During three eventful days in March, four significant things happened. The Government announced its consultation on gay marriage in England and Wales. The Archbishop of Canterbury announced his resignation. Three more Anglican Dioceses voted against the proposed Covenant (the instrument designed primarily to bring to heel the sexually liberal churches of North America), thus giving it the kiss of death. And, finally, CSCS held its Annual Conference and AGM.
The first three of these events, although not causally linked, are obviously associated. For some, they will represent the final failure in the Church of England, and in English society, to hold back the tide of an anything-goes attitude to sexuality. For most readers of this newsletter, however, they represent the hope of a greater openness to the realities of sexuality in our land, and perhaps more broadly a sense of promise that the social and theological conservatives are no longer in the ascendant. We may expect resistance, especially in our very polarized Churches, and at the time of writing there is (alas) no reason to hope that a new Archbishop will be appointed who is any more able to bring the Church of England to terms with new realities than our once and future friend Rowan has been. But I am reminded of the Prince in Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard who felt himself isolated as the tide of history flowed around him – and who finally came to the conclusion that, if everything is to remain the same, everything has to change.
The issues surrounding gay marriage are not straightforward. Our own Chair is on record as being a passionate supporter of civil partnerships, being himself in one, but not of gay marriage. He explains his position further below, and I hope that this will be the beginning of a dialogue with the membership on the deeper issues raised. For the retired Roman Catholic Bishop Geoffrey Robinson is surely right in saying that this development really opens up the fundamental questions “What is marriage for?” and indeed “What is sex for?”, which his own Church and most other Churches have as yet failed to address in terms relevant to our time. These are the very questions which CSCS exists to address. Thus, those three eventful days may herald a new springtime, not only for society, the Churches and the gay (and straight) people who populate both, but also for our own little group of labourers in the vineyard.
So here is a little flavour of our Annual Conference. Small in numbers as so often, it nevertheless again attracted a handful of new enquirers – and, by no means least, a new Committee member in the shape of Terry Weldon, who we hope will bring some order to the sorry state of our website, following the retirement through illness of Phil Gardner as our faithful webmaster who has done his best for us over the years but was unable to prevent or cure the recent malware attack. Terry is also an experienced blogger for The Tablet, and one of his recent contributions, reproduced with acknowledgment to that publication, appears below.
The conference was outstanding for the contributions from Gerard Loughlin and Mark Dowd on God, sex and cinema. We hope in a future edition to have a written contribution from Gerard, but mere reproduction of the spoken word cannot do justice to the many film clips which he used (even given that, unfortunately, the room in which we met had no blackout facilities). Both he and Mark illustrated how, from the earliest days of cinema, sex has been portrayed in a life-affirming light (though without neglecting the dark side), often in opposition to the assumptions of the Churches, yet also often with a spiritual reference.
The AGM that followed was even smaller in numbers but upbeat. The Chair’s report, and the accounts, are reproduced below. The latter, as our Treasurer Colin Hart explained, are perhaps slightly misleading because of the continuing need to sort out payments due on Theology and Sexuality in the light of the delays to recent issues; there could be a sizeable bill for that in 2012. The presence of Gerard Loughlin as co-editor of the journal was helpful in discussing the problems which have arisen regarding the regularity of publications. It seems that the flow of high-quality material is not what it once was, particularly now that other academic journals take an interest in our subject-matter. This saga will no doubt continue!
Gay Masses – unique outreach and support
“You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). “Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:15).
These verses epitomise the importance of the Soho Masses. For this reason I am glad that the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, has reaffirmed his support for the Masses and also comfortable with his reminding that they must not oppose or confuse church teaching.
Gay men and lesbians know the benefits to mental health of living the truth, by coming out honestly in the truth of their lives. The closet is a lie. We need to be honest, and that includes honesty in Church. Part of the value of any Mass is as a great communal act of worship where we should all expect and find welcome and community with our fellows. In the Masses at Warwick Street, this expectation is met.
