Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rowan and Marriage

Like most of you, I have read the recent “reflection” from Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, about the actions the Episcopal Church took in Anaheim. Like many of you, I am frustrated by his language, which is so “nuanced” that it’s nearly impossible to know what the heck he means to say.

Like many of you, I marvel that there are more blessings of same-sex unions in London through the Church of England than in the entire U.S. Episcopal Church in the course of a year.

Like many of you, I am struck by the hypocrisy of the Archbishop who would tolerate us if would just be as sneaky and secretive about our approach to the LGBT Christians in our church as Rowan has been in the Church of England.

Like many of you, I suspect there are more gay bishops in the Church of England than there are in the U.S.

Like many of you, I am truly outraged about the Archbishop's language of "choice" and "lifestyle." This once-promising Archbishop seems to have retreated into the 19th century. For the life of me, I don't understand it.

I am tempted to open a can of worms by asking what kind of "lifestyle" the Archbishop of Canterbury models when he lives in a bleepin' palace! Surely that is a "lifestyle choice" of which he might need to repent. My bishop lives in a modest house and drives his own Prius. I know of bishops in the U.S. who drive Rolls-Royce cars. What kind of "lifestyle" does Rowan Williams exhibit?

Like many of you, I am frustrated by Archbishop Rowan Williams' claim that we have not done the theological work to “justify” same-sex marriages/unions.

Yes, I am angry about all that.

But here's my question.

I’m just a simple Episcopalian who lacks seminary education or theological training. So here’s my simple question to the Archbishop of Canterbury and those who oppose the recent actions of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and the Diocese of Niagara in Canada: Would you kindly point me to the theological justification and explanation of heterosexual marriage? What are our priests doing when they preside at a heterosexual marriage? Please give me citations – not ad hominem claims – and not that pablum of “what has been believed everywhere by all Christians,” because that dog won’t hunt.

Please tell me where the Anglican Communion has set out its theological understanding of heterosexual marriage, what it means for our priests to officiate as agents of the state, and what it means for our clergy to bless a heterosexual marriage.

Surely such explanations have been published. Once we know what they are, we can frame our discussions about same-sex marriage on them.

I have hunch that our Anglican churches have not done the necessary theological work to articulate or justify our priests' work in presiding over the blessing of any marriage -- gay or straight!

Of course I could be wrong.

But my expectation is that no "justification" of heterosexual marriage has ever been promulgated. I have a hunch it was just assumed as a "given" and "normative." Correct me if I am wrong.


Blogger John Bassett said...

"What are our priests doing when they preside at a heterosexual marriage?"

Well, you're really hit on a problem here. If the purpose of the marriage ceremony is to ensure that the parties live together for the rest of their lives in deep commitment and relative happiness, then I think something is amiss. It's not working all that often. It has a failure rate that would trouble even military contractors. Maybe we don't have the right words yet....

7/30/2009 12:07 AM  
Blogger WilliamK said...

You have asked wonderful questions. I suspect that some of our "conservative" brothers and sisters will quickly refer you to Genesis 2:18-24, but this would be to miss the point of your questions, I think, which are about the theological justifications for public religious rituals of blessing and binding.

The fascinating thing is that nowhere, in Scripture (Old and New Testaments) is the "church" (inclusive of Israel, the "Old Covenant church") given a marriage ritual to preside over; there is no legislation setting out what procedures must be followed to effect a valid marriage. A lot of people think there must be legislation for creation of a marriage in the Old Testament, but there isn't. The laws there governing marriage simply assume a legal transaction, which was clearly the husband's "buying" the bride from her father (see, e.g., Exodus 22:16).

As Jesus affirms in his memorable declaration, after quoting Genesis 2:24, "What God has joined together, let no one put assunder." So, it isn't the church, and it isn't the state, that really "marries" people. It is GOD. That, for me, is the crucial theological point that has to stand at the foundation of any theological work we might still need to do on same-sex unions.

It may be in the best interest of society to regulate marriage, and it might be desirable for the church to have disciplines around marriage (such as a policy against polygamy), but these are secondary to, and must be contingent on, the fact that GOD decides who is married and not married.

7/30/2009 8:59 AM  
Blogger IT said...

That is becuase marriage is a civil contract, well before anything "religious" was put on it. But religion has never been shy about piggy backing on to social norms wehre there is a potential benefit. Even if that is one of control.

7/30/2009 9:55 AM  
Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

What IT says is true. The clergy inserted themselves into marriages late in the history of the Christian church. As I see it, and many clergy join with me in my opinion, the church needs to get out of the marriage business altogether and stop being agents of the state.

