Two Theologies of Marriage?

Two Theologies of Marriage?

I want to pick up some of the observations made last week on the Boston Gay marriage and try to move the conversation forward.

In particular, I want to return to the issues of a coherent theology of marriage that were raised from examining the liturgy used in Boston. As you all recall, the Boston liturgy mimicked the 1979 TEC prayer book but made three fundamental changes. These changes were made primarily in the theological introduction to the service which defines the Doctrine of Marriage, the understanding of the meaning of the events about to occur in the service. These changes were as follows:

  1. The removal of the phrase “The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.” Such an omission changes the understanding of marriage as an eternal creation ordinance first enacted in Eden, to something that is a later (possibly human) construct.
  2. The addition of the phrase “Holy Scripture tells us that all love is from God” and the alteration of the reference to Ephesians 5 to read “the commitment of marriage signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and the Church.” This amendment removes the specific link of the husband and wife representing Christ and the Church by nature of their specific sex.
  3. The editing of the word “procreation” to be replaced with “gift” in reference to children, removing the clear reference to the sexual reproductive capabilities of the two spouses together.

The purpose then of this post is not to argue whether these are or are not acceptable theological variations (I think we all know where I stand on that issue), but rather to ask what such a variation in liturgy implies for the Doctrine of Marriage in TEC. Let us asssume that the process in TEC of drawing up new liturgies to accompany the new pastoral / theological stance produces a same-sex marriage liturgy similar to the one used in Boston. The following questions arise.

  1. If the Boston liturgy is used for same-sex marriage and the 1979 Prayer Book for other sex marriage, does that mean that TEC would have two theologies of marriage? If not why not?
  2. If there are two theologies of marriage, can it not be argued that that means that TEC will embed in its liturgy a qualitative difference between same-sex and other-sex marriage? If not, why not?
  3. If the result of the liturgical innovation is to scrap the 1979 service and replace it with a standard liturgy for both types of marriage (same-sex and other-sex), what does that say about the doctrine of marriage in the 1979 Prayer Book. Is it incorrect? If not, why not and why is it not being retained?

I think those are good questions to be getting on with. Comments from my more “revisionist” readers are particularly welcome, and let’s all try and stay on topic please!

29 Comments on “Two Theologies of Marriage?

  1. It will take a number of years for all of this to get sorted out, but my guess is that something like the Boston liturgy will become an approved trial liturgy that will then replace the existing marriage liturgy in any future revision of the American BCP. We're at least seven and probably more like ten years out from the final BCP change, but I suspect that the alternative liturgy will become a reality by General Convention 2012.

    The reason I make these guesses is twofold. For one thing, this is how TEC has operated theologically over the last thirty years. Something starts out forbidden, then becomes trial use, then alternative approved (as in the case of "Enriching Our Worship"). The only step left would be the BCP itself, but the process of revising the BCP is so laborious that it will only happen once all the other ducks are in a row. Nevertheless, I think the Boston liturgy probably accurately reflects where the majority of TEC leadership is theologically on the question of marriage.

    I think it's doubtful that we'll see two theologies of marriage in TEC at the end of the day. There will be, of course, a period in which the two will exist together, as is largely already the case with GC2009's opening of the way for "pastoral provision." But that will only be acceptable for a short time, until a broader stroke can be made. The process of liturgical revision to suit new theological imperatives in TEC has been largely ruled by a strategy of "wait them out, they'll eventually die." This characterized the move in the 1979 BCP to include Rite I as a traditional language alternative to the contemporary Rite II (you can't imagine the vitriol I receive from some of my colleagues when I reveal that I still use Rite I, and that I actually like the Prayer of Humble Access). It characterized the development of Enriching Our Worship, which in some parishes is now used exclusively instead of the BCP. It characterized the creation of "Holy Women, Holy Men," the new version of our calendar of feasts and fasts, in which the words "Lord" and "Father" have been systematically removed from any and all new collects. Whatever the change, the cry is always at first, "This is just an option, just let us try it out!" All things are optional, right up until the point that they are mandatory.

    • Thanks for this. Can I push you then for an answer to my third question?

      If the result of the liturgical innovation is to scrap the 1979 service and replace it with a standard liturgy for both types of marriage (same-sex and other-sex), what does that say about the doctrine of marriage in the 1979 Prayer Book. Is it incorrect? If not, why not and why is it not being retained?