There are many reasons why individuals attend. For some men, the perceived (or experienced) hostility of the Church has led them to reject it entirely. This may result in taking up the hedonistic lifestyle that is often (incorrectly) associated with gay male culture. Some of our people tell how they fell into that trap, but returning to regular Mass, became able to resist such temptations. Others have been attending other denominations – but appreciate being able to return to a “real” Mass.
Others have been attending local parishes, but only superficially, avoiding awkward questions about their lives and family, by simply attending Mass, without participation in broader church life. These find in Soho a community, and a possibility of wider participation, that they are unable to experience in their local parishes. Then there are some who participate in two parishes: locally, and in Soho for the pleasure of fellowship with others like themselves – or for the excellent quality of the Mass we provide.
These Masses are widely misrepresented by our critics. They are emphatically not a place for campaigns against church teaching, nor are the refreshment times occasions for sexual hook-ups. While the question of celibacy is not directly discussed or even raised, there is a tacit understanding of the Church’s teaching, including its teaching on conscience. Our Masses are really much like any other – just better done, in the quality of the liturgy, congregational participation, homilies, and refreshment time afterwards, where discussions are livelier, and the welcome warmer, than in any other parish I have ever known.
Outside Mass, we sometimes offer small group discussions for Lent or Advent, days of recollection and retreats, just as other parishes do – but with a rather stronger percentage of our people participating than in conventional parishes.
What particularly characterises our community is the deep commitment of so many of us. Some of us travel extraordinary distances to attend, in addition to participation in our local parishes.
For many, the experience of regular attendance deepens and strengthens our faith. Many who have not previously attended local parishes begin to do so, some who have done, begin to participate more actively. Indirectly, our Mass is strengthening other parishes too. We are reaching many people who have been estranged from the Church, drawing them back into it. In doing so, we are delivering an important service to them and the wider Church community.
I am deeply grateful to Archbishop Nichols for this most welcome assurance that they are to continue, as I am for his support in the past – and his reminder in a BBC interview in 2010 to critics that it is not up to any one of us to judge the interior state of another’s conscience.
Chair’s Report 2011/12
I present this Annual Report for 2011/2012 on the work of the Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality (CSCS) only two days after the launch of the Government’s Consultation on Equal Civil Marriage. The issues which are highlighted in the Consultation Document and the debates in recent days show yet again, not only the need for an ecumenical network such as CSCS to be able to contribute to a specific debate, but also to situate the issues within a wider context which reflects a broader discussion of concerns around human sexuality. I will return to this later.
I first wish to thank, on your behalf, all my colleagues on the CSCS Committee for their support, as well as for their willingness to engage so selflessly in the tasks before us. I particularly wish to thank Colin Hart, our Treasurer, for keeping not only our finances in good order, but also taking on the role of Membership Secretary. It continues to make sense that these roles are combined, not least to avoid unnecessary duplication and confusion in coordinating membership subscriptions and subsequent renewals. I must also thank Anthony Woollard for his vigorous editing of CSCS News and his astute holding us to the jobs before us, in and between Committee meetings.
There are others who act behind the scenes: Jane Fraser has served us as Minutes Secretary as well as continuing to be a driving force in our Theological Educators’ Project. Beyond the CSCS Committee, Andrew Yip has continued to be responsible for our Newsletter mailings to members, backed up by Jane Fraser, and not least our printers for their efficient turn around of Newsletter production, after Heather Barfoot has carried out her proof-reading. Philip Gardner has been our webmaster for a number of years, but has been severely incapacitated in recent times and so has been forced to give up this role. We are delighted that Terry Weldon has very recently agreed to step into this position and help us in our desire to update the website and make it more fit for purpose. We are also grateful to the Rector of the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption & St. Gregory Church, Soho, in affording us hospitality for our Committee meetings, to the Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, and Campion Hall, Oxford, for hosting meetings of the Theological Educators’ Project. As always we are grateful for the support of our Matron and Patrons, and glad that Bishop John Gladwin can be with us today.
