Saturday, July 30, 2005

Reasserting the Argument for Gay Marriage

In May I posted a biblical argument for gay marriage here; it may be time to reassert it. It isn't really ECUSA's argument--ECUSA might disavow it, ironically, as its own reasoning at Nottingham (it seems to me) worked within the rather different parameters set out in Holmes and Westerhoff's "Christian Believing." And despite my conservative premises, the right won't take it in either, I fear. My argument is an orphan, and still young; nevertheless, don't hold back. I'm truly curious about what sort of criticism it can gather. Sometimes Blake is right: opposition is true friendship.

I. The Big Picture Sketched (still working this out)
The telos served in sex is the eschatological union of humanity and God, our ultimate satisfaction, of which sex is a merest foretaste. The union of sex is an, alas, defective imitation of our union with God in the world to come. Not that our union with God must be sexual--we can only see through the glass darkly on the point of what constitutes blessedness. But blessedness eminently contains the satisfactions we aim at in sex; God willing, we will not miss the sexual praxis we leave behind, and we will recognize in our life with God what we were after here below all along.

But that foretaste is immensely important in this state; in the service of Christ it is more a help to the Church's ministry of reconciliation than Paul appreciated; set against the service of Christ, it is just as damaging and withering as Paul said. As with the unity of the divine nature, the sexual unity of which human nature is capable is productive--most dramatically in the case of conception, where the transient sexual union of parents can produce, with God's help, another person. But that unity can be productive in other ways that serve Christ. In any sexual activity, fidelity to Christ or our relationship with God is the measure by which its moral qualilty is determined--that does not imply divine command theory so much as imply, for instance, that any sexual act turning us away from God is morally wrong.

[There's clearly alot of work to do here--my apologies. Feel free to critique what's here anyhow. I assume that (a) chastity is universally obligatory; if in addition (b) sex is permitted only within marriage, and (c) marriage may be only heterosexual, it seems to follow that all homosexual activity is forbidden. This type of argument is familiar on the right, and I confess to holding (a) and (b)--thus I must do something with (c).]

II. The Argument Itself
I'll first set out the steps, and then talk briefly about each one:
1. Christ was resurrected in the flesh, and will exist in the world to come.
2. In the world to come, members of the Church will be resurrected, male and female, in the flesh.
3. In the world to come, the members of the Church will bear a new real, reciprocal relation to Christ; call it R.
4. Here below, marriage should be modeled on R.
5. R obtains between males: for instance, Christ and each blessed male.
6. As R obtains between males, and marriage is to be modeled on R, marriage may obtain between males.

(1) and (2) need resurrected bodies to have a sex (the term "gender" is heavily contested), at least male or female. If you think therfe is no resurrection, or that we will be resurrected sexless with smooth spots, my reasoning won't work for you.

(3) is tricky--you may or may not think of the Church as a ghostly entity over and above its members. Regardless of where you stand on the Church as an entity per se, all I need is for its members each to bear R to Christ, and Christ to them. R is not just metaphorical; there is a concrete, real side to it as well.

(4) is from Paul in Ephesians: R is normative for marriage here below. We are to imitate now in our married lives the relation of Christ to the Church in the world to come. This is an instance of what I mentioned in (I) above about our relationship to Christ being the measure of sexual morality here below.

(5) is trivial.

(6) doesn't rest on drawing an analogy. Rather, given that R holds between males, nothing obstructs marriage holding between males: in the kind of union marriage imitates, its paradigm, our union with Christ in the world to come, male (Christ) is united to male (believer). Marriage here below that does not permit male to be joined to male falls short of what it should be in yet another way. That is, "falling short" is inevitable in imitation, but to willfully fall further short than necessary is perverse.

Note that (1) to (5) are all traditional and biblically based premises; you don't need to bring in much outside contemporary philosophy to get them from the text. Indeed, in other contexts, I believe many on the Anglican right would assent to each of (1) to (5) individually with a yawn and move on to something more controversial. But that is the strength of the argument--it provides a more productive ground on which to argue, since it is ground both sides can share.