      • It's hard for me to answer this exactly, for two reasons. The first is that I don't agree with the position that the majority takes on this, although I did once upon a time. The second is that I don't think that the motivations behind this move are so much theological as… I'm not sure what the right word is. Political? But that sounds like it's all about maneuverings and winning, and I don't think it is. I think there's a genuine belief that this is a justice issue. Doctrine, as they see it, is something that develops out of a response to service.

        My best guess of what someone in the majority in my church would say: It's not that the current liturgy is teaching the wrong thing, but that it is a product of its time and does not attend to the full reality of what the Holy Spirit has revealed to us about the ways in which the love of God can be expressed between two people. So the doctrine has evolved to incorporate a fuller picture of God's love.

        That's not a very satisfactory answer, from a theological standpoint, since it doesn't address the fact that the creation of a gender neutral liturgy necessarily brings up questions about creation and the reason that God created male and female in the first place. But I don't think that this kind of reflection is actually going to happen, outside of a few somewhat obscure places, the book I recommended by Tobias Haller being one of them. I give Haller a lot of credit for addressing these theological concerns in a way that almost no other liberal does, even quoting from Gagnon and others in his effort to be thorough. But what Haller essentially tries to argue is that gender complementarity is not how the ancient rabbis read Genesis and is in fact itself an invention of the modern era. I think that many of the folks pushing for these changes in TEC, if they thought about it, would say that the inclusion of creation in the story being told in the liturgy of marriage misses the point, namely that marriage is supposed to be about love, mutual fulfillment, and care. Anything in the liturgy that makes it possible to view different types of marriages as different in character will be seen, at least by some, as an attempt to lessen the value of same-gender marriages or else put them in a separate class. While some folks–including many gay and lesbian folks–would be willing to argue that there is and should remain a qualitative difference between straight marriage and gay marriage, I doubt that would be enough for the folks from Integrity or the other activists who are really running the show at this point.

  2. On a related but tangential note, Peter, have you read "Reasonable and Holy" by Tobias Haller? It's among the more interesting defenses of the blessing of same sex marriages in the Church, notable because it actually addresses the questions of creation and gender complementarity that are so often ignored in liberal apologetics about sexuality. I'd be very curious to hear your thoughts and analysis of that work.

  3. Thanks, Father J, for your comments. For me, they show that TEC does not really have a theology for the innovation of same-sex marriage, at least not in the true sense of theology as 'knowledge of God'.

    You show that the innovation of same-sex marriage in TEC has been pursued based on an appeal to general biblical principles of justice and equality, rather than careful analysis of scripture, then backed by an essentially political process of incremental innovation and establishing 'facts on the ground'.

    The interesting thing for me about your discription of this process in TEC is that there has been almost no real theological reflection, at least in the sense of understanding the nature of God and his attributes, our nature as God-created human beings – male and female, and the nature of our relationship to God – be it marred by sin or redeemed in Christ.

    It seems clear to me, Peter, from your comparison of the BCP and innovative liturgies, that the Boston Marriage liturgy has either taken out or minimised the physical and sacramental elements of the BCP liturgy. And, in my view, this is because the TEC innovators realise that a full theology of marriage contradicts their position.

    It's a pretty cynical position to take really, but one whuich is supported by Father J's description of an innovation process that is essentially political.

  4. Thanks for the "plug" Fr. J.

    I think Peter, you are putting a good deal too much pressure on the exhortation at the opening of the current marriage liturgy. The present version is much expanded (almost back to its antecedent 1662 form) from the 1928 and earlier versions of the American BCP. For example, the 1928 exhortation says that marriage was instituted by God, but doesn't fix that to the time of Creation or the substance of the Creation itself.

    In short, there is far more variation in the Anglican "theology" of marriage than might appear from the current versions of the texts. The Articles refer to it as "an estate allowed."

    • But isn't that just the point (that the 1979 is similar to 1662 and dissimilar to 1928)? Anglican doctrine is defined by the liturgy and not by a doctrinal statement, so we can easily view the 1662 prayer book as the core of Anglican theology. Variants from that are exactly that – variants.

      And yes, I am putting a lot of weight on the exhortation, but as I explained in my piece it is the theological underpinning of the service. That's why it's there – to explain the meaning of what is to follow. If you change the exhortation you change the meaning of the service – QED the Doctrine of Marriage is altered.

