Dispatches from the HoB/D: The Marriage Sham
Remember what the HoB/D-L is: It’s the House of Bishops and Deputies Listserv - an email list maintained by Louie Crew, subscribed to by bishops and deputies, the contents of which can be viewed by anyone else wishing to subscribe in “audit” or “read-only” mode.
In other words, these are the people who make the decisions about what happens in the Episcopal Church: Bishops, and Deputies to General Convention.
I’ve been following the latest thread about the sacrament of marriage, and even in the fever swamp of the HoB/D, what’s been offered is loopy almost beyond belief.
It’s pointless to trace the whole discussion back very far, but just take a look at what’s been said over the past few days. Here’s Tom Fitzhugh, who simultaneously makes cogent and absurd points about marriage and the BCP:
The BCP is clear as is the service itself that marriage is between a man and a woman. This isn’t just something the church made up a thousand years ago. Weddings have celebrated religiously for millenia, in one form or another.
The intermingling of the church with state authority to pronounce couples wed might have a shorter history than the religious blessing of or participation in weddings. What is the Jewish tradition/history of rabbis at weddings?
Whatever that history is, we have a problem (even before we get to the constitutional issue of the BCP) in that now some states have expanded what they define as “marriage” to be something other than a man and a woman. There’s no easy solution, but I proposed that we simply follow the rules of the state in which the formal relationship is recognized. If that’s a “marriage,” then we should be able to offer an appropriate blessing/ceremony to celebrate it. If it’s a “partnership,” ditto. We bless buildings, pets, jewelry, so why not loving, state-sanctioned relationships?
Well, because, Tom… for one, “loving” and “state-sanctioned” have never been sufficient, or even necessary, reasons for the church to give its blessing to something. Not sure if you’ve actually read your Bible lately, Tom, but homosexual behavior - whether of the temple-prostitution variety or gussied up in whatever language or construct its advocates choose to use - is a sin. The Christian church, by definition, does not bless sin. For another, what will it take for it to sink in that “because we bless [insert inanimate object here], we must therefore bless behavior and arrangements that are specifically deemed sinful in the Bible”?
The C of E has tried to approach this issue with their clergy by simply ignoring reality. They say it’s fine if clergy want to enter into state-approved same sex relationships, but please, just don’t do anything in the bedroom (or anywhere else).
To accomplish this legitimately, we need to offer new services and adopt them at GC, and I think the SLCM is working on that, right?
Good conversation here - and I realize my Anglican compromise proposal is just that - a fudge - but we’re so good at fudge!
And to paraphrase George Will, no Anglican farce is complete without a cameo by retired bishop Walter Righter, who opines:
I don’t see how, if one reads the National Geographic issue this month - that one can say God established marriage at the creation!! Do tell?!
Brad Wilson then responds:
I guess, Bishop, because I give a higher priority to the Scriptures than to National Geographic - altho I sure enjoy the pictures.
That was pretty good, but don’t worry - the lunatic fringe returns immediately:
As I recall, “marriage” was a creation of the church a thousand or so years ago as mechanism to insure that property would pass to legitimate heirs (as opposed to illegitimate ones). The examples of marriage in the Hebrew Scriptures are rather different from our current version. They clearly involved polygamy and other arrangements we consider unacceptable. Women were also “given over” to husbands by their fathers as property.
Perhaps we have romanticized a custom into something it isn’t and never has been. The chronology of events at Cana seems to indicate that Jesus was more present at the reception than at the actual wedding.
The church hasn’t had a stellar reputation about marriage over the years either, considering its participation in arranged marriages for political reasons.
Sometimes one just has to shake one’s head in wonder.
Oh yes indeed, Bruce… one definitely has to shake one’s head in wonder.
A different Bruce - Bruce Robison - points out:
I sometimes get a little confused about what the argument is.
Some of my friends believe that the bond and covenant of marriage *was* established by God in creation, and that our Lord Jesus Christ *did* adorn this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at Cana of Galilee, but have come to the opinion that there are grounds in, say, the Pentecostal visions of Peter (don’t call unclean what I have called clean, etc.) to believe that the Church is being called now, with a fresh movement of the Holy Spirit, to an expanded understanding of marriage to include the faithful covenanting of gay and lesbian persons.
I would call this a “progressive high” view of marriage, to make up a term, and I would say that while the wider body of the Christian family has not (or, perhaps, not yet) been convinced of this, it is something that Christian people can and should talk about, and with deep respect, taking each other seriously and meeting one another in love, as we consider together the scriptures, by the light of tradition and reason, in conversation with the whole Church.
