Redefining marriage

Here I am writing my first ever blog, on a subject that’s totally non-controversial! I’m being ironic, of course. How on earth did I decide to post a blog on something as controversial as the Government’s plans to redefine marriage, laying myself open to possibly huge criticism?

I guess it’s because the arguments on both sides have left me with lots of questions which, for me, lie at the heart of the debate and which I’ve heard nobody address satisfactorily, leaving me feeling entirely dissatisfied with both points of view.

My aim here, rather than to give a definite view, is to ask those foundational questions, and perhaps to give a hint at what I think the answers are. To raise more questions than controversial views.

I’m not sure what I think of the Government’s plan to redefine marriage, nor the response of the church or Coalition for Marriage. The questions which for me remain unanswered include (and these are not rhetorical):

  • Who has the right to define or re-define any word or idea? The Government? The church? The Oxford English Dictionary? Society?
  • Who owns marriage?
  • Is marriage a religious thing? Or is it a concept that has transcended theistic, atheistic and pagan groups everywhere throughout human history, for the good of society?

When society changes the meaning of a word, the dictionaries catch up afterwards.

Similarly, when Western, democratic society evolves its ideas or values, the Government will often introduce (or amend) laws to reflect these changes afterwards. Like it or not, has Western society not already redefined marriage through the concept’s decreasing popularity, people’s disillusionment with marriage and preference towards co-habitation, and high divorce rate?

If the Government redefines marriage by allowing gay couples to marry, it is simply reflecting society’s changing values – society’s move towards equal opportunities between heterosexual and gay people. Is that not a legitimate way of reflecting society’s current values? Does the Government have the right to affirm this shift in values? Does the church have the right to challenge the Government’s proposed law? I don’t know. But doesn’t marriage belong to society (if anybody)?

And would not this proposed change in law (if anything) promote faithfulness (in this case, between gay couples) over promiscuity?

I cannot see how this change in law would in any way detract from or threaten heterosexual marriage. Marriage is already under siege – not by the gay movement, but by a growing sense of transience or impermanence within marriages and heterosexual relationships generally.

I understand and agree with the Christian view that true marriage originates from God’s heart and reflects his faithfulness, love and unity. I understand and agree with the basis for this being rooted in the account or allegorical beginnings in Genesis: one man, one woman, for life, as the context for an intimate, exclusive sexual relationship and for raising children.

Of course, the church has every right to believe that this is the only moral context for sexual relationships.

However, societies and people groups throughout the world and throughout history have had diverse views on what form marriage takes, and I’m not sure the Western church, with its particular interpretation of marriage, has the right to dictate to society or Government what marriage should look like.

If the church is going to make this case, should it not also be fighting for a law against co-habitation? Is it not hypocritical to stand against gay marriage but to have a relaxed view on heterosexual couples living together without a marriage covenant? I’m not advocating for either case, by the way! But is co-habitation not more of a threat than gay marriage to traditional marriage?

Like most Christians, I believe strongly in the importance of marriage in the true sense of a covenant, as one of the building blocks for a stable society. Rather than worrying about the effect of gay marriage on the marriage institution, shouldn’t the church’s focus (or that of Coalition for Marriage) instead be on promoting, supporting and modelling marriage generally, enabling couples (the majority of which will always be male/female) to live out long, loving, stable marriages? Strengthening couples whose marriage is in jeopardy. Modelling how a spiritual life (of prayer, worship etc) between couples keeps the love and passion alive. In many ways the church already does this, and should continue to do so.

I wonder if the fight against gay marriage is the wrong battle. If two gay men or women want to marry, can the church not ‘live and let live’? It’s no threat to me, and I see no reason why it would be a threat to the church or traditional marriage.

Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis, has received some flak (and some support) from Christians for his recent article in Christianity magazine endorsing homosexual relationships, although his critics recognise his ‘pastoral motivation’. Like Steve, I’m motivated by inclusivism, sensing the welcoming heart of the Father, although evangelical friends might say that I’m neglecting to give the Bible, the word of God, its proper place of authority, or twisting its words. That’s another question!

Maybe I’ve become more liberal and less evangelical in my old age! If that’s the case, I’m not ashamed of it. My intention is now, more than ever before, to be a Jesus-follower (however well or badly I may succeed at that) rather than to be this or that type of Christian. A blog on evangelicalism to follow another time…..!

The battle for the church in this context is to promote faithfulness, commitment and sacrificial love to the society around us, and to point to Jesus, the Author of these characteristics who demonstrated them ultimately at the cross.

Does the church have a monopoly on marriage? Does the Goverment, or the church, have the right to define or redefine marriage? I don’t know. But I think society has already done so.

