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The Church of England needs a compromise on gay marriage. Here it is

How to break the Church of England’s great deadlock

27 April 2013

27 April 2013

It is a wearyingly obvious observation, but the Church of England remains crippled by the gay crisis. It is locked in disastrous self-opposition, alienated from its largely liberal nature. Maybe the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has a secret plan that will break the deadlock: there is no sign of it yet. The advent of gay marriage has made the situation look even more hopeless. It entrenches the church in its official conservatism, and it further radicalises the liberals. A few weeks ago the church issued a report clarifying its opposition to gay marriage, in which it ruled out the blessing of gay partnerships. This was not a hopeful move: it ought to be keeping these issues separate.

The ending of the turbulent Williams era is an opportunity to take stock, rethink, take a step back. What we see is that, for more than 20 years, the church has tried and failed to reform its line on homosexuality; and this failure has been amazingly costly. The church used to be good at gradual reform. Why did it fail so dismally this time?

I blame the liberals. In the 1990s they had the chance to nudge the church towards an official acceptance of homosexuality, which was already unofficially semi-accepted through most of the church. And they blew it. They chose gay-rights radicalism over careful gradualism. Because they failed to forge a moderate-liberal consensus, the evangelicals won. It’s time to admit this, and to have another crack at a moderate-liberal third way.

But is there such a thing as a moderate-liberal position on God and gays? Isn’t it either-or: either homosexuality is condemned in the Bible, or it’s fine, and the only problem is our inherited bigotry? That’s the standard assumption, promoted by both strident sides of this grim debate, but I don’t quite buy it. A narrow third way is possible.

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My position on the issue, over the past decade or so, has been broadly liberal, with reservations. At first I felt my reservations were stylistic: the campaign for gay equality within the church often struck me as tediously self-righteous, and prone to dubious theological emphases. Some gay Christians seemed to heroise their cause, as if it were a special expression of the gospel, a way of recovering its radicalism. (Gene Robinson, the openly gay American bishop, embodies this attitude.) But gradually this uneasiness led me to a more careful assessment of the substance of the issue. I began to feel that it was not as simple as both sides assumed and endlessly claimed. There was a complexity to the dispute that it was not in the interest of either side to highlight. There was, in fact, some middle ground in this battle, but both sides chose to deny its existence.

The middle way consists in affirming gay priests, and stable gay relationships, but balancing this with another affirmation: of heterosexual marriage as the norm, the ideal. Can you have it both ways? Why not?

Of course gay-rights campaigners will object to such talk of ‘the norm’ and ‘the ideal’, claiming that homosexuality is of equal worth to heterosexuality, and that to cast doubt on this is homophobic. They must be told that, in the context of this church, such a claim is divisive — in a sense, just as divisive as the evangelicals’ biblical legalism. Have I offended everyone yet? Good.

The church was in fact inching towards this sort of third way in its report of 1991, Some Issues in Human Sexuality. Stable gay relationships should be affirmed rather than condemned, it tentatively proposed. But this principle should not be extended to priests: ‘To allow such a claim on their part would be seen as placing that way of life in all respects on a par with heterosexual marriage as a reflection of God’s purposes in creation.’ In other words, actively gay priests, with relationships blessed by the church, would pose an intolerable challenge to the tradition of heterosexual marriage.

This attempt at a compromise was frail and incoherent, in its claim that lay people could enjoy gay relationships but not priests. But it was something for liberals to build on. Their task was to argue that, if lay gay relationships were acceptable, so were those of priests — and to reassure the man in the pew that heterosexual marriage would remain the ideal. Not an impossible task. But they preferred to put empathy with gay people before everything else, to denounce all compromise. Before long, the window for building a moderate-liberal consensus closed: at the Lambeth Conference of 1998, evangelicals from around the world showed a new determination to win this fight, and the debate further polarised. A few years later the two poles went to war. And the liberals were -humiliated.

