Many responses to marriage task force report

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The “Big Issue” coming before the 78th General Convention in a few weeks will be marriage. The Task Force on the Study of Marriage issued a report in September and since then there have been several responses. Here is a round-up of some of the conversation to date.

The Anglican Theological Review published an essay written by John Bauerschmidt, Zachary Guiliano, Wesley Hill, and Jordan Hylden called Marriage in Creation and Covenant,  followed by the three papers written in response. The publication of these papers are a joint project of the Living Church Foundation and ATR called “The Fully Alive Project.”

In summary, Bauerschmidt, Guilano, Hill and Hylden say:

By replacing language in Canon I.18 drawn from the marriage rite in The Book of Common Prayer, the changes would render optional the traditional understanding that marriage is a “covenant between a man and a woman” that is intended, when it is God’s will, “for the procreation of children.” We contend that these changes obscure the nature of marriage as a divinely created social form that is the external basis of the covenant union between “Christ and the Church” (Eph. 5:32). As such, it draws a veil over marriage as an outward and visible sign of this union. While leaving open the issue of blessing same-sex unions, we make an Augustinian case for retaining the prayer book’s doctrine of marriage.

There are three papers in ATR in response to the main paper.

The first response, by Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski of theSeminary of the Southwest Austin, Texas, seeks “to show that it is possible within an Augustinian framework to present a positive theology of same-sex marriage that also speaks to contemporary realities of heterosexual marriage.:

The second response is written by Scott MacDougall of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific Berkeley, California. He writes: “Far from being a threat to opposite-sex marriage, same-sex marriages can bring back into view what their heterosexual counterparts have often forgotten, prophetically reawakening them to what makes marriage truly sacramental.”

The third response is from Kathryn Tanner of Yale Divinity School. She writes

The Christ/church relationship has of course often been used in Christian theology to talk about the relationship between husbands and wives; Ephesians 5 is a prominent biblical precedent which the authors routinely cite. The correspondence between the two relationships is usually established, however, simply with reference to the character of their respective loving bonds: Christ loves the church as a husband is to love his wife (and vice versa). Procreation within marriage is difficult to discuss in these same terms and is probably for this reason not mentioned in these verses of Ephesians, nor elsewhere that I know of in the New Testament, nor even very much in the history of Christian theology, when married relations between men and women are discussed in terms of the relationship between Christ and the church: Christ may give birth to the church out of love for it but husbands do not give birth to their wives by loving them; husbands’ loving relationships with their wives may be generative of children but Christ’s loving relationship with the church is not generative of anything else—the church just is what Christ’s love generates—and so on.

Perhaps to get around this problem, the authors innovate: they associate the male–female procreative bond as a whole with Christ and their offspring with the church. I’m eager for enlightenment at this point, but I know of no scriptural passage or theological precedent that uses nuptial imagery with this assignment of roles, nor do the authors offer any. For one, it would mean putting women, along with men, on the Christ side of the relationship with the church rather than on the church side (where the couple’s children now are), thereby contravening the usual assumed gender hierarchy undergirding traditional Christian uses of nuptial imagery. Women on the Christ side might well support, for example, women’s capacity, with men, to represent Christ at the altar by virtue of their gender.

Tobias Haller responds to the ATR paper here. He writes:

What the TFSM essay does is attempt to give procreation in marriage its proper place and role as reflected in the Prologue to the marriage liturgy: as a positive good (when possible, and “when it is God’s will” or as the older (1946) canon put it “if it may be”). This stands in opposition to the rhetoric advanced in some circles that it is an “essential element” of marriage. This has never been the teaching of the church. The confusion arises precisely when one drifts from the language of “goods” or “ends” into “purposes.” The issue is that theinstitution of marriage (as the Prologue puts it) may have purposes which never are realized in a particular marriage — and that should not be seen as a reduction in the value of that marriage. The traditional position — which the TFSM paper supports — is that procreation should take place within a loving marriage; not that any given marriage must lead to procreation in order to be a valid and loving marriage that reflects God’s love and generativity.