Beyond our Newsletter publication, our main activity has been the Theological Educators’ Project, exploring how issues of human sexuality are being dealt with in the recruitment of people for ordained and lay ministry across a range of denominations, their academic training and the support offered during such formation, as well as the level of ongoing support in the growth of sexually healthy and mature pastoral ministers. We have met approximately twice of three times a year. The wider group includes Anglican, Methodist, Metropolitan Community Church, Roman Catholic, and United Reformed Church members, many of whom hold particular responsibility for training and academic input in both denominational and ecumenical schemes. This exciting work proceeds, inevitably, at a slow and steady pace, as we seek to discern what appropriately useful outcomes might emerge from our conversations.
We are pleased that Gerard Loughlin is with us today, not only for agreeing to be our keynote speaker, but also in his role as editor of Theology & Sexuality, and to be able to share with us his thoughts about the Journal’s direction.
CSCS contributed to the Government’s Consultation on Civil Partnerships in Religious Buildings, a summary of which appeared in CSCS Newsletter No. 41. Some of the issues which we highlighted then show signs of re-emerging in the Consultation on Equal Marriage. I urge everyone to engage anew in this further consultation regardless of where we might stand personally on the question of same-sex marriage. Please send us your comments, so that our formal contribution can express not just the Committee’s views but those of the wider CSCS membership.
CSCS is a founder member of the Cutting Edge Consortium and we have been actively involved in planning for its 3rd National Conference on 21 April 2012. If you have not yet booked in then please do so and take a batch of leaflets to spread around your friends and any other groups with which you are involved. We continue to enjoy close contact with groups such as Changing Attitude, Inclusive Church, LGCM, Modern Church, and always look for opportunities to work together on matters of common interest.
The debates around all aspects of human sexuality show no sign of abating in all our churches. As long as this context exists, there is a need for a network such as CSCS to play its part in responding critically, challenging constructively, and celebrating the rich diversity of all women, children and men, as the rich tapestry of human sexuality created as part of God’s design, God’s work of art. As such, I commend to you the work of CSCS during 2011-2012.
CSCS Accounts year ending 31 December 2011
Income 2011 2010
Subscriptions 1495.00 1258.00
Conference 595.00 850.00
Bank interest 6.38 5.70
Tax refund 556.84 0.00
Total 2653.22 2113.70
Journal 00.00 462.00
Newsletter 525.87 285.08
Website 158.00 0.00
Conference 297.90 1157.50
Theological Educators Project 508.80 125.45
Committee/secretarial 498.23 599.72
Lost deposit written off 85.00
Total 2073.80 2629.75
Surplus/Deficit 579.42 -516.05
Balance Sheet as at 31 December 2011
Community Directplus account 3697.39 2994.46
Business Select Instant Access account 2149.62 2148.28
Uncredited deposits 120.00
Lost deposit 85.00
Less uncleared cheques -80.15
Total 5847.01 5267.59
Surplus 2011 579.42
Minutes of the Annual General Meeting of CSCS
held on Saturday 17 March 2011
at Lumen URC Church, 88 Tavistock Place, London WC1H 9RS
Hugh Bain, Hazel Barkham, Heather Barfoot, Jane Fraser, John and Lydia Gladwin, Colin Hart, Gerard Loughlin, Michael Moran, Martin Pendergast, Terry Weldon and Anthony Woollard.
John & Daphne Cook, Tony Crowe, Michael Egan, Rosie Martin and Barnabas-Francis McPhail
Minutes of the AGM 12th Feb 2011
These were agreed as a correct record and signed by the Chair.
Proposed: John Gladwin, Seconded: Hazel Barkham.
Concerns about Theology & Sexuality were postponed until scheduled later in the meeting. There were no matters arising from the minutes that were not on the agenda.
Annual Report of the Chairperson
Martin Pendergast presented a written report on the year’s activities (see above).