Have I asked more questions than I answered? I hope so.

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7 thoughts on “Redefining marriage

  1. You can have an amen from me. In the past, I would definitely have come down on the side of the narrow definition of marriage but I find that I’ve become more nuanced (alternatively, I guess, more wishy-washy!); now I am not entirely decided but am very close to the thinking you present.

  2. Tricia says:

    Brilliantly written… !!! keep speaking up Mr Nutthall !!! 🙂 x

  3. David Henty says:

    It’s not too late to decide to lobby the Peers and Bishops in the House of Lords to vote against the Bill. Apart from many letters to MPs, especially my own, who simply seems to be toeing the party line, I summed up many of my views in my most recent letter to the ‘Squire’ 25/26 Bishops in the House of Lords, when I heard they were ‘giving up’ their opposition to the Bill.

    I like your article very much, Roger, for its candid approach posing questions that you feel no-one has answered sufficiently for you, leaving you ‘feeling entirely dissatisfied with both points of view’.
    May I humbly therefore offer you and your readers a few possible ‘answers’ from my own experience as to why we’re in such a position with two hugely polarised viewpoints, as well as some researched evidence from eminent and respected scholars.
    Here are some brief extracts from my letter to the Bishops
    My Lord Bishops
    As a member of the C. of E. for the whole of my life of 70 years, I am dismayed at what I read in today’s newspapers, that the Bishops of the C. of E. are not going to resist the implementation of the Government’s Same-sex Marriage Bill.

    In Bishop of Salisbury’s letter to Lord Alli he writes “Whilst marriage is robust and enduring, what is meant by marriage has developed and changed significantly. For example, the widespread availability of contraception from the mid- twentieth century onwards took several decades to gain acceptance for married couples by the Lambeth Conference in 1958. The newer forms of the Church of England’s marriage service have since recognised that the couple may have children. Over the last fifty years the Church of England has come to accept that marriages intended to be lifelong can break down and that on occasion marriage after divorce can be celebrated in the context of Church. It is also the case that most couples now live together before they marry. This happens without censure from the Church which continues to conduct these marriages joyfully even though the Church’s teaching is that sexual relationships are properly confined to marriage.”

    As a Primary School teacher I was trained in the 60s to teach children that their opinion was ‘right’, as good as the next person’s with no ‘wrong answer’. The result of this ‘progressive education’ led to a situation akin to Sophocles listening to his students instead of his students listening to him! Children began pushing back the boundaries more than previously, with no thought to, or responsibility for, the consequences. A more liberal attitude developed in the 70s and 80s, irrespective of what their parents and those in authority said. These younger generations are now in power, particularly in politics, the public sector and media, where they have the greatest control over what today’s younger generation do, what they read, learn, how they bring up their children and even control over the outward manifestation of people’s faith.

    An equality call soon followed for comprehensive education and integration of children with special needs (children are not equal and have different needs). Then the ‘progressive’ slide towards Pluralism instead of Assimilation of immigrants into Society, Health and Safety rules, political correctness and equality for criminals. We are now suffering the consequences of such liberal thinking. Now we have the ‘progressive’ call for the ‘equality’ of same-sex marriage. But a man with a woman, a man with a man, and a woman with a woman, cannot be ‘equal’. They are different relationships with different needs, requiring different social assistance and laws.
    So it’s no surprise that the majority of under 50s, from MPs to the general public, now blindly follow the political call for ‘equality’ rather than listen to the inevitable adverse repercussions from their older peers or educated scholars and their research.

    Should we accept and follow the lowering morals of our younger generation just because it’s what we see they want, or should we teach and maintain the higher standards that we, as responsible and generally older members of society, are more likely to appreciate, from our experience and knowledge, are the more successful for their welfare and that of society in the long run?

    I also put it to you that the reason for the polls (though these are somewhat questionable) are stating that a majority of the public is in support of the Bill is due to the fact that a large percentage of the ‘majority’ has not read about the evidence of the many adverse repercussions now coming from countries who’ve already legalised same-sex marriage. One only needs to surf the internet to discover how much there is.

    I cannot see the logic of saying, as the new Bishop of Manchester did, that “I fully understand why in a society where for so long gay people have been subjected to such abuse and ill treatment many people say if they are asking for equality in the area of marriage that is something they can get. So I can see why in our society many people now – the majority of people – think that if this will help them to feel less badly treated then let them have it.”
    To love and support gay people (some of my closest friends are gay), through appropriate laws in the past (that didn’t affect the majority) in order to protect this hurting minority group, even if the majority disagreed, is totally different from passing a Bill that would have serious repercussions on the majority, for the sake of a minority group’s wish to marry (most gays are not bothered anyway!), when it has been agreed that a different type of ‘marriage’ already exists for the same sexes, that of ‘Civil Partnership’. No-one is preventing a gay person from marrying. But it should be to a person of the opposite sex, because that is what marriage is.

