This is a controversial subject on many levels. Meanwhile our diocese will likely see its first authorized same-gender unions this spring.
There are many underlying issues, and I think it important that we as people of good will and faith take the time to understand the competing points of view and how we have arrived at this moment in our history as a church.
When a couple exchanges vows of commitment, who is conferring the blessing? God? The Church? The couple? And what is a blessing? What obligations come with a blessing for us as the people of God and for the couple?
The Anglican Theological Review, which is typically a weighty journal, devoted its Winter 2011 issue to an exploration of these questions and others, with papers commissioned by the House of Bishops representing competing points of view written by a diverse group of eight theologians and biblical scholars. We will be drawing on that work in addition to a number of other resources.
What is the purpose of marriage? Is marriage primarily for the procreation of children, or as it says in The Book of Common Prayer, is it primarily for the "mutual joy" of the couple? Should that joy be restricted only to opposite-sex couples? Are there theological meanings to marriage that need to be recovered?
We are a church that holds dear our history and our connection to the apostolic tradition. We revere the authority of Scripture as the primary guide for Christians to holy and ethical living, though we often don't agree on what we mean by that. What does Scripture say about marriage? What doesn't it say? As Anglicans, how do we bring into the conversation our "three-legged stool" of Scripture, Reason and Tradition?
And is the Holy Spirit calling us to a new understanding of marriage, or are we succumbing to popular culture?
To bring you this series of forums over the next four weeks, I will be teaming up with The Rev. Dr. Heather Warren, who is a professor of Religious Studies and a historian of American religious history. Whatever your point of view, I hope you will come with open minds and open hearts. One of the papers in The Anglican Theological Review (p. 62) noted this, and I think it is a good starting point:
"It is no accident that we now debate marriage. For marriage is an example of the concrete discipline that most of us (liberal and conservative) lack: in marriage we practice common discernment over self-interest. Marriage cultivates concern for one another; it offers lifelong hospitality; it enacts love; and it exposes our faults in order to heal them. It is the marital virtues that the church needs, not only with respect to the Bridegroom, but just now, with respect to one another."
I hope you will join us for these forums.