      • Yes, Peter, I am agreeing with you: the change in the exhortation does reflect a shift in the theology.

        Here however I am addressing your final question (above) about the change implying the older thinking was "incorrect" by noting that this is not the first time the doctrine of marriage has been altered by liturgical means. (The 1979 version has not restored the "remedy for fornication" cause from 1662, so it isn't a completely congruent text even at that. Does that mean TEC officially denies this biblically based "cause" of marriage? I think it rather a case of emphasis.)

        The doctrine on marriage in the whole tradition (apart from the variability in Anglicanism) is very broad. There were furious debates in the high middle ages concerning what "made" marriage marriage — consent or congress (this figuring into Henry's divorce case, too). Having read any number of late 19th to early 20th century histories of marriage, it is amazing how much has altered, and how many disagreements have existed and continue to exist between and within the various Christian traditions, some of them, as you suggest, considering others "incorrect." But this will continue, as far as I can see.

        • Isn't there a process of theological discernment in the Anglican Communion which attempts to discern what that truth is and then to express it in the liturgy (to somehow codify it)? You can see this clearly in the 1928 prayer book which was in essence an Oxford Movement revision of the Eucharistic liturgy (and rejected incidently by the UK Parliament on those very grounds) to introduce more "catholic" understanding into the service. This means that while Anglicans can talk about what something means until the cows come home (and until the cows fall asleep of sheer boredom) what it *actually* means is what the liturgy says it does.

          Here in the Church of England both the 1662 BCP and Common Worship are doctrinally definitive. In that sense it doesn't matter that Common Worship makes the "obey" part of the vows optional – in the 1662 they are standard and therefore part of the theological framework (with the oh so clear nod to Ephesians 5 in the theological preface). Therefore, though Common Worship provides slightly different wording which, on its own, might indicate a shift in the Doctrine of Marriage, the simple fact is that as long as the 1662 remains authoritative the doctrine has not changed.

          Compare this to TEC where one new prayer book replaces the previous. Now you have a clear opportunity for theological revision and if there is revision then the implication surely must be that revision is necessary because the previous prayer book expresses the matter in an incorrect form. For example, the 1979 prayer book limits marriage to one man and one woman. This, according to many in the TEC hieracrchies, is simply incorrect, so therefore the new prayer book should correct this deficiency.

          Simply put, if the doctrine of marriage as expressed by the 1979 prayer book is not incorrect, why is there any need to change the marriage service permitted in TEC?

        • Just to add, I would reject any notion of the early Tudor "Roman Catholic but in England" experiment under Wolsey as being "Anglican" in any meaningful sense of the word as regards the current Church of England. The church remained doctrinally Roman and it's not really until Cranmer's prayer book that we get proper Reformation influence to create the "Reformed Catholic" church that we have today. The arguments over Henry's marriage to Catherine were far more politically then theologcally motivated.

          • Dear Peter, this is the clause I think goes too far:

            "revision is necessary because the previous prayer book expresses the matter in an incorrect form"

            "Incorrect" is far too strong a word. Revision does not always imply "correction" — it can include clarification, expansion, new imagery to reflect a changed context, de-emphasis, and so on. At least that is how Americans view prayer-book revision.

            The truly revolutionary change in the 1979 liturgy, hotly debated at the time, was the provision to allow for marriage in which one of the parties is not baptized. In the "doctrine of marriage" that represents a truly major revision — but it doesn't imply that marriage in which both members are baptized is "wrong." (It does rule out marriage of a non-baptized couple, of course.)

            I would also say that, "the 1979 prayer book limits marriage to one man and one woman" is also too strongly worded, if "limit" is taken as a considered decision arrived at out of several options. Rather, this is simply the assumption. It is true that as written the rite could not be used for a same-sex couple. But the reason for revision is not to say, "mixed sex marriage is incorrect" but to create a liturgy that could encompass a same-sex couple.

            As I have argued in my book, cited by Fr. J above, I believe that the ends of marriage can be achieved by a same-sex couple at least as much as an infertile mixed-sex couple. I have also demonstrated that the novel "complementarity" argument is more problematical for Christian doctrine and theology (and I mean dogmatic theology) than is same-sex marriage. Not all will agree with my conclusions, but so far I've not seen any cogent response to these primary issues.

