2/25/2017

A short note on the title "One Body, One Faith," and marriage.

On February 15, the House of Bishops of the Church of England brought a report with the long and labor intensive title,  Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations to the General Synod.  It can be found HERE.
The Synod declined to receive the report because the three houses (Bishops, Clergy, Laity) could not agree on doing so.

Near the beginning of the statement the bishops quote Paul in Galatians, 

"Close to the heart of the mystery of human existence is the way that identity and relationship are inseparable from one another. For Christians, it is being in Christ that secures our true identity and transforms all our human relationships. As St Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me...”(Galatians 2:19 ff)."

The bishops statement that, "it is being in Christ that secures our true identity and transforms all our human relationships" sets the basis for its case that the church's teaching on marriage should remain unchanged, but it ought to find new ways to remain in pastoral relationship with people in varying sorts of committed relationships other than marriage.  

The report strongly supports the notion that Christians constitute "one body" and that that body - Christians and certainly Anglican Christians - throughout the world and overwhelmingly hold to the same doctrine, that marriage pertains to the relationship between one man and one woman, for life. 

The bishop's report is essentially a rehash of the position taken at Lambeth 1998, but with some additional effort to fill out the ways in which the Church of England might better affirm what is good and true and beautiful in same-sex relationships. 

For many of us the Bishops report was a disaster for the future of common cause between the Church of England and The Episcopal Church. 

Fortunately because of the clergy vote the resolution to take note of the Bishops teaching failed.

Several groups in England brought this report down and have cause to continue the struggle and not loose hope. Across the pond I hope we too will take heart. England is not at rest on the matter, and the Spirit is still at work.

The defeat of the acceptance of the report was the work of new group, formed of two major groups working for full inclusion of LBGT persons in the Church - Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and Changing Attitudes UK.  The group uses the title "One Body One Faith." You can read about the new name HERE.

But in that title the notion the Bishops put forth remains: There is one body, and one faith. In this they are not arguing with the bishops that there is one body, but rather with the form that one body takes. And they are not arguing that there is one faith, but rather with the form that faith takes.

I think both the Bishops and their worthy opponents are mistaken in the belief that Paul's writings assume a unity of either body or faith in the realms that constitute "this world."

The classic source for this notion of "One Body, One Faith," is Paul's remarks in Ephesians: "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:3-6)  "One Body, One Faith" compresses Paul's full remarks, just as the Bishops notion that in the present moment the One Body is that of Christ compresses this world and that which is to come.

The claim that in Christ we are one body and one Spirit, and that we were called in one hope, in "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" is the well established source for the notion, perhaps doctrine, that there is a unity between our identity as Christians and our transformation as part of the "new creation" in Christ.

The problem with this however, is that we are not, quite empirically, One.  Christians are many because our cultures, times, societies, languages, and even our beliefs do indeed differ. We are not of one mind on very many things having to do with the faith. In this world "One" is far from certain.

The "One" is real, but its reality is not about the churches as they are on the anvil of history, but about the church as a spiritual entity. "There is one body, and one spirit," is a phrase that connects us to the transforming character of our engagement with Christ. It is not a connection that holds much weight in the world of social commerce.

Here there are customs of marriage (between one man and one woman) that are decidedly unrelated to the One body that is Christ, and which lack any reference to the One Spirit which is that same Christ working in us. There are so many as to make it unnecessary to list them.

The unity between the one body, and the One Spirit, and indeed the great affirmation of "one hope of our calling: one Lord, one faith, one baptism" is real, but it is a spiritual reality. 

It is easy to see how "One body, one faith" could be a rallying cry for those working for inclusion. But for that to work it must be shown that somehow the "one body" and the "one faith" are indeed - here and now - capable of inclusion such that all who profess the faith are in fact part of the one body.

Marriage is not such a spiritual reality, by virtue of its place in many cultures and languages.  It is a reality in the world of social commerce and social intercourse.

I believe we are wrong to put the rules and expectations concerning marriage on the level of doctrine, raising it to the circle of those concerns considered central to the notion of "One faith."  The churches (plural) rules concerning marriage are not a touchstone of unity and indeed cannot be, since marriage is not a Christian institution, but rather a community institution. It is time to stop thinking of correct marriage laws as central to the one faith.

Perhaps it is time for the Bishops and for the inclusive movement to stop talking about same-sex marriage as a doctrinal matter or something pertaining to the unity (or not) of the church.  Rather they might accept the beginning point that regarding marriage there is not one body, but many, and the unity of faith is on a different level than unity of agreement concerning marriage. 

The thirty-nine articles mention marriage only in reference to priests being able to marry. (Article 32) and Matrimony only once (in Article 25) where it is noted that marriage is not a Gospel sacrament. Perhaps we ought to take the 39 Articles at face value on this one. The Articles of Religion say nothing about the definition of marriage as a central doctrine of the church. Because it isn't. 









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