See also his posts here and here.

Scott Gunn, in his series of blogs on the upcoming convention, takes on the TFSM report here and here.

To lay my cards on the table: I believe it is possible to articulate a biblical, covenant-based theology of marriage that would encompass both opposite-sex and same-sex couples. I would like to see our church eventually using one rite, to be found in our prayer book, to marry same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Getting there will take time. In my view, we cannot afford to make same-sex couples wait for the blessing of the church while we get our theological and liturgical act together.

So here’s what I propose: Let us continue to bless (and, in some places, to marry) same-sex couples. To be sure, this is a canonical violation, but we might agree that practice has sometimes preceded canonical change so we could be gracious with compliance on this issue. Let us encourage congregations to seek delegated episcopal pastoral oversight where the will of the community differs from its bishop. So let “conservative” congregations in “liberal” dioceses find a more amenable bishop, and let liberal congregations in conservative dioceses similarly seek acceptable oversight. In other words, let us dwell in a place of ambiguity for a while longer, even as we provide generous pastoral response to those who seek the church’s blessing.

This approach will be costly for many people. In our conversations to date, I have heard many people laying cost upon others, but rarely offering to incur costs themselves. Let us make no mistake about it, there are costs no matter where we go. If we change our marriage canon, our church will be an untenable place for many of my friends, and our relations with others in the Anglican Communion may be irreparably damaged….

Finally, The Rev. Dr. Craig Uffman, of the Diocese of Rochester, has written an essay, also in response to the lead essay in ATR. He begins with the assumption that a robust theology of marriage that includes same-sex marriage is possible. He writes:

I part with the Fully Alive Project in that I begin my musings with the starting point of the Task Force: the assumption that we are already embracing same-sex marriage. Given this fact on the ground, I begin with the premise that the task before us is to imagine a robust theology that makes our actions comprehensible to this broader audience, which also includes future generations of Episcopalians. What is it we understand ourselves to be doing, and why did we adopt a new understanding of marriage? My paper is a thought experiment: what might such a theology look like?

I depart from the Fully Alive authors in concluding that such a theology is possible. The heart of my paper sketches this, with the expectation that others may build upon my musings. My conclusion is that such a theology is possible, but we still need to flesh it out. In particular, we need to pause to give an account of how we will preserve the good we have received as we move forward with reform. In my view, we need more work in clarifying how we won’t annihilate key differences that we historically have received as blessings, and how we will prevent commoditization of human sexuality. My hope is that our next step will be to pause, let everyone catch up, answer those questions, and take the next step together.

Uffman has already taken a lot of heat for his paper from more conservative Anglican circles, which is a shame because, as Gunn says, we need to model this discussion on “the gracious love we know in Christ.”

 

Posted by Andrew Gerns.

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Ellen Campbell
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Ellen Campbell

I wish we would stop endlessly talking about this and get it done. The people/ groups that are against this are never going to change their minds so to give them more time to discern is pointless.

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Mark Mason
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Mark Mason

In a society where half our adults never marry in the first place; half our children are born out of wedlock and half of all marriages end in divorce, giving people more time to discern probably is pointless. Imagine sitting on a bench with the Christ looking at one of those no-fault divorce signs. $100 dollars for no-children and $150 if children are involved!

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Member

Mark, I appreciate that the issues are important. I would note this recent article that argues we've misunderstood and so overestimated statistics on divorce.

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Bruce Robison
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Bruce Robison

Jordan Hyldan continues the dialogue with a reply to Tobias Haller.

http://livingchurch.org/covenant/?p=6119

Bruce Robison

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Tobias Haller
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Tobias Haller

Well, Bruce, this is the first I've heard of Hyldan's response, and now that I've read it, I don't think much has changed. He explains himself a bit more clearly than their earlier essay, but his baseball analogy still demonstrates a major part of the problem with his thinking -- which is, at base, an entirely teleological approach which focuses on the institution rather than the actual marriages.