Please note also, R is not marriage--I presume there is no marriage in heaven. R is not marriage, but that after which marriage is to be modeled.

Fire away, in a constructive way, of course.

Long Addendum: Under what conditions would I concede this argument is sunk? If there is some feature F of R that precludes homosexual marriage, but permits the union of a male to Christ in the world to come. Being a bit of a cognitive voluntarist, and having already commited myself to a side in the debate, I don't trust my intuitions about R--maybe there is such a feature F despite my convictions to the contrary.

Why wouldn't citing Genesis, Leviticus or Romans do the trick? I'm going to interpret those passages and others like them to be consistent with what I want to say about R; interpretation of such passages can be controlled by the ideas of texts prior in importance for the sake of the argument, e.g. Ephesians.

Well then, you might ask, whence F? Say something about the Christian meaning of marriage, tell a biblical story, such that while it does not beg the question (at least, not in any obvious way), it implies for some reason homosexual marriage is to be ruled out.


At 4:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with this argument is that Biblically and traditionally marriage prefigures R precisely inasmuch as the union of man and woman prefigures the union between Christ and the Church (or between God and creation). All Christians are symbolically female with regard to Christ. Thus, marriage is modeled on R only inasmuch as it consists of a man and a woman. Any other form of "marriage" constitutes a mockery of the sacramental order of creation, however many virtues and natural goods it may embody.

At 8:07 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanks for your comment: the criticism, IMHO, is a good one. I'm going to have to take some time to think about how best to respond.

Intitally, this line of response looks promising: if males may enter into R with Christ provided they are symbolically female, then males may enter into marriage with males, provided at least one is symbolically female.

Again, marriage actually prefigures R just as you say--nobody would doubt that Church tradition favors one account of marriage, as monogamous and heterosexual.

Nevertheless, it may be that marriage potentially prefigures R in other ways, e.g. in the instance of gay marriage.

What determines whether the potential for marriage to prefigure R is exhausted by how marriage actually prefigures R? Two considerations are relevant: (1)what counts as marriage, marriage's "what" is sensitive to historical changes. So, for instance, marriage among the ancient Hebrews is something different from marriage among Americans in the '50s, despite their sharing features. That doesn't say much; (2) is more significant: God determines what counts as marriage, and what he has decreed is settled in whole or part by what counts as R, given that marriage is to be modeled after R.

At 12:59 AM, Blogger Mike L said...

At 12:18 PM, Blogger Derek the Ænglican said...

I'm with anonymous that your designated "R" is a problem. One of the greatest difficulties is that Paul in Eph 5 is not clear on what R is. It clearly relates at an intimate union with Christ. The use of musterion complicates attempting to nail this down. In essence, Paul has said that it is a metaphor of some sort but has left the exact relationship unstated. In order to make this work you have to prove that the R metaphor works along sexual lines. Furthermore, Mark 12:18-27 and parallels seem to factor into any discussion of what R is like and how it would pertain to its nature. How do you deal with it and its implications? It seems to refute the R as sexual-like encounter.

I would think that to work with Eph 5 properly, you would need t look at the rhetoric that ties together sexuality and idolatry that has been formative for the Judeo-Christian tradition. Throughout Torah, the Prophets, the Psalms, sexual immorality has been a euphemism for idolatry, has been represented as the moral fruits of idolatry, and has been used as an extended metaphor most notably by Ezekiel and Hosea. Furthermore, some would argue that the Song of Songs is the positive counter-example where love (heterosexual in this case, of course) seems to point to the relation between Israel/believers/the soul/the Church and God. This is important because it is the theological underpinings for the casual reference in Eph and the language of Rev which also builds on it with the bride of Christ material in 20ff. From this perspective R is about headship but also about a steadfast relationship of love that will not be repudiated even given the inevitable hurts and betrayals that God/Jesus-as-husband has suffered.

