Marriage Manifestos

August 25, 2017

Luther, Martin

Suddenly this week it has become ‘public manifesto week’ for christian leaders, large high profile churches and organisations. As the plebiscite on the legalisation of same sex marriage looms, and debate rages, we have seen a spate of ‘official position’ releases.
Brian Houston, Dale Stephenson, Simon Holt, Baptist Union of NSW-ACT, St Hilary’s Network, to name only a few. Some individual pastors of less high profile congregations have taken up this task in the absence of a denominational statement.
Even where public manifestos have been delivered, there have been cries from the trenches for even more specific directives. Can we believe Brian Houston didn’t communicate a ‘No’ preference strongly enough? – and yet I have seen this complaint – even of him!
This rash of manifesto statements indicates a thirst among parts of the Christian community for deliberative public declarations. Declarations,
not that Jesus is the Risen Lord of the cosmos,
nor that God’s reconciling work through the cross demolishes all claims to dividing walls constraining ethnicity, gender, class – even death its very self
nor that God’s call to humans is to love the creator and sustainer source of the cosmos with our whole being – heart mind body soul – making it impossible to restrain our love for any of God’s creation – neighbour or enemy.
No – the thirst for public manifesto declarations is for moral judgements on behaviour, for proclaiming cultural norms, for setting boundaries on the scope of human experience that will be tolerated by christian communities.
What does this tell us, coming as thickly from protestant camps, 500 years into a reformation which blew the lid off a christendom culture of making our work, our practice, our claims to morality and righteousness criteria for our relationship with God – instead reforming our faith to be utterly christo-centric, christ initiated, christ dependent.
And let’s remember – and perhaps especially those of you who are married, sexually-active clergy, remember this thankfullly – that we are 500 years on from a reformation that smashed a key sexual cultural norm – and removed the requirement of celibacy for ministering persons.
THAT was a redefining marriage moment for the christian faith, as married domestic sexual intimate procreative life was affirmed as congruent with the vocation of ministry. In the previous 1000 years, departing from New Testament norms (a bishop being the husband of one wife) marriage had come to be regarded as a hindrance to fulfilling a serving vocation in the church. The radical exclusion of sexually intimate partnering seemed to be a more ideal context for cultivating the life of purity.
For some this celibacy may have been wonderful gift of freedom. Our sense though, from the many cases of moral failure, by the celibate priesthood, this ‘gift’ was a burden that bent many out of shape.
We best think carefully as protestant christians about this redefinition of marriage, and the valuing of sexual identity as undetachable from human vocation, lest we bend a different group out of shape with denial.
The radical change in the emerging reformation movement valued the domestic life of the minister, and, let’s be honest, functioning participative sexual life of the minister. Because reformed faith affirms that communities of faith are made of sexual humans, and are best led by the spirit of God who made sexual humanity. Not by a de-sexualised class of priests.
The outcome of the plebiscite is unlikely to change very much very quickly, especially in conservative christian communities, which routinely, inattentively exclude persons of LGBTIQ identity. Regardless of the outcome legally, most christian communities who want to will practice the easy subliminal discrimination that currently exists, as well as the more overt forms. The plebiscite may lead to a change in the legal status of some gay relationships. It will not change the practices of communities that still wish to exclude from ministry or fellowship.
Still, christian communities will now need to live under the manifesto banners that they have hoisted up in this frenzied, pressured time. I wonder if they will seem so wise in 5 years – when the pastor’s daughter comes to lunch with her girlfriend; when the chairperson of elders leaves his 30 year marriage and comes out; when the best and brightest of your young adults, heading for bible college and ordination suicides, unable to face the interrogations of his sexuality…
I ask myself why it is so important to have public statements on THIS one particular issue. Why must this one consume our passion and identity as a community? Gluttons, the perpetually angry, investors in weapons and war-making business, exploiters of cheap overseas labour, tax dodgers – all of these sinners are readily welcomed in our faith community midst.
What is at stake for us?
forget the slippery slope – no one is going to choose to be gay who isn’t already just because they now might be able to get married.
forget the freedom of religion – marriage as we know it is a state matter, not a religious one. You can create whatever religious solemnisations alongside a state legal marriage.
forget the LGBTIQ ‘Agenda’ – the biological reality is that homosexual orientation has always represented a relatively small percentage of the population. More people don’t become gay through an extension of marriage. More people who have been shamed into hiding their gay identity, may perhaps be released to own their identity safely and unapologetically – though I fear that kind of cultural change will be slow, and there are still many hard times ahead for LBGTIQ people.
forget the ‘redefinition’ of ‘traditional’ marriage.
there was no federal marriage law until 1961 in Australia. Until 1942 the legal minimum age for marriage was 12 for girls and 14 for boys – hardly marriage between a ‘man’ and a ‘woman’ – and it was Tasmania that first raised it by two years, other states following in the subsequent decade. Our definition of marriage has shifted culturally, with sociological changes, and will continue to do so. It is the role of the law to keep up with protecting its citizens, not dehumanising them.
so – what is at stake? for you and me personally. For the actual community that I am a part of – not some imaginary hypothetical church, but the named known straight, single, married, gay, trans, intersex, divorced, fertile, infertile, childless by choice, disabled, unstable, homeless, cashed up-propertied, mad, educated, immigrant, stateless, temporary visa-ed, young, growing, developmentally delayed, old, declining collection of humans I live life with under the banner of reconciling, love-that-is-death-defying, grace?
what is at stake for us?
What is at stake as we gather to seek to live lives that honestly address our whole being before God – simul iustus et peccator;
All of the manifesto statements seem unhelpful to me. Even those which begin with affirmations of homosexual identity, restate the exclusive attestation of marriage between man and woman as the only context for sexual expression.
Dare I have a manifesto for even myself? I dare not speak for others. But surely, she of such passionate convictions must have some stand to take. Alright then. Manifesto for me.
here I stand, saint and sinner both.
here I stand, struggling lover of both this holy gracious God, and this broken human man.
here I stand with every person ever, with human Jesus drawing in the dust on one side and holy holders of Law with ready rocks in their hands on the other.
here I stand made in the image of God and bent out of shape by culture, abuse, my own choices.
here I stand legally claimless, but claimed by grace.

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