Michael Coren is the author of The Future of Catholicism, and Epiphany: A Christian’s Change of Heart and Mind Over Same-Sex Marriage.
Three years ago I wrote with joy and pride that the Anglican Church of Canada had voted at its Synod (the church’s governing body) to approve equal marriage, to give formal and sacramental acknowledgment of the church to LGBTQ people who wanted to embrace holy and lifelong commitments. In other words, gay men and women could be married in Anglican churches.
The vote was extremely close, and a two-thirds majority is required in the three orders of laity, clergy and bishops. Still, it succeeded. A second approval was required, however, and in Vancouver on Friday that didn’t happen. While the clergy and laity overwhelmingly approved, the order of bishops gave only 62.2 per cent support, just one or two votes shy of what was required.
People reacted with shock, because even though the church did pronounce that each diocese could move ahead as it sees fit – several have already married same-sex couples and will continue to do so – this was a body blow, especially to those gay Christians who have remained faithful worshippers in spite of rejection.
The Bishop of Niagara, Susan Bell, spoke for many when she said, “My heart aches with lament and my soul is filled with anguish knowing all the pain and hurt caused by the General Synod’s failure to ratify a change to the national marriage canon that would have explicitly expanded the meaning of marriage to include same-sex couples.”
Yet she continued, “The General Synod did also overwhelmingly vote to affirm the prayerful integrity of the diverse understandings and teachings about marriage in the Anglican Church of Canada … As a result, nothing about this decision will change our practice in Niagara. I remain steadfast in exercising my episcopal prerogative to authorize the marriage of all persons who are duly qualified by civil law to be married, thereby responding to the pastoral needs present within our diocese.”
So, while this is enormously hurtful and damages the church’s reputation in the public square and in particular among younger people, it is by no means the final statement. Also, for a church to live authentically, it has to listen to all voices, even if they may appear jarring. But why the continued opposition to what is essentially a call for unconditional love?
The subject is hardly mentioned in the Bible, and when conservatives quote the Old Testament they often do so without a thorough understanding of its nature. The Hebrew Scriptures aren’t linear history and certainly don’t constitute a handbook of modern life – they sometimes defend slavery, demean women, even advocate ethnic cleansing. They’re to be understood through context and reason. For example, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the sinful cities destroyed because of their wickedness, is far more concerned with respecting guests than condemning gay people – the homophobic interpretation arrived centuries later.
When the Old Testament does mention homosexuality, it also forbids the combinations of certain cloths, eating the wrong foods, or intercourse with a woman when she is menstruating. I have no recollection of any of these subjects being debated at a church synod.
Jesus never mentions homosexuality, and stands in sparkling contrast to many of his contemporaries in being largely indifferent to people’s private sex lives. The song of the Gospels is justice, hope, compassion, and love; it sings of inclusion and grace and tolerance.
There may, however, be one story in the New Testament where Christ does respond to a same-sex relationship. It’s where a Roman centurion asks for his slave, a man he has come to love, to be cured. This soldier is the personification of the occupation, a gentile and an oppressor, hated by the Jewish people. More than this, the Roman military were often mocked by the Jews as men who returned to their barracks to engage in sex. This Roman also uses a specific Greek word to describe his relationship with his servant that goes beyond the platonic. Yet Jesus is in awe of the man’s faith, and heals with praise rather than condemnation.
St. Paul does indeed write, albeit briefly, about what we might today call homosexuality, but his disapproval is for heterosexual men using boys for exploitative sex, not for loving partnerships. Paul is responding to pagan rituals that used homosexual rape as a form of initiation, and while his genius is beyond doubt, he says nothing about equal marriage that has any relevance to the modern conversation.
It’s not over, and the disagreements will, alas, continue. But so many of us, gay and straight, so wish we could just listen to Jesus, welcome equal marriage, and then simply move on. Please God.
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