Sunday, March 9, 1997


CHAPTER 5: The Sacramental Character of Marriage
Parish priests are frequently confronted with couples who combine a desire for “a traditional church wedding” with the vaguest notions of what the Church means by marriage. I used to devote one of my premarital sessions with the couple to talk about this very discrepancy. I would ask them what specifically made them want a church wedding.[1] Eventually, whether out of embarrassment or out of some spiritual intuition, one of them would mention God. “Oh,” I would say, “then you want a church wedding because you want God to bless your marriage?” “Well... yes,” the reply would come. “Tell me,” I would go on, “why do you think God is the least bit interested in blessing your marriage?” Many interesting conversations, and some commitments to Christ, would follow from this question.

Why do we think the Lord God, Creator of heaven and earth, is interested in blessing any human relationship? And if he is, are we not limited to the terms which he himself has laid down for that relationship? Put another way, does the Church get its sacraments from God, or is it free to make up some new ones or reconfigure them to its liking at a particular point in history? These are, finally, the crucial questions at issue in the current attempt to authorize same-sex marriage.

In previous chapters, we have considered marriage as part of the natural order of creation and as a legal institution. We have concluded that same-sex marriage fails to fulfill the particular purposes of nature and law, which brings us back to our definitional objection that same-sex marriage – or any simulacrum – is not really marriage at all. This becomes a particularly serious issue when we come to the sacramental claims that the Church makes for marriage. For the Church to pronounce God’s sacramental blessing on a relationship that is a counterfeit of the real thing is tantamount to blasphemy.

According to the Prayer Book Catechism, “the sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.”[2] We note two aspects to the character of a sacrament: its function as a sign of Christ and the Gospel and its function as a means of grace. Marriage, according to the Anglican tradition, is not a “dominical” sacrament, instituted by Christ, but a “sacramental rite.” The Anglican tradition has walked a fine line between the Protestant understanding of marriage as only a creation ordinance and the Roman Catholic doctrine of marriage as a means of saving grace. While not equating marriage with the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist, Anglicans have generally held a “high” view of the marital bond as indissoluble.

In the chapter that follows, we shall look at two aspects of the sacramental character of marriage: marriage as a sign of the love of Christ and his Church, and marriage as a means of grace. We conclude that same-sex marriage cannot be sacramental, either as a sign of the divine love or as a means to participate in that love.

Holy Matrimony as a Sign of the Gospel

The Roman Catholic theologian Jean Daniélou once commented that “we study the efficacious causality of the sacraments, but we pay very little attention to their nature as signs.”[3] The sacraments are inherently typological, i.e., taking an earthly form as a sign of a heavenly reality. As we have noted, one of Archbishop Cranmer’s particular gifts to the marriage rite was his exposition of its character and purposes, among which he included its typology in “signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church.”[4]

As same-sex marriage cannot appropriately represent the earthly pattern of two-sexes-in-one-flesh union, it also fails to communicate essential elements of “difference in unity” between Christ and his Church. If adopted, same-sex marriage would inevitably misrepresent the nature of marriage as a covenant; it would violate the rhetoric of marriage as a union of husband and wife; and it would stand at odds with the biblical shape of marriage conveyed in the lessons for a wedding.

Marriage as a Type of the Covenant
In calling marriage a “covenant,” the Church, following Scripture, likens the marital bond to the greater covenant between God and his people.[5] Monogamy operates by the same exclusive logic as monotheism. Israel cannot claim to be married to Yahweh and pursue other lovers without breaking the covenant and receiving a “divorce” from God (Hosea 2:2). God’s people are capable of deluding themselves into thinking that they are married to Baal, but the prophets make clear that Israel’s “intimate relationship” with Baal is nothing other than prostitution: “For long ago you broke your yoke and burst your bonds; and you said, ‘I will not serve.’ Yea, upon every high hill and under every green tree you bowed down as a harlot” (Jeremiah 2:20).

