The Anglican Church in Australia recently voted on whether to affirm marriage as being only between a man and a woman. With votes now cast, the church appears to have turned an almighty corner. It has decided to reject a statement presented by the conservative Sydney diocese which adheres to Biblical teaching on marriage. What is surprising, however, is not what has been voted on, but rather how the results were distributed.
The statement presented by Sydney’s Anglicans could not be more direct and clearer. It stated that:
The faith, ritual, ceremonial and discipline of this Church reflect and uphold marriage as it was ordained from the beginning, being the exclusive union of one man and one woman arising from mutual promises of lifelong faithfulness, which is in accordance with the teaching of Christ that, “from the beginning the Creator made them male and female”, and in marriage, “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Matthew 19:4-5).
The church has therefore sought to nail its beliefs to the mast stating that:
Any rite or ceremony that purports to bless a same-sex marriage is not in accordance with the teaching of Christ and the faith, ritual, ceremonial and/or discipline of this Church.
Votes were cast at the church’s general synod, its national congress of ordained and lay Anglicans, which accepts three layers of voting grouped into laity, clergy, and bishops.
The house of laity voted 63 to 47 in favour of the statement. The house of clergy voted more strongly 70 to 39 in favour. The final decision, however, lay with the bishops themselves who rejected the statement by exercising their veto power. They voted against the statement by 12 to 10.
I have no doubt that the bishops were well-meaning, and that many hours were spent painfully considering how to respond to Sydney diocese’s statement. Respect, compassion, and sensitivity towards people with same-sex attraction appear to have won the day. Or so it seems. But have they?
Innumerable column inches have been written on whether two people of the same-sex can, and even should, marry. The challenge is not, “is this possible, and even beneficial in the long-term?” The ongoing challenge to society remains to uncomfortably consider the wide variations between the lived realities of other-sex and same-sex couples.
As a former gay activist who enjoyed a happy and deeply committed long-term gay relationship, I later entered into heterosexual marriage after significant therapy and spiritual renewal, and today I thrive on being a father, the fruit of heterosexual marriage.
I see the Anglican Church’s debate not merely as a battle of conscience or even inclusion. It merely fails to live up to my lived realities and those of many others I know who, like me, having made a commitment to Jesus Christ, were enlightened to pursue a similar pathway and to reject homosexuality in favour of the biblical design for marriage.
We realise that, regardless of pressure from any quarter, it is disingenuous, even pernicious, to convince people that variations are identical. Any priest could easily speak the words of the marriage ceremony over two people and pronounce them “married”, but would each variation – heterosexual and homosexual – permit God’s design to bear fruit and to reflect God’s character thereby constituting a Biblical understanding of marriage?,
Some of us who have rejected homosexual narratives and practices, and who subsequently married the opposite sex, recently constructed a list of differences we experienced between our earlier committed same-sex relationships (SSR) and heterosexual marriages (HM). Some of these differences are:
- In SSR, new life always needs external assistance, whereas in HM our children are a natural by-product of affection expressed without complication through our biology.
- In SSR, because of the nature of any sexual expression, there was always the high risk of being exposed to pathogens whereas this is rarely if ever the case in committed HM.
- In SSR, the mystery of constantly discovering the other partner, who is vastly dissimilar and yet deeply complementary as happens in HM, cannot exist. Yes, over 6,000 chromosomal differences between men and women make a significant difference.
- In HM, the female genitalia are designed with around forty layers of muscle to endure penetration and childbirth, whereas penetration in SSR can swiftly increase the risks of oral and rectal cancers, with the anal passage only having one thin membrane between blood vessels, the body’s life source, and toxic faecal matter.
- In HM, we also experienced deep within a foretaste and reflection of the eternal, a concept so sublime that we each struggled to find words to accurately describe what was happening at a soul level, and yet it was this difference that caused most joy and excitement to rise up within our discussions. None of us had ever experienced anything similar to this even in the most committed SSRs, and where both same-sex partners faithfully practised Christianity.
As hard as it is to accept, particularly when there is genuine love between two people of the same sex, our conclusion was that the label of marriage cannot be applied to a homosexual couple in the same way as to a heterosexual couple.
However inclusive and embracing our society and religious bodies desire to be, the ingredients necessary to truly experience marriage as laid out in the Bible cannot be present in any same-sex relationship.
This is a tough truth to accept, and it demands that churches become increasingly committed to respectfully, compassionately, and sensitively journeying spiritually alongside people who experience same-sex attraction and are gender-questioning.
However, if the slogan #loveislove is true, then, as every good parent knows, we need to be consistent in our loving — which can often require being painfully honest even if it causes hurt and distress for a time to those we so dearly love.
The laity and clergy of Australia’s Anglican Church seem to have understood this well and voted accordingly. Their bishops, it would appear, are the ones who need deeper insight from the Almighty to help bring them back into line with man’s original design.