Part of the problem is that the British liberals have wanted to imitate the success of the American liberals; they looked at Gene Robinson’s election as bishop of New Hampshire and saw a lesson in sticking to your guns. But the two churches inhabit different worlds: in the American church the liberals have no serious evangelical competition. Here, they do. Also, the American liberals find it natural to graft themselves on to the civil rights tradition, and make nondiscrimination into an absolute principle. Here, that move has less authority. Britain needs a moderate-liberal position around which mainstream Anglicans can rally. It’s fine if gay-rights activists call it a sell-out — that will give moderate evangelicals permission to consider it.

The essence of the moderate-liberal third way is that it that makes a firm but limited affirmation of homosexuality. It affirms the ordained ministry of homosexuals, and it affirms stable gay relationships (which the church should bless). But instead of implying or asserting that homosexuality has equal status with heterosexuality, it upholds the old-fashioned view that heterosexuality is normative, and more worthy of idealisation, celebration.

This proposal is a waste of breath, some will say, for the evangelicals are firmly committed to seeing homosexuality as sinful. But some are less committed to this position than others; a large proportion surely see the need to climb down from their intransigence, knowing that this dispute is wrecking the Church of England. And barring a miracle in which God sets all gays straight, the crisis won’t end until gay relationships and gay priests are officially sanctioned. So let’s please pursue a third way. Maybe Justin Welby is among the evangelicals hoping that this sort of third way gathers force, and breaks the current deadlock. God help us if he’s not.


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Show comments
  • http://www.facebook.com/ed.hird.5 Ed Hird

    This article seems unusually muddle-headed. It seems to be trying to appeal to those who are weary of the debate and looking for a quick fix. As Edwin Friedman reminded us, quick fixes fix nothing. Is it really moderate to bless that which God does not bless?

    Hobson made a insightful comment about British vs. American political realities: : “in the American church the liberals have no serious evangelical competition. Here, they do.” Without serious evangelical competition, the liberals virtually drove the evangelicals out of the Episcopal Church, while suing them for their buildings and bank accounts. May the Church of England learn from this American tragedy.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stanley-James/503792594 Stanley James

      American tragedy.??? the episc opal church did the right thing in recognizing gay people as part of Gods creation and entitled to equal treatment.

      What wrong with religion is that it is based on faith. the powers that be fear that if one thing is changed, the whole STORY is called into question

      Really I dont give a hoot whether the anglicans do or dont accept gays / gays marrying. The church is all but dead in Europe, it dug its own grave with its stogginess

      BTW interesting – every day in England about 1100 people leave the CoE

      God is good.

      http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/census-gays-and-a-very-bad-day-for-the-church-of-england-8406540.html

      • Daydreamer1

        I agree. Nothing tragic is going on here except for robbing people of what should be just a normal human right; and done for what? For nothing. An interpretation of old texts and a history of persecution.

        Religion is the best example of moral relativism I can think if. ‘Hay people, lets all base our morality on our own interpretation of stories and books’. It is the perfect way to forget about real people – and that is what we see.

        • to_tell_the_truth

          And, to make matters worse, those “stories and books” are from the Bronze Age, written largely by uneducated shepherds and fisherfolk.

    • Karla’s Man

      The Nine Provinces of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America are one of six de-facto peculiar churches that runs on slightly different lines than the Church of England or the other provincial churches of the Anglican Communion, and the American Episcopalians have been doing their own things definitely ever since the year 1783. American Episcopalism is also a relatively minor denomination, and even this is the case in New York and in New England. On matters temporal and secular, the Episcopal Church is probably much more closer to the United Reformed Church of England and Great Britain than the Church of England.

      The argument of the homosexuals is not really won; and if anything, their argument is lost, seeing that their schismatic actions have caused the American Episcopal Church to split into two, and the old church, as well as the great Anglican Communion, into further schism.

      http://www.churchsociety.org/issues_new/communion/iss_communion_howbig.asp

  • http://www.facebook.com/IanBPaul Ian Paul

    You have the title of the 1991 report incorrect–the report you mention came later in 2003

  • SimonNorwich

    This issue doesn’t need to be so complicated. Here’s a solution that ought to be 100% satisfactory to anyone except those who wish to impose their beliefs on others:

    1) If any 2 consenting adults want a legally recognised marriage, they must have a secular state marriage. That is exactly the same for everyone.

