With General Convention approaching, I have had less time to note new material relevant to the Episcopal Church’s conversation on marriage. I’ll mention three right now to make up for it.
Fully Alive has just released an essay from Derek Olsen, “The BCP marriage service and the shortcomings of Paul and Augustine.” The essay responds to Fully Alive’s ATR paper (“Marriage in Creation and Covenant” or MCC), as well as one of my responses to the ATR respondents (“Augustine, Scripture, and eschatology“) . Olsen’s paper begins with a brief note of appreciation, but moves quickly towards laying out his thorough disagreement with MCC. He has two main concerns.
The first is related to the theology of Paul and Augustine. Olsen states that Paul and Augustine believed women to be culturally, biologically, and socially inferior to men (2-4), indeed, that Paul’s view of marriage portrays “a sacrament of unquestionable domination” (3-4). He says that “Marriage is not, according to the Pauline view, a relationship between equals.”
Olsen also claims that Paul’s and Augustine’s theology was based on late antique science that is now obsolete (4-5). Notably, Olsen works to rehabilitate Paul (5-6), but he dismisses Augustine and the Western tradition based on him (4).
Augustine builds his theology of marriage on a theology of the body that draws on scriptural resources but is also informed by the best scientific thinking of his day. This confluence of science and theology, therefore, stands at the root of the Augustinian tradition of marriage no matter how much later thinkers have adjusted it …. No credible thinker suggests that Aristotle’s or Galen’s description of biology coheres with reality as modern science is able to observe and quantify it. As Galen falls, so too does a theology informed by his premises.
Olsen’s second concern is the BCP marriage service, as he thinks that MCC fails to understand the rite appropriately by emphasizing procreation as a purpose of marriage.
The Prayer Book’s rite foregrounds the unitive and assistive aspects of marriage; the generative aspect appears in last place, is conditional rather than essential, and the rite may suggest non-biological forms of generativity. In putting their position forward, the authors of the MCC are not presenting “the doctrine and discipline of marriage set forth in The Book of Common Prayer” (MCC 3) but an argument that is more specific and has different emphases than the rite of the Prayer Book.
As one of the MCC authors, I may write a response to Olsen at some point, but (with GC looming), I simply want to thank him for his engagement. We need to keep the dialogue moving forward, both at GC and beyond.
Reflections from ACI
Over at the Anglican Communion Institute, Mark McCall and Ephraim Radner have written separate essays, each worth reading in full. McCall’s essay is “Good Order and the Re-definition of Marriage.” He notes that several bishops (and Scott Gunn, I might add) have now weighed in, saying that the task force proposals put the cart before the horse in revising the canons before revising the Book of Common Prayer. He substantiates this claim even further than Gunn’s essay and the essay from Bishops McConnell and Benhase have done. He concludes that “Introducing same sex marriage into the Church in good order would require honoring [BCP and canonical] provisions until they are amended in accordance with the required constitutional procedures.”
None of this is obscure; to the contrary, it is obvious. Yet the most remarkable thing about the many resolutions offered on marriage (ten so far) is that not a single one even proposes the obvious first step required of good order: amending or revising the BCP. To be sure there are four resolutions (C017, C022, C026 and D026) that reference the BCP, but none of them attempts to comply with the constitutional requirements for amending it. Instead, they flagrantly attempt to circumvent the Constitution by re-interpreting the language of the BCP
Radner has written about “Questions Facing the Episcopal Church over Redefining Marriage.”
TEC’s proposed redefinition of marriage … is not primarily about whether two men or two women can live together as physically intimate and emotionally connected couples. That has already been decided by the civil courts, and by wider cultural affirmations, permissions, or indifference. Rather, the attempt to redefine marriage has as its outcome the dismantling of the unique reality of man-woman-child relationships that human beings have, to this point, uniquely and universally upheld.
To call other human relationships “marriage”, and to render this broader range of relationships equivalent to the mother-father-child ordering of human coming-to-be is quite effectively to unravel the concept of birth-mothers and -fathers, the unbreakable bond between mothers and their children, and the deep responsibilities of fathers to their birth-giving families. Not only is the concept unraveled, but all these realities are now no longer deemed necessary to human life, but rather optional. Indeed, the optionality of marriage, not as a definition but as the fundamental locus of human coming-to-be is what the redefinition of marriage, such as that proposed by TEC, is all about.
The church must ask itself if, indeed, the father-mother-child elements are interchangeable in human and social value with – mean the same thing as — man-man and woman-woman and man-man-child and woman-woman-child forms of human coming-to-be. It is not enough to say that there have always been “exceptions” to the forms of human marriage: alternative arrangements here and there, childlessness, elderly couplings. None of these adjusted exceptions have ever sought to redefine marriage, optionalize it and thus effectively to dismantle it. (emphasis original)
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