The prophets finally offer hope that Israel’s one true husband, who had divorced her, will betroth her again “in faithfulness” (Hosea 2:20). As the heart of marriage is forgiveness, so also mercy and forgiveness lie at the fount of God’s covenant with his people.[6] The promise of a new marriage covenant initiated by God lies behind Paul’s imagery of Christ giving himself up in love for the Church “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26).

The relevance of the typology of the covenant is simply this: only God’s chosen marriage can serve his salvific purposes, and those covenants that are not according to his design will serve as vehicles for a false spirituality. The burden of this chapter is to conclude that same-sex marriage is much more likely to convey a false religiosity than a true image of God’s relationship to his people.

The Typological Rhetoric of the Marriage Rite
The rhetoric of the marriage service emphasizes the theme of difference in unity, which is central to marriage as a two-sexes-in-one-flesh union of man and woman.[7] Repeatedly the Celebrant refers to “this man and this woman” and “husband and wife.” The Collect praises God that “you have made us male and female in your image.” The final prayer for the couple recalls God’s deep design: “you have so consecrated the covenant of marriage that in it is represented the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church.” This prayer lays the groundwork for the nuptial blessing: the “husband and wife,” still kneeling, receive the invocation in the name of “God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.”

Liturgical revisers could, of course, replace references to man and woman and husband and wife with “persons” and “spouses.” The result would be not only bland aesthetically but deficient theologically in communicating the divine analogy inherent in the marriage bond. One characteristic of recent “inclusive language” liturgies has been their incipient modalism.[8] By trying to avoid naming God as Father and Christ as Son, they speak of God as Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, and the like. The same error will be at work in any “inclusive” marriage rite that tries to draw the analogy between same-sex partners and the “relationality” in the Godhead.

The Typological Shape of the Lessons
Marriage as a type of the relationship between Christ and his Church is deeply embedded in the biblical texts, as can be seen from a survey of lessons chosen for the Marriage service.

Genesis 1:26-28; 2:4-9,15-24
This set of lessons includes both creation accounts. The first account lays the foundation for the nuptial blessing in God’s specific blessing of humanity as male and female. God blesses this difference-in-unity as a means to human flourishing in this age and as a hope for the eschatological blessing of God’s people (Revelation 19:1-10). In the second creation account, God sends Adam a “helper” who is of his body and stock, yet is made miraculously “opposite” by God’s personal intervention. Feminist criticism has rightly emphasized that the woman as helper is not a junior partner; it is her difference that makes her a “savior” of Adam’s loneliness. Only the pas de deux of man and woman in love can adequately image the movement of saving love and grateful faith between Christ and the Church.[9]

Song of Solomon 2:10-13; 8:6-7The Song of Solomon (Song of Songs) carries with it a rich typological tradition, rooted in the “marriage” of the LORD to Israel and then extended to Christ and the Church or Christ and the soul. Modern biblical criticism has recovered the Song’s this-worldly celebration of eros, but it has downplayed the implicit nuptial context.[10] When read as part of the biblical canon and particularly the wisdom literature, the Song of Songs would seem best understood as a kind of epithalamium or wedding toast. The lovers’ mutual descriptions of each other suggest the subtle difference in unity of a husband and wife who can also refer to each other as sibling and friend.[11]

Tobit 8:5-8The story of Tobit from the Apocrypha was a favorite of earlier generations of Jews and Christians in its depiction of the fragility and necessity of procreative marriage to the purpose of God. God saves the young couple Tobias and Sarah from a marriage-bed demon, reminding them that his blessing on marriage is a gift of special grace. Beginning with the promise to Abraham, God’s plan of salvation is mediated through a chosen Son. The story of Tobias and Sarah reaffirms that, despite Israel’s idolatry, God has not swerved from his intention to rescue his entire family by means of a “Seed of Israel’s chosen race.”[12]

Matthew 5:1-10, 13-16; 7:21,24-29; John 15:9-12; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Colossians 3:12-17; 1 John 4:7-16
These texts remind us that the particular love of husband and wife is part of the larger call to love God and follow Christ as persons. Marriage involves persons-in-relationship, being subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. These texts offer a balance with the “household codes” of Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Peter, which call for married love to be embodied in the particular roles of husband and wife.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20This text is not among the Prayer Book lessons but is assigned in many Western rites. In it Paul addresses those who claimed in effect that “what you eat and who you have sex with makes no difference for those who are liberated in Christ and in the Spirit.” Paul attacks the equation of food and sex by saying that food and the stomach are parts of the natural order which is passing away, while the body and sexual union persist in some way in the transcendent order which has dawned in Christ and will abide for all eternity.

“Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!” Sex, Paul is saying, has direct spiritual implications. Paul believes that just as something happened to human nature when Jesus Christ took on human flesh, so also something happened to the marriage covenant. The unity of flesh and Spirit, its “deep structure,” had been hidden behind the veil of the Law, but now its full meaning is revealed in Christ and operative in the sanctified Christian life. The demand to “flee fornication” flows directly from the conviction that in heterosexual intercourse, a bond is actually created between the persons.[13] Paul may have objected to homosexual sex not because an actual union takes place but because it only appears to.

Ephesians 5:1-2,21-33The locus classicus for the sacramental view of marriage comes from the letter to the Ephesians. In this passage Paul subjects the natural design of marriage founded in Genesis to a profound revision in the light of Christ’s self-emptying work on the Cross:

· Paul does not seek to abolish the difference of male and female and family roles as naturally constituted, but he makes wives’ reverence of their husbands flow from reverence for Christ, and he charges husbands to mutual subjection out of the same reverence for Christ.
· He redefines love in terms of sacrifice rather than eros or family affection.
· In his interpretation of “the two shall become one flesh,” the core of the mystery is not the numerical paradox (1+1=1) but the image of two different sexes, man and woman, forming a new entity without losing their identity.[14]

Paul’s analogy between marriage and the Church is no mere flight of rhetoric but is consistent with his understanding of the Church as the Body of Christ.[15] The Body of Christ is not an undifferentiated blob, but an organic reality with Christ as the head and Christians as members united to him by the Spirit. While Paul makes clear that the husband’s “headship” in the family is not the absolute lordship of Christ over his people, he does emphasize that difference and order are a natural and necessary part of the relationship of the sexes.[16] Same-sex marriage cannot signify the flow of grace and obedience that is inherent in the marriage bond, although non-erotic same-sex friendship may rightly image the work of Christ coming alongside us to give himself up for us as a loyal friend (John 15:17).

Mark 10:6-9,13-16Paul’s understanding of the sacramental character of marriage is consistent with Jesus’ reference to the kingdom of God as a kind of marriage feast (Mark 2:19-20; Matthew 25:1-10).[17] I argued in Chapter 2 that Jesus’ teaching on divorce reveals a new understanding of the two-sexes-in-one-flesh relationship of husband and wife. Jesus links marital fidelity with discipleship in a way unheard of among the rabbis, and thus it is appropriate that the marriage service include lessons about discipleship in general.

The key to the newness of Jesus’ teaching may be found in his commending celibacy, “making oneself a eunuch for the kingdom of God” as a higher righteousness than marriage (Matthew 19:10-12). By placing celibacy over marriage, Jesus wrenches marriage out of its natural and Jewish context and redirects the demand for exclusive, lifelong marital fidelity to the call to imitate him in his single devotion to God.[18]

In Jesus’ teaching, faithful monogamous marriage and abstinent singleness are both ways of imitating Christ. In the 1995 “St. Andrew’s Day Statement,” a group of leading Church of England theologians concluded that the Church

assists all its members to a life of faithful witness in chastity and holiness, recognising two forms or vocations in which that life can be lived: marriage and singleness (Gen. 2.24; Matt. 19. 4-6; 1 Cor. 7 passim). There is no place for the church to confer legitimacy upon alternatives to these.[19]

Same-sex marriage involves an impossible confusion of these two distinct forms.
The lessons chosen for any sacramental rite ground that rite in Scripture and in the eternal purposes of God. If a same-sex rite were to use the traditional lessons for marriage, the lessons would continually deconstruct or call into question the very event they were intended to undergird. And necessarily so, because same-sex marriage simply cannot serve as a sign of Christ’s relationship to the Church.

