The Roman Catholic Church has reacted angrily to comments endorsing gay parenthood from a charity with strong links to the Church.
Terry Prendergast of Marriage Care, which is partly funded by the Church, said there was no evidence children were harmed by having same-sex parents.
Back in May, I wrote that the growing international acceptance of civil marriage for same sex couples would inevitably nudge the churches to rethink their own positions, nudging them to greater acceptance. (See “Marriage Equality and the Church“ ). Some recent news stories illustrate the point.
In the UK, the change in Swedish law is already having a direct imact on the Anglican church, which has close ties to the Lutherans. The resonse described here is about two English bishops who have written to the Lutherans to express their “concern” that the change in Swedish law will ut pressure on the English church to accept same sex marriage:
From the Daily Mail online:
“The Church of England warned last night that it is under pressure to accept gay marriage.
…….The concerns were raised in a letter from Bishop of Guildford Dr Christopher Hill and Bishop of Chichester Dr John Hinds to leaders of the Swedish state church which has close and formal links with the Anglicans.…….
Their letter was a response to moves in the Church of Sweden to offer gender neutral marriage services which could be used for either brides and grooms or for same sex couples.”
I would agree that their concern is well founded, but speaking for myself, I would change the description from “concern” to “delight”.
Also in the UK, the strongest opponents of marriage, led by the Bisho of Rochester, are now formally leaving the Anglican Church, thinking that they are leading a groundswell movement of resistance. Independent observers think otherwise, and the departure of the bigots will simply make it easier for the rest of the chuirch to make real progress. See:
The Independent LeadingArticle: The bishop is embracing a lost cause.
The Daily Telegraph There’s no pride in bashing gays, bishop
The Times Online The spiritual battle for the soul of Anglicanism
In the US, the Southern Baptist Convention is probably the most hostile of the bigger churches. But even here, there are signs that a rethink is coming. In a leading article in the Baptist Standard, the editor write that it is Time for A Rethink on Homosexuality. He continues to believe that revelation, but at least concedes that there is no reason to be harsher on this “sin” than on others:
Small consolation, I know, but movement none the less. In New Hampshire, meanwhile, a columnist for another Baptist publication, the Manchester Examiner, makes explicit the connection between the NH marriage law, and its inevitable result of pressure on the church for a rethink:
“In New Hampshire, the Southern Baptists have planted a number of new churches in the recent decade. … How will the Southern Baptists react to a changing landscape where homosexuality is becoming more tolerated and accepted in mainstream New Hampshiresociety? People outside the church are less likely to view it as wrong or different, just as they view other things considered sexual sin. Churches have acclimated and adjusted to cohabiting heterosexual couples,divorce and remarriage (once considered adultery by many Baptists), and many other things once considered anathema.
Where once homosexuality was considered a disease or psychological disorder, it is now becoming better understood. And even if a church believes that the Bible teaches homosexuality is sin, should it be distinguished from other sexual sins? If churches are going to be opposed to homosexuality, they must be opposed to all sexual sin equally. Is there a bias against homosexuals that needs to be overcome to reach them effectively? And if so, can churches overcome it?”
- What Marriage Equality Won’t Do, Ctd (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com)
- Gay Marriage: Coming (Soon?) to a Church Near You. (queering-the-church.com)
- In Minnesota, Catholics Support Marriage Equality. (queering-the-church.com)
- Blessing Same Sex Unions in Toronto (queeringthechurch.wordpress.com)
- DC Bishop’s Christian Case for Gay Marriage. (queertheology.blogspot.com)e …..to Set the …
“A revolution in attitudes towards gay men and lesbians: Church out of Touch”.
In this month celebrating 40 years since Stonewall, the Times reports this weekend on an important opinion poll showing strong support for further advancing legal protections for LGBT equality.
On marriage, the current situation provides for “Civil Partnerships”, which in practice and in legal status are almost identical to marriage, except in name. Even so,
“61 per cent of the public want gay couples to be able to marry just like the rest of the population, not just have civil partnerships.”
On adoption, the law currently insists on the right of gay adoption, and directs that adoption agencies should treat all potential parents equally. This has brought the Catholic Bishops into disputes with the law over the church agencies, but
“Half (49 per cent) believe that gay couples should have equal adoption rights, eight years after it became legal for them to adopt in a highly controversial move by Tony Blair. Some Roman Catholic adoption agencies are fighting to retain the right to turn away gay couples, which they are now specifically prohibited from doing. “
“But perhaps the most surprising discovery is that 51 per cent of the public want children to be taught in school that gay relationships are of equal value to marriage.”
