Gay Partnership: Marriage or Union
by Matthew Grayshon
The election of a Church Warden who is in a Civil Partnership of four years and committed relationship of 37 years prompted me to reflect on how the Christian Church, and particularly my own parish church can reflect biblically on gay partnerships as marriage or unions.
Pastorally I am acutely aware of the tenderness of this issue. I have contacts with male and female gay partnerships, with and without children, by adoption and by AID (Artificial Insemination by Donor). I have every confidence that we are one in Christ for we share orthodox views of the incarnation, the work of the cross and the resurrection.
Somehow we are struggling towards sharing fellowship in a way which admits the pain and presuppositions (nay, prejudices), wounds and bitterness known by each. In a way which resolves to hold fast to our one-ness in Christ whilst agreeing to differ over what we take to be secondary issues of biblical interpretation within the Church’s teaching.
I do hold there are primary and secondary issues of faith: it is both important and helpful to separate out what are core beliefs centred on the Godhead (eg incarnation, salvation and Trinity); and secondary issues which have more room for interpretation and flow out of our core understanding of God (eg sexual ethics, understandings of power, money and use of the worlds resources).
My congregation had been unfamiliar with biblical discussion of issues, being more familiar with discussion based on common sense, fairness and popularity, with a nod in the direction of tradition where it still made sense. We’ve moved on over the last two decades to an encompassing of scripture and tradition.
Within the younger congregation (those in their late 20s and 30s), which is growing, is the assumption that gay partnerships are perfectly acceptable, indeed perfectly normal.
This points to the need to both (i) hold together and (ii) contras what are called post-modernity (within which all views are of equal value, there is no meta-narrative, etc) and the foundations of Christian faith (which Anglicans treat in terms of Scripture / Tradition / Reason). This ‘post-modernity vs foundations’ tension is for me energising, especially when working biblically: for post-modernism challenges preconceptions with gusto.
At some point it is likely the discussions I have held within the church leadership and with gay members of the congregation and beyond, will overflow to the congregation. What follows is the kind of biblical ground that might be covered.
I seek to argue (i) that the Blessing of Civil Partnerships should be allowed, essentially because the argument from Covenant Love outweighs (trumps) familiar contrary arguments, (ii) that gay marriage is not feasible because this union is different in category from heterosexual union
There are four areas of Christian thinking I seek to bring to bear:
- Covenant Love
- Unity in Diversity the image of the Godhead
- Creation procreation
- Incarnation: the significance of the physical, of consummation
I then offer a Pastoral Footnote – Gay orientation: God made or God permitted
And two quizzical footnotes: (i) why does it all matter? (ii) what is Blessing?
When facing difficult issues one seeks, hopefully, to balance scriptures. Where there is apparent contradiction, a way through may be found. The decades-long debates over the ordination and consecration of women are an example.
Pro Argument for Blessing of Partnership: from Covenant
ﾠGod is love and those who live in love live in God, and He in them. 1 John 4.16
This text and many others (1 Cor 13) invite a high view and honouring of stable loyal mutual relationships. It may be significant that it is agape which is noted here, ie. the love which seeks the best for the other, rather than the other three Greek words which convey different emphases: two of which tend towards self-centeredness (eros, philia) and the one which speaks of dependence (storge).
This is for me a compelling reason for honouring stable same sex relationships. The alternative is not only cruel but a near-pharisaic denial of the overflowing of divine love into present reality.
Counter Argument: from Law
Some scriptures prohibit same sex sexual activity and thus relationships which are treated as unions. (Leviticus 18.22, 1 Co 6.9-10, Rom 1 21-27). These prohibitive texts are weakened when one asserts the significance of stable covenant relationships. Their cultural background is one of dispute and unclear historical sociological patterns.
There is also the balancing perspective from mission: an absolute prohibition on same sex relationships alienates many in our current society, and undermines mission. Mission, which is of course centred on the core issue of Jesus Christ and his invitations and work.
Pro Argument: from Creation
- The place of eros in the Judeo Protestant (sic) tradition is one of mutual pleasure. This consummation of relationship is not only, or indeed primarily, procreative cf Song of Songs.
Same sex unions clearly do enjoy physical expression of relationship, however this is not the same consummation as for heterosexuals because the event is different.
- Same-sex attraction is not one of choice. The first question I have had to answer for gay men and women has been ‘Do you think I chose to be gay?’. Many of these, in a context of confidentiality and trust have gone on to say they would rather be heterosexual, because of procreation and easier social acceptance.
Conclusion on balance:
- Covenant love outweighs the prohibitions traditionally asserted from nature.
- There is an opportunity for the church to further its mission by affirming what is good and even holy in covenant love within same sex couples.