At 4:26 PM, Blogger Mike L said...

Trackback Sacramentum Vitae

At 8:24 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

For any looking on:

Mark 12:18-27 (NRSV)--

18 Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, 19‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that “if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.” 20There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; 21and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; 22none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. 23In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.’
24 Jesus said to them, ‘Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? 25For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? 27He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.’

At 8:29 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

& Some stuff from Rev. 21:

2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ 5And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’

9 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ 10And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. 11It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. 12It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites;

At 8:30 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

& for good measure, Rev 22:

16‘It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.’ 17The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

At 8:53 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

You are quite right; I should say more about R. These passages from Revelation 21 and 22 are quite important; they should be, you rightly suggest, interpreted in such a way that (a) they are consistent with Ephesians, and (b)
are consistent with the witness of the OT's Song of Solomon, Hosea, et al. Such a unified interpretation would be most helpful in discerning what God determines to count as marriage--granted. There's a book in the effort, at least, or a dissertation.

What I hope to do here is rather limited: address the immediate counter-examples you offered. First, you mentioned the Song of Songs, saying "some would argue that the Song of Songs is the positive counter-example where love (heterosexual in this case, of course) seems to point to the relation between Israel/believers/the soul/the Church and God." In short, the textual image revealing to us the nature of R is heterosexual, not homosexual or somehow neutral between the two sexualities. If R is to be imitated here below, therefore, it can only be heterosexually.
Second, you noted Mark as decisive for rebutting my position.

The quote from Mark implies there is no marriage in heaven; but I can admit that while insisting that I do not need R to be marriage--it is a distinct relation: not marriage, but that on which marriage is modeled. Marriage is a way (not the only way) of imitating R here below.

The Song of Songs bit is tougher for me to answer. I would have to say it is not a counterexample, because the heterosexuality of the lovers in the story does not imply
R can only be imitated heterosexually. One way for me to argue this is to interpret the Song so that the bride is to the groom as the Church is to God. I.e. the couple's love need not be read in such a way that human couples here below must imitate their heterosexual love in order to rightly model R. Rather, each member of the Church stands, as it were, in the place of the bride--even if the member is not single, but married.

At 10:23 PM, Blogger Derek the Ænglican said...

Well...I still think Mark 'n'parallels cause a problem not just because of the obvious "no marriage in heaven" issue. I'd say you've got more of a problem because it makes clear that R is non-physical and therefore unequivalent to sexual activity. How can a male+Jesus relationship in a non-physical sense be put on the same level with a male homosexual relationship? And yes, you're right about the whole thing being disseration length. You still have to clarify quite a bit about R right now it's kind of a black box for whatever you want it to mean. Firm it up and you may well have something.

At 12:12 PM, Blogger John Mosby said...


What about a middle ground (which Anglicans are supposed to be good at finding and occupying)? What about allowing gay marriage as a civil state, without elevating it to the status of Christian marriage?

I.e., as a hetero Anglican, I can civilly marry a woman and not be considered to be in a state of sin. I can also opt for a Christian marriage (which I did), which is a higher form of commitment approaching the sacramental - if we had more than 2 sacraments. :)

Why not start by recognizing the committed monogamous gay relationship (recognized by the civil authorities where possible) as analogous to the civil hetero marriage - i.e, the spouses can sit together in church with their heads held high, jointly offer their children for baptism, mourn each others' deaths at church funerals, etc.? Then later, work on the theology of gay marriage.

The all-or-nothing approach seems to do more harm than good - especially in a church where priest-performed marriages do not have that high of a status, anyway.

John Mosby

At 12:56 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Ah--good point John Mosby; I had ignored your option altogether: allowing gays marriage in the civil sense (presumably with the ordinary run of legal rights) outside the Christian Church. The state has an interest in sponsoring the constructive stability of such unions, and perhaps the Church could see the forward movement in such civil unions away from mere promiscuity toward commitment and fidelity, while not taking its sacrament to be threatened by "redefinition".
Interesting to say the least, especially in the practical sense that your proposal could be seen as the least worst alternative to recognizing gay marriage, an alternative that might keep the Anglican Communion together.

