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Committee member writes alternative marriage paper

19 April 2013


EXTENDING marriage to same-sex couples might be a "redemptive step", a member of the Faith and Order Commission (FAOC) has said, in an article regarded by some as a minority report to the Commission's much-criticised paper on marriage, Men and Women in Marriage, which was published on Wednesday of last week ( News, Leader Comment, 12 April).

The article by the Revd Dr Charlotte Methuen, a lecturer in church history at the University of Glasgow, entitled "Marriage: one man and one woman?", was published on the Open Democracy website last Friday.

After a survey of the biblical and historical understanding of marriage, including observations about polygamy, the submission of women, and inequality, Dr Methuen writes: "I recognise that the Faith and Order Commission's document offers one theological justification for the Church of England's current position on marriage, but I cannot see marriage simply and uncritically as part of the 'goods' of creation. . .

"One of the flaws of our current conception of marriage may be precisely the emphasis on 'one man and one woman', which seems consistently to imply expectations about the role of women and men which tend to be biologically determinist, and which reach beyond the question of who is biologically capable of bearing children."

Long-term relationships between gay people may be "less fraught" than those between straight people, she suggests, "precisely because the couple is not having to negotiate centuries of expectation of how men and women should relate to one another. Extending the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples might, in fact, be a redemptive step. For it might allow the institution of marriage to transcend the profound inequalities between men and women which have too often shaped it."

Speaking on Monday, Dr Methuen said that the article was published "as a contribution to the current debate". The Commission's paper was published a month earlier than originally planned, so that the publication of the two coincided.

The Commission's paper was a response to its task to produce "a theological justification of the Church of England's current position. This is obviously something very different from what my own piece is doing," Dr Methuen said. "There is always a balance to be struck between the views of the individual members of the Commission, and the work the Commission produces.

The Commission's paper has met with confusion and criticism. On Saturday, the Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, wrote on his blog that it had provoked "scorn from all sides".

On the day of its publication, the Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson, described one paragraph as "pure waffle", and identified "genteel homophobic assumptions": "It does not speak for all Christians, as it claims to, because many Christians do not regard gay people as in any way inferior."

On Friday of last week, the Revd Dr Lesley Crawley, a Non-Stipendiary Minister at St John the Evangelist, Hale, in the diocese of Guildford, wrote on her blog: "I hate the theology, the psychology, the philosophy and the lack of respect and love in this document. I hate that it feels like we as the Church of England judge, we exclude, we nit-pick, we show little understanding or grace."

On Monday, the Revd Thomas Seville CR, a member of the Commission, said that the report was "as clear as it could be" on the question of what it refers to as "accommodations" for same-sex couples.

"The issue of producing a report in soundbites, which has its temptations, is that you end by giving people something superficial. 'Well-designed accommodation' is a good one, it leaves things open which we should not really have been speculating on." The Commission had been "mindful" of the fact that the Pilling Review, which is looking at the Church's approach to sexuality, is due to report: "We did not want to be messing up their patch," he said.

The Commission had been "very concerned not to make judgements or condemnation about other forms of relating, but we were stating positively what the Church of England actually taught." There was much discussion of the FAOC paper, but it was agreed that it should be sent on to the House of Bishops Standing Committee, and then to the House of Bishops." Fr Seville said he hoped that the Commission would look at the issues raised in Dr Methuen's paper in the future.

On Wednesday of last week, the Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Anthony Priddis, welcomed the report: "We wish to see marriage itself strengthened, not weakened, and married couples supported."

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