    All that those in favour of the Bill seem to want is one thing, ‘equality’ for the minority group, in spite of the fact that passing the Bill would have serious repercussions for the majority.

    Succumbing or giving in to the liberal activists (who want to push the boundaries back again) just because ‘society evolves’ and saying that we’ve now become accustomed to the many changes we thought were wrong in the past, is not logical, nor responsible in a so called civilised society, let alone by those we look up to for the defense of the values and morals we hold dear. We know from experience that yesterday’s unthinkable taboos are today’s ‘alternative lifestyles’. Just as the activists worked effectively in the past to dilute the values and morals of a society that had no real choice in the matter, so now they wish to push the boundaries further back yet again and make same-sex marriage acceptable to the mainstream. This is in spite of all the adverse repercussions it may bring, particularly to the stability of the family, which research is now showing to be best with a mother and a father.

    There is also evidence by Patricia Morgan, a researcher on family policy and author of The War Between The State And The Family, that refutes the contention, as David Cameron and his pro-Bill MPs claim, that ‘gay marriage will strengthen families’.

    Finally I would respectfully point out that the Church does not exist to exercise the will of the State but the will of God. Where the two are at odds, the Church should follow the teaching of the Bible. (Acts 5:29)
    The Church’s engagement with the secular world should never become a capitulation to it.
    Yours in Christ’s love
    David Henty

    I apologise if I appear to be promoting decision makers to totally ignore the views of the ‘younger generation’. However, I would at my age now agree with former generations (and strangely from most educationists, psychiatrists and sociologists today) that ‘we all learn from experience’. The problem as I see it is those ‘with experience’ are being shunted to one side and put out to grass, especially in the public sector (including politics), far sooner than they should be. This is why the majority of MPs who voted for the BIll were the younger ones, who were more or less saying that we shouldn’t worry as those voting for the Bill were mostly in the ‘older’ category and, together with the pro-Bill senior citizens in the general public (as opinion polls indicate), will soon die off! What I say is not until those in charge of politics and the public sector jobs die off and are replaced by a new, more responsible younger generation, who’ve seen what a mess we’ve made of everything, will we see our values, morals and responsibility raised back to reasonable levels for a civilized society. But are we teaching our new generations responsible common sense values and morals or are we letting them choose what they want, for fear of stunting their personal and emotional development. Are we going to continue to allow them to push the boundaries even further back? If so, one question for us all is “What is the next step”, and “the next demand”?
    I trust I have left you and your readers with food for thought and further debate.

  4. Thanks again, David, for your thoughtful comments.

    I believe that pluralism, post-modernism and liberalism, like all philosophical and political schools of thoughts, have their pros and cons. While a lack of absolutes have perhaps left our society foundation-less and insecure, at the same time I think post-modernism has produced a growing tolerance and understanding of minorities and differences. This is apparent not only in society at large but also in the church, where many of the barriers between denominations have been broken down and Christian unity is, I believe, stronger than ever before, with God’s children far more inclined nowadays to think of themselves as ‘Christians’ rather than Baptist, Anglican etc.

    I can see that gay ‘marriage’ is by definition a different thing to traditional heterosexual marriage, but I remain unconvinced that to call it marriage would in some way threaten marriage per se.

    The pervasive self-centredness and insecurity or heterosexual people, causing breakdown of marriage and further insecurity of children, who then try to fill the gap in their lives with alcohol and/or consumerism, thereby perpetuating the problem and causing further breakdown of society, seems to me to be a far bigger problem, with which the church (including me) needs to be concerned with.

    Once again, I propose that our energy would be better spent supporting existing heterosexual marriage(s) than opposing gay marriage.

    But I am also happy to agree to disagree, and feel it is so important for all of us to think these things through intelligently and prayerfully, and to come to our own conclusions.

    So I very much welcome your comments, David, and I hope any other readers will find both yours and my comments helpful.

  5. […] fence when it comes to the church’s traditional position on sexuality. My first ever blog post, Redefining Marriage, written about a year ago, reflects my indecisive […]

  6. […] efforts to grapple with sexuality, you might like to take a look at one or two of my thoughts: Redefining Marriage, Vicky Beeching, Romans 1 and 21st Century Life, and Homophobia, Jesus and […]

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