Marriage as a Means of Grace

In the Anglican tradition, Holy Matrimony is not considered a sacrament in the same way that baptism and the Eucharist are. In baptism and Eucharist, the offer of personal salvation through Christ is presented as immediately available for the faith of the recipient. This is not the case in marriage. We are not saved through marriage. In fact, we have suggested earlier that the Law intentionally separates marriage and sexuality from the religious and mythic meanings given in other cultures.

The sacramental dimension of marriage therefore is not part of a general “metaphorical theology” but is specifically bound up with the Church’s confession of the one God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To speak of marriage as mirroring an abstract “relationality” in God is a glossing over of the distinctions of the divine Persons. Marriage reflects not simply the relationality of Christ and his Church, but the headship of Christ and the receptivity of his Bride.[20]

Sexuality and False Spirituality
The new iconoclasts, the prophets of the ethic of intimacy, are unabashed as they rend the veil between sexuality and spirituality. “We have tended to separate the erotic from the spiritual,” says Bishop Michael Ingham reproachfully.[21] For liberationists the flow of grace does not move downward from the antitype (the Triune God) to the type (marriage) but rather upward from experience (sexuality) to theology (the “Divine”). Thus Carter Heyward can say: “I am interested not merely in a ‘theology of sexuality’ – examining sexuality through theological lenses; but rather in probing the Sacred – exploring divine terrain – through sexual experience.”[22] In her understanding of the grace of sexuality, exclusive commitment of two persons would seem at best an option and perhaps a hindrance to recognizing God:

As we come to experience the erotic as sacred, we begin to know ourselves as holy and to imagine ourselves sharing in the creation of one another and of our common well-being. As we recognize the faces of the Holy in the faces of our lovers and friends, as well as in our own, we begin to feel at ease in our bodyselves – sensually connected, empowered.[23]

I have been contending that same-sex marriage is only one plank of an entirely different construal of the Christian faith. As with the biblical critics, some revisionists like Bishop Spong and Professor Heyward flaunt their iconoclasm and reject marriage as the normative type of Christ’s love for his own. Others, like Bishop Rowan Williams, are much more subtle in their argumentation but come to the same conclusion that the “body’s grace” is the model for God’s grace and not the other way around:

The whole story of creation, incarnation, and our incorporation into the fellowship of Christ’s body tells us that God desires us, as if we were God, as if we were that unconditional response to God’s giving that God’s self makes in the life of the Trinity. We are created so that we may grow up into this, so that we grow up into the wholehearted love of God by learning that God loves us as God loves God.[24]

The operative word in this passage, signaling the ethic of intimacy, is desire.[25] By projecting erotic arousal into the divine realm, Williams has conjured up a God who needs us just as he needs himself.[26] Erotic love simply cannot explain the Trinitarian relations nor the self-emptying love of Christ, who died for us while we were yet sinners. Williams concludes that “a theology of the body’s grace ... depends heavily on a certain sort of God – the trinitarian Creator and Savior of the world….”[27] Agreed. But to theologize from the experience of human desire to the Trinity is to make the love of God a need-love rather than a gift-love. One must ask whether this “certain sort of God” of the revisionists is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, or a sophisticated version of Baal or Zeus.[28]

Discipleship and Marital Discipline
A spirituality of marriage cannot begin with projections of sexuality onto the divine, but with conforming our experience to our Lord’s covenant of grace. The “estates” of marriage and singleness are intended as a schoolyard of discipleship. As we have noted, some texts in the marriage service do not speak directly about marriage or erotic love but rather about discipleship and Christian love (agape). Just as Jesus’ teaching on marriage and singleness in the Synoptic Gospels is rooted in the call to single-minded discipleship as the source of our identity, so in John, every love must be rooted in the love of the Father and the Son.

