Now Ekklesia attack Christian Marriage

You all know Ekklesia don’t you? The so called “Christian Think Tank” which is simply a front for Jonathan Bartley’s liberal musings. One Bishop once told me that a general guide to orthodoxy is “whatever Ekklesia opposes”. And today’s news item from them is no exception. No, I’m not talking about the ludicrous reporting of a Rowntree Foundation poll where,  in Ekklesia’s ongoing campaign to remove any influence the Church might have in helping to frame the legal framework of this country, over 60% of the population have been categorised as “Christian”. If 60% of the population were really Christian (knowing, loving, serving and offering themselves as a living sacrifice to the Lord Jesus Christ rather than “I went to church once, that makes me a Christian right?”) then I think the country might be in a slightly different place then it is today.

But enough of that. What we’re talking about today is Ekklesia now wanting to get rid of Christian marriage as part of their relentless campaign to permit civil partnerships to be performed in religious premises. To argue this corner JB has wheeled on Kevin Scully, the Rector of St Matthew’s Bethnal Green (an “Inclusive” Church no less) to set-up and then knock down a series of straw men and paper innacuracies.

Where shall we start? How about here?

How did we get to the state we’re in? The first response is easy: we confuse the social with theological and then pretend we are being ‘pastoral’, using the bald tyre of ‘meeting people where they are’. We aspire to doing good instead of admitting that we are continuing what was always a cashing in on the sub-legal and cultural aspects of times past. We further disorient ourselves in that by doing this we are somehow traditional and worthy.

Attempts to keep a toe in the water by the General Synod of the Church of England are often portrayed as keeping the church in touch with people’s needs. To see the full horror of this, go to the church’s own official website. Its opening on marriage in the Life Events section should sound alarm bells for parish clergy:

‘Congratulations! You’re welcome to marry in church whatever your beliefs, whether or not you are baptised and whether or not you go to church. And, marrying in church has never been easier thanks to a change in the law which means you now have more churches to choose from.’

Kevin makes it sound as though getting married in church is like jumping on an automated conveyor belt – book the date, get the dress, turn up on time and job’s a good ‘un. Of course the reality if a church wedding is done properly is remarkably different. If, for example, you’re lucky enough to get me to marry you (and some folks really are that fortunate) we’ll meet up several times to discuss a number of things. More on that later.

To be fair, Kevin does have a go at those clergy who do run their weddings like conveyor belts – “That is only overshadowed by the number of parish clergy who seem content with not offering any preparation before taking the cash, having the joyful event recorded in their registers and never seeing the couple again.” – but then that’s an argument against poor preparation, not against getting married in church.

Let’s move on shall we?

The most recent changes allowing Qualifying Connections for marriage services in church are frankly ridiculous. There may still be pockets of England where someone will recall whether the grandparents or parents of one of the couple seeking to marry in a church were active worshippers, but they are far from the norm. It would seem from my parochial experience it is now a softer, and arguably more honest, way of the old pretence that one of the couple still resides at their parents’ house. Why bother to qualify at all? Why not just have a set price for all this? Let people get married where they want, if the clergy will officiate. That is the veiled truth in some parts of the country.

After all, what the church wants is cash. That is the only justification for the calling of banns. Any pretence otherwise should be dismissed. Does anybody really believe anyone inside the gathered worshipping congregation knows the relationship history behind the names being called on three consecutive Sundays? Who keeps the precious pieces of paper that are produced anyway?

Well, I for one. The truth on the ground is that even with the changes in the rules for when Banns can be read, my church at least is pretty strict on who can and can’t get married. Last year I did the wedding for a couple from the neighbouring town where the (now) wife grew up at the Church School and her Gran was once a regular member of our congregation. Tick. At the same time, I had a phone call from a couple who, having booked their wedding reception round the corner, wanted to get married at Christ Church. Thank you for playing, but I don’t think so.

It’s all about having the cure of souls isn’t it? By applying the rules correctly (rather than just waving them to raise an extra £500 or so) it means that we do 6 or so weddings a year, and those weddings are personal because I’ve had time to get to know the couple properly.

There are also the complications of foreign nationals wanting to wed in church. This is confused by contradictory advice. Good practice in the London diocese has been to ask those involved to sort out their matters with the Home Office. But the loophole in the law which allows church weddings to take place without such bureaucracy is well known. It is up to individual clergy to rule on the matter. That regular churchgoers get preferential treatment is probably the worst solution.