Blessings are a whole other thing, and my thought is that the blessing of a civil marriage should come some time after a period of discernment by the couple's church community.

7/30/2009 7:44 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

I agree with you all.

WilliamK, I agree: Some folks can weasel an argument from Genesis, but there is no plan direction in Scripture that deals with marriage.

You and John both observe marriage wasn't a sacrament in scripture. It was a legal contract by which the bride was purchased. ... I saw exactly the same thing in my time in Lui, Sudan: The chief negotiation is about the "bride price": How many cows or sheep is the woman worth? That ain't no sacrament! And it has nothing to do with the sacramental language of our Prayer Book. But I suspect "marriage" as a legal contract is more the norm than what we experience in the U.S., UK, Canada, and others. Not necessarily better. Just different. But it does strike me that Anglican provinces that understand "marriage" as an exchange of women for cows is "all het up" about our reflections about the sacramental nature of marriage.

Yes, IT and Mimi: I would be happy if our church would leave the civil contract aside and focus on blessings.

7/30/2009 11:03 PM  
Blogger Laura Toepfer said...

Excellent question and really zeroes in on some of the foundational assumptions upon which we are all teetering.

I loved what +Barbara Harris said about marriage at the Integrity Eucharist at GC: that up until recently, all marriages were same sex marriage--they were a contract between a father and a potential husband.

7/30/2009 11:21 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Amen, Laura. I liked that too.

And as you well know, that's not just a history lesson: it is still how marriage is transacted in much of the world today.

7/30/2009 11:28 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

I have heard it argued that the act of wine making at the Cana wedding is a validation of sacramental marriage. Of course if that is true it is interesting that the church missed it for about 1200 years.

Early church interventions in marriage seem to be efforts to protect women who really did need some protecting in a world where they were not fully human. If someone can be sold, they are at risk.

I support getting out of the State's business.


7/31/2009 2:17 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Jim, I've seen that argument too. It makes me wonder: If a priest offers a house blessing and it includes blessing the basement where the heating/air-conditioning system is located, does that mean the priest has blessed the power company? That seems to be the "logic" upon which folks base their argument that since Jesus blessed the wine at Cana, he was blessing the 20th-century Western understanding of marriage.

8/01/2009 7:08 PM  
Blogger it's margaret said...

Hit the nail on the head with that one Lisa!

I am very ready not to be an agent of the state--especially one which discriminates so terribly as this one does.

Perhaps you should send your question to ++His secretary?! It might just get through....

8/01/2009 8:59 PM  
Blogger Joanna Depue said...

Geez, I'm agreeing with everyone here. Marriage is a civil matter - a legal matter of contract.

Perhaps the church could look well into what we do - even to witness a blessing! Just as in the rite for baptism, the church gathered there is asked "..and will you do all in your power to support...". All to often - whether in baptism OR marriage - the individuals within the community who said WE WILL during the respective liturgy fail in their pledge of support for the one baptized or those 2 people on whom a blessing is bestowed.

8/02/2009 1:12 AM  
Blogger MarkBrunson said...

I have heard it argued that the act of wine making at the Cana wedding is a validation of sacramental marriage. Of course if that is true it is interesting that the church missed it for about 1200 years.

Which I still find spurious.

The context of the story barely mentions the marriage, except as background for the miracle. The story itself points, much more convincingly, to a tacit rejection of purity laws in favor of enjoyment of community (the water was for ritual purification), or the faith of Mary, or the obedience of a chile - even God incarnate - to his mother. Even a blessing of getting drunk would be a more realistic reading!

8/05/2009 10:59 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Bless you, Margaret.

The more I look into this, the more I perceive that the Church hasn't even articulated a theology of heterosexual marriage -- much less of same-sex marriage. It would delight me if the church would step back and do The Necessary Theological Work before blessing any more marriages. Of course, the church won't. Because heterosexual marriage is already priviliged ... and very few priests [much less parishioners!] can explain or justify why what is so.

8/09/2009 9:44 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Yes, Joanna and Mark, I think you are right. Few in our church have even begun to consider what it is they are blessing when they conduct "marriages." I believe all the arguments Rowan and others levy against same-sex marriages can rightly be levied against "traditional" heterosexual marriage, since -- let's face it! -- "traditional," Biblical marriage is a contract in which a woman is sold for cows or other property. I believe our church needs to look at the whole estate of marriage in a 21st-century perspective. Otherwise, let's just agree on how many cows a woman is worth and be done with it. ;-)

8/09/2009 9:51 PM  

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