For this reason, marriage as a sacramental rite is subordinate to baptism, and the Christian family is subordinate to God’s family, the Church. Many Christians, both laity and clergy, locate their primary loyalty in personal relationships with spouses and lovers, not with brothers and sisters in Christ.[29] When it comes to personal decisions about having sex, getting married, divorcing, and remarrying, many Christians consult the oracle of intimacy first and then call on the Church to rubber-stamp their decision. Marriages can be as much an instrument of selfishness as any other institution. Even in “successful” marriages, partners may manipulate each other, or jointly manipulate others in an air of complacent self-righteousness.

“What ought the church to teach and expect of people who profess and expect to be disciples of Christ?” Philip Turner asks. The answer to this question, in the words of our Lord is, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). And again, “Sell all that you have and follow me” (Mark 10:21). And again, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). In the area of sexual ethics, Turner concludes:

Marriage is a school of charity, but, before God, so is all of life. The red thread that ties each and every life together is God’s relentless struggle to teach us to love rightly, and in this struggle we are required to leave certain projects very dear to us behind in order to honor God and follow the way that Providence leads and the Spirit beckons.[30]

To present the cost of discipleship without the grace of Christian community would be equivalent to telling beggars to “go and be warmed.” The 1979 marriage service invites the congregation to “do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage.”[31] The Church in its celebration of marriage and its offer of premarital and post-marital care of members has been a real help to many lonely people in and out of marriages, including many homosexuals. The politicizing of the gay rights movement over the past quarter century has tended to create a double standard: traditionalist churches which cut off and are cut off by out-of-the-closet homosexuals, and liberationist churches whose ministry to homosexuals includes promotion of the gay agenda.

Positively, the Church must offer genuine fellowship to those who are lonely and healing to those whose affections are disordered.[32] It must train its pastors to help people live faithfully in the present permissive society by means of solid teaching, competent counseling, and the ministry of prayer. It must also discipline itself so that it does not lead astray one of Christ’s little ones.

The need for marital discipline is particularly critical in the case of clergy. Gay rights advocates regularly remind Church leaders that they themselves have hardly upheld a sterling standard of lifelong monogamy in recent years. “Are the various divorced and remarried bishops prepared to resign?” asks one controversialist. “Probably not. And so, why the hoopla over the supposed immorality of ordaining gays?”[33] This is the same logic that counsels parents to give up on teaching chastity because studies show kids are going to “do it” anyway.[34] A Church that believes in the grace and power of the Gospel to change lives simply cannot succumb to such culture-bound fatalism.[35]

We see the point in this critique. If traditionalists are expecting homosexuals to engage in a heroic spiritual struggle with their sexuality, they must call the whole Church to rethink and reform its marital discipline. Nevertheless, how far can the local church – or even a diocese – carry forward its mission to bring people to Christ’s reconciling grace and power when the national leadership is publicly promoting an agenda such as same-sex marriage? At the same time, the present crisis is an opportunity for those who share the biblical understanding of marriage to rethink areas of our church life where we too have failed to follow Jesus’ radical call (see pages 99-100).

Same-Sex Marriage and the Life of the World to Come

The Advent season is the Church’s regular reminder that it lives in the shadow of the prophets of the Old Testament who looked to a day of judgment and in expectation of Jesus Christ’s coming again in glory to judge the world and restore it to the fullness of its original design. Marriage exists in the tension between judgment and hope as much as any other institution.

Marriage in Heaven?
“Types and shadows have their endings.” For all of its importance as a pattern of the end-time wedding banquet of the Lamb, marriage itself is perhaps an institution for this age only. This would seem the lesson to be learned from the encounter between Jesus and the Sadducees, when they ask him a test question about a woman married to seven successive husbands:

“In the resurrection, therefore, to which of the seven will she be wife? For they all had her.” But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” (Matthew 22:28-30)
The true point of the dispute is the reality, not the character, of the resurrection life. Jesus sidesteps the grosser materialism of the Sadducees’ question. No, there is no genital sex, nor procreation, nor legal marriage in heaven. Jesus rules out the genealogical, historical role of the family in the age to come. When history ends, so ends the mandate to “be fruitful and multiply.” But Jesus’ answer does not directly address the possible continuation of marital love.

