I heard a fascinating interview on the radio this morning with Bishop Gene Robinson. In The Choice, Bishop Robinson was asked about the process of his becoming the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican communion, and if you didn’t hear it I commend it to you. For the next 7 days you’ll be able to listen online (RealPlayer reqd) I doubt that it will change anyone’s mind, but I do believe that everyone should listen attentively and with charity.
I keep thinking that the issues of sex and sexuality must soon go out of fashion, but somehow they never do. The church seems endlessly fascinated with fighting over them.
In all the fuss, which seems to be raging throughout the church almost wherever you look. I think there’s a danger of forgetting something important: marriage and the customs which surround it are determined much more by “place and time” than by unchanging eternal truths. The modern western model of marriage - 2 people meet, fall in love, get married - would be unrecognizable to many generations of the church since Jesus.
The notion of what makes a marriage has changed through the centuries and varies according to geography even in cultures that look to the Bible for their inspiration. This can lead to confusion. For example, what exactly is the difference (in religious terms) of a couple that decide to live together and a similar couple that opt for a purely civil ceremony? I’m pretty sure that the first would be frowned on by most of the church though the second would not. I can’t for the life of me think why that should be.
Similarly, the appropriateness of “sexual activity” (oo-er, missus!) has not always been as cut-and-dried as is often suggested. The classic romantic story of Romeo & Julietis about a couple who were little more than children. The Puritan communities of “the colonies” could be said to have encouraged premarital sex with the “pre-contracts” and the custom of “tarrying”:
When a man is enamoured of a young woman, and wishes to marry her, he proposes the affair to her parents; if they have no objection they allow him to tarry the night with her in order to make his court with her.
P. Smith “A People’s History of the United States’ vol 1 p69, quoted in Bill Bryson “Made in America”
My conclusion? Only that there’s a conversation to be had here in which varying points of view should not be merely labelled and dismissed. The customs and practice of marriage have had many shapes in the history of Christendom. We should not assume that the way it is now is “as it was in the beginning … and ever shall be”.