An enjoyable discussion last night at Holy Trinity, Nailsea about redefining marriage.
Here is the script I worked from but you might need to check it against my precise words. The whole discussion was recorded and will appear on this list later in the week.
I began with a few unrehearsed comments and I apologised that there was some duplication (but actually not much) between what I said and what the first speaker said:
should Christians, both individually and collectively as church,
respond to the government's proposal to change the definition of
are two parts to this question as posed. How should Christians
respond to something individually, and then collectively.
Error in question premise. There is as yet no proposal. The
government gave notice earlier in the year of its intention to
consult. On March 15th a 12 week consultation period began. No
proposal has been made. Yet.
response of some Christians to this suggestion of consultation was a
petition. I think petitions are often signed by lazy people who have
allowed someone else to do their thinking for them.
petition asks the government to fix the legal definition of marriage
as '...the voluntary union for life
of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.'
legal definitions in this country are established by case law. The
current legal definition of marriage was established in the case of
Hyde v Hyde and Woodmansee in the middle of Queen Victoria's reign.
Sir James Wilde, later Lord Penzance said that he conceived of
marriage, as understood in Christendom, as '...the voluntary union
for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.'
the petition asks for no change from that except that it be fixed by
legislation not judiciary.
How should Christians respond collectively? Christians are not a
group of people who have any mechanism whatsoever for responding to
anything, anywhere collectively at any time. In effect this part of
the question asks me, 'What should all Christians think?'
most people in the world probably think the world would be a better
place if everyone thought like them. A moment's thought tells us that
this would give us a less interesting world. If the whole world were
West Bromwich Albion supporters with whom on earth could I argue
love the idea of strong leadership setting out what everyone should
think until the point that they disagree.
we indicate that our church is in favour of signing the petition by a
majority of 2 to 1 or 3 to 1 or whatever it turns out to be. I really
have no idea but imagine if it comes to a vote I will lose.
that takes me to the only part of the question I think is worth
bothering with and that is part one.
How should Christians respond individually?
wrote about this in a blog post on 27th February 2012 and asserted
that Christians should not sign the petition. I believed they would
be seen as homophobic, a word which has subtly changed its meaning
recently and most people take to mean 'anti-homosexuals' rather than
'afraid of homosexuals' its literal meaning.
in The Guardian last week Lucy Mangan told the story of how she was
drawing closer to the Christian world by her involvement in a church
run play group but was utterly put off by the way the petition we are
talking about was peddled in the group. In her words:
was a reminder that even if you love the language of the church and
much else about it, you've got to stay alert to its threats.
thank you, playgroup lady. I was drawing closer. I shall keep a safer
distance from now on.
own view is this. I believe sin should be condemned. I know of lovely
Christian people who think that a lifelong, to the exclusion of all
others, same-sex, sexual relationship is not sin. I know of others
who think it is and that all same-sex sexual expression is sinful.
One group argue from the scriptures' clear prohibitions; the other
argue that the Bible's teaching on this is culturally bound and needs
cannot give my opinion on who is right, even if I knew for certain,
without upsetting a load of my friends. So I will not. I will at all
times spell out the dispute without taking sides. This has led me to
welcome gays to my congregations without criticism, implied or
otherwise. This has led to me responding to a request to speak at the blessing of a civil partnership.
do not think that marriage is threatened by being re-defined. I think
that Christians are still free to make the rules in their own meeting
places. I think that as soon as we have sorted out the complete hash
many have made of heterosexual relationships we might be freer to
chuck the first stone.
should a Christian respond to the governments' consultation and the
petition? Read it and think for yourself.
There were three 'opinions' given (this was the second of the three) and then there followed some discussion and questions. The recording caught most, but not all, of the questions delivered by roving microphone.
Two other links. If you missed the email discussion between me and Anthony Bush a few weeks ago you can catch up with it here.
A few years ago I contributed a chapter to Sex and the Cynics (Damaris) edited by Tony Watkins. It remains the best attempt I have made personally to set out my position on biblical love and intimacy. Click on the link to buy it from Amazon. There are other chapters about how the search for love is portrayed in the movies.