The context and contents of the collection.
In December 2017 marriage between two people of the same sex became legal in Australia. This development has raised the question of whether the Anglican Church in Australia should follow the example of other Anglican churches in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Scotland and New Zealand by either allowing same-sex marriages to take place in its churches or by allowing some form of liturgical recognition of civil same-sex marriages.
The new collection of essays from the Doctrine Commission of the Anglican Church of Australia, Marriage, same-sex marriage and the Anglican Church of Australia, addresses this question. After a Foreword by the Chair of the Doctrine Commission, Bishop Jonathan Holland, the collection consists of eighteen essays grouped under four headings.
Michael Stead ‘The debates over the doctrine of marriage in the Anglican Communion’
Michael Stead ‘The doctrine of marriage of the Anglican Church of Australia’
Matthew Anstey ‘A response: An alternative reading of BCP.’
Scripture and Hermeneutics:
Matthew Anstey ‘Scripture and moral reasoning;’
Mark Thompson ‘Attentively reading Scripture;’
Meg Warner ‘How does the Old Testament help us think about marriage and same-sex marriage?’
Katherine M Smith ‘Belonging to God in relational wholeness’
Dorothy Lee ‘Marriage, headship and the New Testament’
Claire Smith ‘Family ties: marriage, sex, and belonging in the New Testament.’
History, Theology and Ecclesiology:
Muriel Porter ‘Christian marriage: a concise history’
Claire Smith ‘For better or for worse: The changing shape of marriage in Christian history?’
Dorothy Lee ‘Friendship and religious life in the Bible and the church’
Mark Thompson ‘Friendship and the trinity’
Gregory Seach ‘Steps towards a theological understanding of desire’
Rhys Bezzant ‘To what end? The blessing of same-sex marriage ‘
Stephen Pickard ‘Disagreement and Christian unity: re-evaluating the situation.’
The Case For and Against:
Matthew Anstey ‘The case for same-sex marriage’
Michael Stead ‘The case against same-sex marriage.’
Five of the essays do not argue for or against same-sex marriage. Michael Stead’s essay ‘The debates over the doctrine of marriage in the Anglican Communion’ outlines the debates over the doctrine of marriage that have taken place in in the Anglican Communion since the 1998 Lambeth Conference and notes seven questions which these debates raise for Australian Anglicans. Dorothy Lee ‘Friendship and religious life in the Bible and the church’ and Mark Thompson ‘Friendship and the trinity’ consider what Scripture and the Christian tradition have to tell us about the importance of friendship and how human friendship relates to the triune life of God. Finally, Stephen Pickard’s essay ‘Disagreement and Christian unity: re-evaluating the situation’ rejects a binary division between unity and truth, arguing that this ‘can only deliver continued fracturing of the body of Christ; can only deliver a divided Christ’ and that what we should be seeking instead is ‘unity in truth’ and ‘truth in unity.’
The remaining thirteen essays present arguments for and against the acceptance of same-sex marriage.
Arguments for accepting same-sex marriage.
The arguments for are as follows.