- Equality and inclusion advancing, worldwide. (Queering the Church)
- UK Queer Christians Support Marriage Equality Campaign. (Queering the Church)
- The Roman Catholic Church indulges in moral relativism on civil unions (Pink Banana World)
- Straight Couple Denied Civil Partnership (Gay Rights Change)
- Straight Couples Fight For Right To Domestic Partnerships [Rights And Rites](Jezebel)
- Straight British couple seeks ‘gay’ partnership (The Himalayan Times)
- Watch: Third Couple Challenges Ban on Gay Marriage in the UK (Towleroad)
- Straight couple don’t want ‘patriarchal’ marriage (Pink Banana World)
- Will you ?Civil-Partnership? Me? (Pink Banana World)
In the wake of the disappointing, but expected, Californian ruling on Prop 8, it is worth stepping back and reflecting on the gains elsewhere, and especially on the impact on the churches.
It is well known how rapidly legal recognition of same sex marriage has progressed: first in Iowa, by court order, then in rapid succession Vermont and Maine by legislative action. New Hampshire is not quite there yet, but it is likely just a matter of time – as it is in New York and New Jersey. DC has voted to recognise marriages legally conducted elsewhere, Washington has approved expansion of their civil union regime to ‘everything but marriage’, and in many other states and city jurisdictions, there have been less dramatic, incremental gains. These have been widely reported and celebrated.
One big advance, and the one that I suspect may be more important for its long term impact on the churches of the world, has drawn remarkably little attention. The day before the Iowa announcement, and drowned out of the news by the drama of developments in Iowa and New England, The Swedish parliament, with the minumum of fuss or fanfare, and the support of all the major parties, voted to make Sweden the fith country in Europe to recognise same sex marriage. For those of us in Europe, especially if we are committed to the ideal of ever closer union, this is obviously more significant than the stop-start progress in some minor American states and cities. But I believe that the siginificance for all of us is substantial, particularly if we are professed Christians. Why?
In the US, and also here in the UK, the legal provisions for same sex marriage or civil unions/partnerships, where they exist, are quite specifically for ‘civil’ marriage or partnerships. Indeed, the British legislation specifically prohibits the use of religious language or premises for the ceremony; increasinlgy, US legislators are cradting thier gains by spelling out the the legislation proposed places no obligations on religious minsters, or even staff.
The Swedish situation is quite different. The legislation quite specifically provides for legal recognition of either civil or church marriage. This has huge implications for the Swedish Lutheran Church, which until recently was the official state church of the country, with special status, even funding, in the legal system. This has changed, but the informal ties and status remain strong. So what was the response of the church? Did they start weeping and wailing and gnashing there teeth? Did they lament the moral decadence of the country? Did they offer grudging toleration, with ifs and buts to demand a right of opt-out? None of the above. a final decision awaits a full synod later in the summer, but the provisional, formal response was that the church would understand and ‘excuse’ any pastor who, as a matter of conscience, felt s/he could NOT preside over same sex weddings. That’s right – the specail consideration and understanding goes to those who are opposed: the default position, buy Sweden’s major church, is to take in their stride same sex marriage conducted in church. Unless I have wildly misread the situation, this is likely to be the standard position after the synod later this year.
This will have important ripple effects, notably elsewhere in the EU. Pressure for marriage equality will undoubtedly continue to spread across the EU, particularly in Western Europe. When (not if), equality reaches Germany and Austria, the German Lutheran church, and also the German and Austrian Catholic churches, will have to consider carefully their position. All of them have special state recognition and funding. Even in advance of legislation, just the propect of pressure for marriage, is forcing the churches into hard tactical consideration – faced with an emergin gay marriage lobby, the Portuguese Bishops proposed civil partnerships as a compromise solution – thus embracing the very proposal that there English counterparts strongly opposed a few years back.
In the English speaking world, the troubles caused to the Anglican Communion (which includes the Episcopalians) by disputes over homosexuality are well known. But while skirmishing continues, it is clear that over the longer term view, the tide is clearly turning in the direction of greater acceptance. The continuning expansion of legal recognition of civil marriage across the USA is already forcing more and more individual pastors, and local jursdictions, into fresh consideration of their own stance – and an increasing minority are coming down on the side of at least blessing, and possibly solemnising, these unions in church. Every synod season sees new debates on these. Where there is not yet victory, the margins of defeat are generally narrowing.
For me, the most heartening aspect of this, is the increasing number of reports I am seeing of sincere religious clergy of goodwill, who have found themselves prayerfully re-examining scriptures, theology and church history in search of guidance – and concluding that established church strictures against homosexuallity are without scriptural foundation, and misguided. (The recently released survey of ‘mainline protestant clergy’ attitudes to SSM has some fascinating figures on this).
There is no longer any doubt: marriage equality is spreading steadily across the world, and across the US. As it does so, the churches will increasingly be forced to grapple with, and re-examine, their own beliefs. In doing so, many will reverse long-standing opposition to same sex relationships, and see the value of recognising commitment, whatever the orientation or gender of the partners.
The Catholic church will be behind the trend – but will not resist indefinitely. Here, too, truth will triumph in the end.
Same Sex Marriage: coming (soon) to a church near you – but not yet to a Catholic parish.
