On hearing marriage might be restricted again in our church. Midweek Musing.

I am disappointed.
I am angry.
I feel betrayed.

A musing, midweek, after news that a courageous, generous, and faithful decision on marriage might be cast aside.

In July, the national council of my church, the Uniting Church in Australia, made a decision to include in our understanding of marriage that it is both between a man and a woman, and between two people regardless of gender, and to allow our members to hold either view according to their conscience (for details, see here, and here; for former President Rev Prof Andrew Dutney's reflection on this as a courageous and faithful decision, see here).

This decision did not cast aside one view or another, did not declare or even imply that the old, familiar, cherished-by-many view was wrong. It did allow us to give dignity to faithful people who want to commit to lifelong partnership with the vows and covenant of marriage under law and within the church before God.

There are some who hold that old familiar view of marriage who want to insist that it be the only right view of marriage. In doing so, these sisters and brothers of mine are betraying their underlying view that LGBTIQ people are of less worth, dignity, humanity, than heterosexual people. That their love, their right to protect and affirm that love and partnership is less worthy than the love and commitment of heterosexual people.
Frankly, this makes me feel ill.

I feel betrayed by my sisters and brothers whose behaviour comes across as petty, vindictive, and dishonest, as they seek to force the church to retract a courageous, generous, and faithful decision on the grounds of a lack of consultation. That is not true. The Uniting Church has been holding discussions on marriage for over thirty years, and actively resourcing the church for at least fifteen, with theological reflections, discussion papers, gatherings, and debate in all the councils of the church (see the UCA Assembly website). People don't like the decision, so are casting aside the faithful, rigorous, wrestling of our sisters and brothers at the 15th Assembly with blatant disrespect for their work, their discerning with the Spirit together, their finding a way forward that welcomes and affirms us all.

I feel betrayed by a significantly ungenerous spirit from sisters and brothers who cannot accept difference, cannot accept that they have been affirmed and held welcome alongside those who differ and are also, at last, affirmed and held welcome.

To insist on one's own position as the only valid position, to insist on one's own interpretation as the only right interpretation, is to put oneself first. And that is in direct opposition to the gospel of Jesus, who we say we follow.

Personally, I don't understand why people are so strenuously committed to a particular view of marriage as if it is the only way marriage has been practiced through human history. Marriage is practiced differently in different places. Its history is so troublingly problematic in terms of treating women like property; its practice is flawed in society's assumption that one is incomplete or broken until one is married, so marred by divorce rates; I don't understand why a renewal of marriage through opening it to more people who want to commit to love and mutual care is so abhorrent to people.

I don't understand the interpretation of the Bible that claims marriage is God-ordained - for me, marriage is a human institution for the ordering of human relationships, families, societies.

I don't understand how people think that they will be harmed by our dual understandings of marriage. The Bible contains several perspectives on marriage, as humanity grows and changes through time. We didn't stop growing and changing when the canon closed.

I worry that some of my sisters and brothers are running the risk of idolising a particular view of marriage, or the institution of marriage itself. At the very least, they are allowing their view of marriage to blind them to the humanity of their neighbours, and the very great harm they cause by refusing to acknowledge non-heterosexual love as worthy.

Please open your eyes and your hearts, my brothers and sisters, and see your neighbours as God sees them: loved, worthy, possessing of inherent dignity in their humanity. Please relax in our church's affirmation of your view of marriage, and find some generosity to allow for a difference in opinion.


Kathie Potts said…
I worry about people idolising the institution of marriage. I think the Apostle Paul and I have one understanding in common...stay single unless...
Nicole Mugford said…
"Please relax in our church's affirmation of your view of marriage, and find some generosity to allow for a difference in opinion."

This is so beautifully summed up for me. This is what we need to be doing.

I feel hurt, discounted and broken as I reflect on this conversation. I was at assembly and we worked hard to do the discernment process and come to this decision. I feel hurt as I think of people affected, and the energy it's taking away from important things to fight something like it.
Heather said…
Wendy Johnston said…
Oh Sarah. I hadn't heard this was happening. Thank you for your thoughts. So beautifully written. I do not understand why this is so threatening to people. As you said, there has never been an only way of doing marriage. WJ
Anonymous said…
Sarah if you truly don’t understand then the get together with some of your brothers and sisters who hold to the orthodox christian understanding of marriage. I am sure they will explain why they hold to what they believe is true.
Sandra Webb said…
Thank you your reflections Sarah I was surprised that anonymous thought you wouldn’t have listened to the opinions of those who oppose a wider view of, more like the Bible actually, except that women are no longer considered possessions. Bless you

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