Unity in Difference: the image of the Godhead
male and female he made them, in his image he made them. Genesis 1.26
- reflects the Unity within Difference seen in the godhead
- lives out unity in difference both physically and relationally.
In psychological terms the difference between male and female does, I believe, remain archetypal and not just the outcome of different socialisation. It is problematic that it is so hard to quantify the difference between male and female. One can begin from physiological differences in terms of strength, stamina and size and describe how these impact on relationships and roles. One can begin from sociological descriptions and show how there are different cultural expectations and contexts for men and women. But we live in an age where there is a liberating levelling of opportunities in every sphere of society.
The journey made by a man and a woman towards unity in difference is a particular and unique insight into the godhead. A heterosexual marriage can be blessed and affirmed because it is within the pattern explicit in Genesis 1, and implicit in our Lord’s references to marriage and divorce only in heterosexual contexts.
As a sacrament, heterosexual marriage has a privileged connection with the Unity within Difference of the godhead, a connection which is absent in same sex unions.
There is of course a unity within difference for same sex couples, but it is physically and emotionally distinct to that of heterosexual couples.
(It has been suggested to me that Ephesians 5.2-25 the church as the bride of Christ is a profound assertion of unity in difference, but I do not see the connection: this is not a sexual union, it is a covenantal one.)
Same Sex Partnership cannot reflect unity in difference in the same way as a heterosexual partnership. Such a Partnership is not a marriage because the differences are not sufficient. It is however a Union.
Creation – procreation
Heterosexual marriage is a response to the divine injunction to echo the godhead in bringing forth life. This is a unique privilege.
It is important to note that this argument is from the norm not the exception: eg there are difficulties when considering those past child bearing age, those who are infertile, those whose genitals are ambivalent.
Gay adoption is not an equivalent to the creative bringing-forth of life
- To bring forth those in your image is to know something of what it is to be the divine who conceives and brings forth in his image. Gay adoption is a different category.
I know from experience that to adopt children is consoling for it gives the privilege of nurture. I know too the pain of missing out on nature, ie. of having children which are not in your own image physically and in personality.
- Gay adoption is a radical experiment with two or three decades to go before the wisdom or otherwise will be known. Crucial issues of identity and self image remain unexplored.
Nevertheless gay adoption is hugely rewarding for the parents and life-affirming, indeed life-saving, for some children.
Heterosexual coming together is a unique expression of the creation invitation and ordinance. It is sealed and honoured in marriage.
Gay partnership and adoption have significance and reality, but these are qualitatively different. They should be sealed and honoured in a blessed union.
The significance of the Incarnation
The coming of the divine to us as wholly human without loss of identity in either the divine or human natures, includes the affirmation of the vital significance of the physical.
This is not to say Jesus gender is important, rather that his birth, life in Bethlehem and suffering on the cross show the supreme importance of the physical aspect of our spirituality.
To deny this is to approach Docetism and to undermine Christ having been tempted in every way as we are and to undermine the fundamental work of the cross. If Christ did not suffer and did not rise bodily, then the nature of hope is radically changed.
Many voices claiming the validity of gay marriage do undermine the incarnation because they assert only the committed relationship is relevant and that the physical side is irrelevant. (It is ironic that in this materialistic age the government and the law both completely ignore the physical aspects of same sex partnerships. There is no notion of adultery or failure to consummate, only irretrievable breakdown.)ﾠ
The logical extension of this is to say that only God’s love of the world is important and the fact that he gave his only son in the incarnation is irrelevant, and thus of course that the cross has no relevance to salvation. The cross is reduced to a demonstration of love or a demonstration of obedience. It is of course both of these but primarily it is about salvation as per most of John’s gospel, the letter to the Romans, the suffering servant of Isaiah et al.
The incarnation affirms the place of love in physical reality. Heterosexual coming together is an expression of this context for love. Gay expression can only be a partial for there is absence of becoming one flesh.
It is not possible to both affirm the incarnation and assert gay marriage.
(I have struggled with the preceding section, but am sure it is the most important section of this whole paper).
Pastoral Footnote: Gay orientation: God made or God permitted
It is often asserted that ’I was born gay and that is how God made me’. This is a powerful and important expression of identity and to be respected. The only people I know who have made a choice have had an ambivalent libido and have chosen the heterosexual way.
Nearly every gay person with whom I have had a trusting conversation has asked if I thought they chose to be gay, and many have said they would rather be heterosexual because the sex is better and the fit with society better. It is cruelly unhelpful to suppose that anyone has chosen their sexual orientation. I have had fierce conversations in east Africa which have used up nearly all my credibility in defending the givenness of sexual orientation.
