Saturday, June 25, 2011

Redefinition is the Church's Business

Equal Marriage in New York
Some thoughts from the Rector

It will come as no surprise that I am thrilled by last night's vote and the swift action of the governor to sign the Equal Marriage Act. As a native New Yorker who is gay, this is beyond anything I thought I would ever see in my lifetime. To think that in 30 days John and I will be without a doubt legally married in this state (having been married last year in Canada) is indescribable. I keep remembering being a teenager endlessly wrestling about my sense of self in despair. To think we are closer to a day when that will no longer have to happen (at least no more than it does for any teenager) takes my breath away.

I am struck by the loud cries over the past few days and weeks about the state "redefining" marriage, this, of course, largely from religious leaders. A statement from the Roman Catholic bishops in New York last night decried that the state government had changed “radically and forever humanity’s historic understanding of marriage.” That is, frankly, just so much rhetoric. The "understanding" of marriage has been evolving from the beginning, the chief record of which is the Bible itself. Search for a single "definition" of marriage in the biblical record and you will search in vain. You will find various understandings at various times and in various cultural settings, including Jesus' own. The church has even chosen over time not to follow Jesus' understanding, allowing for divorce (or that Roman Catholic divorce-by-another-name, annulment) in virtually every circumstance. One could argue that allowing for divorce changed the "understanding" or "definition" of marriage far more than allowing the partners to be of the same gender.

The church's job, in "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit," is constantly to be the agent of the new thing the prophets taught us God is always doing. That means "redefinition" is in our portfolio. It's the business we are in.

What does this new thing mean for us at Two Saints? That somewhat remains to be seen. I have no desire as a clergyperson to exercise the exemption the new law grants me (an exemption I had no need of to begin with since I have never had to marry anyone I didn't want to), and my assumption is that this parish joins me in that sentiment (we will have a conversation about this at our next Vestry meeting). The religious examptions, are, in my opinion, an evangelical disaster. Christians yet again appear to be enshrining their prejudices into law.

I will certainly be urging our Bishop to exercise the right given him by the last General Convention to provide a "generous pastoral response" in regards to the marriage of same-sex couples where it is legal. This fairly vague language has been interpreted in several different ways in the different dioceses in the jurisdictions that have equal marriage. It is a difficult issue because the Book of Common Prayer and our Canons both currently speak of marriage in exclusively heterosexual terms, and changing that as an entire church has very dim short-term prospects. Hopefully the Task Force Bishop Singh is appointing will work quickly and the Bishop put out guidelines as soon as possible.

I am reminded of something the then Lutheran Bishop of the Washington Metro Area said to our Diocesan Convention in Washington many years ago. "Progressives in the Church need to remember that God never changes; traditionalists need to remember that God is always doing a new thing." I think this paradox is true today. In terms of marriage, it has, in fact, not changed, and we have, in fact, done a new thing.



BRAVO!!! You have -- as usual -- totally nailed it.

Muthah+ said...

Great comments, Michael. I would like to borrow it for my blog, if I may? I rejoice with you and John and with all the LGBTQ folk in NY who have longed for this day. NOW you gotta start doing something for us down here in TX.Get out your boots! 8>)

David@Montreal said...

Bravo indeed Michael.

Your third paragraph goes to the heart of the matter, methinks: too often the 'vested interests of official Christendom' forget who and what the living Body of Christ is all about.

Michael, I'm honoured to know you and John were among the many Americans who have taken my country's invitation to be married here. But can we please have a full report with photos of the great jubilation when the two of you claim the blessing on American soil?

Thank-you again Michael