Copyright: © 2003 Paul F. Bosch.
This document may be freely reproduced for non-commercial purposes with credit to the author and mention of the Lift Up Your Hearts web site http://www.worship.ca/ as the source.
By now, faithful reader, you will have heard of the decision by the three judges on the Ontario Appeals Court declaring it unconstitutional to deny marriage to same-sex partners, effective immediately and without residence requirements or time restrictions. And of the subsequent decision by the Liberal government to introduce a bill to the same effect at the federal level. Yes, there's a "conscience clause" in each of these actions: Churches and religious groups will have the privilege of opting out, for their own reasons.
As an expatriate American --I like the sound of that! Ex-patriot!-- living in Canada for twenty-one years now (longer than I have lived anywhere else in my whole lifetime) I have been stunned to note the acceptance and welcome these acts have received across my adopted homeland. Yes, there are voices raised in opposition, among regional and local politicians, and in the op-ed pages of our newspapers, but nothing like the hysterical antagonism I might have expected --did indeed expect. And the positive voices on the op-ed pages these days have out- numbered the negative. Apparently most Canadians have few problems with the notion of same- sex marriage.
I must say I don't either, any longer, having been converted to the idea (see below). But I can imagine that you, faithful reader, may hold an alternative opinion. The notion of same-sex marriages, of same-sex practices, of same-sex lifestyles, of same-sex orientations --of same-sex anything-- together constitute the single most divisive issue in the Church today, in my view. And I can imagine sincere, intelligent, well-intentioned Christians who hold wildly divergent opinions on the subject. Now: Can we still live with each other in one Church, despite our differences; still call one another brothers and sisters? I'm willing to try.
(A footnote: As usual in matters of dispute like this among Christians, the conflict is only pen-ultimately about Bible interpretation --although see Luther in my point #1, below. It is ultimately about ecclesiology: How big is your Church?...)
On the Sunday after the Appeals Court decision, I preached on the subject in my own parish, citing what I have come to know as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, in an attempt to describe one way that Christians may come to make up their minds on this or that issue. Decision-making was my topic; the Appeals Court decision provided my example in each case. Here's a version, a digest of my argument, amended so as to highlight the liturgical and ritual issues involved:
As I understand this Quadrilateral, Christians have four sources in any search for standards in making decisions: 1) The Bible; 2) Tradition, including but not limited to the tradition of the Church; 3) Reason, by which is meant science and the best of human rationality applied to the problem; and 4) Personal experience.
(1) The Bible gives us almost no direct guidance in the issue of same-sex marriage. It does touch on same-sex rape, in the story in Genesis of Lot's guests in their visit to the city of Sodom where the (opposite-sex) rape of Lot's own daughters is apparently permissible! And yes, same-sex relationships are proscribed in the so-called Holiness Code in the book of Leviticus. But most of that Code has been almost totally ignored by most Christians (and by many Jews) for generations, often on the Gospel-persuasive principle that Luther advocates --see two paragraphs below. And the Apostle Paul speaks negatively in Romans about same-sex relations, although he seems to be addressing other issues than that of loving mutual commitments.
Jesus himself says not a word on the subject. He does have a lot to say about the love of God embracing those marginalized and despised and condemned in his society --and about the judgement of God stretched out against those who do the marginalizing and despising and condemning.
As for Martin Luther, he was no literalist when it came to discerning what's important in the Bible and what's not. His standard? Was Christum treibt --"What drives you to Christ", in this or that passage? Lutheran Christians have a wonderful gift to offer the Church when it comes to interpreting the Bible. Against the literalists and fundamentalists of his day (and of our own), Luther argues a Gospel-principle. Not every word there is equally of value, equally authoritative for us. We're free to use the Gospel-principle: to look for Christ in scripture --and to take everything else there with a good dose of salt.
(2) Tradition is less ambiguous on the subject of same-sex marriage, at least the tradition of the last several hundred years. It's ag'in it.
But it's worth remembering that the tradition, and indeed the Biblical witness, suggests a much wider and looser definition of marriage and family than we've assumed in recent generations. Polygamy was apparently the norm for hundreds of years throughout the Judeo-Christian story. Abraham had several wives; so did David and Solomon. Multiple wives, and even multiple concubines, so as to provide a (male) successor to carry on the (male) family name: That's part of our tradition too, let's remember.
As for more recent Christian history, theologian John Boswell has surprised us with his claim that the Church blessed same-sex relationships as early as the fourth century, and didn't get around to blessing opposite-sex unions until the eleventh.
(3) It's this third standard, reason --human rationality-informed-by-science-- that converted my wife years ago, herself a widely-respected family educator. And she converted me.
The most recent scientific evidence suggests a kind of genetic predisposition towards homosexuality or heterosexuality. It's not something you freely choose. Perhaps three percent to ten percent of the human population is unchangeably gay. The best contemporary science maintains, that is, that we're apparently born the way we are. And we're all a little bit of both.
Further: There's almost nothing you can do to change a hetero to a homo, or a homo to a hetero. All attempts to de-program gays or re-sexualize them have met with conspicuous failure, all claims to the contrary notwithstanding.
Using the language of faith: Are we to say, then, that our creator-God made a mistake with one tenth of the human population? That one tenth of the human species is not made in the image of God like the other ninety percent? I could never say that. Could you?
