|The great-grandfather of all sayings is, "If you don't stand up for something, you'll fall for anything." Methinks liberal Christianity is about to take a fall over the issue of same-sex marriage. For those not in the know (blissfully), there are - broadly speaking - two church voices; an evangelical and a liberal voice. On this issue, neither offers much of value. At least the evangelicals have a principled position; absurd, but principled nonetheless. The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, global spokesperson for absurd Christianity, wrote in a national Australian paper that the Bible's views on this matter are beyond question. He stated that "many things about modernity are different from antiquity, but our sexual make-up and sexual drive are not among them. Whatever adaptations changing times may necessitate, changing God's standards of sexual behaviour is not among them." Why not, and particularly now that scientific understanding has progressed past modernity, let alone antiquity? The evangelical position on sexuality fails to understand its patriarchal basis. Many of the passages in the Bible which are used to comment on sexuality are more likely comments on gender. The most famous is Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) which is often considered a denunciation of male homosexual practice. In reality, it is a story where protecting male honour is more important than protecting the body of a woman. So, logically, if this is a proof text against homosexuality, it must also be a proof text in affirmation of rape. To be consistent to the principles of an evangelical position (a new alternative to the missionary position, perhaps? The mind boggles!) the daughters of all evangelical men must now be placed on the open sex market. That'll learn 'em! The absurdity is obvious. The only comments in the Bible which vaguely mention sexuality are addressing men, leaving open the possibility that male homosexuality is morally wrong, but not lesbianism, which is never mentioned in the Bible. Again this is an issue of patriarchy. In the age of the Bible, women had no sexuality, they were rather sexual objects. The world of the Bible was deficient in its understanding of both sexuality and gender. It was written in a time when common belief had it that the seed of a women played no role in the reproduction of a baby. Women were simply carriers of male genetic blueprints. We now know more about these matters, so why won't our liberal leaders come clean on this instead of trying to find common ground with evangelicals? Even the usually strong Archbishop of Canterbury has gone weak on this issue, preferring to push unity before principles. The usually impressive Primate of Australia wrote on this issue a week before the Archbishop of Sydney. He asked the right question; "Given that the concept of a "homosexually orientated person" is a relatively modern invention of the mid-19th century, can these ancient texts be lifted out of their original cultural context (which assumed an undifferentiated heterosexuality) so as to be made to apply to the essentially modern question about faithfully committed homosexual people?" He then went on to draw limited conclusions, noting that the "pre-emptive action of the Canadian diocese of New Westminster, in authorising liturgical texts for the blessing of same-sex unions (which are explicitly said not to be marriages) is unhelpfully well ahead of the play." It seems too much to expect that the Church might be ahead of the play, let alone up with it. This is more liberal monkey business where our practice can never match our principles, or else we might compromise unity. A progressive church would stand by its principles of liberty and inclusiveness. Our unity should stretch to include differing practices. Church ceremonies which affirm any relationship are not legal occasions. It's the signing of papers which makes the relationship legal. The church ceremony is an affirmation of love and the connections of spirits. If our principles stretch to affirming this possibility in many varieties, then our practice should follow suit and the church leadership should support this local stand. The blessing/marriage of same sex couples should be an open occasion, recorded in church registers. Church organs should play fanfares, bells should peal loudly and the party should go on. The fact that some churches have progressive principles and practices will become part of the public discussion, and the church will then be at least up with the play. Society will decide who gets to sign papers, the church will continue to celebrate its principles. If unity is threatened by principles, then unity is not worth the letters that make up its name. The liberal protection of unity (translation: fear of difference) in this case is just as absurd as evangelical bible literalism (translation: fear of science). Each will fall without respective principles and common sense. Again on this issue, the Church is drifting further into the abyss of irrelevance.
Ian Lawton - Vicar, St Matthew-in-the-City, Auckland. Ian Lawton - 11th July 2003