            And I quite agree about the Henrician church — it was RC in all but form and detail. When I speak of Anglicanism, I would go even beyond Cranmer to the more settled compromises of the Elizabethan era, which refined some of Cranmer's points considerably.

            • The truly revolutionary change in the 1979 liturgy, hotly debated at the time, was the provision to allow for marriage in which one of the parties is not baptized. In the "doctrine of marriage" that represents a truly major revision — but it doesn't imply that marriage in which both members are baptized is "wrong." (It does rule out marriage of a non-baptized couple, of course.)

              This isn't the kind of implication that I mean (and as it happens, I don't think the 1979 change DOES imply that previous marriages were wrong). This change in 1979 is an *extension* of a principle (because nothing in the liturgy changed, rather the rubric around the liturgy altered) not an *alteration*.

              • I'm not sure I buy your distinction between rubric and liturgy, since by canon law the rubrics are governing and the text performative. Both reflect the theology. But even were it the case that the rubric did not introduce a change to the theology (which until then held that only a baptized couple could properly enter into "Christian marriage" by definition — as opposed to civil marriage), I would respond to your use of "extension" by saying that is precisely what is happening in the alterations to the text of the liturgy to allow for same-sex couples, as well as mixed-sex couples, marrying. It does not declare the earlier rite to be wrong, but extends its scope.

                You may well, I imagine you do, think this a bridge too far — but what I'm addressing is your question about change implying "correction" of the earlier liturgy. I think it is an extension, an expansion, not a judgment on the earlier liturgy, or marriages performed under it, as somehow deficient.

      • Even if that is admitted altering the doctrine doesn't mean that what was seen as proper marriage is somehow now considered illegitimate. It is that the scope of marriage is graciously extended because it is admitted that procreation is not an essential part of the point and purpose of marriage. So same-sex couples as well as mixed-sex couples(!) can have legitimate marriage because the primary focus is on 'the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other'.

        • I don't think I'm arguing that it would mean that previous marriages weren't "proper", rather that it implies the previous doctrine of marriage was incorrect.

          • Don't see that either. It's like arguing that Newton was wrong just because Einstein comes along with a broader perspective.


    If you read the above, the focus for TEC seems to be on the covenantal nature of marriage and marriage as expressing, through the human desire for union in love, the human desire for relationship with God.
    Thus the procreative element is seen as less important than the idea of covenant and sacrament. Of course, not all heterosexual unions result in, or are able to result in procreation, this does not negate them. Rape or adultery can result in procreation as well, so it might be argued that procreation, or even the capacity for procreation is not necessary to create "marriage".

    I don't think TEC would see it as a replacement of the old, but rather as a broadening reflecting a new knowledge that some people are exclusively attracted to their own gender and that opposite marriage is innappropriate for them, alongside a recognition that those relationships contain the covenantal aspects of opposite sex ones.

    • Do you not recognise the fact that the BCP (1662 and later) identifies the specifics of the two sexes (male and female) signifying Christ and the Church? If so, doesn't changing marriage to two people of the same sex necessitate an alteration of that doctrine? Wouldn't this imply that the 1662 understnding (Husband = Christ, Wife = Church) is wrong?

      • I think the temptation for the majority in TEC today would be to spiritualize Ephesians, to say that it's not about the male and the female per se but about an allusion to the power of love between two people to communicate the love of Christ for the Church. To say that, of course, necessarily changes the doctrine because Paul was very careful about delineating the ways in which the subjection of the husband to the wife differ from the wife to the husband, and vice versa. But I think you'd have only a minority within even the liberal party within the Church who would be willing to say, in no uncertain terms, that this older understanding is wrong and must make way for a new one. Rather, I think most would argue that the old idea never really existed, or that this wasn't what Paul meant at all, or at least that there is a greater latitude in reading the scripture than might have been realized earlier, and therefore the newer rite is merely expands the old teaching to include more people.

        This is the key problem that I run up against repeatedly in these kinds of conversations with my colleagues. And I should say, there are some liberals who are honest and courageous enough to name what they're doing. I admire them for that, even if I disagree. I don't know him, but I get the impression from those who do that Bishop Shaw would fall into this camp as someone who is willing to name it and own it. But it's very hard to find people in TEC who are willing to admit just how radical the changes in doctrine are that are taking place. And I really don't know what that's about. But it is very difficult to have an honest conversation about the stark differences between a new doctrine and an old doctrine when your conversation partner isn't willing to admit that the old one ever actually existed.