But once again this is an argument against poor clergy practice, not against marriage in church. I’ve done two weddings with foreign nationals in the past few years, and in both cases we followed diocesan guidelines exactly. Visits to Diocesan Registrars or Bishop’s Surrogates meant that there was full accountability in the process of discerning whether the marriage was real. For one couple, the whole thing could have been done in 15 days, but because of complications the process lasted over half a year and involved a coming back to faith for one of the spouses who is now a regular worshipper at our church. When you take the cure of souls seriously it doesn’t mean that you take advantage of loopholes to fill the coffers – it means that you offer (the sacrament of?) Christian Marriage as a profound spiritual moment in two peoples’ lives.

Which brings me to another of Kevin’s straw men…

This also glosses over an even a bigger problem. The church really has no worked out theology on the marriage event. From our source book, admittedly from someone who does not consider himself a Biblical scholar, the ‘solemnisation’ of such a rite is untenable: penile penetration of a virgin female (no such requirement on the masculine of the species) seems to be the only marking of marriage. The celebrations before the initial sex act (if one looks at the Ian McEwan’s wonderful novella On Chesil Beach, we get a particularly useful English angle on this) are thus more than religious and bacchanalian prurience.

By golly, has Kevin not read the preface to the Marriage service in the BCP? How can he make such an ignorant statement? Is it because he prefers to refer to Ian McEwan rather than the Word of God for his textual authority? The reality is that in the Church of England we have a very clear and coherent doctrine of marriage, and I suspect that Kelly’s objection is not so much that we don’t a theology of marriage, but that he just doesn’t agree with what it is.

If people want a religious aspect to their partnership the church can respond to them … even people of the same sex.

Yup, thought as much.

I don’t know about Bethnal Green, but here at Christ Church we take our prospective couples through the marriage service nice and early in order to have a discussion about what they think is going on and what we believe is going on. Result? Most couples getting married here recognise that to stand in front of God and say their vows and have their marriage declared valid and legal by a Priest is a qualitatively different thing to walking into a registry office. And the results of doing the theology are remarkable. One couple decided on reflection it would be better not to get married in church since they didn’t believe a word of it. Another couple (the wife leading) decided to use the “love, honour and obey” vows since they really gelled with the Christ/Church = Husband/Wife picture used by Scripture. They got the theology and it was fantastic seeing them realise and celebrate that their wedding was more than just about them.

The whole point of getting married in church is to celebrate what God has done, not just in the couple but in Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension. The fact that Kevin can’t see that (or JB either, seeing as he let the article go up on Ekklesia), let alone teach it, support it and promote it is the real scandal here. How Ekklesia can get away with calling themselves a “Christian Think Tank” when they can’t see what’s plain for all to read in the liturgy of the Church is beyond belief.

Kevin Scully’s article is less a reasoned case against Christian Marriage and more a list of nit-picking critiques of legal loop-holes and poor clergy practice. The trajectory of his rant is clear – this piece has little to do with exploring the necessity or otherwise of Christian Marriage and far much more to do with liberalising the law in the area of where Civil Partnerships can be celebrated. If it were not so then he would have come up with a list of suggestions as to how to help clergy provide the best kind of pastoral care, guidance and education around a church marriage, rather than simply use the worst case examples to push forward a liberal revisionist agenda.

But then that’s Ekklesia for you isn’t it? Think Tank? No.

Thanks (for nothing) Kevin.

26 Comments on “Now Ekklesia attack Christian Marriage

  1. Peter

    I totally agree! I went back to the Ecclesia article just to see if there was any more and there isn't. Mind you I couldn't believe the quote from the CofE website. Is that really the state of the CofE, that you can believe whatever you want and still get married in church.

    But the statement that the church 'has no worked out theology on the marriage event' really is beyond belief. Even I, a non-ordained, non-Anglican Christian, know that there is an Order of Service for Marriage in the BCP.

    Its not surprising when you find such basic ignorance about the Christian faith in other blogs such as Guardian CiF. After all, most people in the UK have hardly any exposure to orthodox Christianity these days. But it really is a bit much when a rector can't recognise a theology of marriage when its staring him in the face. And Ecclesia calls itself a 'Christian think-tank'? Pathetic!

