Friday, July 10, 2015

A Postscript to "40 Answers for Kevin DeYoung"


Given your Reformed context and theological commitments, Mr. DeYoung, I do not expect you fully to understand or appreciate what has been happening of late in The Episcopal Church, or even for you to have noticed some of the nuanced positions articulated in my Answers to your 40 Questions.

In recent weeks, various news sources have been reporting that the General Convention of The Episcopal Church voted to "redefine marriage." That's just typical news hype. Granted, General Convention did vote to remove gender-specific language from the canons on marriage. But canons do not articulate theology. They simply stipulate the criterion under which the entire Church must govern itself. 

Most dioceses will joyfully go forward with gay marriage, alongside heterosexual marriage, employing approved trial liturgies for this purpose. A minority of dioceses will not. In both cases provision will be made for dissenting parishes and clergy. The canons apply to all contexts and situations throughout the church and were thus written in a way that they could.

The fact is, no changes, as of yet, have been made to the Book of Common Prayer. I will not lie to you and suggest that changes will not be made in future years. I only mention this to point out that we are still in the process of theological and liturgical assessment in The Episcopal Church with respect to the marriage issue. Be that as it may, a few positions within the Church deserve mention.

First, many would argue that no sacramental distinction should be made between heterosexual marriage and same sex marriage (gender being incidental). Their position would be that any future marriage/blessing rites should avoid any gender specific language and be used in all cases. In their view, marriage is not being “redefined” as much as it is being extended to a class of people formerly excluded from the sacrament. This is what most outsiders believe is the official position of The Episcopal Church. It is not; at least, it is not yet.

Second are the traditionalists who are resigned to live with two different theologies of marriage within the same Church, traditional and inclusive. They argue that since the traditional view is the majority position of the Anglican Communion it deserves a place (or “protected” status) in The Episcopal Church. My educated guess is that traditional marriage advocates would like to see the current rite of Holy Matrimony retained in some fashion in future prayer books alongside any marriage rite that avoids gender specificity. Obviously, this presents both practical and canonical challenges. But this will probably be the default position in The Episcopal Church for years to come.

Lastly, there are those who espouse a “middle way” position that understands heterosexual marriage and same sex marriage as two different kinds of unions, both of equal integrity. This view can be summarized in the saying, “legitimacy in diversity.” It rests on the recognition that marriage between a man and a woman possesses a procreative potential that exists nowhere else in human life (an importance not lessened when a couple is unable to conceive). In other words, male-to-female sexuality carries a sacramental value that same-sex sexuality simply does not possess. Liturgically speaking, this position would require two different, albeit similar, kinds of rites that would enable the Church to celebrate each kind of union for the goodness it represents without reducing them to the same experience. The theological challenge for this position lies in articulating what sacramental value, if any, same-sex marriage possesses. Personally, I do not think this is as daunting as it appears (e.g. the model of “holy friendship” comes to mind), and I am quite open to this possibility.

I hope this will help you to understand a little better where we are as a Church, and also help you to see that many of us, though rejoicing in the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in our churches, are still asking the question, “What should this look like?” I would like to think that this is a question being asked in all churches, even those of more conservative and traditional bent.

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