This area of discussion ie. ‘God made’ or ‘God permitted’ is an acutely uncomfortable area of pastoral engagement because doctrines of creation claim that God designed / created / intended the normative orientation to be heterosexual. It follows that same sex orientation, even though genuine and authentic to the individual, is outside the normative, and, one must assert with utmost tenderness, a consequence of the fall. This is not to deny the identity of the gay person, or to say the person is of less worth, for God loves the whole world, and redeems and draws into his presence everyone who acknowledges the Son.
The fall is far more than the simple narrative of Genesis. The fall can be seen in the imperfections of nature, the calamities of climate, disease and the relentless capacity of human beings for making choices which hurt others and themselves (Rowan Williams). We are all victims of the fall.
Thus an exploration of the origins of, and living with, homosexuality is an issue of theodicy, of honest wrestling with the God who is love and who allows human experience outside the promises of creation norms.
Why should it all matter?
It is strangely difficult to find those who can articulate the answer to this.
I think the answer lies in these areas:
– We are called to reflect Christ, and if Christ wouldnt do that, then I will not.
– I am called to have the mind of Christ, and if certain assumptions are outside the teachings of scripture then they are likely not to reflect the mind of Christ, so I wont promote them.
– I am called to reflect the glory of God, and am loath to choose courses which may diminish or point away from his glory.
– Extraordinarily some would argue tainting ie. that if I live outside Gods norms then I have a diminished access to his grace and love. That may have validity in the first covenant but I find it nowhere in the second covenant.
I imagine myself in all my ‘middle of the road Anglican’ splendour, robed and stood in the sanctuary, raised right hand coming to the words ’and the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son …’
And find myself wondering: What is blessing?
Again, it is strangely difficult to find articulated responses.
- Is it an invitation to God to make a difference?
- Is it the passing on of a promise from God?
- Is it a reassurance that the trinitarian godhead is present and at work?
- Is its effectiveness conditional on the authority of the person speaking the blessing (believer, baptised, ordained, consecrated)?
- Is its effectiveness dependent on the spiritual state of the intended recipient?
And if I am somewhere other than the sanctuary
- ﾠIs it a validation of an activity taking place whether launching a battleship or publically acknowledging a relationship?
And if I bless God, what in heavens name am I doing?
Matthew Grayshon is Rector of a parish in west London. His great joy is to see people recognise Jesus in their lives and become effective for Him through the grace of the Spirit. He has led parish weekends around the UK, and led many diocesan conferences for SOMA in east Africa. He is Deliverance Advisor in his part of London Diocese.
This encouraging article posted on the ‘Fulcrum’ web-site, by Fr. Matthew Grayson, a west London Church of England Rector (who is also a ‘Deliverance minister’ in his part of the London diocese); bears testimony to his acceptance of monogamous Same-Sex Partnerships – while balking at the idea of ‘Marriage’, as being something restricted to heterosexual relationships.
Having been active in SOMA (Sharing of ministries Abroad) – the charismatic outreach to similar Anglican faith communities around the world – Fr. Matthew would have been familiar with the usual evangelical charismatic opposition to the LGBT community in the Church, so that his admission of the fact that Gay people can actually be an authentic part of the community of the Church is refreshingly different, to say the least.
Also, this priest’s ministry of ‘Deliverance’ in the diocese of London – when considering his support for Gay Partnerships and their Blessing within the Church – can only witness to his belief that being Gay is neither a biological nor a spiritual disorder amenable to what might be called the deliverance ministry. This cannot but be an encouragement to those in the Church who have always maintained that being Gay is a natural biological phenomenon for a proportion of the human population of the world – across cultural and social divisions – and not just a wilful denial of one’s innate, God-given, sexual identity.
Matthew’s opposition to Same-Sex Marriage is, I believe, a cultural one – common to many religious people – who believe that Marriage is restricted to the usual biblical understanding of a committed relationship between two people of opposing gender- with a view to ensuring the continuance of the human species by procreation. However, there are other biblical understandings of loving relationships between two persons of the same gender – like that of David and Jonathan; Jesus and ‘The Beloved Disciple’, that indicate something more than just a filial bond. That this would never have been described as ‘Marriage’ in those times was hardly surprising, but the quality of the relationships was to a remarkable degree ‘different’ from merely ‘mate-ship’.
My own view on same-sex partnerships is that, had the Church been more pastorally accommodating of Same-Sex Blessings for monogamous, faithful Gay partnerships; there may never have been a call for the legal definition of ‘Marriage’.
However, since the Church – in its haste to deny the authenticity of Marriage for Gays – is now seemingly amenable to accept the fact that a same-sex committed relationship can be a reflection of God’s Love at work in a Blessed and holy Partnership; for me and many other Christians, it seems that the prospect of Same-Sex Marriage may not be so daunting a possibility. There can be no children of such a union, but the responsibility of foster-parenting or adoption could be a legitimate outlet for ‘parenting’.
Here is the article on fulcrum’s web-site, complete with Comments:
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand