civil Partnership. Marriage is fundamentally about Procreation. Civil Partnership is about Legal Rights. In both there are statements about commitment to the other. (I appreciate fully that there is a whole history of other baggage about that has obscured this.) Public perception is that Marriage and Civil Partnerships are about Romantic Love and that is where the confusion lies.

Marriage is about the potential to participate in creation with God in bringing to birth, quite literally, a new life. This is not the potential of a same gender partnership. (The nurture of a child natural or adopted is a different issue.) And before anyone speaks of the marriage of older people and ‘the potential for new life’ they should simply ponder centenarian Abraham and barren Sarah.

There is also another distinction between Marriage and Civil Partnerships. It is both Legal and theological. It is possible for a decree of Nullity to be declared regarding an unconsummated marriage. This can never be applied to a Civil Partnership.

Because of these differences we should not equate civil partnership with marriage. The Marriage Liturgy should therefore clearly embrace the images of gender, as in the older Rites, which speak of the ‘man and the woman’, ‘the bride and the bridegroom’ ‘husband and wife’. I have stated above that I have no difficulty with same gender partnerships, nor am I opposed to them be recognised in a in Liturgy designed for them. Indeed if that strengthens them in their Christian life it is to be welcomed.

Such a Liturgy should not however be synonymous with the Marriage Liturgy, which as it is at present has been so emasculated that it would be perfectly possible to be used without any reference to gender. And if the word ‘marriage’ were to be broadened in meaning, the Liturgy could be used without any change by a same sex partnership. (Parliament has defined same gender unions as Civil Partnerships and declined to use the word ‘marriage’.) I am saddened that some – not all by any means – same-sex couples demand the right to use that word. I request that they should show the same dignity and respect for heterosexual couples as they request of them. .

I am well aware that my beliefs regarding civil partnerships are not shared by all within the Scottish Episcopal Church and that there are huge tensions within the Anglican Communion. There is extreme pain and integrity at both extremes of the debate. Despite a member of the Liturgy Committee’s statement that the Marriage liturgy is ‘for the marriage of a man and a woman’, his statement still remains open ended and does no more to preclude the use of the service by same-sex couples than does the wording of the Liturgy itself. There then remains what I term a ‘Trojan Horse’.

Everything we do must be in conformity with the Gospel. We cannot proceed in the very delicate process of mutual understanding if there is any shadow of subterfuge, deceit, or manipulation. How we do things is just as important as what we do. I have explained above the distinction I make between Marriage and Civil Partnership. I make no distinction between the integrity of those in either relationship. We cannot proceed, however, with the listening process whilst there is the potential of a ‘Trojan Horse’. Trust is immediately undermined.

When the church comes to a common mind regarding same sex unions there will be no difficulty for an appropriate variation of the Marriage Liturgy being produced for that use. The Bishops could easily authorise it over night for experimental use.


  1. An excellent, thoughtful and well-reasoned position - at least to my mind.

  2. In what way is the statement 'The marriage liturgy is for the marriage of a man and a woman' open ended?

    I have only had a chance to use this liturgy with four couples, but none of them have had any doubt that the liturgy adequately expressed their commitment to each other before God as husband and wife. And for those for whom a clarification of gender in marriage seems necessary, there are 'traditional' options at almost all points in the liturgy.

  3. Hugh,
    I appreciate the time and thought you have taken into organizing and expressing your thoughts on marriage and civil unions. I want to respond on several levels.

    Just so you know, I am gay, I live in Alabama in the United States, I know Chris through her blog, because of her trip to the US which brought her through Bessemer, where I live. Also, I am passionate in my fight for equal rights, and am in an “uncivil” union and have two kids. I say “uncivil” because we can not have a “civil union” here. However, I am 100% sure that our union is acknowledged by and approved by God.

    OK. First, I take issue with the statement “marriage is fundamentally about procreation.” While procreation may be expressed as a part of marriage in the guidelines that many churches use, I have never heard procreation mentioned during a marriage ceremony. Maybe it is, but it wasn’t in my former heterosexual marriage (in a Presbyterian Church) or any I have attended. If it were the “fundamental” reason for marriage, I believe it would be mentioned. In addition, you should not make a statement like this and then disavow the arguments about people who get married who, because of age or other condition or choice, do not have children. If marriage is fundamentally about procreation, then it must exclude those who can not or choose not to procreate. Make them get the kind of union you support for same sex couples.

    “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people will be my people, and your God my God. (Ruth 1:16).” Isn’t it odd that the verse most often used during heterosexual marriages was first spoken from one woman to another?

    In defense of your stance is what Jesus himself said about marriage: “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female’ and said, for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? (Matthew 19) So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Most people stop there. But later in the conversation Jesus says, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only to those to whom it is given.”

    He goes on to describe three types of eunuchs. In ancient times, eunuchs were thought of differently than we think of them today. The Greek word used here is eunouchos which means “guardian or keeper of the couch.” These people were placed in positions of high trust in royal palaces and they guarded the women in the households. Given their intimate access to the women of the household, they had to be men who could be trusted not to have affairs or force themselves on the women. It stands to reason that men who had a reputation for being disinterested in women would make the ideal eunuch. Much is written about the role of eunuchs in ancient times, and it is clear that some of these references refer to natural eunuchs, or men who are not sexually attracted to women, and it is probable that most if not all of these men were gay.