1. The Book of Common Prayer marriage service is concerned only with heterosexual marriage. It does not say anything about the issue of same-sex marriage since this was not imagined as a possibility when the BCP was written. (Matthew Anstey)
2. Scripture does not tell us what the content of our doctrinal and moral judgments should be but witnesses ‘to the way the people of God go about making such judgments in the light of God’s ongoing presence in the lives of God’s people and the world.’ (Matthew Anstey)
3. A ‘considered conversation about the doctrine of same-sex marriage’ requires ‘listening to how God’s people have responded to (new) manifestations of God’s presence in their lives, so as to discern together the mind of Christ on this issue. And clearly, the lived experience of gay and lesbian Christians is paramount to our deliberations.’ (Matthew Anstey)
4. The story of Sodom is not concerned with same-sex relationships but is instead ‘a caricature of grotesque inhospitality.’ (Meg Warner)
5. Lying behind the prohibition of same-sex sexual activity between men in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 is the fact that such activity requires one partner to adopt the ‘feminine’ or receptive, role. ‘The shame of this would have been sufficient to warrant a blanket prohibition.’ (Meg Warner)
6. In the Old Testament women were ‘at least in some senses, the property of the men to whom they were related by birth or marriage’ and woman ‘required a relationship with a man in order to have security and to be able to function in society.’ Seeing Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 as a blanket prohibition on sex or marriage between men today would affirm such misleading ideas about the status of women. (Meg Warner)
7. The current dangers of human overpopulation should give us pause ‘if we are inclined to argue that the centrality of procreation to the purpose of marriage militates against same-sex marriage.’ (Meg Warner)
8. The range of models of marital relationship found in Genesis tells against ‘the idea that Genesis 2:24 prescribes life-long union between one man and one woman as the model of marriage uniquely acceptable to God.’ Genesis 2:24 is not about an ‘exclusive or prescriptive model of marriage,’ but about ‘God’s will that his creatures might experience companionship in a shared vocation to serve his creation.’ (Meg Warner)
9. ‘In the contemporary Western world, a different kind of homosexual relationship has now become visible, one which need not be either abusive or promiscuous.’ ‘Homosexual Christians who have lived in faithful partnerships for decades believe that the Christian community should extend covenant blessing, and even marriage, to them in order to confirm and support their partnerships in the public setting of the Christian assembly.’ At the very least, ‘we need to listen carefully to our sisters and brothers in the faith and take seriously their experience and their reading of the Bible.’ (Dorothy Lee)
10. Jesus himself has nothing to say on the subject of same-sex relationships and the New Testament more widely has little to say. The idea that that Jesus taught that marriage must always be the union of one woman and one man is ‘an inference from texts that have no principle of exclusion.’ (Dorothy Lee)
11. The key test of spiritual authenticity is a life lived in love, justice and mercy (e.g., Matthew 7:15–20; Galatians 5:16–21; James 1:22–27). If such fruit is to be found in same-sex partnerships ‘is this not a point in favour of the church’s thanksgiving and blessing?’ (Dorothy Lee)
12. Jude 1:7 probably refers to a desire to have sex with angels, but if he ‘has in mind the homosexual intentions of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, he is condemning acts of gross sexual aggression and violence.’ (Dorothy Lee)
13. What is condemned in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:10 is ‘is the behaviour of those who are idolatrous, violent, indifferent to others, and sexually promiscuous.’ (Dorothy Lee)
14. It is unlikely that Paul knew anything about the idea of homosexuality as ‘an abiding personal psychological orientation’ or about people who sexual orientation ‘is not the result of deliberate perversion, but something natural to them. He also did not envisage ‘homosexual partnerships that are exclusive and grounded in Christian virtue.’ For these reasons ‘some commentators argue that neither Romans nor any other book of the New Testament can be used to condemn the homosexual orientation that is natural to individuals today.’ (Dorothy Lee)
15. Support for same-sex unions can be seen as something that is not ‘explicitly endorsed by the biblical text but not overtly condemned by it either.’ (Dorothy Lee)
16. ‘The gospel principles of the New Testament present a model of marriage and partnership that dismantles male-dominated structures, valuing instead mutuality, fidelity, respect and love, without domination or subjugation. These principles overthrow notions of paternalistic marriage and challenge the necessity of wifely obedience. They also open the way for covenantal relationships that are not based on gender but strive for the same gospel values in their union.’ (Dorothy Lee)
