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.
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.