The discussion that followed focused on the implications of equal marriage on existing law whereby (in England and Wales) all Church of England premises are licensed for the conducting of marriages. It is not clear that the Government or the C of E has explored the possibility that C of E churches might have an automatic right to conduct marriages of same sex partners. It was pointed out that the situation in Scotland differs due to their different legal structure. The point was also made that the URC, Liberal Judaism, MCC and Quakers have all won the right to conduct civil partnerships on their premises and may wish to extend this right to marriages between same sex partners.
Acceptance of The Annual Report of the Chairperson was proposed by Anthony Woollard and seconded by Heather Barfoot.
6. Annual Report of the Treasurer
A written report from Colin Hart was received, noting the income and expenditure for the year. Two years’ Gift Aid had been received from Inland Revenue. A more complete receipt of membership subscriptions had also boosted income, while the lack of invoices for the two copies of Theology & Sexuality had reduced expenditure, leaving a surplus of £579.42.
Colin Hart was thanked for his careful work on CSCS finances and Michael Egan for oversight as Hon. Auditor.
Acceptance of the accounts was proposed by John Gladwin and seconded by Hugh Bain.
A proposal to re-appoint Michael Egan as Hon. Auditor was proposed by Michael Moran and seconded by Jane Fraser.
Election of CSCS Committee for 2012/2013
It was proposed that the existing committee of Heather Barfoot, Jane Fraser, Colin Hart, Rosie Martin, Michael Moran, Martin Pendergast and Anthony Woollard should be re-elected en-bloc as all were willing to stand. Anthony Woollard stated his intention to stand down as editor of the Newsletter next year.
Proposed by John Gladwin and seconded by Hazel Barkham.
Terry Weldon was nominated as a further committee member and was willing to stand.
Proposed by Anthony Woollard and seconded by Michael Moran.
Terry Weldon gave a brief summary of what he might be able to achieve in the role of webmaster, based on his experience of producing his blog, Queering Sexuality. He stressed he was not a professional computer person and knew his limitations but could enlist more skilled help if needed to re-design the website.
Theology & Sexuality
Gerard Loughlin updated members on problems arising from changes of publishers from Sage to Equinox, a smaller publisher managed by Janet Joyce. As joint editor with Elizabeth Stuart, he stressed her limited involvement due to her increased workload as Vice Chancellor of the University of Winchester. He welcomed Kenneth Brindle from the University of North Carolina, as US representative on the editorial board, who is in a position to recruit library subscriptions and encourage the submission of more papers from US academia. The decision to aim for three issues per year has led to difficulty in finding sufficient contributions as theology, sexuality and gender studies are not topics that are expanding so much now in the academic field. Competition through overlap with other journals, and reluctance to identify subject matter as sexual (as opposed to ‘Patristic’ or ‘Gender’) has also impeded progress which, in turn has led to a falling behind of published editions. He stressed that the aim is to catch up by 2013 and the next edition should be out next month. A new appointment as Editor of Book Reviews will help to expand this section.
The discussion which followed looked at liaison between the editorial and publishing side which should be enhanced by the move to new publishers in Durham, thus facilitating contact. Further comment was made on the perception that some articles are too esoteric and the need to engage with a wider readership, not just academic. Gerard Loughlin was positive about the suggestion that some papers arising from the Theological Educators Project might be published in Theology & Sexuality.
Any Other Business
There was none.
Hardly a day, let alone a week, goes by without added controversy over Government proposals to introduce a legal provision for same-sex marriage. The Government’s Consultation document, Equal Civil Marriage, is available on-line: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/equal-civil-marriage/ consultation-document . It is also important not to ignore the Impact Assessment document accompanying the consultation questions. I urge all CSCS members and friends who can access it, to respond to the consultation, individually or as groups, particularly specifying your religious affiliation, before its deadline on 14 June 2012.
