June 12, 2012

Church of England Disses Marriage Proposals

The Church of England has issued a statement in response to the British Government proposal to recognize same-sex marriage. The document is a particularly disappointing rehash of the same defective anthropology and circular reasoning to which we have become accustomed on this issue. For example, the paper asserts:

Such a move would alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as enshrined in human institutions throughout history. Marriage benefits society in many ways, not only by promoting mutuality and fidelity, but also by acknowledging an underlying biological complementarity which, for many, includes the possibility of procreation.
The authors hammer away on the alleged "complementarity" of the sexes as a necessary component of marriage without apparently recognizing either the circular nature of that argument or the dangerous tendency towards Christological heresy inherent in its anthropology. The circular nature of the argument is: “Marriage can only take place between a man and a woman because only a man and a woman are of different sexes.” This is, of course, merely restating the premise. The more dangerous, and heretical, trend of this argument lies in the suggestion that the sex difference implies a different order of being for men and women. This is known as sexism, and it undercuts the orthodox doctrine of the incarnation. One would think the church might be more sensitive to that issue, though one wonders how many English bishops actually believe the doctrine.

The other problem, of course, lies in the mistaken assertion(s) of intrinsic universality -- if, even, universality of something means it is either necessary or good. However, in this short paragraph alone there are several imputations of universality that do not bear up. Polygamous, polyandrous, and group marriages have existed in various cultures down through history, so the assertion of an intrinsic natural monogamy will not stand. The utilitarian approach — asserting some social benefit on the basis of the complementarity of the sexes — also will not stand. Even if there were a real complementarity to the sexes, it is not evident how that in itself benefits society. To take the more obvious reality of procreation, surely that is a mixed benefit to society, as an excess of it can have negative consequences on a society. Nor is procreation intrinsically connected with marriage, but rather with biology. Procreation outside of marriage, and marriage without progeny both exist as relatively common realities. There is no intrinsic connection. The paper is trying to argue that their “should” derives from an “is” — and the “is” is not true in this case. The real assertion here is that it is best that procreation take place within marriage. That is, at least, an arguable point, but it has no bearing on the question of same-sex marriage, any more than it has on an infertile marriage. But procreation in itself is not a virtue, even if procreation within marriage is. Mutuality and fidelity, as virtues, are at least recognizable as such, but are also shared by all good marriages, same- and mixed-sex. Arguing from universals that are not universal makes little sense: look instead for virtue where it actually exists.

The paper also includes this statement:
We also believe that imposing for essentially ideological reasons a new meaning on a term as familiar and fundamental as marriage would be deeply unwise.
Well, my position is that imposing for essentially ideological reasons an old meaning on a term as familiar and fundamental as marriage would be deeply unwise.

There is an old saying that one who marries the spirit of the age will soon be a widower. The fact that the Church of England was wed to the spirit of a past age, and is now a widower to it, is becoming apparent. Age is no certification of rightness or goodness. Theses must be tested by their consistency with reality, not on the basis of an ideology that can find no better argument than the continued hammering on the same self-ratifying premise.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
h/t Thinking Anglican


Ann said...

They are talking about body parts like they were pieces of a puzzle that only fit one way probably like missionaries!

JCF said...

The more dangerous, and heretical, trend of this argument lies in the suggestion that the sex difference implies a different order of being for men and women. This is known as sexism, and it undercuts the orthodox doctrine of the incarnation.

Amen! [It also explains the knots the Lord Bishops are tying themselves into, re ordaining bishops-who-happen-not-to-be-men]

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Ann. Giving moral values to anatomy should have gone out of fashion with the anti-left-handedness school of thought, or the notion that disability or birth defect was some kind of curse. Scratch the surface of this sort of "morality" and you will find depths of superstition and bigotry.

Indeed, JDF. This last gasp of sclerotic thinking does not do the C of E any good. It still amazes me the core doctrines that bigots are willing to discard or discount in "defense" of mixed-sex marriage. And the historical ignorance is breathtaking. Just more evidence that homophobia does as much harm to the bigot as to those against whom they direct their venom.

Drew Downs said...

Great piece!I'm passing it around!

John Sandeman said...


you can probably point me to some other place where you cover this question but do you believe that monogamy like fidelity and mutuality is a virtue that all good marraiges should share? I thought that monogamy in marriage was endorsed by motions at TEC's geneeral convention.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Indeed, I do, John. The TEC resolutions do make that point, and that is also my position. Here is a recent post on the subject, about which I also spend a bit of time in my book. My argument in brief is that true mutuality is best achieved in monogamy.

Brother David said...

John S, I find your question offensive. Why would you ask that? What has it to do with this topic? Is it not possible in your mind that GLBT folks value monogamy?

John Sandeman said...

