A discussion and Prayer Starter
In this short piece, I want to put forward the argument that the Anglican Global South leadership has not yet in its public statements shown that it understands fully what has happened in The Episcopal Church (and Canadian Church) in terms of innovations in sexual morality and church rites. And what it is not saying is crucially important.
Please be patient with me as I try to explain.
Let us accept that we live in a world where to affirm human dignity and to accept that human beings have rights (natural, civil and human) is an essential part of moral and political discourse. Each and every human being has the right to be treated with dignity and this includes—in all western nations—human beings who identify themselves as homosexual persons. And, let us not forget. it also includes babies and children!
Let me now propose that what is ultimately at issue—but rarely recognized—in the very modern debate concerning giving the legal right to two homosexual persons to marry each other in a civil ceremony (or in the church equivalent of this to be blessed by a Minister in a public service) is the following—the clashing of two agreed human rights.
One is the recently accepted right of the homosexual person to be treated with dignity and justly, and the other (set forth in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and in further Declarations & Conventions) is the right of a child wherever possible to be raised in a stable family by his/her biological parents.
What we see happening before our eyes is this: that once a State, or once a Church, begins effectively to define marriage in terms of the voluntary association of two persons for purposes, which they define themselves, and for as long as they determine, and that these purposes do not necessarily—where biologically possible—include the procreation and care of children, then what we call the institution of marriage has been drastically revised from what it has been in western culture for as long as there has been western culture. Indeed, as an ancient institution, marriage has been dissolved and in its place is the permission of the state for any two persons legally to form a partnership where most of the rules are created by the participants and where the state provides various benefits.
Today we may say that in western nations there are two basic kinds of marriage. The traditional one in church and culture is that the institution based upon vow and promise exists on its own independent of the couple and of the state. A man and a woman enter into an already existing institution which has it own meaning and purposes. In contrast, the modern one in church and culture is that the couple (of opposite or same sex) exist before the vow and promise, and they create the institution for themselves on their own terms (creating their own vows). In both cases the State regulates; but, while the traditional form of marriage existed before the State (John Locke the philosopher calls it “the first Society”), the modern form is a creation of the State through such legislation as no-fault divorce and licensing of same-sex couples.
Turning now to The Episcopal Church, one can say that beginning in 1973 when it dramatically changed its canon law on marriage and divorce, continuing with creating the new marriage service in the new prayer book of 1976/79 (where procreation and the raising of children is no longer presented as a basic purpose of marriage) and ending with the growing number of blessings of same-sex partners, this Church has drifted with modern culture towards the abandonment of the received Institution of Marriage, as that has been understood in church and state until very recent times.
Of course, there are Episcopalians who read and use the marriage service in the 1979 prayer book in traditional terms and, further, they believe that in marriage that they enter into an institution that existed before they married. However, in terms of the practical evidence of the life of the Episcopal Church, what one sees is the gradual and sure erosion of the traditional Institution of Marriage as that to which the Church holds and fosters, and in its place the acceptance of the new kind of marriage which is dependent upon the definitions of the State for its authenticity and which is defined by those entering into it in terms of its purpose and their mutual benefits.
Back to children! One of the major purposes of marriage over the centuries has been to raise, protect and educate children for life in society. In the modern situation of the letting go of the traditional view of marriage as an institution, whether we think of the effects in terms of the harm caused to children by the impact of divorce and remarriage, or by their being conceived in order to be adopted and raised by a same-sex couple, what we are aiding and abetting is the denial of the rights of children—their rights to be raised wherever possible by their biological parents, by their father and mother, in a stable environment. The way we are treating children is extremely bad and we do it in order to exalt the rights of adults to personal satisfaction and happiness.
To see all this, one does not need to read or cite one word of the Bible for it is clear to sociological and anthropological research. However, the Bible itself puts forth a very powerful doctrine of the institution of marriage which most regrettably many modern churches in the West have seriously undermined. And this undermining of Holy Matrimony is as much found with the conservatives as with the liberal progressives, but each side uses different ways and means to do the undermining (e.g. see how the divorce culture is absorbed by traditionalist bishops in continuing Anglican churches by giving annulments left, right and center, and especially to clergy!).
Enter the Global South
As I indicated in The Mandate (July-August 2007—read at www.pbsusa.org) I really think that the Global South has not yet awakened to the full story of what has happened to sexual morality in Episcopalianism. At this late hour, I believe that they would be well advised to make their message a positive one to America and Canada – restore the biblical institution of marriage, Holy Matrimony, as not only the ideal but also as that which is taught as the will of God. Then they are addressing not only the supporters of same-sex marriage as now but also the many who oppose same-sex marriage, but who have adopted (by breathing in the American air) the new view that the institution of marriage is created by the personal vows and intentions of the persons married.
As they do this they need to speak up for CHILDREN and to state powerfully and clearly and often what are the rights of children required by man (in the various Charters and Laws) and moreso as required by God the LORD in terms of their being cared for from conception to adulthood. Then to link this to the Institution of Marriage.
At the same time, and in this context, they can accept that the modern State has given rights to homosexual persons and that these are to be accepted, but not to the extent of encouraging the blessing of same-sex couples as entering into a modern form of marriage and thereby undermining not only the biblical institution of Holy Matrimony but also the precious rights of babies and children to proper care.
Right now the negative side of the message about sexual morality is heard loudly and widely and so arises the charge of homophobia. Let us hear from the Archbishops of Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda more of the gracious provision of God of the institution of Holy Matrimony and of the rights of children to be raised in the fear and love of God by their biological parents.
I end on a positive note. Happily the Anglican Communion Network with Common Cause has accepted the BCP 1662 as its standard of doctrine and in this classic Prayer Book is the most widely accepted statement of the purpose of marriage in the Preface to the Service of Holy Matrimony. Here it is.
“Marriage is an ordered relation and honorable state instituted by God in the time before man and woman sinned. It signifies the mystical union between Christ and his
Church. Christ adorned and beautified this relation with both his presence and first miracle that he performed, at a marriage in Cana of Galilee. Further, it is
commended in Holy Scripture to be respected by all, and, therefore, it must not be entered upon, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, but reverently, discreetly,
advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the reasons for which marriage was ordained by God.
First, it was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
Secondly, it was ordained that the natural instincts and affections, implanted by God in man and woman, should be hallowed and directed aright.
Thirdly, it was ordained for the mutual companionship, help, and comfort that husband and wife should provide for one another both in prosperity and adversity.
It is into this holy relation and state that these two persons come now to be joined. Therefore, if anyone can show any just cause why they may not be lawfully joined
together, let that person now speak….”
(For an excellent recent book on Marriage, read, David Blankenhorn, The Future of Marriage, Encounter Books, NY 2007, and also those commended on page 3 in The Mandate at www.pbsusa.org )
Dr Peter Toon August 25 2007