An Interesting Exchange: “If you could dictate the vows that a same-sex couple were to take…”
I came across an interesting exchange from early this year between Bishop Martins [Springfield] and Sarah Dylan Breuer, an Episcopal revisionist activist—but a nice person as so many hasten to add. [Our standards over here for “nice person” are set strikingly low for revisionist activists in TEC, but we can safely say that SDB seems to be a part of the “nice one percent” of that subset, and by that we mean, not a part of the 99% who are Enraged-and-Embittered-Since-Childhood, but among those who are at least somewhat functional and not obviously mentally ill, capable of carrying an idea in a large bucket consistently and to a rationally principled end without running off onto rabbit trails of wildly flailing victimhood and hissing and/or castigations, and people whom we’d trust not to engage in road rage or something else bizarre on the highways and byways. So again . . . low standards.]
You can find the original post over at Bishop Martins blog.
But the passage from a comment by Sarah Dylan Breuer is the meat of the exchange:
But really, I know you oppose the whole project, but if you could dictate the vows, for example, that a same-sex couple were to take, on what substantial points would they differ from what is required of heterosexual couples in marriage, (other than that you’d want the same-sex couple to commit to celibacy, I’m guessing)? I’m thinking about points such as that, for example, if there ARE children in the household, it seems better to me to have the adult heads of household vow to be good parents to them, even if you think children would be better off in a household headed by a heterosexual couple.
Do you see what I mean?
It was this sort of thinking that got Lew Smedes to say that blessing same-sex couples seeking to like faithfully as a couple is better than any alternatives he could think of.
I don’t intend any of this to argue with you, but to hear your thoughts as to whether, perhaps in a truly private set of prayers (say, just the couple, any children in the household, and their pastor), there’s anything they could promise to do in their life together that you would feel good about asking God to bless—and, if so, what those things would be.
I was initially struck by the seeming dunderheadedness of the question. [Note: I’m not calling SDB a dunderhead; I just thought the question to be remarkably dense in a depressing way.] Since conservatives in TEC understand that sexual relationships between women or between men are intrinsically disordered and sinful, it would be amazingly difficult for us to come up with some vows that it would be good for two women or two men engaged in a sexual relationship to take to mark their actions.
The only way I can demonstrate this is by taking another example and attempting to ask the same sort of question. For instance, if one is given to steal things out of department stores, is there any kind of prayer that one could make over the item one will be taking that could “bless the item” and the actions of the thief? The answer is, I think, “no” there is no prayer that would be appropriate on such an occasion other than a cry of repentance.
To make the matter starker, suppose a man and his daughter were to decide that they wanted a sexual relationship between them “blessed.” Let us stipulate that both of these people are adults, and that the relationship is consensual, loving, faithful, mutual, and affirming. Nor was there any sexual relationship between them before the age of consent. Further, the original wife of the Dad is dead. So there is also no divorce. No, the daughter is now 30 years old, and the father is, let us say, “a young 49.” And both love one another and wish to have their sexual relationship blessed.
Is there a “good answer” to this question, asked of each of us: “But really, I know you oppose the whole project, but if you could dictate the vows, for example, that a [father/daughter couple] were to take, on what substantial points would they differ from what is required of heterosexual couples in marriage . . . “
One might ask the same question of the threesome whose union was recently recognized in Brazil. “If you could dictate the vows, for example, that a [triadic relationship] were to take, on what substantial points would they differ from what is required of heterosexual couples in marriage ...”
The mind boggles for all three: the polyamorous relationship, the adult father/daughter relationship, and the same-sex relationship. There are no “vows” that I can think of that such sexual relationships might take, other than a vow of repentance.
Now, if they took the “vow of celibacy” that Sarah Dylan Breuer suggests conservatives would want, there are still similar issues. How on earth could the Church purport to bless a relationship between Father and daughter [even if “celibate”] other than, um, the standard relationship between Father and daughter? And if it’s a standard Father/daughter relationship, or a standard friendship among three friends, or a standard friendship between the same sexes, then such a relationship would not require what is, let’s face it, a forced societal or ecclesial stamp of approval, since such relationships need no “approval from the Church.”
In that light, I thought that Bishop Martins’ response was solid and thoughtful. I’ll excerpt two of his comments here:
Invoking God’s *blessing* on a relationship that purports to mirror or imitate marriage would be crossing that line, whether such blessing was in public or in private. ...
...So… what I believe I *could* do, in private, would be to “commend” the two partners to God’s providential love in prayer, and ask that God would lead them ever deeper into the mystery of His love, and give them the grace to follow Jesus as faithful disciples in every aspect of their lives—in the world, as part of the church, and at home together.
In effect, he could pray for them—as could I for the kleptomaniac, the father/daughter relationship, and the polyamorous relationship, understanding that if God leads people to Him, they will necessarily come to a recognition of sin and turn to Him in repentance and faith. If they “follow Jesus as faithful disciples in every aspect of their lives” then eventually they will come to recognize particular actions as sinful, and they will want to turn from that sin.
As a Christian I have many non-Christian friends and acquaintances. I pray for them and ask God to call them to Himself. Typically I don’t try to tell them they’re engaging in sinful behavior, since they don’t share the same foundational worldview that Christians do. Why should they keep their bodies holy before a living God [other than for good practical reasons] when they do not acknowledge God or His call on their lives?
Is it possible for someone to engage in sinful behavior yet still know and love Christ? Yes it is! Each of us does precisely that, each and every day. So I do believe that it is possible for a person who believes the Gospel to also engage in inveterate sinful action.
Sometimes, it is also possible that God is working on other “urgent projects” in a Christian’s life before He convicts the Christian of other specific sinful behaviors.
Sometimes—in fact often—it is possible that God has convicted a Christian of inveterate sinful behavior, the person is working to overcome that temptation, but then regrettably slips and falls back into the same sinful behavior—even over and over and over.
But the Church does not bless sinful behavior. Not ever. [Human organizations in which visible churches reside might well purport to do such a thing—but that is a different matter.] And no Christian—that is, no person who publicly claims the name of Christ—should be in church leadership who is 1) known by the public community to be engaging in consistent open acknowledged sinful behavior, is 2) unrepentant of that behavior, and is 3) actively working to promote the blessing of that sinful behavior. That is a very high bar to pass, since it’s well beyond the simple acknowledgement that all are sinners before a just and holy and loving God—one must pass a whole lot of criteria to meet it.
But it is and has been the Church’s standard.
If among those who come to be partakers of the Holy Communion, the Minister shall know any to be an open and notorious evil liver, or to have done any wrong to his neighbours by word or deed, so that the Congregation be hereby offended; he shall advertise him, that he presume not to come to the Lord’s Table, until he have openly declared himself to have truly repented and amended his former evil life, that the Congregation may thereby be satisfied; and that he hath recompensed the parties to whom he hath done wrong; or at least declare himself to be in full purpose so to do, as soon as he conveniently may.
¶ The same order shall the Minister use with those, betwixt whom be perceiveth malice and hatred to reign; not suffering them to be partakers of the Lord’s Table, until he know them to be reconciled. And if one of the parties, so at variance, be content to forgive from the bottom of his heart all that the other hath trespassed against him, and to make amends for that wherein he himself hath offended; and the other party will not be persuaded to a godly unity, but remain still in his forwardness and malice; the Minister in that case ought to admit the penitent person to the Holy Communion, and not him that is obstinate. Provided, that every Minister so repelling any, as is herein specified, shall be obliged to give an account of the same to the Ordinary, as soon as conveniently may be.
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