There is scope for
further discussion of this question, taking into account the
biblical imperatives to which Christians adhere.
The first point that needs to be established is that the biblical
writers were conditioned by their culture.
The fact that their writings afford us special insights into the
foundations of our faith doesn't mean they are relevant to
contemporary culture. The biblical writers faced different questions
to those we face today and they produced answers that don't
necessarily have any relevance for us now.
What's important for us is not so much the actual answers they
gave, but the fundamental principles that originally prompted those
questions and answers. Our job is then to apply these principles to
our contemporary situation in a meaningful and relevant way. And we
are free to do this because the biblical writers themselves did it.
Take Paul, for example. He advocated abandoning the food laws,
relinquishing the observance of the Sabbath, and dropping
circumcision - all, to his mind, products of a different culture,
and irrational as necessary signs of faith in his contemporary
situation. For him the gospel was liberty. We must continue to
follow Paul's example.
In about 1940 the archbishops of Canterbury and York finally said
it was permissible for women not to wear hats in church, despite
Paul and the First Letter to the Corinthians.
We've lived through the Anglican Church's decision to allow
divorced people to be remarried, to ordain women to the priesthood
and to allow divorced people to be ordained. And if we are to
continue to live in the freedom that Christ has brought - that is,
in the life of love that the Gospels proclaim - I believe we should
be accepting and supportive of same-sex relationships and homosexual
male and female clergy.
To the question "Is it all right for a Christian to do this?" the
answer must be yes. We are free to love as appropriately in our
culture as Paul was free to love within the framework of his.
The second point relates to the church's role within the
institution of marriage.
In the history of Western Christendom, it wasn't until the 11th
century that the church made its colossal takeover and claimed that
marriage was its special preserve (as in a dim sort of way people
still often suppose). Even then, it continued to recognise the
validity of marriage without the benefit of clergy - simply, that
is, by mutual consent.
The stultifying and ultimately absurd dogma that marriage without
the services of a priest was no marriage didn't emerge until the
16th century, which makes it a pretty recent development in the
history of the church.
The time has long passed for us to be liberated from the medieval
notion that it is the church's role to be the moral arbiter of
relationships, or somehow to possess the authority to grant or
withhold approval for those couples who come seeking God's blessing
upon their relationship. It is the ultimate absurdity for clergy to
be blessing inanimate objects such as restaurants, boats, pharmacies
and cricket bats, yet to deny a blessing to a couple who are
concerned enough to request one, divorce or sex notwithstanding.
To be freed from the notion that it is the role of the church to
be responsible for the legalities of marriage would go some way, I
believe, in encouraging the church to shed the judgmental frame of
mind that such attention to legalities seems inevitably to
encourage. Clergy would then be more likely freed to concentrate
solely upon their authentic role - that of providing blessings to
all who request the assurance of God's grace. Such a step carries
with it the additional benefit of being able to bypass the complex
and, one suspects, ultimately fruitless task of trying to
distinguish between the state of marriage and the state of
friendship in order to accommodate the issue of gay relationships.
It is the role of the church to facilitate mutual expressions of
love, to affirm responsible and caring partnerships, and to assure
all couples of God's blessing upon their life together, not to sit
in judgment upon them, nor to have the temerity to assume the role
of self-appointed watchdog of the so-called moral climate of a
It is not the business of the church to arbitrate, to judge, or
to impose restrictions upon human relationships. And it is not the
business of the church to arbitrate upon issues of gender, but
rather to affirm the promise of God's love in the context of loving
and responsible relationships.
For the church to be able to fulfil its proper function, it needs
to get out of the business of administering those procedures of
marriage that bestow legal status with regard to rights and
benefits, and which carries with it the opportunity to discriminate
and reject, and concentrate on its fundamental purpose - the
assurance of divine love upon a co-operative partnership entered
into by people brought together by their God-given capacity to love.
It's time to get back to basics.
Dr John Shepherd is the Anglican Dean of Perth
Your feedback: At last! Commonsense! Keith Gill
Whilst biblical writers were conditioned by their culture, God is
not. God was not conditioned by the culture of the time when he
destroyed Sodom and Gemorah. God was not conditioned by the culture
of the time when he punished the Israelites for brief periods of
sexual immorality. Holiness and sexual holiness are high on God's
agenda. I agree that the message of the bible is about love, but it
is love based on biblical principles of a self-sacrifical nature,
not love influenced by the culture of the time. Julian Gamble
I readily agree with the enlightened article of John Shepherd. I
am a civil marriage celebrant. I was for many years a Roman Catholic
priest. Having been part of religious and civil ceremonies since
1967 it has become obvious that a triumphal church has lost a power
that it saw as belonging to its mission. The christian churches have
readily focused on their role as custodians to the legalistic way
society works. All of this was in the name of supposed morality.
This has been at the expense of assuring their followers that the
unconditional love of a personal God was the reason for the
existence of the institution in the first place. Now the opportunity
is before the churches to gladly shed themselves of the legalistic
baggage that has nothing to do with the Gospels they purport to
acknowledge. J. Hill