17. Christian marriage in Australia in the twenty-first century is very different in many respects from the patterns, rules and expectations of earlier centuries. It honours the Genesis 2 ideal of marriage as first and foremost for mutual companionship, help and comfort. Furthermore, as a result of the ‘determined advocacy of the sixteenth century Reformers, it is also now accepted by Anglicans and Protestants, and increasingly by Roman Catholics, that people should not be expected to reject marriage unless they have what the reformers claimed was the rare God-given charism of chastity,’ Both these developments mean that ‘Christian marriage can and should be opened to same-sex attracted people desiring to live openly before God in loving, faithful, monogamous partnerships.’(Muriel Porter)
18. Gender complementarity is not a necessary part of the image of God. The image of God revealed fully in Christ is reflected in our humanness and not ‘in any gendered or marital form thereof.’ Furthermore, gender and marriage are irrelevant for our life in the world to come and ‘this future reality is to inform our current doctrine and practice (‘in Christ there is neither male nor female’ Galatians 3:28). (Matthew Anstey)
19. The fact that male-female marriage is a symbol of the Church ‘does not rule out same-sex relationships any more than it rules out celibacy.’ (Matthew Anstey)
20. It is not clear what the sin is that same-sex couples are supposed to commit. ‘If we take other types of sexual practice, such as adultery, incest, paedophilia, bestiality, sexual abuse, and so forth, the articulation of the harm and wrongness of the specific sexual activity is straightforward to articulate (and the rationales for such are broadly agreed to in modern secular society), and again, more to the point, the harm and wreckage of such forms of sexual expression is self-evident. But for homosexuality, opponents typically provide no comment on this; rather, its wrongness is simply assumed. The one ‘argument’—I use the term reservedly—present in such literature is one of divine fiat—homosexuality is wrong because God (it is claimed) declares it wrong. But that is not an argument, that’s simply a brute assertion. If it is indeed wrong, there needs to be a thoughtful, compelling, coherent account for its wrongness. But I know of no such argument, neither in scholarship nor, in all seriousness, at the local pub.’ (Matthew Anstey)
21. ‘Same-sex love is like all other good love (when it is good and not something distorted): it selflessly seeks the well-being of (agape) and union with (eros) the other, as Aquinas so argued. It is directed toward the other and yearns for that which is good and true and beautiful for them, and given its reciprocity, it yearns to be loved in equal measure, freely and completely, and to be united bodily with the other. Such love is Christ-like and Christ’s love for us is in fact the measure and standard of all love. ‘ (Matthew Anstey)
The arguments against same-sex marriage.
The arguments against are as follows.
1. The Book of Common Prayer ‘understands complementary sexes to be of the essence of marriage’ because marriage is ‘the continuing expression of the form of relationship established by God between Adam and Eve (cf. Genesis 1:27, 2:18; 2:23–25), and as affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19.’ Under section 4 of the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia ‘this doctrine of marriage arising from the Book of Common Prayer is the doctrine of marriage of the Anglican Church of Australia.’ This means that a new form of service for same-sex marriage would contravene the Church’s doctrine unless ‘the doctrine of our Church were to be explicitly changed to allow same-sex marriage.’ (Michael Stead)
2. The marriage service in the Book of Common Prayer ‘expressly ‘covers the field’ of marriage-like relationships—‘so many as are coupled together otherwise than God’s Word doth allow are not joined together by God’. This leaves no scope for validating other forms of ‘coupling together’.’ (Michael Stead)
3. The Bible is ‘the word of God given to us through the conscious and creative agency of human authors whose humanity—including both their finitude and fallenness—was in no way a barrier to God’s clear communication of his character, will and purpose for people in all ages.’ (Mark Thompson)
4. ‘If God has spoken and effectively communicated to us that sexual behaviour between two members of the same sex is contrary to his will for humankind, then any attempt to bless this behaviour, or the unions in which it occurs, amounts to a repudiation of God’s authority over the lives of his people and, indeed, over all his creatures. That is why this has been a presenting issue in the current deep and enduring tear in the fabric of the Anglican Communion.’ (Mark Thompson)