      • Hi Peter,

        Oh, I was mainly just suggesting TEC's thinking as moving away from an emphasis on the potential for procreation as an essential of marriage to the idea of covenant and sacrament.

        As to the husband=Christ, wife= church idea, any same sex marriage would entail an altering of that understanding or doctrine specifically, but then other Pauline ideas have been omitted, such as the idea that marriage is " a remedy against sin and to avoid fornication for such as have not the gift of continency to keep themselves undefiled."

        Having personally never regarded my husband symbolically as "Christ" redeeming me as the "church" , I would personally be quite happy to lose it. I understand it as scriptural, but we do emphasis different parts of scripture and, for me, this is one understanding I find unhelpful – as does my husband I hasten to add.

        I do understand that others might not though, and I think we have to accept that different couples come to a marriage with different understandings of what that entails – I would not choose to obey for example. I think that different forms and liturgies can express our different understandings and situations (within reason.)

      • Only if you insist on a literal interpretation of scripture. Otherwise it is no different than not believing in six-day creation or a historical Adam and Eve. Some insist that both these modern interpretations of scripture are heresies requiring a change of doctrine but most modern Christians still manage to believe in God as Creator and Christ as Redeemer without being quite so literal. I think that Ephesians is more spiritual and metaphorical than literal at this point.

        Anyway, thanks to this blog for bringing my attention to Tobias Haller's book, Reasonable and Holy – Engaging Same-Sexuality. I've managed to get a copy from Amazon marketplace and though I've not read it in detail yet I'm very impressed with the breadth of its argument. Should be required reading for everyone with an interest in this subject.

  6. If you are honest it is not just "liberals". Most average married people in this day and age do not believe in the subjection of the wife to the husband. The vast majority of couples, churchgoers or not, do not choose for the woman to obey and the husband does not see himself as redeeming his wife as Christ did the church.
    It has nothing to do with liberals, radicals, lefties, TEC, apostasy or anything else. Just the 21st century, guys!

  7. Talking about the subjection of women to men, does this really any longer touch on the lives of women in western forms of Christianity (unless they are Amish or Polygamist LDS)? If not then what does it say about those western women who go looking for it (while denying all the time that is what they are doing) and voluntarily subject themselves to the patriarchal claims of Islam in this country? According to Nicky Campbell on The Big Questions on BBC 1 yesterday more women than men are converting to Islam in this country. Why? Three of them were in the studio. Two were a mother and a daughter. The spokeswoman for the Oxford Islamic Centre was Myriam Françoise Cerrah who was a Catholic before she converted. When she was asked (by Ann Leslie I think) if she'd be happy if, when she has one, her husband should wish to take three other wives, she answered no, she'd have a pre-nup limiting him to just herself as wife. This struck me as typical of a western convert who is in denial about the downgrading of women but perceives her new faith has a fundamental flaw in its morality. No one asked her about a woman's testimony (worth half a man's) or succeeded in getting other awkward questions about one-way (man to woman) divorce properly addressed though she talked a lot, butted in on other people which only the firm gravelly voice of Ann Leslie succeeded in quieting. It seemed she (a bit like those ex-Bishops of the Ordinariate) had remade Islam into something which it is not to accommodate her own fantasy-view of what she'd like it to be.

    The mother-daughter pair were less articulate and had no arguments for their decision, only dogmatic statements about the truth of Islam but my prophecy, for what it's worth, is that Myriam Françoise Cerrah will return to Catholicism at some point in her life, if not on her deathbed. I just didn't find her new-found certainty very convincing. (Same could be said of the ex-Bishops, perhaps. I read somewhere that the Vatican had thrown a rickety bridge over the Tiber so the bishops wouldn't have to swim, but they would find the shore on the other side much rockier and less congenial (certainly of dissent) than they were used to in the dear old CofE. Was it to Archbishop Parker's wife that Elizabeth 1 said "as for you Madam, I know not what to call you"? That's what it seemed like on Saturday at Westminster Cathedral when the three wives were allowed onto the sanctuary (just) to help in the vesting of their husbands as priests. The Church is awkward about women on the sanctuary and the wives in their uniform coats of drab fawn look equally uncomfortable. (Not as bad, mind you, as when Pugin ( according to Lytton Strachey?) burst into tears when he saw a Catholic bishop showing some ladies over the sanctuary in one of his churches.)

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