In Part I of this series, I showed that the attempt by General Convention in 2012 to authorize, sub rosa, same-sex marriages without bothering first to change the canons or the Book of Common Prayer led to widespread disciplinary violations by clergy in those States that recognized those unions.
In Part II, I outlined the inadequacies of two current proposals to cure the canonical dilemma: Resolutions 2015-A036 and 2015-A054. Taken together as offered, they would eliminate the traditional equation of marriage to Holy Matrimony as celebrated in the BCP, and render the concept of “marriage” virtually meaningless — the proposed rites for same-gender marriage run the gamut from invoking blessings, to becoming “bound to one another”, to being “married according to the laws of the State of X.”, to being “wed to one another,” to being “ever hereafter United in Matrimony” [sic]. Nothing could better indicate the inability of this generation to perceive its roots than this smorgasbord of two-person hookups offered to all and sundry.
This is what comes of acting first and thinking later. “We can, and should, do same-sex marriages NOW — let’s worry about justifying it down the road.” (This impetus appears to have been behind the unquestioning adaptation [see below] of the BCP liturgy for Holy Matrimony to same-gender marriages. According to the Supplemental Materials of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, “a number of respondents expressed frustration or confusion that the [original draft] liturgy appeared to be a ‘separate but equal’ rite, which therefore was not equivalent to marriage” (p. 5 at the link; italics added).
The fundamental problem of adapting traditional Christian marriage (“Holy Matrimony”) to same-sex unions is that the theology of the former turns into blasphemy when the rite is carried over,holus-bolus, to the latter. Begin with St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians:
Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:24-33 ESV)
“This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
Correct — and when one is talking of a relationship between two men, or between two women, there is no longer any profound mystery in St. Paul’s sense, and no parallel at all to the relationship between Christ and the church. (Which one of the two represents Christ, and which the church? If one cannot say, due to an insistence upon full equality, then the analogy is void of meaning; if one claims to be the “husband” or the “wife”, then where is the assumed equality, since both are male, or both are female? And whence comes the authority to say which is “submissive”, in any one circumstance? The scheme breaks down under a total dependency upon individual human frailty and fallibility in any given union — which bears no relation to that between Christ and his church. God made Christ the husband of his church; there could be no other possibility.)
For these reasons, it is neither true, nor faithful to Paul, to use these words of the current BCP rite of Holy Matrimony in connection with the celebration of a same-sex union:
Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony. The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.
But the proposed rite “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage (2)” (pp. 97-106 at the link) does use those words, with a change (my emphasis added) that renders the whole ceremony blasphemous:
Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of N. and N. in Holy Matrimony. The joining of two people in a life of mutual fidelitysignifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and so it is worthy of being honored among all people.
It is significant, is it not, that the same-sex rite first eliminates “the bond and covenant of marriage … established by God in creation”? (Because that covenant was unarguably established betweena man and a woman.)
Next, the rite as changed stresses only the relationship of “mutual fidelity”, and says nothing about the relation of submission, or the proper role of the male and the female in a Christian family. But Paul makes it clear that just as “the church submits to Christ,” so shall a wife submit to her husband (because he must be loving, and so loving can do nothing to harm her), and that just as Christ loved his church, so shall a husband love his wife (so that their union may fulfill God’s will for them). Paul was not talking about equality; nor was he talking about the way a man can relate sexually to another man, or a woman to another woman. To liken such relationships to “the mystery of the union between Christ and his church” is to utter blasphemy on both Christ and his church.
It is also appalling that such blasphemy could seriously, and in all earnestness, be proposed to the bishops and the deputies at General Convention 2015 for their ratification and approval for use by the Church as a whole. The debate on Resolution 2015-A036 alone should be very informative on how far the church has sunk into the quagmire described in 2 Peter 2:1-3:
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
It should be noted that another proposed resolution before General Convention would accomplish much the same thing as 2015-A036 and 2015-A054 together, namely, Resolution 2015-C026, proposed (to my shame) by my own Diocese of Northern California. It does this by making changes to the current marriage rite in the BCP — without going through the constitutional formalities of changing the BCP itself! It provides in part:
Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church authorize the use of “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage,” “The Blessing of a Civil Marriage” and “An Order for Marriage” from The Book of Common Prayer 1979, and “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” from Liturgical Resources I, for all marriages legal in the civil jurisdiction in which the liturgy takes place. In civil jurisdictions with same-sex marriage, the language “man and woman” and “husband and wife” and other such gender-specific language shall be equally applicable to two persons of the same sex, and may thus be modified whenever necessary for the purposes of the Canon “Of the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony” (Canon I.18) and “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage,” “The Blessing of a Civil Marriage” and “An Order for Marriage” in the Book of Common Prayer 1979 …
Because this Resolution is being referred to the same committee that will take up the other two Resolutions, and because that committee already has before it the draft of complete same-sex alternative rites based on the ones in the BCP, I do not expect this measure to pass as written, so its unconstitutional method of changing the language of the BCP will hopefully not become an issue. But it should be noted that in proposing the changes it does, Resolution 2015-C026 promotes blasphemy every bit as much as does Resolution A054.
What hope is there for the Episcopal Church if any of these Resolutions passes its General Convention? At that point, the Church will be on record as promoting and encouraging its ordained clergy to speak blasphemously of the relationship between Christ and his church every time they perform a same-sex marriage. And so at that point, the Church will most definitely no longer be a church, let alone a part of the “one true, catholic and apostolic church” instituted by our Lord. Instead, it will be at war with our Lord’s church.
The consequences for ECUSA will be the loss of still more dioceses, and the loss of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of its parishioners. Those staying will not perceive any such exodus as a loss, but only as an opportunity to band together in their blasphemy still more closely.
The other possibility is that there will be such a revolt in the clergy and informed laity that a Special Convention will have to be called just to repeal the profane measures. But do not tie your hopes to that wagon — the very fact that these blasphemous resolutions could be proposed with a straight face shows how far gone is ECUSA already.
(I am aware that the proposed changes include a provision that any member of the clergy may decline to officiate at such a ceremony. Such assurances never last, and in accordance with Neuhaus’ law, “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed” — i.e., there will shortly no longer be a choice.)
If the Resolutions pass and stay, the long-term damage done to the institution of the family will be incalculable. St. Paul’s formulas for a Christian marriage will be thoroughly undermined, with no ordered structure taking their place — instead, as mentioned, there will just be a smorgasbord of commitments to various degrees, and future children will be the ones who suffer from the loss of certainty and permanence. (For all the emphasis on “commitment to a lifelong relationship” as the essence of same-sex marriages — indeed, the very characteristic that is said to qualify them for equality with traditional marriage — the Church’s unfortunate poster boy is the now twice-divorced V. Gene Robinson.)
By undermining the orthodoxy of traditional marriage, by emphasizing the ability of couples to make cafeteria choices of how the Church (and, presumably, God) will bless and solemnize their relationships, the Church will knock out the very props that hold up the traditional family, by treating them as no more important than any other commitment that can be imagined between two people.
And in undermining the family, the Church will complete its own undermining, because it is the family that enables the very existence and support of the Church itself. As the percentage of families in a congregation drops, so does its ability to provide continuity from one generation to the next. And once it loses the ties that bind it to previous generations, the Church itself will no longer have reason to exist. (Remember that religio, the source for our “religion,” means “I bind again.”)
Thus the Episcopal Church 2015 is at a watershed, and the way it handles marriage will define its own future. It cannot remain true to St. Paul’s mystery of the marriage covenant while riding the bandwagon for same-sex blessings and marriages: the two are fundamentally and unalterably incompatible.