5. ‘Gen 2:4–25 is part of a creation narrative (Gen 2:4–4:25) belonging to Israel, intending to form their worldview as a nation, particularly with regards to their relationship with YHWH, with the land that they are associated with, and in relationship with one another in community. A man forming a permanent relationship of oneness with a woman, as husband and wife, is the concept of marriage that is to form Israel’s norm within community under God’s kingship. A critical part of this worldview is that this norm established by Gen 2:24 is part of God’s creative purposes. It is not the function of ancient Near Eastern creation narratives to clarify what is not the norm; this is the role of law. The very fact that same-sex intimate relationships are not included in this picture is an instance where absence is evidence that same-sex relationships are not to be part of the norm for God’s covenant community.’ (Katherine Smith)
6. The fact that polygamy first occurs in Genesis 4:19 as part of an account of the consequences of the Fall is not a coincidence. ‘The emergence of polygamy along with an escalation of sin’s consequences suggests that polygamy is also a part of sin’s mastery and, as the narrative progresses beyond this second creation narrative, becomes part of a disordered world.’ (Katherine Smith)
7. Leviticus 18:22 is ‘clear in syntax and meaning: a man is not to engage in sexual acts with another man as with a woman. It is a prohibition of male-male same-sex sexual acts. This is an instance though, due to the kind of writing genre that Leviticus 18 exemplifies–a law list–that an absence of a parallel prohibition of female-female same-sex sexual acts does not mean evidence of absence. Although a prohibition of female-female intimate relationships is absent, this absence does not mean that there is freedom for women to engage in same-sex sexual activity; the principle and spirit of the prohibition still applies.’ (Katherine Smith)
8. Leviticus 20:13 mandates the death penalty for same-sex sexual activity. There is no other way around the syntax and meaning of this verse. In every instance of sexual offence addressed in [Leviticus 20] 10–19, the guilty bear their own penalty which, for the most part, is death.’ Underlying the lists of prohibitions and penalties in Leviticus 18-20 is the conviction that ‘The only way for Israel to have life with a holy God living in their midst is to be a people who belong wholly to him and who reflect wholeness and completeness in their family, marital, and sexual relationships.’ (Katherine Smith)
9. From Genesis to Deuteronomy what is said about marriage is consistent. ‘In God’s created order and as he begins to recreate order through Israel, marriage is a permanent commitment between a man and a woman where there is a mutual belonging.’ The remainder of the Old Testament builds on this understanding of marriage ‘particularly in Wisdom Literature and also in the use of marriage in the Prophets as a metaphor for covenant obedience between YHWH and his people.’ The reason very little is said ‘in the Writings and the Prophets about same-sex intimate relationships’ is because ‘the assumption is that the norm, even when Israel’s and Judah’s rejection of God leads to exile, is that marriage is between a man and a woman.’ (Katherine Smith)
10. The witness of the New Testament is that while ‘the gospel does not make distinctions between gender or race, and those who are in Christ are new creations awaiting the completeness of the new creation, the boundaries of distinction within the unity of being human still remain in a marriage relationship while we await Christ’s return.’ (Katherine Smith)
11. The biblical texts normally cited as evidence for the rejection of same-sex relationships by the Bible (Gen 19:1–38; Lev 18:22; 20:13; Rom 1:24–27; 1 Cor 6:9–11; 1 Tim 1:9–10; Jude 6–7) are not isolated texts, but reflect aa consistent biblical account of the nature of marriage. (Claire Smith)
12. The consistent view of marriage in the Bible is ‘that marriage is the union of two people of opposing biological sex, and that this sexed complementarity is essential not incidental to the nature and purpose of marriage.’ The clearest articulation of this in the New Testament is found in the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 19:3–9 and Mark 10:2–12. I this this teaching ‘Jesus shows there is a creational logic to the nature of marriage. It is not just that one person chooses to leave the family home and be joined to another, and their bodily sex is not significant. Rather, ‘from the beginning’ the Creator created humankind as sexually differentiated beings, male and female, and ‘for this reason’ a man and woman are joined in marriage—two equal and complementary image-bearers joined by God to be ‘one flesh’, united in a covenantal relationship unlike any other. One flesh in their exclusive sexual union, in the new family unit they create, in their companionship, and potentially, in offspring.’ (Claire Smith)
13. Those in the ancient world knew about ‘committed, consensual, same-sex peer relationships, and notions of same-sex marriage, and same-sex sexual orientation.’ However, in spite of this ‘Jesus and the apostles after him maintain the enduring authority and goodness of God’s creation design for marriage as between one man and one woman, and as the only proper domain for the expression of sexual desire and intimacy (cf. Matthew 5:28; Hebrews 13:4). More than that, they are not unaware or neutral about other types of sexual activity. Without exception, every reference to alternative sexual expression in the New Testament is negative, including every reference to same-sex sexual activity.’ (Claire Smith)
