Covenant love and same sex relationships
Covenant love and same sex relationships ~ the Christian Church’s priorities in understanding marriage
As a recently retired priest in the Church of England who has served in five parishes and a cathedral, I plead that the bishops and theologians of the Church might revisit our Christian understanding and practice of marriage. Scripture, tradition and reason must release us from a text book mentality by which people are rejected or excluded from the very heart and purpose of the Holy Bible. For Christians, the Bible is uneven in its texts and history and tone; it reflects our turbulent common life and our changing understanding of God and creation over centuries. Since the last word of the scriptures was penned, our human experience has continued in this process and the Bible forms a unique and inspired guide to the purpose and practice of our human lives: ‘gospel’ – good news.
The good news is covenant love. God is relationship and meets us, blesses us and redeems us in relationship. Rules and laws are the common structures which allow human life to flourish in covenant love – a relationship which always carries the intrinsic risk of mutual trust.
Marriage is not the invention of any one religion or group and within the pages of the Bible there are widely ranging examples of what it is. However, if it is relationship and trust that define and create marriage rather than biology and instinct, then the Church needs to revisit the Christian interpretation of holy matrimony.
Jesus redefined the rules of society and religion by the primacy of grace in which all life is transformed by the action of God in his life, death and resurrection. This is the new covenant: a relationship formed by love and guided by rules, not the other way around. It is radical and revolutionary because love can and does change everything. It is not trapped and sealed in the past but vibrant and alive in the present and leads humanity into the future. Looking back over the centuries we can see revolutions in thought and society achieved through science, politics and human goodness and determination. Our thinking, expectations, assumptions and daily living are radically different from those who have lived before us and the Christian gospel unites us in covenant love which reforms and reshapes humanity in every age.
The world is not hostile and evil: it is God’s creation in which our human lives have interacted and changed it. Living in covenant with the creator is our human calling and human marriage is interpreted by Christians as a reflection of that union within God himself between the Father and the body of Christ, the Church. This is much more than biology and nature: it is a sign of the new creation, the relationship of love and eternity in time, in Jesus the living Christ.
Marriage is for the benefit of individuals and society; it is God’s blessing of covenant love forged in intimacy and lived out universally. It is the trust and the bond which produces freedom in this world and speaks of a greater reality beyond our horizons. Why is this to be denied to same sex relationships? We, the Christian Church, must not be lazy or cowardly and say that marriage is immutable – because it never has been. Indeed, marriage is intrinsically the union of difference and change through the power of grace in mutual love and commitment. Please, can we dare to be inspired by truth and love and mercy in the Bible, in the risen life of Jesus and in the Spirit who sets us free?
© Neil Thompson 2017