Marriage redefined?

There are headlines today, even in such august magazines as The Living Church, that say that the Episcopal Church’s “Bishops Redefine Marriage.” Understood as a headline, that is probably the best way to say what happened yesterday. But details matter, and they matter here. It is probably more accurate to say that the bishops redefined marriage insofar as the constitutional process of this church allowed them to at this time...

Jordan Hylden on Covenant. June 30, 2015

1 thought on “Marriage redefined?”

  1. Marriage redefined? Mainly, a controversial anthropology reapplied to it.

    Villagers who follow TEC here have already seen my comments on the report of the Task Force for the Study of Marriage. Unlike other recent reports on human sexuality, such as the Church of Scotland report and the Pilling Report, this one is the work of a committee with a strong consensus marching straight to its conclusions. In deciding to ordain trans-gendered persons, TEC had already affirmed that a human person is not defined in this aeon by his or her apparent sex. On that premise, the Task Force had no obstacle to constructing a biblical rationale for marriage as a dyadic relation of two hearts that is similar to Christ’s relation to the Church. Given the anthropology, same-sex marriage follows.

    Thus far, ‘conserving’ evangelicals have had the most to say about the Six Texts and at least the appearance of rejecting their authority as scripture. But scripture interprets scripture, and if this new anthropology were shown to have some reasonable ground in the Bible, then we would be faced with a different debate in which a hermeneutic that evangelicals like has to be brought to terms with an anthropology that liberals like. That would inevitably be a chiastic discussion in which evangelicals spelled out their anthropology and liberals their hermeneutic.

    The liberal hermeneutic might possibly be that Jesus teaches that there is no sexuality in the world to come, that early apostolic teaching in the canon recognised the equality of women because of this, and that later teaching in the canon exemplifies the right application of this eternal reality to the social conditions of the late C1. In that view, the most determinate scriptures show us the Holy Spirit rightly guiding the Church in the local and contextual application of the revealed truth. This is not a view that reads canons off the top of the text, but neither is it quite driving over all scriptural stop signs. Nevertheless, one can imagine a whole spectrum of evangelical responses to this.

    It is less obvious what evangelical anthropology might account for the thought that the apparent sex of every person assigns a lifelong identity and duty, even if that identity does not make sense to its bearer. Over against a certain American gnosticism of the indeterminate and sovereign self, one presumably wants to affirm that the Father who knows every hair on our heads has in some strong sense created individuals and that their fullest being is in living as he intended them. In another context, Oliver O’Donovan has recently reminded us that the reformers taught not only about justification and sanctification, but also about vocation. What evangelical has never prayed for God to show him his life’s purpose? But such a belief in God-created individuality seems to require a positive evaluation of the experiences of feeling half-alive, being radically unmotivated in one’s apparent life tasks, and living on the margins of social worlds naturally preoccupied with the cycle of generations. To evangelicals with a rich theologies of assurance and calling that work so well and explain so much, these experiences can seem to be negligible anomalies of a fallen creation that occasion no fundamental rethinking, just compassion for those who suffer them. To liberals, who seem to have a far lighter sense of God’s determination of the self, these experiences and the shadow society they inspire exemplify the necessity of affirming that self-determination includes sexuality and that the Church supports it in Christians.

    TEC’s General Convention has further clarified its position. Next year, the Fourth Council of Constantinople, the first considered ecumenical by most Orthodox since 787, will take up human sexuality as Topic 2.

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