The Western Church has understood Jesus’ teaching to mean that death brings every marriage to an end and that the love of the world to come will not include the particular love of husband and wife. The Eastern Church, on the other hand, teaches that the Christian husband and wife enter into an eternal sacramental bond.[36] Protestants have been more reluctant to differentiate the state of the elect in heaven, though Bunyan makes this comment about the Pilgrim’s recognition of his family members entering the Heavenly City: “Since Relations are our second self, though that State [marriage] will be dissolved there, yet why may it not be rationally concluded that we shall be more glad to see them there, than to see they are wanting?”[37]

The heavenly Jerusalem is lighted by God and the Lamb, but surely their glory does not bleach out what Gerard Manley Hopkins called the “dappled” beauty of creation. And since gender is a central feature of the present world order, should we not expect the heavenly world to be gendered in some recognizable way? In his science fiction novel Perelandra, C. S. Lewis imagined a world of gender beyond sex in which his hero Ransom overhears the divine love-songs of the principalities of Mars and Venus. Lewis goes on to explain:

Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings. Female sex is simply one of the things that have feminine gender; there are many others, and Masculine and Feminine meet us on planes of reality where male and female would be simply meaningless. Masculine is not attenuated male, nor feminine attenuated female. On the contrary, the male and female of organic creatures are rather faint and blurred reflections of masculine and feminine. Their reproductive functions, their differences in strength and size, partly exhibit, but partly also confuse and misrepresent, the real polarity.[38]

If Lewis’ intuition has any validity, it might help explain how married partners might experience a form of erotic unity-in-difference while being “like angels.” At the same time, perhaps, same-sex friendships, purged of erotic confusion, may come to their fulfillment as well.

What all historic traditions hold in common is a sense of the permanence of marriage for this age and of some sort of continuity of relational identity in the world to come. Traditional marriage is a kind of typological anchor, as it were, holding fast the Christian imagination of things to come. We see through a glass darkly, but we believe that what will be in the future will be some glorified version of the creation, the earthly city.

Accounting for the Sacrament of Marriage
There is a familiar quip that Christ commanded his apostles, “Feed my sheep!” not “Experiment on my guinea pigs!” Clergy and bishops above all take upon themselves the responsibility of preserving the sacraments in their true form, free of experimentation. The Prayer Book Ordinal up until 1979 contained the following exhortation:

Will you then give your faithful diligence always so to minister the Doctrine and Sacraments, and the Discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded, and as this Church has received the same according to the Commandments of God...?
The clergy are called to fence off those poppy fields that are not clearly ordained by Christ and permitted by Scripture. Several New Testament epistles specifically foresee sexuality as one field where false teaching will grow in the end-time. The Pastoral Letters warn of those who forbid marriage (2 Timothy 4:3), a warning which the early church might have taken more to heart. In our day, however, the danger comes from another direction. The apostle Jude warns of “ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness” (Jude 4). It is in the face of libertinism that Jude urges church leaders to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

No doubt those self-designated “apostolic pioneers” will not care to understand themselves as the objects of Jude’s warning, yet their attitude fits the type. Bishop Walter Righter, for instance, drew the following conclusions from his judicial victory:

All of this means that the totem has been moved; the paradigms have changed; the roles of both men and women have shifted drastically. And where men are in charge they are running scared. We live on a fault line between the past and the future. It’s a scary place to be because that is where the earthquakes break out. It won’t work to retreat into the past and try to recapture “the good old days.” You can’t do that, and, besides, those days were not that good. So we need to brave the possibility of earthquakes and move into the future.[39]

The Episcopal Church dropped Lowell’s line that “new occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth” from the 1982 Hymnal, but Bishop Righter is still singing it. We have heard prophets of this kind of Brave New World throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and they have done great harm, and not only to bodily health and happiness but to the human soul.[40] I for one do not wish to be part of this vision of the future. Same-sex marriage is part of a program of social engineering that has already been incredibly destructive to real families and that will wreak further havoc in the years to come. Someday people will look back at the end of the twentieth century and gasp at its folly and arrogance. They will marvel, above all, that some churches, who married the spirit of one age, became widows in the next.