What holds me back is my intuition that the relationships of Christian gay couples in love who commit to exclusive, life-long fidelity may have a sacramental quality; in their love they may amplify their lives in Christ. Then I fear the Church cultivates vice in its members by disposing them to turn their back on a love that could only issue from the Spirit.

At 1:24 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


In the interest of giving R some content: I'm not at all proposing a heavenly orgy among the blessed, Christ at the center of it all.
On th eother hand, R might not be entirely non-physical either, as the blessed will have perfected resurrection bodies. Moreover, I am impressed with the physicality of our principal sacraments--the Eucharist and Baptism.

The Eucharist is especially instructive as modeling an intimate physical union (falling short of R)with God that is non-sexual, pace Freud.

While I have much respect for Greek philosophy, I am convinced we are meant to know God in more than just an intellectual way; somehow our knowledge of God in the Eucharist is fitting not merely for us in our fallen status, but also our human status (it would be a fitting way of knowing God, even for pre-fallen Adam).

Indeed, to go even further, one could look at the experience of a high-church interior (with all the smells and bells, stained glass, chant, etc) as a foretaste of the redemption of our sense experience--for a moment we are taken from the realm of crass fallen matter and given a merest glimpse of what uncorrupted Beauty can be like through the medium of the senses. There is nothing necessarily immoral in knowing God via the senses of course; but it may, for all I know, even be necessary to the fullness of our life in Christ in the world to come.

Where two are gathered in the name of Christ, he is there; strictly, it follows that two joined in the sacrament of marriage are accompanied by Christ, even in their sexual activity. It is possible that their sexual activity constitutes a way of their knowing Christ in community. How on earth could that be? It may express them physically participating in eternity, aiming in their ecstasy and joy at being together (in a perichoretic way)
in the name of Christ at
embodying the eternal, infinitely intense and perfect immaterial joy of the divine Persons who also interpenetrate each other. The physical interpenetration of sex may be an imitation of the immaterial interpenetration in God.
Thus, marriage in its physical, sexual way may model divinity; so far as I have spoken, even homosexual activity would fit the bill.

But R need not be sexual; there are ways of being united to Christ, in contemplation say, or even physically (e.g the Eucharist or something aesthetic) that are non-sexual.

At 8:51 AM, Blogger Derek the Ænglican said...

I see where you're heading, the question is how to "flesh" it out and to put it into terms so that not just people who agree with you will be swayed. You seem, so far, to be vacilating between a Sola Scriptura approach and insights drawn inductively from an appeal to experience. Might not some traditional language help integrate this reflection into the broader conversation? The conservatives claim tradition and get away with it because the progressives don't know it.

Two possible areas for fodder on R:
1) Song of Songs. It is still option especially as it was read by the Fathers and those in their tradition. I imagine that Origen, Bede, and Bernard all said things about union in their treatments that would be useful to you. They may well talk about R in not only sexual terms but coming as men speaking about Christ... Getting a handle on this lit is not easy if it's not your field, though, thankful two of the Grand Old Men in the American Anglican Patristics field have collected this stuff for us, Fr. Wright and the late Richard Norris.

2) And this is a bit out of my league, but aren't the controversies around the Beatific Vision germane in some way to discussing what R is?

At 3:06 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanks for the heads-up; back into the library with me, it seems.

At 7:28 PM, Blogger Closed said...

Okay, this is intriguing enough for me to post on...

I still scratch my head about lesbians in this analogy.

BTW: I wrote something on May 16, 2005 "Friends with Benefits" talking about sacramentality and same sex least among males...

At 2:12 PM, Blogger Mike L said...

At 9:49 AM, Blogger Pontificator said...

Trackback Pontifications.

At 7:55 PM, Blogger Jcecil3 said...


This is a great argument, and I wrote a response to Pontification's critique which he linked above. My response is at


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