Friday, 4 April 2014

Gender and marriage

I've read and thought a lot about the issue of marriage between 2 people of the same gender. Some things I've read have infuriated me, especially those written with an assumption that marriage as a social institution has always been the same. It hasn't historically. And for those of us who take the Bible seriously, it is misleading to use terms like 'Biblical marriage' or 'marriage according to the Bible'. As a woman I'm grateful not to have been one of King Solomon's numerous wives and concubines. I'm grateful not to be considered the property of my husband as was the case in England and Wales until the 19th century. 

The Church of England is engaged in a debate about same-sex marriage. It has been for a long time and there are sharp and painful divides, just as there were in relation to owning or profiting from slavery, remarriage of divorced people, marrying deceased wife's sister and - in some areas of the Anglican Communion - marriage between people of different racial/ethnic origin. Part of the problem we have in the church I think is that there has not been enough recent theological and philosophical debate about the Christian way to understand either marriage or gender. Please correct me if I'm wrong about that. I think there has been far more stating of rigid positions - sometimes, but not always based on prejudice. And there has been some horrendous mud slinging between opposing sides.

For me, the most helpful recent contribution I've read relating to the response of the Church of England to the newly implemented law in England and Wales enabling marriage between 2 people of the same gender is this article by the Revd Dr Andrew Davison published in today's Church Times. He writes about the concept of complementarity in marriage and whether or not that depends on gender.

He states that
"COMPLEMENTARITY is central to any marriage. The Church, however, holds that sexual difference is the foundation of that complementarity."
He then skilfully weaves his philosophical and theological arguments to support the idea that selecting only one type of difference (gender) as if that is all that matters for a marriage relationship to be complementary is 'remarkably short-sighted'.
"No one loves someone else simply as a man or simply as a woman, and not also as funny, or serious, or Welsh, or practical, or tall, or dark-haired, or a hundred other factors. A collapse of difference into male-female difference, which so undergirds current Church of England formulations, reduces our vision of sexual relationships to the level of a budget brothel: you ask for a woman, you ask for a man, and you take the first one who's free: sexual difference is what matters, not particularity.
In this way, our discussions are being carried out in terms of categories of people rather than in terms of individuals. Consider, in contrast, Luther's perspective: that ideally women per se should not interest him sexually, but rather his wife would do so, in her particularity - as if his response to temptation might be, "Yes, yes, she's remarkably beautiful . . . but she's just not Katharina" (Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, in the section beginning at Matthew 5.27)."
He also points out that, in the book of Genesis, Adam's delighted reaction to Eve was not the difference but the similarity: "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh".
Whatever your view on same gender marriage I strongly recommend reading the whole article: Gender:what difference does it make? It's well worth a thoughtful read. You do not need to be a philosopher or theologian to understand it. He does use philosophical and theological terms but always with simple explanation. 
I particular like the end of the article:
"The emphasis needs always to be on God. So, if two examples of human love are analogous, their similarity will rest on the even more fundamental, and common, participation of human love in divine love. That chimes with the proposal, found in Ephesians 5, that Christians understand marriage through its likeness to something divine: its likeness to the relationship of Christ to his Church.
Remembering this, any claim that different forms of marriage are related analogically need not subordinate one to another. We are not necessarily saying that one is an imitation of the other. A distinctively Christian vision of marriage - whatever it is, whatever form it takes (and that is clearly under debate) - sees marriage as an imitation of something about Christ and his relationship with the Church, and as a participation in the life and love of the Trinity.
That is ultimately where we must look for the source and meaning of complementarity."
I've quoted a lot, but quotes are always best understood in context. Do go there and read: Gender: what difference does it make? There's a fun cartoon as well.

Image Credit: Pixaby, public domain

2 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for this post, Nancy and for the link to the article, which is one of the very best I've read on this contentious subject. For the record I'm glad that faithful, monogamous same-gender relationships can now be recognised for what they are.

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