The Church does not hold marriage and family to be the source of salvation, but it does see in the family an image of the kingdom of God. When it prays “Our Father,” it knows that there is an unbreakable bond between “the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,” and the institution he has ordained on earth. To be ashamed of the institution of marriage as it is given to us is to be ashamed of our heavenly Father.[41] To endorse same-sex marriage is at heart a rebellion against his most gracious rule.

For two thousand years Christians have been declaring: “those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder.” The Episcopal Church has no authority to put asunder the sacrament of marriage as instituted by the Lord – either by revising the marriage rite to include same-sex pairs or by devising some quasi-marital sacramental rite alongside it.


[1] This very question was posed to the two gay men “married” on TV in the recent ABC “Turning Point” show. Their answer: “It’s because we’re a couple of traditional guys.” Never did any of the four gay and lesbian couples interviewed mention God, even though all had “religious” ceremonies. The only person haunted by God was the fundamentalist sister of one of the lesbians, who could not square her reading of the Bible with what her sister was doing.
[2] Book of Common Prayer, 857.
[3] Jean Daniélou, The Bible and the Liturgy (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1956) 3.
[4] The Preface to the marriage service seems somewhat at odds with Article XXV, which claims that the five so-called sacraments “have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained by God.”
[5] The language of marriage as a covenant is new in the 1979 Prayer Book, but the idea is biblical. Cf. “the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent” in Gaudium et Spes (1965) sec. 48.
[6] Bonhoeffer’s supreme exhortation to the couple (“Wedding Sermon,” 46) is this: “forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.”
[7] This is true even in the egalitarian forms found in recent Prayer Books. Earlier forms emphasize the patriarchal lineage of marriage in the “giving away” of the bride by her father.
[8] Modalism stems from embarrassment at the particularity of the Persons of the Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and seeks to explain these Persons as only functional appearances of the one God.
[9] See the famous passage by Karl Barth on the typology of the second creation story in Church Dogmatics, III.1.321-322.
[10] For the nuptial form of Song of Songs, see David A. Dorsey, “Literary Structuring in the Song of Songs,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 46 (1990) 81-96. A lovely series of typological meditations on the Song can be found in Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Till He Come”: Communion Meditations and Addresses (Houston: Christian Focus Publications, 1989).
[11] In these eulogies, the figures are beautiful but clothed. In chapter 4, the man describes the woman first in statuesque terms (verses 1-7), then as the spirit of love (verses 8-11), and finally as an enclosed garden or paradise (verses 12-16). Her simpler description of him (5:9-16) is sensous but more restrained and formal.
[12] For the typological connections between Tobit and the New Testament, see Peter G. Bolt, “What Were the Sadducees Reading? An Enquiry into the Literary Background of Mark 12:18-23,” Tyndale Bulletin 45 (1994) 369-394.
[13] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Macmillan, 1959) 150, puts it this way: “Jesus, the Son of God, bore a human body, and since we enjoy fellowship with that Body, fornication is a sin against Christ’s own Body.”
[14] In Greek, the words for men (andres) and women (gynaikes) are the same as husband and wife.
[15] Thus, even if Paul is not the author of the Letter to the Ephesians, this teaching is consistent with the Pauline theology of the body found in undisputed epistles like 1 Corinthians.
[16] In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, Paul argues that unisex dress and behavior is unnatural and fails to image the “trinitarian” distinctions within the Godhead and between God and humanity. To those who take offense at this passage because it implies that wives are to be subordinate to their husbands, we can only reply that this is the same spirit of subordination which the Son gladly offers the Father (John 5:19-47). For an alternative to this “Barthian” view, see Paul K. Jewett, Man as Male and Female: A Study in Sexual Relationships from a Theological Point of View (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975).
[17] For the connection between Jesus’ “Christology” and Paul’s, see David Wenham, Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995) 183-189.