    2) If anyone wants a religious marriage, irrespective of whether or not they also have a state marriage, they should be free to do so. The state does not impose any rules or regulations on such marriages, except that they must be between consenting adults and within the general law. Anyone is entirely free to determine how their religious marriage service is carried out and what their religious marriage means to them, they just cannot demand that anyone else has to participate in the service against their will.

    • to_tell_the_truth

      Your suggestion is how things are already. ONLY “secular state marriage(s)” are legally recognized in law now.
      Anyone who has only had a “religious marriage” without satisfying the secular, State elements is not actually legally married.

      • SimonNorwich

        OK, yes, I can see how, in effect, it may be the case now, but it is complicated by the fact that, to my understanding, a select number of churches are allowed to incorporate the state marriage requirements within their religious service. This gives many people who don’t fit in with those churches the impression that they can’t have a religious marriage, or at least that their religious marriage is in some way not equal to other religious marriages.
        I’m saying that the secular and religious marriages should be completely separated across the board.
        That way, the state will have no interference at all in any religious marriage. Nobody will be lead to believe they can’t have a religious marriage, and no individual or church will be forced to carry out a service they do not approve. All parties can do exactly as they wish, except impose their own beliefs on others.

        • to_tell_the_truth

          Re: “That way, the state will have no interference at all in any religious marriage.”
          It doesn’t NOW.
          Re: “no individual or church will be forced to carry out a service they do not approve.”
          They aren’t NOW.

          • SimonNorwich

            I thought the government had told the C of E that it didn’t have the same freedom to decide on this matter as other churches.
            Anyway, I accept your general point.

        • allymax bruce

          This issue/argument is less about ‘religion’ than it is about homosexual bullying.

          • http://www.facebook.com/ndostal Norman Dostal

            no, stupid ally-you make way-gays will have full equality and there isnt a damn thing your little bigoted asss can do about it

        • jdhummerstone

          “…a select number of churches are allowed to incorporate the state marriage requirements within their religious service.”
          Historically, that is an upside-down way of putting it.

  • to_tell_the_truth

    Re: “The middle way consists in affirming gay priests, and stable gay relationships, but balancing this with another affirmation: of heterosexual marriage as the norm, the ideal.”

    Mr. Hobson, STATISTICALLY, heterosexual marriage IS (and always WILL be) “the norm”. You’ve made NO case whatsoever for excluding non-heterosexuals (or, for that matter, any non-‘traditional’ heterosexuals) from the institution. Nor have you explained why heterosexual couplings are “the ideal”. SOME heterosexual marriages are disasters -for both parties, and for any children that resulted from such couplings. Where do you think all the abandoned children that are up for adoption come from? That’s right, they come from your “ideal” marriages.

    Re: “Have I offended everyone yet? Good.”
    It seems that was your intention from the get-go.
    Please start making sense. It would help your ’cause’.

    • http://twitter.com/DBerryEVillage Danny Berry

      The term “norm” is simply a statistical concept. I see no way to argue that “heterosexual marriage” isn’t the “norm,” since most people who get married are heterosexual. Not too many years ago, racism was the norm in England and in the United States. That pretty well proves to my satisfaction that, in and of themselves, norms aren’t really anything to crow about.

  • to_tell_the_truth

    Re: “in the American church the liberals have no serious evangelical competition”
    That has to be one of the most nonsensical statements ever typed.

  • to_tell_the_truth

    Re: “barring a miracle in which God sets all gays straight”
    That would not be a “miracle”. That’s just dumbass ignorance speaking. And you wonder why you get called hateful. Your statement implies there’s something ‘wrong’ with God’s LGBTQ children that needs to be ‘cured’ or ‘fixed’. There isn’t and they DON’T.
    Do you ever think before you type?

  • http://twitter.com/bigsammyb bigsammyb

    THe reason the church is so obsessed with sex and marriage is very simple. They perceive homosexuality to be promiscuous behaviour rather than heterosexual marriage which they perceive as monogamous ‘love’.

    And they want people in ‘love’ because when people are in love they don’t think straight. Their critical thinking skills go out of the window and are more likely to accept ridiculous claims.

    However when people are in predatory promiscuous relationships their critical thinking skills are sharpened. Statistics prove this.

