Marriage, Cohabitation and Same Sex Relationships
Given the rather public controversy within the Church of England over same-sex relationships, currently being debated in the press and highlighted by the appointment of a new Bishop of Reading, I felt it appropriate to raise the issue through the new style Connection which will go to the community in August.
would like to try and put the debate where it rightly belongs, within the wider
context of our understanding of marriage and the basis of our beliefs about right
and wrong. Anne
Atkins gave a very helpful ‘Thought
for the Day’ on BBC radio 4 recently. In it she made this observation:
“Scripture is not important enlightenment about God, but infallible revelation from Him. So we interpret our lives in the light of scripture, instead of the other way about. After all, valuing fact above experience is something we experience elsewhere. I don’t see the universe expanding, but scientists tell me it is. And I don’t feel like a sinner in need of repentance, but scripture says I am.”
”Prizing scripture above reason is also rational. If God exists, He can surely speak. If He speaks, His words will endure. If they do, they won’t appeal to the values of a shifting society. Nor necessarily be amenable to my limited reason. Jesus described scripture as spoken by God. He submitted to it as authoritative in His life… while the moral law is reiterated by His apostles and still shapes our lives.”
I share her assumption that the Bible is the ‘maker’s instructions’. In it God gives us foundation principles for lasting and fulfilling relationships.
1. Marriage is Ordained by God
God created men and women in his own image, male and female, and commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:27-28). This is the one command we have had no trouble obeying. Genesis 2 goes on to define God’s pattern: “For this reason (because we are male and female) a man shall leave his father and mother (the family of his birth) and be united with his wife (thereby forming, together with his wife, a new family) and they will become one flesh (indissoluble) (Genesis 2:24).
2. Marriage is intended to be a Life-long Union between a Man
Jesus stressed the permanence of marriage with these words, “Therefore what God has joined together let no one separate.” (Mark 10:9). The lifelong nature of marriage is conveyed by the well-known words of the marriage vows, “till death us do part.”
3. Marriage Creates a New Family
When a man and woman are joined in marriage they form something that is greater than themselves - they form a new family with a new identity. God’s intention is to bless and enrich couples through mutual comfort as they live together in faith and love. It is a new relationship that all should honour, with trust and fidelity, forsaking all others. Jesus said, “so they (husband and wife) are no longer two but one.” (Mark 10:8).
4. Marriage is a Public Relationship
The promises are made before witnesses since marriage is a public event. This is so that the wider society can acknowledge the couple’s intention is to live together for life. In the new marriage service family and friends are invited to express their commitment to the newly married couple and to do all in their power to uphold them in the new life together. Details are recorded in a register that protects the legal rights of both partners as well as future children.
5. Marriage is at the Heart of God’s Purposes for a Healthy
God’s will is that sexual relations take place exclusively within marriage so that children are born and nurtured within a secure family created by the marriage of their parents.
Marriage or Cohabitation?
By contrast, cohabitation, which is seen by many as an alternative to marriage, is a pale shadow of the very best which God intends for all of us.
For example, the average length of cohabitation is about two years whereas the majority of marriages (60%) are life-long. Couples who cohabit before marriage are twice as likely to divorce as those who do not cohabit before marriage. A national survey of sexual behaviour also found that, among married men, around 90% have been monogamous during the last five years compared to only 43% of cohabiting men. Another survey has shown that cohabiting women are four times more likely to have an abortion than married women and six times more likely to attend a clinic for sexually transmitted diseases. Anxiety and depression are also more common among cohabiting women than among those who are married.
In June a group of leading Anglican Bishops wrote an open letter expressing their concerns over the issue of same-sex relationships. Their letter, with which I wholeheartedly concur, is copied below in full:
Tuesday 17th June 2003, (Church Times; Church of England Newspaper)
From the Bishops of Bradford, Carlisle, Chester, Chichester, Exeter, Liverpool, Rochester, Southwell and Winchester, 16th June 2003
The Church's understanding of scripture and of long-standing tradition is that the proper place for sexual relationships is within marriage. This is based on the order of Creation where men and women are seen as complementary. Sexual intercourse, within the life-long relationship of marriage, is the sign and beautiful expression of that union. Intercourse outside marriage undermines the power of that sign.
Any departure from such fundamental teaching must be viewed with grave concern, especially in the case of those who are ordained and called to be examples to God's people.
It is because of such an understanding of human sexuality, that several bishops of the Church of England, as well as many clergy and lay people, have been troubled by the appointment of Dr. Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading in the Diocese of Oxford.
