Same-Sex, Opposite-Sex, or “Apposite” Sex? : Churches Grappling With Inclusion, Equality

No, regrettably that does not (yet) include the Catholic Church. While the Catholics remain convulsed in the problems around child abuse, allegations of cover-ups, accusations against or defences of Pope Benedict as then Cardinal Ratzinger,  and the calamitous decline in  the Church’s reputation and authority that have accompanied the disaster, there is little chance of progress in any other sphere – unless it be in moves toward a new general council to resolve the crisis.  Here at QTC, I too have been caught up in the malaise, and am conscious that I, like other gay Catholic bloggers , have been so caught up in the malaise that I have not been giving as much attention as I would like to the issues that were originally my prime concern:  the problems, and progress, of queer Christians in the church  – and here I mean the broader church, not just the Catholics.

When one removes the Vatican blinkers, I am glad to say, the signs of progress are multiple. There have been steps toward full inclusion in a number of Protestant denominations, in the US and elsewhere, and pressure for further progress continues to grow.  Several reports this past week have illustrated this.

Making it legal: the Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt Revd Gene Robinson (right) during the civil union with his partner, Mark Andrew, in June 2008 AP

In the US, the Episcopal church has led the way among the major denominations, with two openly gay or lesbian bishops now confirmed. It has now released a report, Same-Sex Relation­ships in the Life of the Church, by a team of eight leading theologians which was commissioned by the House of Bishops, to consider a range of views on same -sex relationships in the Church.  To me, the important feature here is not the conclusions, which diverge sharply, bu the simple fact that the report exists and demonstrates that differences of opinion and interpretation, of Scripture and theology, are possible and valid. The panel was deliberately drawn to reflect a range of views, including those of gay and lesbian people in committed relationships.

I found this passage from the Church Times fascinating, arguing that the issue is not just of “same -sex” or “opposite-sex” relationships, but on of “apposite-sex ” (i.e  appropriate)  relationships – and that for all of us,, such apposite relationships are a way “to sanctification”.  This makes the question of “gay marriage” in church not just a matter of social justice, bu a matter of opening up a sacramental path to spiritual growth for all:

“Marriage cultivates concern for one another; it offers lifelong hos­pitality; it enacts love; and it exposes our faults in order to heal them. It is the marital virtues that the Church needs, not only with respect to the Bridegroom [Christ] but just now, with respect to one another.” The liberal group defined orienta­tion in terms not of gender, but of morality: “A sexually oriented person is someone who develops and is morally improved through a relationship with someone of the apposite sex, typically but not necessarily the opposite sex. Those called to same-sex relationships are those that need them for their own sanctification . . . because neither opposite-sex relationships nor celi­bacy could get deeply enough into their hearts to promote lifelong com­mitment and growth.” It said that same-sex couples should not be denied the moral worth of each putting their body “on the line” for the other “until death us do part”; that was an accountability “far beyond what counselled celibacy can provide”. Nor should they be denied the “delight” they had in each other; for that was necessary for action: Eros did not turn into charity through self-control, but through self aban­donment, and the self-dispossession that led to self-donation. “It is the daily version of finding one’s life by losing it.”

(Read the fulll report)

Meanwhile, a rash of other news reports have focussed not on the formal church response to the demands of theology and scripture, but on highly personal responses by individual clergy, struggling to negotiate a path in conscience between sometimes conflicting demands of Church and state in dealing with requests for marraige within their own congregations. I will report on these separately, in a later post.

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2 comments for “Same-Sex, Opposite-Sex, or “Apposite” Sex? : Churches Grappling With Inclusion, Equality

  1. April 4, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    I’m not one for marriage. It’s a patriarchal institution and the seat of heteronormativity. I think it’s time to move beyond marriage and develop theologies and rituals of friendship. I’m a strong advocate for adelphopoieia and sworn friendship models of relationships, mutual adoption too. If people want marriage, fine let them have it, but lets try for something better

    I for one would never marry and wont campaign for it either

    • April 5, 2010 at 8:13 am

      My concerns for marriage are two-fold. One, is a simple principle of equality. While many people might not want it, it is important that it should be available for those who do. Secondly, I disagree with your statement that it “is” patriarchal. Certainly, that is how it has been histrivally, and generally is in modern heterosexual marriage. My experience of two committed same sex partnerships has been quite different – that there is an inherent equality and rational basis for working out role divisions or sharing that is anything but patriarchal. It is my belief that in this respect, gay partnerships can serve as usful counters and role models to the standard patriarchal pattern, so helpiong to undermine it.

      At the same time, I’m quite happy to accept that marriage in any form os not the only suitable choice for those who are not wanting to raise children. Indeed, there is perfectly respectable theological argument which says that the the popular image of single gay men with networks of multiple interlocking relationships is more in keeping with Gospel values than modern marriage. This is an idea I would like to investigate further at some time – but not just yet.

      (I definitely object to politicians’ proposals, such as those of the British Conservatives, to privilege married couples in the tax system, even though I would benefit on the strength of my civil parnership).

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