The Consultation Document itself states that the Government is restricting its proposals to equal civil marriage, and also not extending civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples. However, the Impact Assessment document hints that if there is a strong enough response on the issue, it could consider allowing civil same-sex marriages on religious premises for those denominations who wish to do this, as has happened with civil partnerships in religious buildings. This would still maintain the Government’s decision not to interfere with religious marriage per se.
There is also a hint that the extension of civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples could, in fact, be considered, even though not presently on the agenda. There is a number of heterosexual couples who would prefer their current cohabitation to be accorded a legal status but not that of civil marriage, entailing in many minds a degree of subjection, one to another, rather than equal civil partnership.
There is much confusion, some of it wilful, about what is meant or intended by same-sex marriage or even civil partnerships so it may be helpful to reflect on some of the issues involved and to look at some of the sources of opposition. One argument put forward by opponents of equality is that civil partnerships already confer the same legal rights and responsibilities as marriage, so the desire for equal marriage is simply a question of the name. In fact, there are still a few legal and benefits-related anomalies which render civil partnerships and marriage unequal. The Equal Civil MarriageConsultation seeks to rectify these. Another important area is the regularising of the situation of transgendered persons and their marital status, post-transition. Currently, transgendered people have to legally dissolve their marriage or civil partnership, following transition.
When Christians celebrate sacraments and rituals they draw on patterns of human celebration and invest them with new significance in the light of reflections upon the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ. So baptism was invented neither by the early Church nor by Jesus of Nazareth. Found in many religious and social traditions, it may signify incorporation into a given community, affirm identity or ritual cleansing. Anointing with oil reflects ways of honouring and preserving the human body, both in life and in death, marking the person as set apart to carry out a particular service, to strengthen or heal physically.
The breaking of bread and the sharing of wine builds upon patterns of domestic or extended-family meals marking significant milestones in the life of the particular group, or gathering of groups in a wider community. All of these, and others, are pre-existing patterns of human behaviour, sometimes expressed in ritual form, but not necessarily with a transcendent purpose. The Christian Eucharist builds upon the Jewish Seder meal, marking a people’s transition to liberation, investing the passing over from death to life with reflections upon crucifixion and resurrection.
Believers, following biblical injunctions and developing their liturgical traditions, have transformed these actions to give corporate and personal expression to their religious belief. The manner of worship expresses patterns of belief: lex orandi, lex credendi. For many people of faith these become imbued with a sacramental reality so that they become “outward signs of inward grace,” effecting what they signify, doing this in memory of the wonders God has done with humanity in its liberation.
One of the challenges from some mainstream religious groups is that current social trends and Government proposals attempt to ‘redefine’ marriage. This ignores the fact that marriage is a variable and culturally conditioned social institution with no inherent religious inspiration, but subsequently clothed with meaning by various faiths. In many cultures it was rooted more in property contracts or ways of social engineering through annexing others into extended family networks. Theologians such as Adrian Thatcher and Rosemary Radford Reuther have more than adequately detailed this. 1
As in so many other aspects Jesus of Nazareth turns prevailing attitudes and social institutions upside down. When it comes to marriage, his vision and that of the early Church communities, is a long way from promoting patriarchal ownership of women as property, masculine power over perceived feminine passivity, or the aim of increasing economic or social prestige through the coming together of small families as powerful forces.
The Church, in both its Eastern and Western traditions, possesses a rich historical treasury of rituals celebrating diverse forms of human belonging. Religious communities, through communally expressed vows, enable men and women in same-sex communities to express a solidarity of human relationships. Although rare today, this also happened in medieval times in mixed-gender religious communities. Catholic historians such as the late John Boswell and Alan Bray have unearthed the blessing of same-sex couples, both in sworn-brotherhood rituals, as well as in other forms more closely approaching heterosexual betrothal and marriage rites.2
What is fundamental, particularly to a Catholic sacramental understanding of marriage as a significant religious action, is the centrality of the personal relationship. Social recognition or status is dependent upon and subsequent to a deep interpersonal commitment. The couple themselves are the ministers of the sacrament, not a member of the clergy. The latter’s declaratory function is as a formal witness of the faith community in such celebrations.
