Authorizing Marriage? Canon, Tradition, and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions

By Mark D. Jordan; Meghan T. Sweeney et al. | Go to book overview

ARGUING LITURGICAL GENEALOGIES,
OR, THE GHOSTS OF WEDDINGS PAST

Mark D. Jordan

For Christian traditions, a wedding is always in part an acted prayer. The marriage that follows may be conceived as miraculous transformation or negotiated contract, as a concession to perishing flesh or a celebration of embodiment, as poison or libation for Eros. Indeed, the wedding itself may mark a dynastic alliance or regularize longstanding domestic arrangements. It may produce or repudiate civil effects, yield much or little to the expectations of nation, clan, or family. Still a wedding remains public prayer. However exactly it is conceived, the rite is an act on behalf of the church and before the church. It occurs within the larger cycle of a community's public celebration. It takes its place in a history of worship.

How are public prayers authorized? For many Christian churches, especially but not exclusively the “liturgical” ones, to have an approved place in the history of public worship is to enter a liturgical genealogy. The genealogy confers authenticity or legitimacy. It supplies precedents. A Christian wedding is counted authentic and legitimate—a real wedding— when it can cite appropriately a recognized tradition of previous weddings, leading back to some (apostolic) first. The genealogical appeal is not simple, of course, because the notion of “genealogy” is never more than an analogy. The analogy juxtaposes likenesses with differences. There are likenesses between traditional rites and families. For weddings, as for children, there is no exact reproduction, only variation and combination. The analogy also straddles differences. In ritual genealogies, parents do not beget children so much as they are begotten by them. A ritual is not procreated by a previous ritual so much as it claims to repeat—or reform— what has gone before.

When advocates for blessing of same-sex unions try to introduce new rites to public worship, they often justify them by tracing a new liturgical genealogy. They produce forgotten ancestors or recall lost lineages. Their opponents typically deny that the forgotten ancestors existed or that the lines belonged to the family. The opponents typically do not invite reflection on the logic of genealogical argument itself. Why should they, since that logic so evidently favors their wish to forbid the new rites? In liturgy, as in morals and scriptural exegesis, the most active opposition to samesex love masks itself as a simple wish to conserve.

-102-

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