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Gay marriage, complementarity, and Church of England discipline

11 April 2014


From the Revd Thomas Brazier
Sir, - I would like to thank the Revd Dr Andrew Davison for his helpful analysis on complementarity (Comment, last week) in response to the equally insightful analysis of Professor Mike Higton (Comment, 21 March). I think, however, that Dr Davison's comments are not broad enough: they focus only on the particular, not on the general.

So, Dr Davison speaks of what is necessary and sufficient for a particular man and woman to be complementary, but he does not mention the complementarity of men and women as classes. Equally, he considers a particular marriage, but does not mention marriage as an institution. If we expand the discussion to the general, we do, indeed, find that men and women are complementary in many ways.

Most clearly, of course, men and women as classes are complementary in the process of engendering children. To a high but lesser degree, men and women as classes are complementary in the raising of children; and this appears not to be changing greatly even in our increasingly egalitarian world. Much also might be said about areas of technical capacity and ways in which men and women as classes process things emotionally.

I realise that these comments are not particularly welcome in our strongly individualistic world. We do not wish to be boxed into a category of "man" or "woman", and there certainly is something to be said for this concern.

None the less, as Christians, we are called to be far more than mere individuals. The Church stands as a sign that human beings are made to be members of a corporate body, mirroring the very nature of the Trinity itself. So, what is needed, I suspect, is some kind of balance between the individual and the corporate, between the particular and the general.

Dr Davison has been very helpful in providing a perspective on the particular, but we need also to consider the general. In fact, given our common background of individualism, we need to focus more on the general as a corrective to our tendency to err on the side of the particular.

It would, therefore, be very helpful to see a similar analysis of complementarity from the perspective of the general. A letter is too short for this, but I will mention one consideration that springs to mind. Marriage is a common biblical metaphor for the relationship between God and mankind. Dr Davison's comments become vague when considering this metaphor, because there is no one characteristic that can be said to hold for any two particular marriages; particular marriages are related (in Dr Davison's terms) "analogically".

If we view marriage at the general level, though, as an institution bringing together men as a class with women as a class, we find we now can speak of specific characteristics of marriage and, consequently, also of the relationship of God with mankind.

The latter example may strike many as objectionable, and perhaps it is.

We can only know, however, by deeper exploration of this and other questions of complementarity in general. Since individualism is our homeland, this will probably not be comfortable work, but it is necessary.

38 Brancepeth Road
Tyne & Wear NE38 0LA

From the Revd George Curry
Sir, - While Dr Davison provides useful insights into the notion of complementarity, he builds his argument on a questionable premiss. The Church of England does nothold that "marriage is all about the complementarity of men and women" (emphasis added).

The introduction to the Solemnization of Matrimony in the Book of Common Prayer cites three causes: procreation, sexual intimacy, and mutual companionship. The order does not imply the priority of one over another. Of greater significance, perhaps, is the context in which the causes are given.

The introduction tells us from where the causes come. They are not, as some have sought to argue, a social construct. They were given by God. The C of E teaches that marriage is in fact a creation ordinance. And she affirms that marriage is the union of "opposites": a man with a woman.

The Church does not have the liberty to equivocate onthe origin, design, or function of marriage. Instead, as the Bride of Christ, she has hitherto accepted that she is under a solemn and joyful obligation to bear faithful witness in both Church and State to the distinctive character of marriage.

It therefore follows that those who support the celebration of same-sex unions within the Church can be said to undermine both marriage and the function of the Church in the world.

The Vicarage, Clumber Street
Newcastle upon Tyne NE4 7ST

From the Revd Dr Philip Goggin
Sir, - While Dr Davison is surely right in arguing that complementarity in marriage has a much wider reference than sexual difference, he offers only one reason for saying that sexual difference is not necessary: the empirical fact that some same-sex couples are observed to have complementarity. (His claim that the current Church of England position "reduces our vision of sexual relationships to the level of a budget brothel" is below the belt and wide of the mark.)

Important as observed complementarity is, it is also worth referring to that growing body of research evidence which points to the harm and unfairness in expecting persons with a same-sex orientation to remain celibate. Further, it is worth pointing out that sex organs are not used in one standard way, even by heterosexual couples. They are open to a variety of uses that may have little to do with sexual difference. Nor is sexual activity confined to sex organs. So sexual difference is not that important.

It is all too easy to see in the natural order of things a divine pattern that, in reality, simply reflects cultural or religious assumptions. Famously, Aquinas's view of justice, supposedly based on objective observation of human affairs, reflected the realities of a feudal order.

The challenge to those who claim that sexual difference is decisive for marriage is to ask whether the evidence of the natural and human sciences (biology, genetics, anthropology, sociology, psychology, etc.) could ever change their view. A negative answer would show that the matter had been prejudged.

St Peter's Vicarage
Middlewich Road
Minshull Vernon
Crewe CW1 4RD

From the Revd Robert Ellis
Sir, - It is to be hoped that those potential ordination candidates who are being asked to sign a document by their diocesan directors of ordinands affirming they are both "single and celibate" (News, 21 March) are asked to do so in the very early stages of the discernment process. Such a request should surely be made before they give up their homes and previous professions.

I suspect that there will be many potential candidates, both straight and gay, who will not be prepared to sign such a declaration in response to such an iniquitous Pastoral Letter, and will therefore not wish to offer themselves for ordination. Certainly, some of those presently in the House of Bishops, who were contemporary to me at theological college, could not have signed it with any integrity.

I have been a priest in the Church of England for 42 years, and I don't think I have ever been so ashamed of the Church of England as I was on the morning of 29 March, when I saw the pictures of the first same-sex marriages. There is so little love in the world that when you see it, you want to bless it.

The Pump House, Jacks Lane
Staffs ST14 8LW

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