I’m someone who likes to thrash ideas out in a conversation. It’s in the cut and thrust of a good challenging discussion that I best formulate ideas and opinions. I like to test aloud how something sounds, hold an idea in the midst of the debate and examine it from many angles. The writer of Proverbs says, as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
So, blogging can be an unusual way to express opinions for folks like me. Yes, sometimes it can lead to a good conversation in the comments section, but often it hangs in the ether, like a written statement, instead of an invitation to conversation.
With those thoughts in mind, I want to share some of my thinking around the current debate regarding marriage for same-sex couples, and how the church could respond.
My first comment is that I don’t think it is the role of the state to dictate to communities of faith the meaning of a sacrament. We would be rightfully outraged if the government sought to dictate to the Church how we were to baptise, or conduct communion, or who we were to include in those sacraments. It is simply pushing beyond the boundary of reasonable government interest. It is for communities of faith alone to decide how best to conduct the sacraments they offer, and to whom they may be offered. Any changes must surely come as a result of a process of theological reflection, pastoral insight and long discussion.
My second comment is that perhaps we need to find a new language, and that here is an opportunity to for the church to become a distinctive voice. Perhaps we need to talk about civil marriage and (for want of a better name for now, please suggest one) sacred marriage. The former would be a contractual agreement, based on love and commitment, for sure, but done by and on behalf of the state. The latter would be the lifelong commitment to exclusive partnership and shared love and commitment, done within the context of an act of worship, and actively seeking the involvement and blessing of God.
I think, as a pure mater of justice, that if the state is to offer civil marriages, then it ought to offer them to same-sex couples, anything else would be unjust.
Faith communities ought to be free to decide for themselves within their own structures who they would offer marriage services for.
So, as much as I dislike some of the commentary around the Coalition for Marriage petition, and certainly agreeing with UKIP and the Sun leaves a bad taste in my mouth (go ahead, call me a liberal lefty), I think we ought to speak against the government’s current suggested ideas of redefining, and perhaps push towards something far more radical, a clear distinction between the sacrament offered by communities of faith, with all the privileges it brings, and the contract provided by the state, with all of its rights.
It’s a bit messy, but it might be a lot more honest.