As the debate continues in the Church of England Newspaper about same-sex marriage, I am grateful to Rev John Richardson for responding to my article - 'Towards a Theology of Gay- Marriage?'
In his article 'Changing views of marriage' in last week's CEN, he has clearly sought to engage with some of the issues and questions I raised, and he makes a number of points which merit a response.
He begins by noting that same-sex marriage would mean breaking with church tradition and the theology of marriage as outlined in the BCP (Book of Common Prayer). He then makes the argument that rather than looking at Genesis 2 as our paradigm for marriage, we should look to the marriage between Christ and the Church in Ephesians 5 as the ultimate paradigm. This, he argues, places a clear limit on our theology of marriage within the context of men and women with the ideal of procreation. (You can read the full article by following this link)
First of all, it is interesting to see a fellow evangelical beginning with an appeal to tradition. He rightly points out that the theology I am suggesting departs from the BCP emphasis on procreation and a 'traditional understanding of marriage'. This is indeed the case, and I readily accept it, but in the course of human history there have been many issues where we have changed our minds in spite of clear arguments made from both Scripture and tradition for maintaining the status quo - the abolition of slavery, and the church's insistence that the sun revolves around the earth are just two such issues that immediately spring to mind.
More importantly however, is the alternative (and indeed superior) paradigm he offers for marriage in the Bible - that of Christ and His Church.
While I am not convinced that Ephesians 5 supersedes Jesus use of Genesis 2 as the ultimate paradigm for marriage, the framework he puts forward does more to suggest a 'genderless notion of marriage' than to deny it. Why? Because the Church as the 'Bride of Christ' contains both women and men.
As the inspirational evangelical preacher FB Meyer puts it, in his devotional commentary on Ephesians - 'Redeemed men compose that bride'. Here is the context to that quote:
Here is a mystery indeed. That scene in Eden is also a parable. It was not good for Christ to be alone. He needed one to love and to give love. But there was none among unfallen angels that could answer to Him. And therefore God the Father sought a bride for his Son from among the children of men; yea, He took the Second Eve from the wounded side of the Second Man, as He lay asleep in the garden-grave.
Redeemed men compose that bride... Then the Church shall cleave to Him forever, and He shall cleave to her. And they twain shall be one spirit.
The fact that the Church comprises both men and women and that this (according to John Richardson) is the ultimate paradigm for marriage, suggests that marriage is indeed 'genderless' - it has just taken the church a long time to realise it (like the abolition of slavery and the movement of the sun).
No-one, of course would suggest that there is a literal 'sexual' component to the marriage of Christ and his Church, but that further calls into question relying on this paradigm for our full understanding of marriage. Indeed Paul says in Ephesians 5 that "this is a profound mystery". It is a mystery which we are still unravelling, and perhaps we haven't quite got there yet.