    The church does not want people thinking critically because if they did there would be no more church because people would be able to think for themselves and reject such ridiculous dogma.

    • GUBU

      So, are you saying that there is a correlation between people who ‘put it about’ and intelligence? Explain Mick Philpott…

  • Susan Heart

    “Careful gradualism?” The author clearly speaks out of ignorance due to the privileged state from which he comes. Let me guess: white heterosexual male? Count yourself lucky that you weren’t born into oppression. Justice delayed is justice denied. To suggest to anyone, “You can have your rights later” is not justice in any sense. We all know where this will end up eventually. Let’s get there now instead of ruining people’s lives in the meantime. Surely we will look back on those who used the Bible to justify their hatred of gay people just as we look back on those who used the Bible to justify their hatred of women and other marginal communities.

  • Bill

    Has anyone considered the notion that following bible teachings, on morality, might be the best stance for a, supposedly, Christian Church to take?
    For years, libertines have infiltrated the ‘Power Centres’ of the Nation (Churches, Schools, Universities, Law Courts, Local Councils, Media etc. etc.) with the intention of ‘turning the world upside down’.
    As they have gained greater control, their efforts to destroy the institutions which strengthened the Nation have become, extremely, brazen.

    We were told that the main reason Church attendances were dropping was due to a refusal to ‘change with the times’. Rubbish!

    The main reason, why people abandoned their places of worship, was due to the fact they could no longer suffer the charlatans, posing as teachers of Christian doctrine, who treated holy writ as a quaint old set of rules that were no longer ‘appropriate’ for a ‘modern’, ‘sophisticated’, people.

    Unless the Nation awakes, from their collective apathy, and removes these people from positions of power, within the ‘Power Centres’, we will cease to be a Sovereign Nation.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ndostal Norman Dostal

      wrong-the god of the bible murdered thousands of egyptian babies-its nonsense

      • http://twitter.com/DBerryEVillage Danny Berry

        The same blood-thirsty god commanded genocide repeatedly in the years following the time of the so-called “Exodus.” That god even gets pissed off if Israel on the occasions that they don’t exterminate every man, woman and child in the lands they want to steal–yes, steal–from them. In fact, the god punishes them for not doing it. And don’t get me started on the First Book of Samuel. Many of the documents of the “Old Testament” are loaded with barbarism that, I hope, would make most people of our time–Christian or not–at least very uncomfortable. Even at his best, that’s a god whose rules I very much hope are prevented from attaining any further currency in the world I live in.

  • Bill

    Has anyone considered the notion that following bible teachings, on morality, might be the best stance for a, supposedly, Christian Church to take?
    For years, libertines have infiltrated the ‘Power Centres’ of the Nation (Churches, Schools, Universities, Law Courts, Local Councils, Media etc. etc.) with the intention of ‘turning the world upside down’.
    As they have gained greater control, their efforts to destroy the institutions which strengthened the Nation have become, extremely, brazen.

    We were told that the main reason Church attendances were dropping was due to a refusal to ‘change with the times’. Rubbish!

    The main reason, why people abandoned their places of worship, was due to the fact they could no longer suffer the charlatans, posing as teachers of Christian doctrine, who treated holy writ as a quaint old set of rules that were no longer ‘appropriate’ for a ‘modern’, ‘sophisticated’, people.

    Unless the Nation awakes, from their collective apathy, and removes these people from positions of power, within the ‘Power Centres’, we will cease to be a Sovereign Nation.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ndostal Norman Dostal

      Bill, please die off-the world dont need old fart bigots like yourself

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=566660057 Thomas William Ruston

      Bill, as you know doctrine (which means teaching) is a constant dialogue between Christ, the Church and the World and so can never be a matter of prescribed ideas laying down rules to be applied universally.As you know, there was an Anglican theologian during reign of Queen Elizabeth I, called Richard Hooker, who said doctrine is tested by scripture, tradition, reason and experience. This question is very delicate as it can deny a person’s humanity as they have been created, and I don’t think we have the answer to the Church’s response yet. As the article outlined ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ in the 1990’s attempted to clarify the response, but has been widely criticised for failing to accept homosexuality as a valid sexuality and by others for being un-biblical. Even though, much biblical scholarship has outlined various translations of those passages which show they are not as clear cut as people tend to think, plus there is the question of hermeneutics and their role in salvation history.

