Sexuality and Marriage –
Discussion Starter for the Lenten series at St Mary’s, Busselton
I am not sure whether I have drawn the short straw in getting this topic. Whatever I say will be wrong!
There are two questions to ask about sexuality:
· What are the boundaries?
· What is the most life-giving expression of sexuality?
Some of the boundaries are prescribed in our Book of Common Prayer. A man may not marry his mother. A man may not marry his sister. These taboos also help with the question about being life-giving: It is not life-giving to have sexual relations with mother or sister or daughter.
We all struggle with questions of what life-giving expressions of sexuality might be. What is life-giving sexuality for someone who is widowed? I include chosen celibacy among those life-giving options, but I know older Christians who find themselves single give other answers to that question.
What is life-giving sexuality for a young person? It’s too easy to answer that question in general terms, but when the question comes to us as giving support or advice to a grand-child or nephew, it’s very different. Not only do most of us wrestle with the question of our young loved ones who choose to live together before marriage, but many of us have young relatives who want to set up house (or at least a relationship) with someone of the same sex. What is life-giving for that young one? The one you know and love and want the best for. Where are the boundaries for that person?
When I was ordained priest in 1975 and started marrying people (as you do), I discovered a secret. Over half of the couples I was marrying lived at the same address. Other couples asked in front of me, “What address do we put?” I had been brought up to believe that living together before marriage constituted living in sin. Yet all these co-habiting couples were being married and no-one was complaining or raising moral objections.
Over the last fifty years we have lived through an enormous change in marriage due to the invention of the pill and the sexual revolution of the sixties. At the end of World War II, most couples subscribed to the idea that living together before marriage was wrong. Now in 2012, a completely different ethic is argued. Young people today believe marriage is an important, even sacred, commitment; a commitment to one person for life. This commitment is so important that it can be made only after a period of living together.
Many Christians, myself included, now accept this ethical view as a way of Christian marriage. The boundaries have changed – or at least, the goal-posts have moved, which may not be exactly the same thing. But it does mean that if I am asked if it is life-giving for a young relative who wants to move in with some else before marriage to do so, I am now almost certain to agree.
The other change that started probably in the sixties was the acceptance of different sexualities. At first, homosexuality was seen as a mental illness and was included in the Diagnostic Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. Treating homosexuality as an illness proved not to work. It was removed from the Manual in 1974. Nowadays psychiatrists see homosexuality as a normal minority variant of being a human, like left-handedness or blue eyes.
Removing this particular stigma from homosexuality has helped to reduce some of the violence against people of different sexualities, but there is still a long way to go. What is life-giving, and the Church should be providing vigorously, is a loud voice against the persecution of homosexuals, bi-sexuals, transsexuals and other people different only because of their genetic make-up. I think it’s important for the Church to add its voice to campaigns like ‘It Gets Better’ and “This Is Oz”. Search for them on the internet. Violence, especially violence against the vulnerable, is out.
But should the church also change its view on homosexual practice? At their Lambeth Conference in 1998, the bishops of the Anglican Communion said that sex takes place only in marriage, and therefore homosexual people, like every other unmarried person, must be celibate outside of marriage. I think the Church has changed its mind about sex taking place only in marriage – at least, when it is thinking about a male and a female. But doesn’t it also follow that same-sex couples should be allowed to live together and express their sexuality?
This is a dividing line in the Anglican Church today. Where do you draw the boundaries? What is most life-giving for real couples? I suspect there are different opinions here at St Mary’s: some of us believe that sex can take place only in a marriage and then between and man and a woman; some of us believe that marriage need be between two people and they could be of the same sex. I would imagine that some of us hold to the line that True Love Waits, as Buddy Holly sang, while some would say that it is ethically better for young people to co-habit first.
What keeps us in the same Church is that we recognise firstly that people have different views about these things – Wayne and I disagree on gay marriage, for example — and secondly that we are mature enough to respect the different views of others. More than respect: we challenge each other to show that what we believe is based on what is life-giving, and where the boundaries are.
I would send us all back to Genesis Chapter 2, where Adam seeks for a partner with whom he can be intimate; and to Galatians 3:28 where St Paul proclaims that in Christ there is neither male nor female. These passages can’t easily be used as proof-texts of any particular position, but they are each springboards which can help us think through these vitally important issues.
26 February 2012