14. When Paul writes in Romans 1:26-27 about same-sex relationships between both women ands men being ‘contrary to nature’ what he is referring to is ‘the natural created order, which is evident in the many linguistic and thematic links to Genesis 1 that run through the text. It is the way that God designed his creation to work. Accordingly, the sexual relations that are ‘contrary to nature’ are those that are contrary to the created order and God’s purposes for it as revealed in Scripture. It is men and women doing with their own sex what God intended only to be done with the opposite sex— and that within marriage, as the rest of Scripture makes clear.’ (Claire Smith)
15. In 1 Corinthians 6:9 the word malakoi refers to the ‘passive male partner in a same-sex sexual act.’ The word arsenokoitai refers to ‘the active partner in male same-sex sexual acts, and includes consensual sexual acts between adults, and cannot be limited to cultic settings or pederasty.’ In 1 Timothy 1:10 arsenokoitai is again used to refer to same-sex sexual activity, This verse rejects ‘all same-sex sexual activity as a specific form of ‘sexual immorality’ (pornois), which is listed immediately beforehand, and cannot be limited to exploitative practices of the slave trade.’ (Claire Smith)
16. In Jude 7 part of the sin of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah ‘was the desire to profane angelic beings,’ However they ‘were unaware the visitors were angels. Rather, they desired them as ‘men’, and so it is difficult to exclude the active desire for same sex intercourse from their sin.’ (Claire Smith)
17. Marriage as we know it in this world human marriage will not exist in the world to comer (Matt 22:29–30). This is because its ‘purposes in this world, and its purpose as a gospel signpost to the eternal marriage of Christ and the church will have been fulfilled.’ However, until that happens ‘marriage between a man and a woman, as he established it from the beginning, will continue as God’s gracious gift for the good of all people—believers and unbelievers, individually and communally—and human sexuality will continue as a precious gift from him, to be expressed only within the bonds of marriage as he designed it.’ (Claire Smith)
18. Building on the work of Augustine, the Anglican reformers of the sixteenth century ‘recovered the biblical teaching on marriage and changed their belief and practice in order to align with God’s word, against the traditions and culture of their day. In our day, we are being asked to change our view of marriage to align with what is being celebrated and embraced by our culture, yet is against the word of God.’ (Claire Smith)
19. The word of God ‘should and will continue to bring change—to our personal lives, to the traditions of the church, to how we order our lives together—because we are fallen and broken creatures living in a broken world. Church history is replete with such change, as it should be, given the principle of semper reformanda. But not all change is good change. If it is to please God, honour Christ, and promote human flourishing, the direction of change must always be towards the word of God not away from it.’ (Claire Smith)
20. ‘The language of blessing cannot serve the generic purpose of encouragement, but has a distinct shape within the biblical narrative, to which we must pay attention. If blessing affirms and promotes the divine order, but homosexual practice is sinful, then it is not possible to bless a homosexual union in the name of a holy God.’ (Rhys Bezzant)
21. In the light of Paul’s teaching in Romans 12:18 about living peaceably with our neighbours, Christians have ‘responsibilities for peace-making with individuals in same-sex marriages, but this is not something we do without recognition of prior theological commitments or reasonable pastoral constraints.’ (Rhys Bezzant)
22. The Anglican interpretative tradition means that we must read particular texts in the light of the teaching of the Bible as a whole and that fact that ‘Jesus reiterates the teaching about marriage in Genesis 1–2, and that Paul reiterates both the principle and the language of Leviticus 18 and 20 in relation to same-sex sexual intimacy demonstrates that what the Old Testament affirms in relation to marriage and what the Old Testament prohibits in relation to other expressions of human sexuality continue to apply to the New Covenant believer.’ (Michael Stead)
23. The way Jesus quoted Genesis 1 and 2 in relation to the Jewish debate about divorce ‘demonstrates that he understood these verses to be more than merely descriptive of Adam and Eve’s marriage. Rather, he treats Genesis 1–2 as normative for the pattern of marriage established by the Creator for his creatures, in which God joins a man and a woman in a ‘one flesh’ relationship.’ (Michael Stead)
24. While the inclusion of the Gentiles into the people of God is promised in Old Testament texts such as Isaiah 56, Zechariah 2, Zechariah 8 and this promise is then fulfilled under the New Covenant. By contrast ‘there is nothing in the Old Testament (or indeed the New) that hints about a possible reversal of the condemnation of same-sex sexual intimacy.’ (Michael Stead)
