Possibly the most egregious argument used by the religious right to oppose homoerotic relationships and LGBT equality or inclusion in Church, is that they are in contravention of Christian family values, “as found in the Bible”. This claim is entirely without any valid foundation.
For example, consider this extract from the Church of Ireland’s Canon 31.1, currently the subject of a resolution before the General Synod of the Church seeking to re-affirm it, and resist pressure for change:
‘The Church of Ireland affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching that marriage is in its purpose a union permanent and life-long, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity’.
WOW! “According to our Lord’s teaching”? What a whopper.
The resolution that quotes from the canon above is offensive in it’s procedure, as well as its content. Instead of being submitted in good time, allowing adequate time for synod members to prepare and debate rationally, it was snuck in by the back door, as a late resolution. (See Gyronny Herald for more). But I’m not going to get into the details of the C of Ireland discussion – I leave that to those with better knowledge of it than I. Instead, I want to look at the substance of the claim – and with help from Dale B Martin’sSex and the Single Savior, test it against what really was “Our Lord’s teaching“.
Martin describes claims such as these, in which claims that the privileged status of the nuclear family are based on the Bible, as “familiar idolatry”, or the idolatry of the family, which the book analyses in chapter 8, “Familiar Idolatry and the Christian Case Against Marriage” . Yes, that’s right. The Christian case against marriage – NOT against gay marriage.
Not only is contemporary Christianity idolatrous in its focus on the family and marriage, it is hypocritical. It either explicitly states or assumes that its current values are the obvious expression of Christian scripture and tradition. Though most Christians assume the current centrality of marriage and family represents a long tradition in Christianity, it is actually only about 150 years old. One could even make the argument that the current focus on the modern nuclear family dates back only to the 1950’s……..Contrary to most contemporary opinion, there are many more resources in Christian Scripture and tradition to criticize the modern family than to oppose it.
This hypocrisy in neatly illustrated by Canon 31 itself, which almost immediately after the insistence on marriage as a lifelong union, for better or for worse, continues in 31.3 with the acknowledgement that remarriage after divorce is possible, but that clergy should not be compelled to officiate them, where they disagree in conscience. But the sponsors of the offensive resolution before Synod are obviously blind to their own hypocrisy: they are happy to apply Canon 31 to oppose extending any olive branch to queer Christians, but not to rescind the Church provision for divorce.
Let’s begin by breaking down Canon 31.1 into its several component parts
- a union permanent and life-long,
- for better or worse, till death do them part,
- of one man with one woman,
- to the exclusion of all others on either side,
- (in its purpose) for the procreation and nurture of children,
- for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections,
- and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other,
- both in prosperity and adversity’
“…although the Horned Lamb marries a female figure, her body and clothing are actually composed of male deeds and bodies, the population of the divine household, the eschatological city, the finally victorious kingdom and empire”.We see here that although actual sexual intercourse is supposed to be absent from the eschatological community, desire and the erotic, especially the erotic of the eye, is everywhere. …….. The seduction they have not been able to avoid is a certain erotic of homosocial male bonding that pervades the vision….. It is hard to avoid the image, once we actually picture it, of a bunch of men scrambling all over one another and sitting on one another’s laps on a huge throne in the sky;… it is curious that although there is a marriage in Revelations between a male and a female, the female’s body and clothing are made up of male bodies. John and his brothers, in the person of the Bride herself, actually in the end do get to marry the Horned Lamb.It is as if, for the author of Revelations, there is no room for “normal” marriage and family in this world. …… Christians are slave brothers who serve in the household of God and have no contact with women. In fact, they must not do so since they constitute themselves the body of the bride of the Horned Lamb. They keep themselves pure,,so they can be properly clean for their copulation with the Horned Lamb.
The Church fathers generally followed Paul in valuing celibacy more highly than the married state. Martin gives the example of the Jovinian controversy to illustrate this. Sometime around the end of the fourth century Jovinian began teaching what today would be regarded as unexceptional: that those who were married, and had sex in marriage, were no worse than those who were celibate. For this, he was labelled a heretic and excommunicated by synods called first by the bishop of Rome, Pope Siricius, and by the Bishop of Milan, Ambrose. The strongest critic of Jovinian was Jerome, who had his own very clear mental hierarchy of moral states. Top of the tree were those who had never married, followed by widows, then those were married but avoided sex, and only then, those who were married and engaged in sex (and thence procreation). By this reasoning, with celibate marriage more highly valued than the sexual kind, procreation can hardly be viewed as the “purpose” of marriage. Augustine too, opposed Jovinian. Although he insisted that the purpose of sex was to produce children, and so sex within marriage is a good, the higher good is to avoide marriage altogether.
“For this reason it is a good to marry, since it is a good to beget children to be the mother of a family; but it is better not to marry, since it is better for human society itself not to have need of marriage”.
When we give the state the right to legitimize one kind of sexual relationship or social formation, we give it the right to render all others illegitimate. ….. To agree to marriage is to agree that the modern violent, bureaucratic state has the right to control your life in its most intimate realms, public and private, personal and sexual, individual and collective. Not to put too fine a point on it, marriage cedes your genitals to the government
I believe the church should also get out of the marriage business. Marriage is an exclusive and exclusionary technology for control. Modern churches legitimate on kind of social and intimate bonding and therefore declare illegitimate all others. This relationship is good – in fact “divine”, All others are bad or at best inferior.
Marriage legitimates childbirth. But it necessarily therefore declares other births illegitimate. Why should the church want to allow any of its children to be thought “illegitimate”? Our cry, rather should be “no bastard children”. Bastard children are not created by being born outside of marriage, but by marriage itself. Marriage makes bastards possible by creating the categories.
Queer Christians should use their imaginations to allow Scripture and tradition to inspire new visions of Christian community free from the constraints of the modern, heterosexual, nuclear family. We could imagine travelling bands of erotic followers of Jesus…..We could imagine “households” of new construction, representing in their own adventuresome together hopes for new communities for the future.
Rather than looking to Scripture and tradition to justify the recognition of same – sex unions and marriage, we should attempt to recover and revise resources from a forgotten Christianity vouchsafed to us in Scripture and pre-modern traditions: the long and valuable history of the Christian case against marriage.
- Boswell, John: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe
- Helminiak, Daniel: Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth
- Heyward, Carter: Touching Our Strength: The Erotic As Power and the Love of God
- Martin, Dale B: Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation
- McNeill, John: Sex as God Intended
- Rudy, Kathy: Sex and the Church: Gender, Homosexuality, and the Transformation of Christian Ethics
- Stuart, Elisabeth: Just Good Friends: Towards a Lesbian and Gay Theology of Relationships
- Thatcher, Adrian: The Savage Text: The Use and Abuse of the Bible
- An Authentic, Catholic History of Marriage
- English Bishops: God’s Grace in Gay Marriage
- Emlyn Williams’ Superb History of “Christian” Marriage
- Thinking Anglicans: Church of Ireland conference on human sexuality
- Welsh Archbishop: “Gay Marriage Deserves Welcome of Church”
- LGBT Churchpeople still not being listened to @churchofireland (8anoway.com)
- Church of Ireland hold conference on gay issues – one gay speaker(mamanpoulet.com)
- MLP Grieves with Our United Methodist Sisters and Brothers (mlp.org)