Brother David,
I have been listening to a podcast of a panel of GLBT folks at the Sydney Writers Festival in which they say that precisely that monogamy is something they do NOT value. Fidelity yes, monogamy no in their view. They would like to see marriage abolished, or changed so there is no presumption of monogamy.
That is what made me ask the question. On the other hand there are clearly many gays who disagree with this panel. Some of them live in my street. I was not seeking to offend you - or Tobias. I trust there was no offensive tone in how I put the question, I am sorry if there was and am very happy to be corrected.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, John. I did not read any malice in your note. It is very true that a number of "secular gays" promote a much looser picture than most of us in the church are seeking to uphold -- much, I observe, as is the case with heterosexuals!. The position in TEC is clearly geared towards monogamy and fidelity. From my perspective, without that we are not talking about "marriage" but something else entirely.

IT said...

I agree with Tobias . A lot of straight people have "interesting" ideas about monogamy too. And there is a counter-cultural fringe of the LGBT community that considers marriage a patriarchal straight institution that they really have no interest in. Sadly they are the ones likely to get quoted or profiled--most of the rest of us are too busy leading real lives.

But I can assure John S that monogamy and fidelity are fundamental to this married lesbian's concept of marriage, and to that of the gay folk that I know.

Brother David said...

John, no, there was nothing malevolent in the form of the asking of the question, but to the sceptic in me there is a wolf-in-sheep's-clothing air about such questions when they come from conservatives. Especially in light of the company which you keep.

And I am grateful Father T that you did not jump to his aid immediately, as so many progressive folk are want to do, but let my post hang there until John answered it himself.

Brother David said...

BTW, I don't really understand John how these folk believe that one could have fidelity without monogamy. Fidelity to me encompasses monogamy as a aspect of it.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, IT. Even many "secular gays" (and lesbians) favor monogamy. I don't know of anyone in the church advocating for plural marriages; and if they do they are going against the main trend of marriage equality.

Well observed, Bro David, on both counts. To play devil's advocate, I think those who speak of "fidelity" in plural or open relationships mean not fidelity to each other, but fidelity to whatever the form of agreement is. Thus I've known of people who "agree" that extramarital "flings" are o.k. so long as the relationship between flinger and flingee is a casual, and not a person known to the other party. Again, this falls far below any concept of monogamy as far as I can see, but I can see how those who agree to such an arrangement can conceive that they are being "faithful" to that agreement.

John Sandeman said...

that is exactly the way the "secular" gays I was listening to ran. What was interesting was that the Lesbian speakers were more open to monogamy.
The gay male speakers felt that long term relationships were emotionally exclusive, but not sexually exclusive in the vast majority of cases. In other words it was an argument from experience rather than, say, theology or ethics.
To me the interesting question is whether the TEC or the "non-monogamy" view of gay marriage will be the dominant view in the future.

Brother David,
Your "wolf-in-sheep's-clothing air" I would think comes from sad experience. There is no doubt that (theological) conservatives have not engaged well on this issue. Please let me know if we are on a forum together in the future if I cross the line.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, John. My sense is that this range between absolute fidelity / monogamy and promiscuity / "open marriage" is largely a cultural phenomenon that cuts across all sexual orientations. In the swinging sixties and its aftermath there was considerable experimentation in the "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice" variety. Ironically, in the era before decriminalization, gays and lesbians were generally slotted into very strict and concealed monogamy or anonymous and equally furtive promiscuity; while heterosexuals were able to enjoy the full range rather openly. The "sexual revolution" actually opened to gay and lesbian people the same sort of middle ground *"open marriage") that heterosexuals had enjoyed for a decade or so.

My understanding from various surveys (taken cum grano salis, of course) is that there has been a general cultural return to more stability across the board, and also a reaffirmation of "waiting until marriage" and celibacy. At the same time, other surveys indicate lower ages for first sexual experience, and the crisis of teen pregnancy is still very much a reality.

All that being said, I think it is the church's task to promote the recognizable virtues of faithfulness, commitment, fidelity, love, and self-giving care that seem to me to be the values Jesus and Paul both stress as the form of righteousness.

MarkBrunson said...


I have seen Ugandans holding up signs saying to kill gays.

So . . . that's what you stand for, right?

Let's not confuse what a person said or does, or a part of a whole, for the lockstep view of the whole. We are not you, nor are we completely like you, but we are human and have hedonists and sex addicted types just like your kind do.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Mark, there is a sad tendency on both sides to "lump" people and to make unfounded assumptions about their points of view, even on unrelated matters. And it is not helpful when it comes from either side. My views are frequently misrepresented on "the other side" -- even by apparently well-meaning and intelligent folks such as Peter Carrell at Anglican Down Under.

That being said, I think the law of unintended consequences is something about which all should be aware -- and I do mean all. Caution and clarity -- and charity -- are vital when dealing with fraught issues.