Dr. John has many admirable qualities for the work of a bishop. But the issue is 'what is acceptable sexual behaviour in God's sight? By his own admission he has been in a same-sex relationship for twenty years. We value, of course, the gift of same-sex friendship and if this relationship is one of companionship and sexual abstinence, then, we rejoice. We warmly commend such relationships to the Church as a whole.
We are glad at the reassurances from the Bishop of Oxford that Jeffrey John's life is now celibate. But it is the history of the relationship, as well as Dr. John's severe criticism of orthodox teaching, which gives concern.
More widely, the appointment appears to prejudice the outcome of the Church's reflection on these matters. We have been repeatedly assured that the House of Bishops' position stated in Issues in Human Sexuality has not changed. A major study guide to this document is to be published towards the end of this year. It does not, we are assured, seek to change the Church's mind on the matter. Yet, in view of his previous teaching, Dr. John's statement that he now stands by Issues has to be received somewhat cautiously.
We must, therefore, express our concern because of the Church's constant teaching, in the light of Scripture and because of the basic ordering of men and women in creation. We must also express our concern because of our responsibility for the Church's unity, both in this country and throughout the world.
+David Bradford +Graham Carlisle +Peter Cestr +John Cicestr
+Michael Exon + James Liverpool +Michael Roffen +George Southwell, +Michael Winton
The purpose of the statement is to give encouragement to clergy and laity of orthodox persuasion that many bishops share their serious concern, and to do so without making any threats or demands.
The statement is supported by the following Suffragan Bishops:
James and I, along with many hundreds of other concerned clergy and church leaders, have co-signed this letter which will be presented to the General Synod of the Church of England later this month.
The Right Revd Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney has made the following helpful comments this week:
this Anglican debate boils down essentially to the question of the authority Christians
give to Scripture, and they way they read it… the historic understanding of the
Christian faith, not just by Anglicans but by Christians throughout the world,
is caught well in the Lambeth Resolution for which ninety percent of the bishops
of the Anglican Communion voted in 1998. This Resolution 1:10 rejected "homosexual
practice as incompatible with Scripture" and further it stated that it "cannot
advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved
in same gender unions".
Since Lambeth, the minority who vigorously opposed the Lambeth decision have worked with equal vigour to overturn it. In various places they have pushed the boundaries, seeking to break out and away from this Lambeth decision. Our Creator does have a view on sex and the expression of sexuality…
The texts teach that God created men and women and blessed them in life-long, heterosexual marriage. So important is the positive teaching that it is reinforced by the negatives against all other forms of sexual activity outside this norm. This has always been the plain meaning and reading of the Scripture and the historic understanding of the Christian church.
This teaching is stated positively in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis. It is reaffirmed in the teaching of Jesus who specifically endorsed the statements of those opening chapters. It is stated negatively in Jesus' strong words about those who break up marriages. When the apostle Paul brought the message of God to the non-Jewish world, various ritual and ceremonial practices were abolished, but not the teaching related to marriage and sexual practices.
Obedience to the word of God is not a theoretical or academic matter. It is a matter of deepest obedience to the One who made us.
By the grace of God there is forgiveness for breaches of God's standards and divinely empowered strength to live chastely. But we fail God and we do no service to our fellow men and women by saying or implying that God's standards are other than they are, or that they are less than they are… Doubtless many things about modernity are different from antiquity, but our sexual make up and sexual drive are not among those differences. Whatever adaptations changing times may necessitate, changing God's standards of sexual behaviour is not among them.
Even passing knowledge of the sexual mores of young people in western societies indicates a potentially 'lost generation', lost because of a loss of moral compass. In a way, the sexual behaviour of modern westerners resembles the promiscuity that characterised much of the Roman world. Around us we see despair and purposelessness among many of our younger contemporaries. We in the Christian churches serve them best by telling them God's truth, with humility and love, but a love that is robust and genuinely caring.
It is in humility, not arrogance, that a Christian affirms to his or her sisters or brothers that this is the way to please God. There should also be no doubt that leaders in our churches should be above reproach and be those whose lives exemplify the very biblical and Christian teaching that they are duty bound to give."
If you would like to discuss
any of these issues personally please do not hesitate to contact James
or myself. I do recommend you visit an excellent website which explores the issue
further called True Freedom Trust
May God bless you and those you love,
Copies of a leaflet providing a more detailed comparison between marriage and cohabitation is available from the Church corridor.