Those formed in a faith which believes in a humanely divine and divinely human capacity will hold that particular human experiences are open to God’s self-revelation in remarkable ways. Through these experiences our sensibilities grow for recognising the presence of God around, in, and among us – sensibilities that include awareness and awe, yearning and partial fulfilment.
The potential for sacramentality in heterosexual relationships is largely taken for granted in Christian traditions, even if not universally counted as a Sacrament. Growing numbers of theologians as well as those involved in marriage preparation and relationships- support, affirm the potentiality of same-sex relationships for being good and holy. The question then is not whether same-sex relationships can be morally justified and graced, but when, under what conditions, or according to what criteria they can be so.
What is required of religious institutions is that the debate about same-sex unions should shift from the rhetoric of taboo, to a discourse about an inclusive framework of Christian sexual ethics: do no unjust harm; free consent; mutuality; equality; commitment; fruitfulness; and social justice. It should move from a fixation upon the sacrament of marriage to the promotion of the sacramentality of human relationships. In so doing, it will recognise that just as their may be a non-physiological fruitfulness in mixed gender couples unable to conceive children, same-sex unions can be equally fruitful.
Abrahamic religions are, generally speaking, far from initiating this level of dialogue. They, (including many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered adherents) are mostly stuck at the stage of still arguing ideological positions. Many of us, people of faith or not, do not wish to be encumbered with, or use, either patriarchal vocabulary or the property-rights baggage of marriage as commonly understood. Nevertheless many of us strongly affirm the sacramentality of our human relationships as entirely consistent with the fundamentals of our respective religious traditions.
The socialjustice element in sexual ethics does not just mean LGBT people of faith claiming social or political rights. Faith communities and their leaderships have obligations towards persons as sexual beings, not simply as invisible numbers in church, mosque or synagogue. Recognising social justice in sexual ethics means that communities will accept their responsibility for the communal support of their LGBT members in the discernment of their relationships.
The Catholic tradition holds that the Church is actualised by sacraments of unity. No gift of love to anyone is just “for the two of us”. The sealing of every shared covenant and the life that is shaped are significant and needed ways in which the Church finds God present in human relationships. Just as the Church needs the light and strength of those who are learning how to love, so do all those need the strength of the faith community. This strength is given in many ways, but no more importantly than through the sacramental life. This is why same-sex partners should not be turned away from the table of the Lord, nor denied the blessings and affirmation of their unions.
One of the many “best kept secrets” of the Catholic Church is its development of doctrine and practice. It has creatively celebrated various comings together in human relationships in its past. It is not beyond its wit to do the same today for this and coming generations, but do its hierarchies have the will? Judging from the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales A Letter on Marriage, issued to beread, even if not actually done so everywhere, in all their churches on 10 March 2012, the answer is NO.
What are we to make of this? In spite of the Catholic Bishops’ Letter referring only once to the Government’s proposal, in its first sentence, “to open the institution of marriage to same-sex partnerships”, lesbian and gay people might feel that a finger is being pointed at them; that they somehow undermine marriage and family values. Parents and families who have grown to celebrate and support the civil unions of their daughters and sons, hurt by some of the statements from religious leaders, may well feel conflicted between loyalty to their church and love of their children.
In fact, the Archbishops’ Letter on Marriage is little more than a re-affirmation of general Catholic teaching on marriage and human relationships; indeed, much of it could be applied to same-sex civil unions without even entering into debates about same-sex marriage per se. Its only controversial note depends on how a phrase about the Church’s welcome to divorced and remarried Catholics is understood.
Does this Letter, signed by Archbishops Nichols and Smith actually contribute something to the debate on marriage and sexual relationships which should be part of the imminent Government consultation on equal civil marriage legislation? Certainly, A Letter on Marriage is markedly gentler in tone than either the offensive remarks from some Scottish Catholic leaders, or the Vatican’s often harsh language referring to homosexual people.