[18] Interestingly, in the Synoptic sayings where Jesus challenges disciples to love him more than family members, only in Luke 14:26 does he include a spouse in the list: “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
[19] The St. Andrew’s Day Statement: An Examination of the Theological Principles Affecting the Homosexuality Debate was written by a theological work group including Michael Banner, Professor of Moral and Social Theology at King’s College, London; Markus Bockmuehl, University Lecturer in Divinity at Cambridge University; Oliver O’Donovan, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford University; and David Wright, Senior Lecturer in Ecclesiastical History at the University of Edinburgh.
[20] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy (Crestwood, N.Y.: SVS Press, 1973) 83-87, meditates on the Virgin Mary as a specific type of this receptivity.
[21] “God So Loved the World” (see page 29, note 33).
[22] Touching Our Strength, 3.
[23] Touching Our Strength, 102.
[24] “The Body’s Grace,” in Our Selves, Our Souls and Bodies, 59.
[25] The Bible speaks of desire almost exclusively as a human passion (e.g., Isaiah 58:11). Occasionally, God is said to desire a virtue (Hosea 6:6) or an institution like the temple (Psalm 68:16-17). By contrast, God’s love in the Bible always includes the notion of his sovereign choice of the beloved (e.g., Deuteronomy 7:7).
[26] Williams, “The Body’s Grace,” 62, begins by noting that sexual arousal involves the “risk” of being perceived and rejected by another. Then, extrapolating from the prophet Hosea, he concludes (page 67) that “God is at the mercy of the perceptions of an uncontrolled partner.” It is possible to read the “passion” of God in Hosea in just the opposite way, as the indignation of “the outraged partner to a violated agreement.” See Francis I. Andersen and David Noel Freedman, Hosea (AB; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1980) 51. In any case, God’s call to covenant love is not based on his need to be perceived as just and loving.
[27] “The Body’s Grace,” 68.
[28] See Jeffrey Satinover, Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, 229-247.
[29] My bishop habitually reminds newly ordained priests of a “prior vow” they took to their spouses. The ethical interplay of baptismal, marital, and ordination mandates is a very complex matter.
[30] Men and Women, “Limited Engagements,” 55.
[31] Book of Common Prayer, 425,434. Realistically, congregations can only fulfill this promise when the couple is committed to the Church fellowship. However, marriage may be the occasion during which couples may begin or renew their commitment to Christ and his Church.
[32] On the possibility of healing for homosexuals, see Satinover, Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, 168-209; and Mario Bergner, Setting Love in Order: Hope and Healing for the Homosexual (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995).
[33] Br. Richard Thomas Biernacki in “Letters” to The Living Church (Sept. 8, 1996).
[34] See Continuing the Dialogue, 55-59.
[35] Here we can learn much from our Third World brothers and sisters. Recently I asked a Ugandan bishop how he dealt with clergy who divorced. “We do not face this issue,” he replied. “We offer troubled marriages help, but we do not divorce.”
[36] John Meyendorff, Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective, 18-20.
[37] The Pilgrim’s Progress (2nd ed.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1960) 292. Foremost among the tears wiped away in the world to come, I suspect, will be those proceeding from the yearning of our flesh to be united with lost spouses, parents, and children who have refused God’s grace in Christ.
[38] C. S. Lewis, Perelandra (New York: Macmillan, 1943) 200.
[39] “Behind the Charge of Heresy,” The Boston Globe (Aug. 4, 1996).
[40] In the 1946 Foreword to his dystopian novel, Brave New World, the avowed humanist Aldous Huxley warned: “Nor does the sexual promiscuity of Brave New World seem so very distant.... In a few years, no doubt, marriage licenses will be sold like dog licenses, good for a period of twelve months, with no law against changing dogs or keeping more than one animal at one time. As political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends compensatingly to increase.... In conjunction with the freedom to daydream under the influence of dope and movies and the radio, it will help to reconcile ... subjects to the servitude which is their fate.”
[41] Confirming my contention that revisionist sexuality involves a revised spirituality, I note that the proposed “Illustration Rite” for same-sex unions pointedly omits any mention of God the Father.

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