(4) Personal experience. "All gays should be shot", exclaimed a member of the audience, after an address by a gay activist. "You'd shoot me?" asked the gay speaker in return. "Well, not you", was the response. To know the person, even at so superficial a level as this, to experience however briefly the speaker's personhood, was sufficient to temper a truly homophobic outburst.
Yes, personal experience with gays will make all the difference. It will change your attitudes, your perceptions, even your beliefs. It will convert you. Families whose gay children have come out of the closet will testify to that conversion, that change of heart.
To be gay, today, is a terrible burden. No one would willingly choose that orientation, that lifestyle, in today's America or Canada. Perhaps one day we will be able to lift some of that burden. Until then, I'm pleased and proud that my adopted country has joined Belgium and the Netherlands as one of the first three countries in the world to legalize gay marriage.
And until then --Here's the connection with liturgy and ritual-- I'm willing to argue that the Churches should get out altogether of the business of marrying. Anyone. All people. Even heteros. Leave it to government to marry people. Then let the Churches do what they do best, what they are called to do: that is, bless. And let the churches bless promiscuously --that is, give thanks to God-- for whatever is good and God-pleasing. Not Trident nuclear submarines, surely, not cruise missiles, but certainly loving mutual human commitments. Wherever we find them.
I'm grateful to the editor of this website (Lift Up Your Hearts at http://www.worship.ca), Pastor André Lavergne of Trinity Lutheran Church, New Hamburg, Ontario, for providing links (revised, September, 2004) to the following resources on the subject of same-sex marriage, particularly as this issue is being addressed in the context of the Canadian ecumenical church and in Canadian society as a whole. These and many other ELCIC- specific documents (statements by ELCIC bishops, National Church Council, etc.) and links are carried on the Caring Conversations page at the Trinity Church website.
Canadian Anglicans Bless Same-Sex Unions ~ The Anglican Church of Canada's Diocese of New Westminster (British Columbia) has authorized the blessing of same-sex unions --not marriages, according to Bishop Ingham. For a Real-Audio word from the well-spoken bishop, listen to his interview with the CBC's Michael Enright on The Sunday Edition (November 9, 2003). A Rite for the Celebration of Gay and Lesbian Covenants was issued (May 23, 2003) by the bishop. The Rev. Dr. Richard Leggett, Professor of Liturgical Studies at the Vancouver School of Theology, and familiar to many as a member of the Joint Anglican-Lutheran Commission, has written a helpful theological commentary on the rite called "Text in Context: The Blessing of Same-Gender Covenants In the Diocese of New Westminster" (available at the same site). Canadian Anglicans Postpone Decision on "Local Option" ~ In June, 2004, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada elected to postpone a national-church decision (background paper) on the blessing of same-sex unions. The Synod had been asked to affirm that the blessing of same-sex unions is within the authority of a diocesan synod and that any Canadian Anglican diocese, if the bishop agrees, has the authority to perform such blessings. The matter will come before the General Synod again in 2007. The Synod did, however, "affirm the integrity and sanctity of committed, adult same-sex relationships." General Synod had affirmed lesbian and gay people as individuals in 1995, and, in 2004, has affirmed their relationships. Canadian Courts OK Same-Sex Marriages ~ On June 10, 2003, an Ontario Court of Appeal judgement in regards to same-sex marriages, together with the Government of Canada's subsequent (June 17) decision not to appeal the Ontario ruling, rendered same-sex marriages legal in the Province of Ontario. Subsequent developments mean that same-sex marriages are now (September 16, 2004) legal in five jurisdictions --Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Manitoba and the Yukon-- which, together, represent over 79% of the population of Canada. Canadian Government Sorts Itself Out ~ On July 17, 2003, the Government of Canada proposed legislation which would redefine marriage to include same-sex couples: "the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others." The Act Respecting Certain Aspects of Legal Capacity for Marriage has been referred to the Supreme Court of Canada, with attendant requests for the court's wisdom around several issues including that of "the right of religious officials to refuse to sanctify same-sex marriages." The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in mid-October, 2004. Once the court has responded, the final legislation will be put to a free vote in the House of Commons. Canadian Liturgists Rethink Marriage ~ Liturgy Canada, a Canadian Anglican journal "promoting discussion about liturgy and mission," focuses on related matters in the Lent 2003 issue with a lead article by John W. B. Hill entitled "Rethinking the Church's Involvement in Weddings." As well, look for "Same-Sex Rites" by F. Dean Mercer; "A Radical Path for Liturgists" by Gordon Baker; "Blessings of Same-Sex Unions" by Paul Gibson; "The Diocese of Rochester: A Pastoral Journey" by Stephen T. Lane together with the companion rite "The Celebration and Affirmation of A Covenant Relationship." Canadian Polsters Observe a Changing Society ~ Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance offers a comprehensive page dedicated to same-sex marriage in the Canadian context and has published a Time-Line of Court and Government Actions (1993-2004) together with a substantial collection of Canadian Public Opinion Polls (1996-2003) on the question of same-sex marriages and related matters. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has published a helpful collection of background material and related items on the several-decades evolution of Same-Sex Rights in the Canadian context.