Citing Don Reed's misguided essay is also of little help. Reed attempts to squeeze the Task Force report into his own world-view that the world is divided between modernists and classicists. The approach of the Task Force is in fact classical, though he and Hylden's associates fail to recognize that.

As a point of fact, just look at how Hylden treats the vows -- which the TF, along with the tradition, hold to be the essential element of what constitutes a marriage.

With GC so close, I dont' think more back and forth on the blogs will be of much help at this point. I don't see many minds changing either way, but I can tell which way the wind is blowing.

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June Butler
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I hope the wind is blowing in the right direction, Tobias, and I think you know what I mean. The theology has been done; the discussions have been had. Just do it.

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Professor Christopher Seitz
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Professor Christopher Seitz

Excellent response. Also, notable for its charity. As Jordan finishes his PhD in theological ethics at Duke, we may be thankful for his level of training and careful thought. He should be an excellent addition to a top flight academic institution.

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Elizabeth Kaeton
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Privilege is blinding, especially assumed, unexamined privilege.

In the pursuit of a more "rigorous theology" and while some are "not necessarily opposed but need time for prayerful discernment", there are people - real people, with names and faces and lives and loves and children and families - who are and have been for many years, living faithful, committed, monogamous relationships. Some of us are even finally - FINALLY! - legally married. Some of us finally - FINALLY - have our legal marriages and/or the sacred covenants blessed by and in the church.

But, according to the canons of the church, we can't have both. Because, even though we've been having informed, theological discussions about this for 40 - FORTY - years, we are told we need to slow down because some of those who are privileged need time - need for us to pause as if we were reciting a psalm - to develop a more "rigorous theology" because they need more time to "think" and "discern".

Queer people are here. Right in front of you. We have done our rigorous theology and have been working on our discernment process. We are baptized. We have been confirmed. We receive Eucharist. Some of us ordained - deacon, priest and/or bishop. We are "very members incorporate in the body of Christ" and have full access to all the other sacraments and sacramental sacramental rites. We are not asking you to give us anything you, yourselves don't have. We don't deserve the sacramental rite of marriage any more or any less than you.

Tell you what? Allow Queer people full canonical standing in the church we all love and we'll patiently wait for you to catch up with us - once we're all on equal ground and we all enjoy the privilege of the civil rights and sacramental rite of marriage.

You know - the way Mary said 'yes' to the Incarnation before the church had the opportunity to develop a "rigorous theology" and doctrinal statement and "prayerfully discern".

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David Allen
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David Allen

Amen

Bro David

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Richard Edward Helmer
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Thanks, Elizabeth, for calling out the elephant.

I didn't get married because I have a "robust theology" of marriage. I got married because I fell in love, and the time was right. I didn't even feel at the time the Church had a "robust theology" of marriage. I was just lucky enough to live in an era when the Church would recognize our union (my wife wasn't baptized) and the state had eliminated anti-miscegenation laws (she's from Japan.)

It's a question always worth asking: When did we ever demand a "robust theology" for anything before blessing it?

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Paul Woodrum
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My husband and I, both male, are legally married under the laws of the State of Connecticut. Whether that marriage is recognized, blessed or rejected by the Episcopal Church is a matter of total indifference, an attitude I have a premonition is held by an increasing number of people about the church in general when it follows, rather than leads, in the value its own faith claims to place on love and relationships.

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Rie Linton
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i wish we put as much emphasis on the rearing of said children, the purpose and result of a "legal" marriage, as there is on their creation, especially since this might imply those that procreate, whether concensual or not, mught therefore be considered married. I have no answers but I do wonder what our definition of marriage might include if there was less emphasis on procreation and more on loving. After all, must one procreate to be Christian or does the definition of Christian include loving?

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