Same-Sex Marriage and Anglican Theology: A View from the Traditionalists

Article excerpt

Part 1

The Social and Ecclesiastical Context

Modern Western societies in North America and Europe are increasingly moving toward the acceptance of same-sex relationships. At first people were challenged to accept lesbian and gay partnerships on a political and legal level; but recently and more problematically, Christians are being asked to accept a redefinition of the institution of marriage itself. No longer is marriage to be regarded essentially as a bond between one man and one woman, but as a sexual relationship in which two men or two women may also be committed to each other. They ought to be recognized to have the corresponding rights of support, parenting, adopting, inheriting, divorcing, and the other privileges and obligations that spouses in a marriage expect.

We recognize that a remarkable shift in public opinion has occurred in the last thirty years or so in the aftermath of the so-called sexual revolution. Several European countries, including traditionally Catholic societies such as Spain, as well as a number of American states have either passed legislation to allow same-sex marriage, or have had their courts rule that restricting marriage to heterosexuals is unjust. It is not at all surprising that many Christians who five in areas where these social developments have progressed furthest should attempt to harmonize the attitudes and practice of their churches with those principles of fairness, tolerance, and compassion that are the supporting moral features of the acceptance of same-sex marriage.

If we were assessing simply the drift of European and North American societies, and the Anglican churches there, the picture would be discouraging for conservatives because of the apparent strength of liberalism. However, we remind ourselves that the Anglican Communion as a whole is much more solidly biblical and traditional dian the Western liberal portion of it, and that the opposition we express in this paper to same-sex marriage is in fact the dominant position of worldwide Anglicanism. Further, we take courage from reflecting on the fact that a slide into lax sexual morals (characteristic of the last fifty years in the West) may be reversible, just as England witnessed a reversal of libertine \iexvs of sexual behavior in the seventeenth and again in the nineteenth centuries.

In recent years, the Anglican Communion has struggled with the issue of homosexuality in different contexts, including the Lambeth Conferences (at least since 1988), meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council, and Primates' Meetings. The growing acceptance of homosexuality in the Western sections of the Communion created a context in North America in which the consecration in 2003 of Gene Robinson as the Bishop of New Hampshire in the U.S.A. and the decision by the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada to bless samesex unions seemed legitimate developments. But much of the rest of the Communion has not shared the conviction of the need to accept same-sex blessing or marriage. The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada find themselves torn between a sizeable Uberai body in favor of accepting a revised view of sex and marriage, and large swaths of the Anglican Communion solidly opposed.1

Ecumenical relations between Anglicans and other denominations are a very mixed bag. Some national churches in Europe (such as the Swedish Lutherans) have predictably reflected the prevailing acceptance of modern secular views on sexuality and marriage, and have opted for a "gender-neutral" definition of marriage for church weddings. We note, however, that the recent steps taken by the Church of Sweden have received some rebuke by the leadership of the Church of England.2

Until recently, only a few churches in the United States, mainly weaker and shrinking groups such as the Unitarians and United Church of Christ, had taken die more liberal path on same-sex marriage. By the end of the summer of 2009, however, the scene changed considerably with die passage by a two-thirds majority of voters at the August 2009 meeting of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America of a resolution allowing Lutheran clergy living in same-sex relationships to be ordained and minister in that denomination. …