I am beginning to dip my toes in the waters of the report issued by the TEC House of Bishops.
On the one hand I acknowledge a new dimension in the debate over same-sex partnerships - new at least to me - that proposes understanding marriage as expansionable to include same sex coupling. This is an argument worth considering rather than dismissing because it moves the debate away from "rights", earths itself in the analogy of expansionism of mission from Jews to Gentiles (Acts 15) and keeps in view one aspect of marriage which potentially all kinds of marriage can benefit from, namely discipline of sexuality (cf. Paul's "better to marry than burn"). Thus Willis Jenkins offers these thoughts in his introduction to the House of Bishops' session (reproduced on the blog On Not Being A Sausage):
"The basic argument for expanding marriage is laid out in the preface to our document: marriage is a discipline and a means of grace. Same-sex couples need that discipline and grace no less than other-sex couples. They, like other-sex couples, should not be discouraged from committing their lives to each other nor from giving their commitments to the church. The church is free to bless those couples who present themselves as fit for Christian marriage by their readiness to enter a covenant of self-offering and of witness to Christ’s love for the world.
That argument would be simple and the liturgical amendments minor – a matter of altering a few pronouns – were it not for the deep suspicion that it meets across the church, especially beyond our province. Listening to criticism that the Episcopal Church has not answered that suspicion with a coherent theology of marriage, we have elaborated how same-sex marriage fits within a faithful pattern of Christian life, how it harmonizes with orthodox theology, and how it makes sense within scripture.
Our way of illustrating that fit does not require theological defeat of traditionalists, does not impose cultural change, does not rely on American power. To answer worries that we would demean other-sex marriage, we make painstaking clear how our proposal reclaims and affirms the deepest meaning of marriage. We reaffirm procreation as a purpose of marriage, and the welcoming of children as a gift proper to it. We reaffirm the unitive purpose of marriage, and chastity as a gift proper to it."
In a very cursory glance at one aspect of the traditionalists contribution to the report I notice that again and again they nail the liberals loose, light, and lithesome exegesis (e.g. overlooking that the expansionism of Acts 15 was not the church merely responding to a prompting of the contemporary voice of the Spirit but fulfilling ancient prophecy). Then this passage particularly struck me because it touches on something I think is fundamental to marriage, procreation, and thus arguments diminishing its fundamental role undermine the strength of arguments that same sex partnerships should be deemed to be marriages:
"Procreation is identified as “what the human being shares with the animals,” as if this were a slight on us; for all the talk of bodiliness the argument here has a gnostic tinge. We do indeed share our bodiliness with the animals; here the biologist has something to say to the theologian. What is at stake here is the very nexus of creation and redemption, of which we spoke in our paper. Why should we assume that in matters such as ecology we do well to think and act “with the grain of creation,” but when it comes to the doctrine of the human person, and our sexuality, we ought not to think and act so? Something theologically basic is at stake here which would have major consequences if this anti-breeding drift were to affect our understanding of the human person and of society. To cite but one implication, denigration of procreation leads to the “devaluing [of]…the bearing and raising of [page 74]
children.”9 This needs, for the sake of transparency and candor, to be made clear to the Episcopal faithful in the pews--one wonders what their reception of this dimension of the new teaching might be."
(Note also this footnote at the foot of page 73: "8 At this point, we must dissent from the claim of the liberal side that they and we have no disagreement over the “significance of marriage.” While we applaud their highlighting of a common commitment to charity in this debate, we believe that the liberal transformation of the traditional end of procreation into a personal choice, and the relegation of childbearing to the old eon, amount to a seismic shift in the significance of marriage. Their desire to blunt the sharpness of their argument is odd, given their willingness to follow its radical nature through much of our dialogue. Our disagreement can and should be charitable: in this vein, we welcome their rejection of litigation and happily and enthusiastically endorse rejection of all coercion and prejudice against gay people. At the same time we honor one another more if we take seriously the fact that we have before us a real disagreement on which a great deal rides. To claim that it amounts to a celebratory diversity following from the very persons of the Trinity resonates rhetorically, but hides the fact that discernment means deciding and deciding has consequences. (In fact the advocates of same-sex marriage know this, driving determinedly toward implementation of the revision. In this light, claims that the opposing sides are but complementary perspectives in the spirit of F.D. Maurice seems ironic.")
Go back to Willis Jenkins and notice this sentence:
"We reaffirm procreation as a purpose of marriage, and the welcoming of children as a gift proper to it."
In the citation above I have emboldened "a" in the first clause. It is the weakest link in the chain of the liberals argument. Not only is it weak theologically, it could mean that one day no one will be left to maintain the argument :)
The N.T. Wright Festschrift
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