    Jesus speaks of three classes of men who should not marry women: eunuchs who have been so from birth, eunuchs made that way by others, and eunuchs who have made themselves that way for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. This third category is those who forswear marriage to better serve God. The second reference is to castrated males. The first, those who have been so from birth, as noted above seems to refer to men who are not attracted sexually to women, which would include homosexual men. Men born without visible testicles are so uncommon that it seems unlikely Jesus would refer to that condition. So from this passage we see that most people are created for heterosexual marriage, but Jesus acknowledges that some of us are created by God to follow a less common path, made that way by God. This to me is very affirming; it is as if Jesus is speaking directly to me. He assures me that I was born the way I am, in other words, that God created me as a homosexual man.

    So I have argued a little against your position and a little for it. I would rather have the rights and responsibilities that are granted married couples than the title of “married.” In my state leading government officials have stated that neither same sex marriage nor civil union will ever take place. I doubt they are correct, as I believe equality and justice always win out. But just as it took federal intervention here in Alabama before racial injustices were addressed, the same will be true of sexuality injustices.

    I don’t see why marriage can not reserved for the churches, and unions required of all heterosexual and homosexual couples, to be administered by the civil authorities.

  4. One of my best friends is gay (entered into a civil partnership last year) and he is also a Christian. However he believes that practicing homosexuality is contrary to scripture. He regards himself as choosing a sinful lifestyle above God in his life - a position with which he is unhappy but feels, at the moment, unable to give up his relationship to his partner.

    The question I'm curious about is: how do bible believers (gay or otherwise) regard the NT verses that clearly reject the practice of homosexuality i.e I Corinthians 6:9-10, Romans 1:18-28?

    Do they reject the validity of the writings of Paul on this subject. I guess the same question goes for the women clergy issue where Paul writes that women should be silent in church etc.

    Would it not make life easier if we just ripped the letters of Paul out of our bibles?

  5. Anonymous9:03 AM


    Thank you for a thoughtful article.

    It seems to me that your main argument is that people should not meddle with language and use the word marriage to mean something that it is not. However, marriage has multiple meanings already.

    See for example the alternate meanings that Chambers gives for the word:
    One of those meanings is "4 a joining together; a union."

    This does not seem to me to be a new use of the word and one that some people seem to be finding entirely appropriate for describing a civil partnership.

    What any of us might think about the new marriage rite does not particularly matter in the Scottish Episcopal Church however, as marriage is defined in Canon 31 thus:

    "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 by God."

    Whilst I would like to see that changed, there are no plans in the church to do so that I know of and little chance of any change to that canon getting through synod.

  6. One person commented that it might be easier to rip the writings of Paul out of the Bible. I think it would be better to translate and interpret Pauls letters (and the rest of the Bible) accurately, and in view of what we now know about science and sexuality.

    I hate to post such long comments, butt these issues require a lot of thought and information to resolve. It was asked how gay Christians reconcile their beliefs with the passages of Paul that are reported to condemn homosexuality. Well, here is one man’s opinion.

    Commonly used as a condemnation of homosexuality are Paul’s writings in Romans 1:21-28:

    Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up into vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust toward one another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not covenant.

    Briefly, Paul is addressing people who refuse to acknowledge and glorify God (v. 21), who began worshiping idols (v. 23), and were more interested in earthly pursuits than spiritual pursuits (v. 25), and gave up their natural, or innate, passion for the opposite sex in an unbounded search for pleasure (v. 26-27) and lived lives of covetousness, malice, envy, strife, slander, disrespect for parents, pride and hatred of God (v. 29-31).

    The model of homosexuality that Paul addresses is associated with idol worship or temple prostitution and people who after abandoming God in their search for earthly pleasure broke away from their natural sexual orientation and participated in promiscuous sex with anyone available. He does not address people whose natural orientation is homosexuality, or their willingness to enter into committed relationships.

    The other two verses that are often used against gays are 1Corinthians 6:9-10:

    Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

    and: 1Timothy 1:10

    For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for men stealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.

    The Greek word in 1 Corinthians used to refer to homosexuals is malakoi, and is translated “effeminate” in the King James version. Some theologians think this word, taken in the context of the time it was written, meant soft, like a woman, or traits like vanity and self indulgence, traits unacceptable to men at the time. Others carry it further, thinking the term refers to male prostitutes. Another Greek word used here and in Timothy is arsenokoitai, a combination of two words meaning “bed” and “male.” In other writings of the time that discuss homosexual sex, or one of the partners in gay sex, this word was never used, and other words were used. Paul would not have needed to resort to this ambiguous compound word, which other writers used to describe instances when one male used his superior power or position to take sexual advantage over another. Newer versions of the Bible seem to suggest that to commit the sin referred to in 1 Corinthians one must use homosexuality in an aggressive or offensive way (NIV -“homosexual offender” and NRSV -“sodomite”)

    These verses have been mistranslated, misinterpreted, misapplied, and mistakenly singled out as proof that God does not approve of loving and committed same sex relationships, where in fact, none of those verses address the subject, rather they address particular sexual acts committed by certain people who have turned away from God, or who are seeking favor from other gods.

    Sorry for the lengthy post. I can tackle the Old Testament too