    • Do you really think the BCP Preface gives the current theology of marriage in the C of E? I agree that we certainly DO have a theology of marriage, but it is rather more developed than the BCP preface (fortunately). In particular the current service book states that:

      Marriage is a gift of God in creation
      through which husband and wife may know the grace of God.
      It is given
      that as man and woman grow together in love and trust,
      they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind,
      as Christ is united with his bride, the Church.

      The gift of marriage brings husband and wife together
      in the delight and tenderness of sexual union
      and joyful commitment to the end of their lives.
      It is given as the foundation of family life
      in which children are [born and] nurtured
      and in which each member of the family,in good times and in bad,
      may find strength, companionship and comfort,
      and grow to maturity in love.

  2. Whenever I have read Ekklesia, I think with friends like these, who needs enemies. It likes to be sniffy in so far as it declares itself 'transformational' rather than liberal. This is undoubtedly true as it appears to see its mission as to transform orthodox christian belief into accommodating fashionable secular values with a bit of God thrown in. It is just really a liberal Christian blog and quite an extreme one at that.

  3. "After all, what the church wants is cash. That is the only justification for the calling of banns." So what about those parts of the church that do not erequire the reading of banns (and therefore do not charge for the service), or those who waive the payment of either the charge for their reading of the banns or even the cost of the wedding ceremony itself?

    Does Bartley really think he knows anything about the church!!

  4. Now the 'theology' here can be put in a nutshell: God is love, and where true love is God is present. But here is the unfortunate fact for those who are wedded to marriage as the only possible 'full' expression of God's love in humna relationships: true love is present in relationships outside of marriage. How do we know? Because we experience it. In the same way that we (sometimes) experience a lack of true love within the marriage relationship.

    As to Ekklesia and 'orthodoxy', strange to say, one Bishop once told me that a general guide to orthodoxy and Anglicanism is “whatever Anglcan Mainstream opposes”. So I guess your comments about Ekklesia work both ways.

      • Issues in Human Sexuality made it clear that, while the same standards apply to all, the Church did not want to exclude from its fellowship those lay people of gay or lesbian orientation who, in conscience, were unable to accept that a life of sexual abstinence was required of them and instead chose to enter into a faithful, committed relationship. ‘The House considers that lay people who have registered civil partnerships ought not to be asked to give assurances about the nature of their relationship before being admitted to baptism, confirmation and communion.’
        Please point me to the equivalent statement about incestuous relationships Peter.

        • I don't think that's a line of argument you want to take. The same document you appeal to makes it very clear that though lay couples may choose to enter a relationship, that relationship in the eyes of the church is not moral. The more recent "Some Issues…" makes the point even clearer.

          You really must decide what line of argument you want to use on this. If you are arguing that things are ethical if they are a demonstration of love, then the fact that someone is or isn't arguing in favour of a particular relationship has nothing to do with whether that relationship is moral. For example, if you take the "God is Love" line, then the fact that not many people are arguing in favour of incestuous relationships being moral has nothing to do with their actual ethical status. If you want to suggest that since no-one is proposing that incestuous loving relationships should be accepted, QED they are immoral, then the logical conclusion is that you believe that all gay relationships before a certain date where there was a critical mass in the church expressing favour for them were immoral.

          If on the other hand you are arguing that when enough people support an action it necessarily becomes moral, then I refer you to the persecution of Jews in Germany in the late 30s, supported by a majority of the population, or perhaps C17 North American and slavery. The presence of a majority (or significant minority) in favour of an action does not make it moral.

          So really, we're left where we started. If I present to you an incestuous couple who are "permanent, stable, faithful", what line of ethical reasoning are you going to use to argue that such a relationship isn't (or is) moral. At the moment you have a very shaky foundation of "God is love…" which seems to be terminating at the "No-one's arguing for it, therefore it can't be moral" station. I think that's a very dangerous place to be finishing your case.

          • Peter the C of E is not at all clear about the immorality of same sex relationships. if it were we would not have bishops, priests, deacons and lay people in faithful stable same sex partnerships. We do. It is well known that 'Issues…' and 'Some issues…' lack integrity in this respect, as do other 'official' pronouncements. It is also possible for the Church to change its mind. After all, God changed his mind on a number of recorded occasions.