In spite of a Catholic Voices sponsored survey this week purporting to show rejection of same-sex marriage proposals, other polls suggest that Catholics support greater LGBT equality on a par with the rest of the population. In conversations with many clergy, I find similar questioning about the Vatican’s stance on homosexuality to that on contraception, use of condoms in HIV prevention, and admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to the Sacraments. As a civilly-partnered gay man, heavily involved in a local Catholic parish, I have never experienced any antagonism towards either myself or my partner. Indeed, our names were included in parish intercessions, the Sunday after our civil partnership registration.
Catholic Voices, with close links to Opus Dei, presents itself as an authoritative lay voice on matters of the moment, but it is not an official agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales and does not reflect the diversity of views in the Catholic community. Indeed, it has demonstrated its antipathy in this regard by banning three CSCS members from attending a debate on same-sex marriage. It has recently published a Briefing Paper – In Defence of Conjugality: The Common Good Case Against Same-Sex Marriage. It presents many of the same spurious claims used to object to the introduction of Civil Partnerships, now found to be completely unwarranted. Both Anglican and Roman Catholic hierarchies now appear to have reversed their earlier opposition to same-sex civil unions, so on the equal marriage front, “how long, O Lord, how long?”
I believe the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales are correct in their views on same-sex marriage when they say that civil same-sex unions are not the same as marriage. To the common mind though, they are. Bristle though I do, some of my Catholic relatives often refer to our civil partnership ceremony as a ‘wedding’ or, ‘when you got married’.
As noted above, State and Church have regularly redefined marriage and its structures over centuries due to the influence of changing cultural patterns, religious influences, and insights in social and human development. The structures of marriage are rooted not in biology or gender difference per se, but in relationality. If it were not so, those who clearly have no potential for fertility could not enter a valid marriage. Faith communities have countenanced and rejected polygamous marriage, allowed nullity, divorce and remarriage, and the 20 century Catholic Church developed its earlier teaching that marriage was solely for procreation, declaring that its purpose is twofold, including the mutual relationship of the couple.
Yet I am not a supporter of same sex marriage for myself. I believe marriage is essentially dependent on the subjection of one person to another, even if it’s a mutual subjection, in the exchange of vows. I therefore do not seek such status. Civil Partnerships are based on equality, legally expressed in a joint signing of a contractual covenant, rather than through vows. This value of equality is what those of us in same-sex civil unions bring to the common good. For those of us who are people of faith, the sacramentality of such unions is what we strive to live out. Many parents, families, friends, and members of congregations have grasped this message, even if, sadly much religious leadership has not.
This is not to privilege same-sex unions over opposite-sex marriages, nor to suggest that heterosexual marriages are not also based in an understanding of shared partnership, rather than property possession. One of the issues which will have to be examined if same-sex marriage reaches the statute book is the language of the legal marriage formula. It’s current emphasis on ‘taking’ – possessing – contrasts with the covenantal-relationship understanding which many heterosexuals hold as they reflect on the meaning of their marriage. Apart from the language of ‘wife’ or ‘husband’, could a new legal marriage formula more adequately reflect the self-giving element of human relationships, rather than suggestions of ownership, possession, or even dependency?
Unelected religious leadership cannot be allowed to present itself as the sole voice of the common good. Indeed, for example, some faith-leaders have shown a volte-face on the value of civil partnerships. In 2003, the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales, strongly prompted by the Vatican’s Doctrine Congregation, suggested that same-sex civil unions would be contrary to the common good. In 2011, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales, said: “We would want to emphasize that civil partnerships actually provide a structure in which people of the same sex who want a lifelong relationship (and) a lifelong partnership can find their place and protection and legal provision. Clearly, respect must be shown to those who in the situation in England use a civil partnership to bring stability to a relationship.” th
The common good is not simply an abstract ideal yet to be achieved. It is realised, here and now, wherever mutuality in social and personal relationships is promoted and respected. It is what transforms the cold face of ‘society’ into a community of communities. It is where individuals and groups are in solidarity, one with another; where what is bad for one is bad for another, and what is good for one is good for another.
