Ok, how to begin? How to explain my thought about this? Loads of my Christian friends have been sharing a petition to “protect the traditional definition of marriage”. In other words, to stop the government from allowing same-sex couples to marry. However, despite loads of my friends sharing the link, I haven’t signed it! Why? I’ll try to explain.
Now let me be plan, I do agree that the Christian definition of marriage is “a covenant relationship, between a man and a woman, for life”. BUT, the key word in that sentence is “Christian”. That is the Christian definition. For Christians. It’s about time we realised that we DO NOT live in a country where the majority of people are practicing Christians.
Now we also need to accept another fact. To the rest of the world, Christian sexual ethics have always been “odd”. Fine! … So be it. We teach that sex is a gift, from God, to be enjoyed exclusively within the context of a Christian marriage. From the earliest times of the church this was at odds with the culture of the world. During Christendom, this understand was, at least publicly, accepted by society. In people’s minds, this changed years ago. Now law is catching up. We need to live up to that fact. That doesn’t mean we compromise our ethics, but do we really believe we’re entitled to enforce these sexual ethics on people who don’t share our beliefs?
Now, for the Church of England, these changes in law are causing a lot of nervousness. Why? Because we’re the “established church”. In other words, our vicars can legally marry people (like other churches and religions). But also, anyone who can legally marry is legally entitled to come and marry in their local Church of England church. This would mean that any change to the legal definition of marriage would mean that the Church of England would be forced to conduct the marriages.
To me, this seems to present an obvious solution. Let’s adopt the system that is used in most other countries (I personally saw it in Germany). Hand over the legal side of marriage to the state, and then we conduct our own services for people who wish to marry in church. All people can be required to get married in a legal civil ceremony first, and then people, if they wish, may have a religious service to follow. This way the church could have a different definition of marriage to the culture (which in practice we do anyway). We could continue to debate and discuss what the Christian approach should be and then maintain our own beliefs and practice.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Christians shouldn’t be using their democratic rights to fight for what they think is right. But we need to argue on grounds that make sense to be people who don’t share our ethics. You think having same-sex marriages would have a bad affect on society? Then argue it, convincingly. You think it would have a bad affect on families? Then argue it! But the worry that the church may have to go against its morals is not going to convince people. If we feel we have to break our morals to stay established, then it’s time we left.
The question all us Christians have to ask ourselves is, what kind of effect is all this debate having on the watching worlds view of the church? If we can stick to our morals, allow Jesus’ followers to marry in His eyes and show a little understanding to those same-sex couples in the world, then surely that’s a better way forward than what’s happening at the moment?
That’s what I think, anyway!