The discussion perhaps then is one largely about ecclesiology. Should we come to a deeper clarity about something like this among as wide and catholic fellowship as possible, or should we say that this is one of those decisions that individuals or small groups or “local churches” should feel free to make and then act upon on their own? Is our Episcopal Church to be understood as a “Protestant Denomination” with its own freedom of faith and order, fully empowered to discern substantial matters of Christian teaching, or are we a member of a body of “mutual responsibility and interdependence” on such matters, and so called to speak our piece but also to wait for the discernment of the larger body?
Or, and this is what I wonder, are we saying that the Church has been entirely mistaken in its formularies—not just about “who can be married,” but about marriage itself? That when we speak about “the purposes for which it was instituted by God,” we are in fact just using pretty ceremonial language that we really don’t mean? That we don’t think God in fact has a purpose in marriage, but rather that it is a social institution of human design and for human purposes, and which we may feel free to adapt—or scrap all together, I suppose—if we discern a more efficient way to order things?
I actually hear both messages, and sometimes from the same people, at different times. It seems to me, though, that they’re quite different, perhaps even contradictory. For me personally the former position is a great deal easier to work with in conversation than the latter. But it’s helpful to know just what it is we’re talking about.
Pittsburgh C-4 2009
Back to Bruce Garner, who really starts to bring the crazy:
Thanks, Bruce…similar feelings.
At times I have wondered something along the lines of: Who married Adam and Eve? Did God perform a ceremony? Of course that leads to questions about where the spouses of Adam and Eve’s children originated…if indeed Adam and Eve were the first. Somewhat tongue in cheek, somewhat whimsical, but also questions inquiring children might ask!
Yes, Dan [Martins, who inexplicably continues to try and engage these loons -G] I understand the procedures for changing our BCP, but that isn’t the real issue here.
As with most faith issues, there is the human aspect of the conversation. Two people are in love with each other, that “glowing” type of love where anyone watching them smiles to see how completely lost the two get in each other…even standing in line for a movie! It makes no difference if the couple in love is of opposite genders or the same gender. The issue is love and right relationship and how they and we can honor that relationship. Suffice it to say, it certainly appears that God has already honored it.
Maybe the church should really get out of the marriage business. That is really a function of civil authorities anyway. The priests include that caveat when pronouncing someone as married. I can’t really see a reason for the church to be a part of a civil contract when the faith contract is what matters most to us.
Perhaps if the church just worked at blessing relationships that honor the love and mutuality the couple expresses that would resolve many issues. What we should be looking for is non-abusive, non-exploitive, loving relationships where neither party is using the other. As Bishop Ed Salmon (retired SC) once noted during a discussion in the old Standing Commission on Human Affairs, the relationship should mirror the relationship found in the Holy Trinity: complete mutuality, completeness, perfection in a relationship.
In retrospect, some of our “lovely ceremonial” words have created untold pain in the world. Binding people until “death do us part” has kept marriages together for years past the time they should have been ended. How many times did the death part come at the hands of an abusive spouse. How much of our ceremonial words and actions are holdovers from the time when women were indeed property and an exchange took place between father and husband to create the marriage. One has to ask who married whom here? The contract seemed to be between the two men! The woman had no say.
It’s a complex matter and provides much material for discussion. I would just prefer we avoid the romanticization that sometimes come from myths rather than reality.
Dan Martins counters:
Bruce, your arguments are moot for present purposes. It is a conversation worth having, but it’s not this conversation. The matter at hand is the normative authority of the Book of Common Prayer over the teaching and practice of the Episcopal Church, of which those in holy orders are vowed stewards, and to which even lay members of Executive Council have a fiduciary responsibility. If you wish to work through proper channels to change the Prayer Book, I encourage you to do so. But for the time being, the inescapable fact is that the Episcopal Church teaches that the bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation. That’s not just a nice piece of poetry, it’s a direct theological assertion. This is not merely the view of some cranky knuckle-dragging conservatives, it is the official teaching of our church. The burden of restraint is on those who dissent from it, not those who uphold it.
A sterling, brilliant, yet obvious point, which evidently sets Ann Fontaine’s crazy juices to boiling:
It is a dumb prayer that is based on prejudice not Bible IMO - God did not establish a bond and covenant or marriage in Creation. The story has nothing to do with marriage - it has to do with procreation - which we no longer support with abandon. As to Jesus attending a wedding as a basis for holding marriage in esteem - also not much of a reason. I hope someday we have an opening to the marriage ceremony that is not so laughable.
Share this story:
Recent Related Posts
- CofE Clergy Refuse to “Take Note” of “Orthodox” Bishops’ Report on Marriage
- Collapse into Incoherence
- Decisions Have Consequences
- Then and Now
- State of Georgia Demands Pastor Turn Over Sermons
- DePaul President: “Black Lives Matter—Unborn Lives Don’t”
- Global South Day 2 - Carthage and the Valley of Dry Bones
Are you reading this?
Advertising on Stand Firm works!
Click here for details.