  • allymax bruce

    The fact remains; no political party in the UK published a s-sm policy in their manifesto. Therefore, any change to the law, anywhere in the UK, is liable to prosecution in the courts.
    There’s no point in a political party/government attempting to pervert the course of justice by forcing a policy on the Nation/s that was not ‘heralded’ in any manifesto. Moreover, s-sm is illegal by eqaulity, but does qualify for human rights; saying that, every church person has the human right not to be associated/performing/conducting any such part of s-sm!
    The fact that only a tiny, tiny, tiny minority of grievously radical & violently provocative homosexuals try to ‘engineer’ an ‘equality issue’ out of what is highly unequal, says more about these grievously violent and belligerent homosexuals to abuse and show hate towards the mass-society-majority of heterosexuals that is our society.
    In other words, the homosexual lobby are in danger of being ostracised by their own violent belligerent and hateful attacks on the mass majority of society, which is heterosexual!

  • http://www.facebook.com/liam.connor.186 Liam Connor

    The church can take our money, accept us into their congregation take all our free help,even do our funeral when we die so why cant they marry us…they are biggotts

  • http://www.facebook.com/ndostal Norman Dostal

    the author stupidly believes that anti-gay biolgts need to be coaxed-that time is passed, bud-gays demand equality-and they are getting it throughout the western world-its funny you think gays need to be polite to bigots! screw them

  • http://twitter.com/Hitchslap_82 Andy M

    For me, this is very simple. Marriage is a religious contract. It may have been popularised in recent eras, so that anyone does it for the sake of the pomp and ceremony, regardless of their beliefs, however ultimately it still remains a religious contract. My understanding of religion is that the original teachings state that marriage is for a man and a woman and it condemns homosexual behaviour, or at the very least doesn’t accept it is ok to marry two men.

    With this in mind I simply ask two things: A) Why would any gay couples WANT to be part of a religious service that is part of a religion which doesn’t support their sexuality or life choices? and B) Why they feel they have the right to break the ancient tradition? I would ask the same questions of atheist couples. My opinion on this is that gays, atheists, etc. should ALL be allowed an equally beneficial partnership (such as a Civil Partnership), with all the legal perks of a marriage. However it should clearly be distanced from any sort of religious ceremony and religious ties. If you are demanding a religious ceremony as an atheist or as a gay, or anyone else not looked upon favourably by a religion, then you are simply being awkward – as it is of no benefit to you and actually an insult to your own beliefs – to be part of a religion in any way.

    I am an agnostic, bordering on atheist. I don’t like religion and think it is responsible for a lot of bad things in this world. However, I still recognise its right to exist and to uphold its religious institutions with strict policies. I would think even less of religion than I do already if it began to falter on its own beliefs and allow such things as gay marriage. These strong, staunchly held beliefs are the only thing that really prevent overall defeat at the hands of the atheists.

    • Daydreamer1

      So your not too much of a fan of democracy then? Or is it just a case of the people in a democracy are only allowed to vote on some things and had better stay away from religion?

      I’m not one for giving things away to those who would persecute. My compromise on your position would be for marriage to be the state legal union for anyone, gay or not, wanting to commit to someone they love. Let religious people break away and have civil partnerships if they cannot abide gay marriage.

      Traditions can end up belonging to everyone and if you engrain yours in a culture for thousands of years don’t expect everyone to just give it up because you don’t like what they are doing with it; and especially in a democracy. Unless you want to argue that the democracy should come second to religion.

      • http://twitter.com/Hitchslap_82 Andy M

        What would suggest I’m not a fan of democracy? The fact I gave a clear and logical alternative to marriage the gives ALL The same legal rights, just not the religious ceremony?

        You don’t seem to understand what I am saying – marriage in my understanding is a religious contract. It therefore is governed by religious rules. Therefore it is not actually part of a democracy – the religion is not part of the state, and is not subject to state control. Therefore, if you don’t like this kind of thing happening you have to end religion. I don’t like religion, as I said I am agnostic bordering on atheists. Therefore I feel like I can comment on this without being looked at as being biased in favour of religion.

        The state can provide a completely non-religious alternative, which is fine, but it can never be done with the blessing of the church (which is also fine). However, that’s not called marriage. The point I’m making is it simply can’t be marriage in the traditional sense, that homosexual couples are joined in. Simply because by logic of what the church believes and what homosexuals practice, it doesn’t make sense for either party.

        • Daydreamer1

          I appreciate that your not a fan of religion – and that therefore that isn’t part of the motivation.

          What I mean is that at the moment the changes occurring to the definition of marriage is a democratic movement. Your argument is based around a democracy not being able to define marriage, which you freely admit.Your argument about ending religion is fallacious, there is no need to end communism or socialism when people vote alternatively. Democratic systems naturally accommodate minority views – they are just the minority that is all. We don’t need to end religion if most people wanted a change to a state institution, which is what it currently is.

          I think your argument that marriage should be removed from the state and just be something that religious people have access to while the rest of us have civil partnerships is one opinion, but it isn’t what is happening. I also think that the foundation of your argument – that marriage belongs to religion is something you have not demonstrated. We have certainly had a period where marriage, the church and the state have been one, but marriages history is much longer and has had many changes made to it. You need to demonstrate what your case rests on before you can make conclusions based on it.

          • http://twitter.com/Hitchslap_82 Andy M

            I may be wrong, but the way I have understood it is that marriage always has been a religious union of two people, even if people have decided to do it when they are not religious. I have always understood it to be a religious ceremony. So therefore in my mind it isn’t anything to do with the state, apart from the state basing some laws around it.

            “I think your argument that marriage should be removed from the state and just be something that religious people have access to while the rest of us have civil partnerships is one opinion, but it isn’t what is happening.”

            That is pretty-much what I am saying and I agree it isn’t happening – what I am pointing out is in theory why religious people do have a case to oppose homosexual marriage – but at the same time pointing out that the religions also need to get their house in order, as the objections they have and the reasons they give are easily beaten by counter-arguments. I think the religious people have a case, but one they are not actually aware of or willing to follow up on, because refusing to marry anyone who is not religious or who does not fit in with their religious worldview is too difficult or is going to cause them too much bad PR. So yes, what I am saying is if religions want a legitimate argument against gay marriage, there is one, but it would mean a big shift in the way things are currently arranged.

            Regarding ‘ending religion’ – I was not saying that seriously. I was simply making the point that it would be very un-democratic to end religion and it would also not happen – for the reasons you give – therefore we have to either ‘deal with it’ or take away its power to decide these things, via a vote or whatever other means available. Once again, this isn’t what I want, I am simply offering what the options are.

          • DavidMiami

            “I may be wrong, but the way I have understood it is that marriage always has been a religious union of two people, even if people have decided to do it when they are not religious. I have always understood it to be a religious ceremony. So therefore in my mind it isn’t anything to do with the state, apart from the state basing some laws around it.”

            Actually, Andy M, you *are* wrong then. I urge you to go hit the books (as in, academic studies of marriage over the centuries) and the briefs (as in, the legal briefs, including from amici curiae, in support of marriage equality, which have been submitted in the various US court cases on the subject, from the seminal Goodyear case in Massachusetts through the two cases now before the US Supreme Court). These lay out the history of the institution in Western civilization far better than what your understanding currently encompasses.

          • http://twitter.com/Hitchslap_82 Andy M

            Well fine, if it isn’t a religious union, then religion should play no part in it. However, it doesn’t make sense. Why then do we have the Church of England involved in these ceremonies if it is purely a legal State union? Why are the Wedding vows linked intrinisically to God and his teachings?

          • Daydreamer1

            Hi Andy,

            Sorry for the delay.

            Would it change your thoughts if it hadn’t always been a religious ceremony?

            What do you mean by ‘always’ – it has ‘always’ been a religious ceremony?

            We have been a highly superstitious species, but Christianity has been around for 2000 years – and less in this country. Does ‘always’ mean as long as 5 generation, 2 generations, 50 generations, 1500 years. Can we look back at the history of marriage before Christianity? Does it even matter?

            Wiki states that marriage can be traced back around 20,000 years, but that genetics indicate that monogamy began about 4 million years ago. Early in Christian history marriage was exclusively NOT a religious ceremony. This is not surprising since in early Christian history Roman law, in which marriage was a civil affair, still maintained power.

            What many people do not realise is that Christianity has not become a major power through conversion of willing people. Most people have the idea that through slow and steady conversion, through choice, Christianity grew in power and influence. the reality of the ancient world was that conversion of the powerful led to conversion of the weak. Christianity was very minor before the conversion of Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century. Prior to this do you really think that marriage throughout the Roman Empire was predominantly Christian in Character? What was the role of the fall of Rome in Christian marriage? (actually think about the role of the fall of Rome in the rise of the power of the Church…)

            The main point here is that this is about principles. We can easily make a new word and new legal instrument and leave the Churches to what they want to do, but marriage is ancient – more ancient than religion – and certainly more ancient than the Abrahamic religions. Yet what we see is what we have always seen. Over the last 100 years they have acted to control it – as they have done for the last 1500. Does this make it theirs? We are a democracy and marriage is a state institution. But more to the point, they do this now through homophobia – and for those of us who believe it is wrong to do this we should stand together around the principle of equality. The non-religious have been married by the Churches for 1500 years – often hypocritically, but what choice were they given. They are happy to marry us with a little lip service and money paid. Yet talk about gay people and they are willing to rip marriage from everyone and claim it as their own. People who believe that marriage is a symbol of love and unity between equal people and in showing that people are equal in the country should point out that the arguments for tearing marriage from us all and giving it to religions as if they created it and own it are spurious. We have a long history of Christianity, but it is not our total history – that is far more ancient and far more diverse. We can recognize that and celebrate it, or we can let homophobes and in-group isolationists take state institutions and define the rest of us as in some way not good enough.

            Note that Scientology had the right to marry in several countries. They are not up in arms about it trying to deny it to other people (though they might if they had enough power and history to make that type of argument). We could, just like with new religions, just have Christian marriage, and Scientology marriage, state marriage etc The the CoE thinks the word is special, if it has taught us all that the word is special and that it is special enough for us all, then it shouldn’t be surprised if the rest of us combine with liberals in its own ranks to keep marriage for everyone, but make it nicer, more loving and fairer.

            You can read about the history of marriage on wiki. I find that wiki is not a good source on religion since the public write it and that means the normal biases are there. There is actually a project starting to begin presenting critical thinking on wiki, since in the case of religion most of what is in the peer reviewed journals never makes it on. Believers are not exactly known for critical thought after all. You can also try: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unreasonablefaith/2009/06/christianity-and-the-tradition-of-marriage

            That is closer to what is revealed in academic lectures – though no doubt still a little sketchy.

  • JCF

    Of course “heterosexuality is normative”: most people are heterosexual. But to assert that ALL people, whatever their sexuality, are EQUALLY loved, gifted and CALLED by God? This isn’t some American (Episcopal) fad, THIS IS GOSPEL. Hobson has taken concern trollery straight (ahem) into heresy. Boo!

  • Mudz

    I don’t know how secular governments will handle it, but all I know is that any one who follows God should neither engage in or support homosexual practise.
    As far as I’m concerned, the problem isn’t so much that people want Gay Marriage to be officially sanctioned and destroy the tradition of marriage in the public sphere. It’s that Christian churches are showing their disrespect for God’s word, by preaching homosexual affirmation from the pulpits.

    There should be no question of whether it’s right to engage in homosexuality, or whether it is right in the eyes of God, it isn’t, from the Mosaic law to Paul’s letter to the Romans, it has been roundly denounced.

    The argument, so far as Christians are concerned, is how we should behave in regards to homosexuals, or proponents thereof, and how we ourselves should conduct ourselves.

    Which is easy, don’t vote for gay marriage.

    If the government tries to legalise gay marriage, just remember that it holds no weight where God is concerned. It will never be a biblical marriage, and should be viewed in that context. Jesus said that his kingdom was no part of this world, so the governments have no legal jurisdiction there.

    That said, I can understand how Christians in America feel, Christian-founded country and all that. But first thing’s first. Get the churches to preach Christianity. No sense closing the gate until the horse is back in the barn.

  • Eliezer Gruen

    Why on earth should Christians accept what is antithetical to the letter and tradition of their religion? It is one thing to suggest that cohabiting homosexuals be given the same benefits as married couples (by the same token these benefits must be extended to cohabiting heterosexuals), and completely another that the Church give its blessing to what it considers a sinful life-style. Granted, all sexuality is considered sinful to some degree by Christians, it is permissible in the name of procreation, but the exclusive focus on this issue does a great disservice to many homosexuals who view this part of their lives with no more emphasis than eating or sleeping.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    You’d think women with hate gay men, wouldn’t you. But their attitude and behavior seems calculated to drive British men to seek alternatives. Admit it guys, if Brit chicks were the only source of the home comforts, wouldn’t you be giving those pretty boys a second look? Fortunately not my problem as they don’t do feminism here, just feminine.
    Jack, the Japan Alps Brit

  • http://www.facebook.com/ben.moffat1 Ben Moffat

    This is probably going to be met with a lot of eye rolling but i don’t think gay people should be told that their relationships can be tolerated as long as they accept that their love will forever be substandard to the idolized heterosexual norm. I can only imagine what the author of this article would say to civil rights activists such as Rosa Parks: “But, Miss Parks, there are plenty of other seats on the bus”. Can you imagine if the Civil Rights movement compromised in this way; African Americans given full rights as long as they accepted that they were inferior to the revered White people? No, institutionalized bigotry should be stamped out in all its forms, even if it means digging your heels in.

  • Karla’s Man

    There would be a big schism within the Church of England if this ever happened.

  • http://twitter.com/KeithHebden Keith Hebden

    You’re right Theo: I do object to the idea of heterosexual as normal. The recent report from the FAOC described homosexual relations as “falling short” a remark at which gay Christian I know heard rejection and humiliation. It’s not good enough to have first-class and second-class sexual orientations. It liberates neither group.

    Fortunately, you’re primary assessment of the CofE “crippled” is not right. Everyday the Church ministers in and alongside some of our most marginalised communities and speaks up for social justice in some forgotten corner. Or if we are crippled, we are still running the race.

    Shalom.

  • http://twitter.com/MrTinkles Chris Pickett

    Oh dear…these comments just show why this will never happen; the two sides spend so much time hating on each other…
    The pro gay marriage side spit the word bigot at anyone who disagrees (look up bigot, that’s not what it means!) – sadly most of these would class themselves as liberal (in the widest sense) so I’m guessing they’ve had an irony bypass.
    As for the other side (with which I find myself often lumped in) – I guess you would claim to be following Jesus…He may not approve of gay marriage, but he would have sat down with them and shown them love and compassion…as He did to all.
    As to the substance of your argument, I notice how quickly you gloss over the evangelical problem that in effect says “yes but, sin is sin”. You cant just dismiss that – its crucial! If they believe that homosexual sex is sinful, then it is ridiculous expecting them to “affirm” any such relationship. Would you ask anyone to affirm murder or stealing or pedophilia?
    And NO, I’m in no way drawing a comparison between gays and those things…before anyone explodes. I use those as examples because we all (we hope!) agree on them not being good! If some crazy government was to legalise theft, I hope the church would still condemn it. In fact that’s why I’m happy to hear church leaders speak out on corporate greed an such.
    As to the way forward, I can only think that for the non established churches, they will simply go their own way…probably most holding to the traditional view of marriage. For the CofE, I guess it will continue to search for a compromise…and a way to please everyone, but of course continue to do exactly the opposite.

  • ritch77

    It’s so simple. You either believe the Bible is God’s spoken living word or you don’t. Our church beliefs are no different from our consumerist culture where we want to pick and choose from Christianity the bits we like & reinterpret or ignore the bits we don’t or conflict with our lifestyles. Jesus never gave us that option that’s why His contemporary church is unrecognisable to Him.

  • robert_thorneywood

    Religions aren’t political parties. If you’re in the business of revealing eternal truths, you can’t just change your policies to suit the prevailing ideology of the day.

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