Here is Andrew Errington's Same-sex marriage - what is really at issue?
His central point is that there are two visions of marriage going on behind the same-sex marriage debate. One is set out in the Book of Common Prayer, in which the three purposes of marriage are:
- the procreation and nurture of children
- as the only proper place for sexual intimacy; and
- for the sake of lifelong companionship.
As against this, the modern, romantic view of marriage disregards the first two purposes and is, essentially, two 'grown-ups', part-couple-part-sofa, watching boxed sets till they fancy another sofa-mate. (That's my cynical overstatement, not Errington's. But marriage-as-companionship reminds me of Alain de Botton's comment that love today is about finding someone in particular to save us from people in general).
One implication at the political level is this:
The success of same-sex marriage will not only marginalise the principle that biological parenthood is normal and best. It will mean that the discussion of whether children need their biological mother and father is over for good, because such a claim will be regarded as discriminatory against the necessarily non-biological parent or parents in a same-sex marriage. To be as equally married as anyone else requires that we never again question the various ways children enter these marriages, and whether these means of having children are best for children.
So there are some sobering implications for society at that level. And if Christians want to exercise their political freedoms in pointing such things out they should be able to do so without being called bigots. Calling Christians homophobic for having a view on sexuality is like calling Buddhists carnophobes for having a view on meat-eating. Errington's contribution is a model of clear-thinking Christian engagement at that political level.
On this blog, Paul Blackham has written Legal Recognition of Marriage and the Way of Jesus. Without denying the gravity of the social shift we're witnessing , Paul's introduction gives a much needed sense of perspective:
Pagan and non-Christian societies provide legal status and support for the kinds of marriage that express their basic beliefs about humanity, sexuality and marriage. Pagan societies almost universally see marriage as polygamous [and occasionally polyandrous] with various legal provisions made for concubinage. Under both communism and fascism, definitions of marriage have been used that were quite alien to the local Christian churches. Greek and Roman definitions of marriage and sexuality are a well documented point of deep divergence with the local churches of the early centuries. If Europe returns to its pagan ancestry then, naturally, it will return to those ancient, non-Christian definitions of marriage and sexuality.
Someone asked me, with evident shock, if I could imagine what would happen if the current redefinitions of marriage led to things like polygamy? It was very sweet really. Christian churches have often lived under legal systems that recognise polygamy and it has been [and still is] quite a common form of legal marriage around the world. Local churches have lived under legal systems that recognised same-sex partnerships in the ancient world and we are doing so again now. Yes, it can be a shock to realise that we live in a non-Christian society and we do not have any privileged status or power. Yet, this has been quite normal for local churches down the ages and it is, in fact, what Jesus told us to expect...
Paul goes on to hold up the local church as the place where the true meaning of marriage needs to be fought for and displayed (read here).
(If the consequences for the Church of England concern you, Jonathan Chaplin offers a solution that works just fine in many other countries - it involves getting out of the registrar business!)
And if all this sounds like a retreat from the public sphere, let me assure you I'm all in favour of preaching the gospel publicly. Not the fruits of the gospel, mind you. The gospel.
Here's an evangelistic talk seeking to make sense of the Christian vision of sex and sexuality (and these are some other posts: here and here). You'll notice that integral to these approaches are beliefs about Trinity, creation, fallen-ness and union with Christ. It seems to me this is the properly Christian footing on which to stand. But these things are not at all obvious to anyone debating at the political level!
So, yes, let's grieve for a society that has drifted so far from the gospel. Let's prepare for more of the persecution that is the norm all over the world (not to mention in the Bible). Absolutely, we can be concerned for the freedom of Christian expression - maintaining our right to 'appeal to Caesar' as Paul does at points. But let's not be shocked that new generations, so ignorant of the gospel, find gospel living incomprehensible. Of course they do. And let's not be under any illusions about how to "fight" this trend. Let's look at our own marriages, our own churches. And let's get preaching the good news of Jesus.