In seeking to theologically reflect on this urgent pastoral challenge, I have sought to employ the three-stage method of theological reflections model as espoused by J.E. Whitehead. I have found this approach to theological reflection extremely helpful and practical in the manner in which it provides a framework of “conversation” in theological reflection.
I particularly like the conversation metaphor as the Conversation of our Life together, a conversation narrative.
The key strengths of this model for theological reflection come from the three conversation partners involved in this process.
In our Listening carefully and attentively, in our making assertions and moving towards a pastoral response to the challenge we are engaging in a conversation narrative that touches base with the three sources of our faith.
Allows us to befriend the tradition, listen to the experiences of both the individual and the community of faith and to make assertions that encompass and capture the various diverse voices and held in tension in the conversation with all its plurality.
It is within this process that the opportunities of transformation takes place when we hold the diverse voices together in a space of dialogue.
The aim here is to befriend the tradition, our religious heritage embracing both the sacred scripture and the long history of the Christian church with its multiple and changing interpretations of the Bible and of its own life.
In attending to the Christian understanding of marriage from a Classical, biblical and orthodox tradition, one can identify with a number of key features of a Christian marriage.
Jesus pointed to the foundation of marriage as being in God’s creation of humankind: male and female in his own image (Genesis 1:27, Matthew 19: 3-5). As part of God’s creation, marriage was provided then and now for mutual comfort, love and support. It also provides the fundamental basis for society and good order.
In the most basic sense of our being (ontology) a man and a woman provide the only complementary basis for a marriage. Simply put, a woman and a man are made to fit together, and by their union are bonded together and can receive the blessing of children from their mutual sexual love.
Marriage is a public acknowledgement of the love and commitment of a woman and a man to each other. Marriage involves a public ceremony. The couple’s mutual decision to marry each other leads to the two being joined together with and before God and witnessed by family and friends. There is a public acknowledgement of the relationship.
Marriage is meant to be a life-long union in covenant love. This life-long covenant is a gift from God, whose love is unending. God has eternally covenanted himself to the people called into a relationship with him, and married couples are called to model that love and life-giving forgiveness (Hosea, Ephesians 5)
Marriage is monogamous. Sexual love in marriage is a glorious and holy gift. It is not meant to be devalued by casualness before a marriage, or adultery after the bonds are created. Sexual love strengthens and unites the covenant union of the couple as they express the full complementary of their man-woman relationship (Genesis 2:23-25, 1 Corinthians 7: 3-5)
Marriage involves an openness to children. Children are a blessing from God, and families provide the basis of our society. As God provides for his children, parents provide for their children and should model the strength, love, generosity and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:9-12). Marriage enables children to live and grow up together with their mother and father in a secure covenant family.
In all, the marriage of a man and a woman, together with the family it enables a holy expression of the image and glory of God. In the marriage of a man and a woman the Old Testament sees a reflection to the covenant relationship between God and his people, and the New Testament sees the splendour of the union of Christ and his church.
In any conversation on life together, we must also attend to human experience both individual and also the collective experience of the community. In this way we open ourselves to recognize different diverse voices in this conversation as they provide us with different vantage points for consideration.
The Proponents and supporters of Same Sex Marriage have argued that if we consider the Bible in our decision making and accept the authority of the Bible, we must also consider not only the traditions of the church, but people’s experience, and insights from contemporary knowledge.
The Tradition tells us that historically, Christians believe that human beings are created in the image of God who is three persons in open, joyful interaction. As bearers of God’s image, human beings are inherently deserving of dignity and respect. The image of God that is reflected in human life, the form of life that corresponds to God, is the human community. Humans, made in God’s image, are inherently relational, finding life and sustenance in relationship and community. Being called into community with the whole humankind as we are, when one person is diminished, we are all diminished.
However, it is a common experience for same sex couples to experience exclusion within the life of the church. There are many committed Christians living within a loving, respectful and committed same sex relationship who have often been victimized, abused, and ridiculed from homophobic attitudes, that seeks to condemn and judge rather than offer grace and compassion. Many of these couples have suffered and continue to suffer silently within the church walls.
There is clearly a need to attend and to listen to those faith communities who actively include Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Tran-sexual people in their ministry and mission and in our attending we may need to ask different questions, like: What might God be teaching us through contemporary insights, especially the medical and scientific knowledge of sexual orientation as a deep seated and unchosen part of a person?
As we attend to other voices of experience on this issue it is evident that Lesbian or gay relationships can be long-term committed, faithful and loving, as much as heterosexual relationships. The celebration of
these relationships contribute to the wellbeing of individuals, their families, friends and the community, for same sex couples as it does for heterosexual couples. It is also clear that not everyone wants marriage, but it should be available to those who do and by disallowing marriage is to continue to discriminate. Indeed, for some to not celebrate the relationship may even be resisting the Spirit. In our attempt to deprive same-sex couples of the discipline of marriage, the danger of refusing to celebrate love is real.
In attending to the other voices in this dialogue, I personally attended the Metropolitan Community Church (a gay, lesbian and trans-sexual Christian fellowship here in Brisbane) with the hope to be present to the experiences of others. I attended and listened attentively to the faith stories and the stories of its members and I was extremely enriched by the experience to sit together and to simply listen to the stories of the struggles and the joys of loving relationships. I was very grateful to their hospitality and generosity of heart to share their stories with me.
Another dimension we need to consider is the social effects of exclusion.
When we attend to youth in secondary schools who are attracted to others of the same sex, 46% have been verbally abused, and 13% physically abused. (Hillier, et al, Writing Themselves In: A National Report on the Sexuality, Health and Well-Being of Same-Sex Attracted Young People.
Ministries to the homeless report that a large number of young men living on the streets are gay, having been thrown out of home with nowhere else to go. Other studies show a high rate of suicide among young gay
males particularly in country areas. In fact, every lesbian or gay person, of any age, has a story to tell. It’s not fun to live in fear of losing the love of family and church community and even to be told that God hates you.
In light of these human experiences, it is not good enough to simply take hold of the Old and New Testaments as tools used as ‘evidence’ that homosexuality is a sin. For the same passage which could be used to identify gays as sinners also support slavery and inequality for women.
On homosexuality itself, Jesus was silent on the subject. He took issue mostly with Pharisees, those who imposed the law regardless of its effect on people. He befriended the outcast.
Studies show that social rejection and discrimination increase the risk of self-hatred, depression, drug and alcohol misuse, risky social and sexual behaviour and suicide.
In an unimaginably complex & multi-textured creation, is our human emotional identity black and white?
Some use ‘Family Values’ as shorthand for anti-gay sentiments. What about ‘Valuing Families’? Is it not more Christ-like to value people and families rather than valuing ‘values’? What family does not have some immediate or extended family member, friend or workmate who is lesbian or gay? Pressure to reject a daughter or son has devastating effects on the family.
The third partner in this conversation is the social milieu in which we live and share our attitudes, values and biases.
The current conversation on Marriage comes from the context of the current public discourse and ongoing critical debate on issues related to the definition of Marriage at Law. The current climate is one of uncertainty both within and beyond the church as the debate continues on issues relating to sexuality, including how the church might pastorally respond to recognition of same- sex relationships.
We must acknowledge that we inhabit a very difficult and an uncomfortable space, a grey area in which we are all involved in the discerning process of God’s will in regard to a range of issues relation to sexuality. In light of this situation, we must acknowledge the given reality that this is our struggle and not only ours but along with the wider Australian Society. We all share in this struggle together as a church.
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