25. Romans 1 does not mean people acting in a way that was contrary to their own nature, there ‘is nothing in the language of Romans 1 that would suggest that it is limited to abusive or predatory same-sex sexual intimacy’ or to promiscuous behaviour, and there is no reason to think Paul was ignorant of ‘consensual and loving same-sex unions’ (Michael Stead)
26. Malakoi and arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9 do not refer only to ‘pederastic or exploitative relationships’ and not to ‘loving, consensual homosexual sex.’ If Paul had wished to refer to ‘a limited set of homosexual acts, ancient Greek had a well-established vocabulary for this.’ In 1 Corinthians 6:9 a malakos is ‘a passive partner in homosexual sex’’ and an arsenokoites is ‘a man who has sex with a man. Those who do this, together with ‘fornicators, idolaters, and adulterers’ are ‘wrongdoers’.’ (Michael Stead)
27. Just because people have same-sex desire does not mean that it is right for them to act upon it, any more that it is necessarily right for a person with heterosexual desire to act upon it. (Michael Stead)
28. ‘The hypothetical fruit of the Spirit in the homosexual partners posited by the argument may genuinely be the gracious work of God in each of their lives, without necessarily being God’s validation of their relationship.’ (Michael Stead)
29. Marriage is not ‘the only or ultimate way’ to live a fulfilled Christian life and a ‘fulfilling sex-life is not the only answer to the frustration of ‘being alone’. God has provided friendship, family and the Christian community.’ (Michael Stead)
30. In relation to the argument that there is no good reason to object to object to same-sex sexual relationships we have rely on ‘the person and character of our Creator God, his innate goodness and his thoroughgoing commitment to the welfare of the creatures he has made. Where he chooses to give us the reasons for his commands, these confirm that goodness and compassion. Where he does not choose to give us reasons, then his person and character are still grounds for affirming that the command is good or the prohibition is gracious and compassionate.’ (Michael Stead)
Assessing the arguments in the collection.
The essays in this collection contain most of the arguments that are commonly put forward for and against the acceptance by the Church of same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage. They also show that the arguments against the acceptance of same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage are by far the stronger.
The arguments against correctly declare that there is a consistent teaching in both the Old and New Testaments that God has created human beings as male and female, that he has ordained marriage as a relationships between one man and one woman and that all other forms of sexual relationship (including same-sex relationships) are sinful and therefore off limits for the people of God. In the light of this teaching the Book of Common Prayer is correct to see marriage as ordained in Genesis 2 as the only legitimate form of marriage and the Church would not be right to depart from this position in order to fit in with contemporary culture.
By contrast, the arguments offered for the acceptance of same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships rely on a series of highly dubious readings of Scripture which are unsupported by a careful reading of the biblical texts. For example, that Genesis 2 is about companionship rather than marriage, that upholding the prohibitions of same-sex relations between men in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 would involve supporting the idea of women as male property, that Paul says nothing about the homosexual orientation that is natural to people today and that 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:10 condemn only abusive and idolatrous same-sex relationships.
They also rely on a number of other highly dubious claims such as that the writers of the Book of Common Prayer cannot be said to have excluded same-sex marriages, that there is no necessary link between the image of God and male-female complementarity, that a modern ‘companionate’ view of marriage necessitates accepting same-sex marriages, that the love involved in same-sex relationships shows that the sexual element of such relationships is acceptable and that no one can explain the nature of the sin involved in a same-sex relationship (something that has in fact been done by Christian theologians on numerous occasions).
As Michael Stead argues at the close of the final essay in the collection: ‘In the current debate, there is no argument from Scripture in support of same-sex marriage. There is no argument from our Anglican interpretive tradition in support of same-sex marriage. The arguments from reason and experience do not (and cannot) overturn what the Scriptures say.’
The real challenge we face today lies not in determining what the Bible says about sex and marriage. That is clear. The challenge lies in both living out this teaching ourselves and teaching and supporting others to do likewise. This is a challenge that faces all Christians and not simply those who are same-sex attracted.
 Marriage, same-sex marriage and the Anglican Church of Australia (Mulgrave: Broughton Publishing, 2019).