The opponents of gay same-sex marriage and of the “gay lifestyle” (whatever that is), like to claim that their opposition is rooted in traditional family values, “as found in the Bible.” This claim is so completely spurious, is is remarkable how seldom it is challenged. Just a little thought and reflection shows not only how the Gospel values have little to do with modern Western conceptions of the “traditional” family, but they are so far removed from it, that the real values espoused can certainly be described as certainly “queer”, if not quite as specifically gay. In reaching this conclusion, I have been reading and reflecting on the social context of the ‘family’ as experienced in Jewish society and the broader social environment, at Jesus’ own ‘family’ in childhood and maturity, at His actions, and at His words.
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The Jewish Family.
It is important to recognise that traditional Jewish society did indeed place enormous importance on the idea of family, both in the narrow sense of the immediate biological family, and in the broader sense of the ethnic Jewish community. This was so important that on the one hand, everyone was expected to marry and produce l, and on the other, that those outside the narrow ethnic group were regarded as inferior, even unclean. The detailed dietary and other regulations well -known from the Old Testament were part of an elaborate legal structure to maintain the ‘purity’ of the Jewish nation. The Jewish family, however, was very different from our modern conception, deeply patriarchal, and with uneven treatment of men and women. Women were were expected to show rigorous sexual fidelity to their husbands, and were thought of as the ‘property’ of their men.
In the broader social environment, the Jewish state in Jesus’ day was under Roman military occupation. Like the Greek society of the time, the Romans too had a deeply patriarchal society, and one in which there was not the modern distinction between ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual’ activities. Distinctions were drawn rather, on the social class of one’s sexual partners, and male citizens would routinely have sex not only with their wives, but also with other lovers, prostitutes and slaves of either gender.
My reflections on this theme were initially prompted by a posting on “Nihil Obstat” for the feast of the Holy Family, in which she pointed out how very atypical for the time was the Lord’s own childhood family, so often quoted as a model for all Catholic families.
But our childhood families are not the only ones we live with. More important as we grow older are those adult families we make for ourselves, usually by forming couples in marriage or out of it, and with or without children. As LGBT people we are also very conscious of how often we may remain single, but still form looser groups of friendship, who may in a real sense become our ‘families’ of a different sort.
So what were the adult ‘families’ that Jesus made for himself?
First, and famously, He did not marry. This alone is remarkable, given the expectation in Jewish society of marriage and procreation. So, what were His other relationships – what informal ‘families’ did He form? We get the answer to this easily enough by looking at the Last Supper. The Jewish Sabbath meal, and most especially that of Passover, are the occasions above all when Jewish people get together as families. It is significant then that the Lord spent his own Passover meal – which we know as the ‘Last Supper’, with the 12 apostles: these were the people we must take to represent His closest family. Who were these men? If they ever had wives and families of their own, they had been set aside to spend the rest of their lives with Jesus.
Think about it: on the most solemn holy day of the Jewish calendar, when it was customary for all Jewish people to share a ritual meal with their closest family, Jesus and the apostles spent the evening as a group of single men. Does this not sound remarkably like a modern group of urban gay men spending our equivalent family festivals sharing meals together, away from biological families?
Single people know, of course, that the concept of “family” can be fluid. In addition to our closest, most intimate circle, there are often others who might be very close, almost family, but not quite in our innermost circle. Who represented this ‘almost family’ circle to Jesus Christ? The most obvious candidates to me are the household of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, with whom He had an obviously close and special relationship. What was the nature of this household? Once again, very far from the expected “traditional” family. The two women are described as ‘sisters’ and come across to me as the stronger, more vividly drawn characters: Lazarus is famed more for his death and rescue from it, than for anything in his life. Even at face value, this is an unusual household: Jewish women would typically have been married off at an early age, not still living as adults with their brother. Where such households did exist, it would normally be the brother, as the only male, who would be expected to dominate the household and be the focus of attention. For a clearer understanding of the household, it is worth remembering that the word ‘sisters’ may have been used euphemistically: it is at least possible that Mary and Martha were a lesbian couple, living with a gay friend as lodger.
So: in His families of choice, the Lord spent His time either with a band of single men, or with a household of two single women (possibly a lesbian couple), and yet another unmarried man. Even in the broader social circle, I am not aware of any instance where He is reported as spending time with a a conventional married couple with children. Thus far, in examining the Lord in His own family context, we have found not an endorsement, but a repudiation, of the traditional family.
I still need to show that this repudiation of the traditional family is continued in His words and actions. That I will do later in a follow-up post.
- Martha and Mary, Queer Saints (myqueerscripture.blogspot.com)
- Gay Adoption, Gay Marriage as Moral Obligations: Two Jewish Views (queering-the-church.com)
- For a Queer Christmas – Send Gay / Lesbian Cards. (queering-the-church.com)
- The Queer Bible: Beyond Family Values (myqueerscripture.blogspot.com)