            I don't have any interest in discussing incest for the simple reason that it does not serve the widest interests of human society. But you seem to be a bit hung up on it, so I will put to you two questions.
            1. If a brother and sister had been separated very early in life, for whatever reason, but in later life sought to be married, and indeed were married as nobody (not even themselves) actually knew that they were blood relatives, would it be immoral? If so, where would the immorality lie?
            2. Genesis is unclear about the procreation of the first people, but clearly implies that Adam and Eve multiplied etc etc. For that multiplication to happen there must have been incestuous relationships early on in the chain. Were those relationships immoral?

            • Andrew,

              You're simply not engaging with my comments. The whole thrust of what I have been challenging you on has been whether the argumentation you have used to support same-sex relationships could also be used to support incest. Your response is to ignore the holes in your logic and instead to shift the argument away to other nit-picking points. I would be good if you could actually engage with the issue at hand which is not incest per se, but rather the robustness (or lack of it) of your case for same-sex relationships in the absence of any Scriptural reference endorsing such a sexual union. The fact that you cannot deal with this challenge to your logic means that you either recognise the weakness in your argument and are therefore seeking to change the terms of debate OR that you are simply unable to argue effectively against the critique I have raised.

              But for the sake of satisfying your questions, let's examine the nit-picks.

              1. Given that the Council of Jerusalem and the Pauline corpus pick up and endorse the sexual ethics codes of Torah when they reject the civil and ceremonial laws (and that porneia obviously encompassed incest in the C1 Rabbinic thinking (which is the language that Acts 15 uses) , we are led to conclude that any sexual union between a brother and sister is not God's intent for humanity. The immorality lies in the use of one's body (sexually) for that which God has not intended it.

              2. Your question assumes a literal reading of Genesis 4. Can you please confirm that this is your understanding before I answer.

              • Peter with respect I don't find that you are actually engaging with with my comments either. I am engaging with the issue as it is on the ground, not with your a priori arguments that actually don't bear any relation to reality. You need to face certain facts. We have clergy and laity in committed faithful same sex relationships in the C of E. If you are prepared to admit that we don't have to have a literal reading of certain texts from Paul and Leviticus, then we have a common mind on a least something. Until then, we are faced with the fact that both of us are ordained in the same Church and have no practical choice but to accept that Bishop James Jones is right in his analysis.

                • And Peter I was not nit picking-rather I was presenting you with an argument from situation ethics. Your response clearly indicates that you totally missed that.

                • Absolutely love this line of reasoning from you Andrew:

                  We have clergy and laity in committed faithful same sex relationships in the C of E. If you are prepared to admit that we don't have to have a literal reading of certain texts from Paul and Leviticus, then we have a common mind on a least something.

                  So basically, because we have some church members in same-sex relationships, that should lead us to reassess our view of the authority of Scripture? Is that what you're saying?

                  I note that you haven't responded to the question I asked you to clarify your nit-pick on Genesis 4. Instead you moved the debate over literal interpretation to other texts. Perhaps we could have an answer on the first question?

                  You still refuse to address the key issue which is why we should not apply the same arguments in favour of PSF same-sex relationships to incestuous relationships. All you've said in response is "well no-one is arguing for them". For the sake of argument, I am now going to do so in this comment thread. Let's begin with the following:

                  "I know a couple in my church who are in a permanent, stable, faithful incestuous sexual relationship. I see the fruit of the Spirit in their love. Andrew, can you explain why they shouldn't be together? If not, why not?"

                  • Peter you are not actually engaging with my questions. Situation ethics is a respected approach to moral questions, and I am afraid it has greater weight than your simplistic logic. So let me repeat again, I am not 'nit picking', but putting to you a rather different way of dealing with the issue. Your failure to engage with it (or even recognise what was going on) indicates that your argument from logic has little weight.

                    But let's pursue your logical argument for a while, if you think it helps. Before we can I need to know whether you think homosexual relationships should be legal in this country – and why? or why not?

                    • Canon Andrew,

                      You present a situation in which something occurred which was regrettable in which the parties acted innocently without the proper information. We can also imagine a similar situation in which, e.g., someone engages innocently in an act which, i.e., results in grevious harm to another – i.e., driving over someone he / she didn't see. The possible innocence of intention and lack of knowledge does not make the act itself unregrettable or immoral. In both cases we must exercise charity toward those involved. But this charity does not extend to declaring driving over people, or incest, to be moral.

