John Meunier is, with good reason, Frustrated by gay debate within his own United Methodist denomination, which mirrors that within the Anglican Communion. John’s frustration is firstly that those “On the pro-inclusion side” are arguing from experience, not from proper biblical principles, and secondly that there is a mismatch between attitudes to remarriage after divorce and to homosexual practice. In a comment I pointed John to an older post of mine which suggests a way of treating these last two matters consistently.
Craig L. Adams left a comment on John’s post linking to an interesting post of his own, on a blog which I have not seen before, in which he takes up the same issue. He writes:
Yes, the relationship of the issues of homosexuality and divorce is interesting — and raises troubling issues and (at the very least) apparent inconsistencies for those of us on SideB. If the church prohibits same-gender sex — even between committed partners — why are Christians so permissive about divorce and re-marriage?
… And, given human “hardness of heart” and the circumstances of violent abuse, unfaithfulness and alcoholism, etc. I can see why — for the physical and emotional health of both partners — [some] marriages must sometimes end.
But, in these instances, divorce is “accepted” (so to speak) not as a positive good, but on the basis of an Exception Argument. Yes, marriage should be forever. But, there are circumstances where divorce is preferable to the alternative. As they say, it’s “the lesser of two evils.”
From this grows the commonly-permissive attitude toward remarriage, as well.
But, when we get to same-gender relationships, conservatively-inclined Christians run into a wall. Here deploying an Exception Argument would justify the very thing that is prohibited: same-gender sex!
Thus, the strange inconsistency.
Yes, there is a strange inconsistency. But it seems to me that the inconsistency is not in the argument but in the conclusions which those arguing wish to draw from it.
Divorce and remarriage has become generally acceptable even in socially conservative circles in western countries. So, to meet their congregations’ expectations, the leaders even of conservative churches have often stretched Craig’s “Exception Argument” to the extent that divorced people are remarried almost as a matter of course, and continue to play a full part in church life.
However, homosexual behaviour is still looked down on as unacceptable deviance by socially conservative people in the West, often for reasons not really connected to any religious beliefs. So their church leaders tend to meet the culturally based expectations of their congregations by taking a hard line against homosexuality, not allowing any kind of “Exception Argument” in this case, with the result that homosexuals are alienated from the church.
As Craig suggests, a consistent approach here requires both a less permissive attitude to remarriage and a more permissive one to homosexuality. But of course the analogy with remarriage must be to a long-term committed and formalised “monogamous” homosexual relationship. Unconstrained homosexual practise must be treated like heterosexual promiscuity: the church should declare consistently that both are unacceptable.
I suspect that here in the Church of England the rules on remarriage after divorce are less permissive than they are in some American denominations. At least in my own diocese remarriage requires a bishop’s special permission, and the bishop needs to be satisfied that the relationship between the prospective couple did not cause the breakup of a previous marriage. This is a proper application of the “Exception Argument”. Stricter rules apply to clergy, and rightly so. There are I think no bishops in the Church of England who are remarried after divorce; there is one in the Church of Wales, but another Church of Wales bishop has just been forced to resign over allegations, which he has denied, linking the breakdown of his marriage with a rumoured relationship between him and his (female) chaplain.
I would not be unhappy if the Anglican Communion were to move, with general agreement, to a situation where (at least in some provinces) formalised homosexual partnerships (civil partnerships and gay “marriages”) were treated in the same way as remarriage after divorce, “not as a positive good, but on the basis of an Exception Argument”. Thus clergy might be allowed to perform or bless gay weddings under certain carefully defined circumstances.
But individual provinces or dioceses should not go it alone in such matters. And there should be proper safeguards for clergy and congregations who do not accept these practices.
We should also remember that the Bible expects higher standards of those in church leadership. Thus it might well be right to restrict people both in homosexual partnerships and in remarriages from some areas of Christian ministry, such as being bishops. The details of course need further consideration – and will doubtless cause huge controversy if any proposal like this is ever put forward within the Anglican Communion.
To quote Craig again (his emphasis) with my complete agreement:
To me the teaching of Jesus is a radical call to repentance and commitment and faithfulness. The making and keeping of commitments is a part of our spiritual formation. Accepting ourselves as beings created in the image of God entails a desire to seek God’s will and purpose in all things — including the expressions of my sexuality.
This is not so much a Natural Law / common-sense good as a call to commitment and obedience and discipleship. We are called to seek God’s will in all things.