The common good pushes against managerial and functionalist approaches to human beings, as Rowan Williams suggests: “taking responsibility for one another, assumes that the ‘other’ for whom you’re taking responsibility is a three-dimensional person – not an item, not an abstraction; but somebody with a particular history, with a particular set of strengths and weaknesses, with particular gifts to give. Reduce that three dimensionality to something else and you are reducing the chances of a vital and healthy community life.” 3That is precisely what LGBT people bring to the common good in the transformation of society not as some kind of Trojan horse, undermining human, social or family values.
Christianity and the Making of the Modern Family, Rosemary Radford Ruether, SCM-Canterbury Press Limited
2The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, John Boswell, New York: Villard, 1994
The Friend, Alan Bray, University of Chicago Press, 2006.
‘Women Bishops Measure’ in the Church of England – ‘Are we nearly there yet?’
We would urge those of you who are concerned about issues of gender equality within the church to support this appeal from Hilary Cotton, Vice Chair of WATCH (Women and the Church). Although this is primarily an issue for the Church of England, as the established church ministering to all, it does have a wider significance. We also commend Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes’s excellent blog on this issue (mirandathrelfallholmes.blogspot.com)
Please write to your Diocesan bishop before 21 May.
The House of Bishops meets that day to discuss whether to amend the Measure that will allow women to be consecrated as bishops. They have been asked by General Synod NOT to amend it substantially (as this would require sending it back around the Dioceses for another debate), but there will be great pressure on them to amend it in small ways to appease opponents.
The difficulty we see is that what appears small to the bishops may have enormous consequences for the Church – for example, putting in law that a parish can have a male bishop who has not been ordained by a woman, or who has not ordained women, creates two strands of bishops in the Church of England in perpetuity – those who can minister across all parishes, and those who can only minister in parishes who accept them.
We know that the bishops are eager to make sure that the Measure is passed by General Synod in July. They are considering amending it because they believe that shifting the balance of the compromise it contains towards opponents will ensure it receives the required 2/3majorities in all 3 houses.
We are equally eager that it should pass in July, but we are also clear that any changes to the set of compromises in the Measure that have been painstakingly constructed over seven years of discussion and debate will place those majorities at even more serious risk. Many General Synod members (particularly in the House of Clergy – where there is now a large number of women) have already said that they will be unable to vote for a Measure in July that has been amended in this way. The bishops do not seem to have taken this message seriously yet.
In 1993 the Bishops introduced the Episcopal Act of Synod (creating flying-bishops) as a last-minute, untested addition to the legislation allowing women to be ordained as priests. The consequences of this have been enormous and in many ways disastrous for the Church. We do not want to run the risk of such action again, however well-intentioned.
Please would you write to your Diocesan bishop before 21 May? A brief note is fine, saying that you want women to be bishops on the same basis as men, and that the legislation as drafted has the overwhelming support of the Dioceses, so please don’t change it now. Careful argument is not required at this stage – others will be providing that – strength of feeling and enthusiasm for women bishops in the manner agreed by the dioceses is what is important.
This is the last opportunity for the Measure to be changed, and only the bishops can change it. Those who will not accept women as bishops are writing to their bishops urging them to make sure this happens. Your letter matters in ensuring that the Measure that is voted on in July is what the vast majority of the Church supports.
Head of Campaign and Vice-Chair, WATCH
This Newsletter is produced for CSCS
The Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality
Chair and principal point of contact:
PO Box 24632
LONDON E9 6XF.
Phone: 020 8986 0807.
Next issue in autumn 2012 – contributions invited by end-September
Please send any enquiries about/contributions to the Newsletter to:
1 Chestnut Walk
Phone: 01789 204923