                      Peter probably ignored this because the type of situation you present here seems silly and he probably thought you wouldn't drive the point because of this, but it does seem that somehow you are rather attached to this idea. I hope you see that it's not a very good argument.

                      Peter also doesn't need to reflect on the legality or illegality of homosexual relationships; you here seem to be confusing church and state.

                    • Hello Wilf and thanks for your comments. I think Peter does need to reflect on the legality of homosexual relationships for the exactly reason that Church and State are so closely linked in the UK. We will see if/how he responds before addressing his logic.

                    • I hope "silly" is not too harsh, I perhaps should have used a different term. My academic background is in philosophy and it's generally acknowledged there that we need to be careful with situational ethics, since it is a field where it is easy to mistake one ethical value for another because of the situational combination. Situational ethics can also be used to make people more immune to disavowing torture, for example – "would you be willing to torture one evil person in order to lead to information to diffuse a nuclear bomb that he had placed, which was about to take the lives of millions of innocents and create an environmental disaster?" etc. etc.. When using situational ethics, one needs to be very careful with qualifications and refinements of argument – here you are simply asking, "is it moral?" That's not casting any new light on the case.

                      You could have used the classic case of Oedipus. I'd agree with you that he over-reacted with regards to the incest – though part of his reaction is also to the entire chain of events, including the killing of his father.

                    • As far as I'm concerned the legality of an action has absolutely no baring on the issue of its morality. If you want to argue that it does I will point you to the persecution of the Jews or the slavery of Negroes as to the fallacy of such a position.

                      As regards to whether homosexual relationships should be legal, if Parliament votes to allow them then they are legal. You would need to define what you meant by "homosexual relationships" if you want me to give my opinion on a particular proposed Bill! I'm very clear thought that just because the Government of the United Kingdom legislates to permit or proscribe a certain activity, the Church should not be bound to act against its conscience. Have we so quickly lost our willingness to die for the truth?

                    • I'm aking for your opinion on current legislation in the UK Peter – legislation that permits homsoxeual acts – not a proposed bill. Do you think homosexual acts should be illegial in the UK? If so why, and if not, why not.
                      You seem willing to simply ignore truth ratehr than die for it. We have actively homosexual clergy in the C of E, and you allowed yourself to be a public representative minister in it.

                    • We have actively homosexual clergy in the C of E

                      So what? Are you suggesting that just because something happens it is right? Surely not!

                      You've now changed your question from legalising gay relationships to legalising homosexual acts. Which is it? What do you mean by "homosexual acts"? Please be specific.

                    • So what? I'm recognising that you want to die for the truth (as you perceive it) but are still happy to be ordained and therefore in communion with those who perceive a different version of truth to the one you wish to die for. Either you want to die for it or you don't Peter. You can't have it both ways can you?

                      I've not changed my question. I've made it more specific because you seem to prefer not to answer it at all. Homosexual acts are legal within the UK. I don't need to be specific about which ones. I include those same sex acts that are legal. Do you think those homosexual acts should be illegal in the UK? If so why, and if not, why not.

                    • Canon Andrew,

                      Church and state in UK are intertwined, but nonetheless it is worth noting that they are separate entities, and the legality of something is quite different from what the church teaches Christians ought or ought not to do. It is perfectly legal to lie to one's spouse on most matters, and I am happy it is; however the church teaches us not to lie. I do not see how the quagmire of the UK's odd situation with a state church, which is may very well change in a few years, is going to help the two of you, and I think Peter here is rather wise in not addressing it, since it would likely take arguments off-topic. I'd suggest you simply address his logic without trying to bring in the can of worms of church & state particular to the UK, or else at least make more clear what the relevance is.

                    • Thanks Wilf – I'm trying to address his logic, but I'm not getting very far it seems. Peter raised the matter of a comparison between incest and same sex relationships. It is a flawed piece of logic because it ignores the situational ethics aspect that I'm trying to get Peter to address. I think it best to give up at this point.

  5. "With friends like these, who needs enemies?"

    I was/am considering candidating for ordination in the Church of England, as I am a communicant called into leadership, I believe. . However, I believe I'm called to lead the lost to Jesus and to help his followers to follow Him more perfectly, not fight the utter horrible nonsense that comes from the likes of Ekklesia.. I know unity is important but they really push it, are they our brothers in the Lord, or a canker in the body politic?.. I would love to believe the former, I really really would.

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