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Three observations on love, marriage and the future of Anglicanism

Three observations on love, marriage and the future of Anglicanism

By The Rev. Prof. Stephen Noll

Observation 1: The Battle Over Intimacy

We are in the midst of a war over marriage - in the wider culture and in the church. At stake is the basic biblical command that the marriage bed be honoured (Heb 13:4).

I wrote the following some years ago about the new "ethic of intimacy" that underlies the modern pagan view of sexuality. It is this ethic of intimacy that is being enacted into law in UK and with which the Church of England appears content to bed down with, if ever so gingerly (let's call the new policy "clerical bundling"). It is the view that justifies Bishop Gene Robinson or Bishop Walter Righter or name your favourite priest or bishop leaving his wife for a more companionable relationship.

Sexuality is a word less than two centuries old. It can be understood in a neutral sense as "the constitutionally bipolar character of human nature" (N.B. sex from the Latin "to cut"). According to this definition, sexuality includes:

. the biological duality of male and female sexes as necessary for reproduction; . the psychological identity of each person as either a man or a woman; . the erotic longing of a woman and a man for each other; . the social construction of gender roles within family and society; and . the sublimation of erotic love as motive for art, philosophy, and religion.

This definition of sexuality mirrors God's purposes for marriage, because sexuality is a rung in the "ladder of love" that culminates in marriage.

In contemporary parlance, however, sexuality is most often associated not with marriage but with liberation from it. Sociologist Anthony Giddens recently published a history of modern sexuality under the title *The Transformation of Intimacy*. Sexuality and intimacy, according to Giddens, are terms that convey a revolutionary new meaning.

. Sexuality in its modern usage means *plastic sexuality*. Giddens does not use "plastic sexuality" as a pejorative term, suggesting artificiality. On the contrary, it represents the emancipated possibilities of sex "severed from its age-old integration with reproduction, kinship and the generations." The two marks of plastic sexuality are female sexual autonomy and the flourishing of homosexuality.

. The advent of plastic sexuality makes possible *confluent love*. Confluent love is an opening of one person to another for the purpose of self-realization and self-enhancement. Specifically, confluent love makes mutual sexual satisfaction the sine qua non of an intimate relationship. "Confluent love is active, contingent love, and therefore jars with the 'for ever', 'one-and-only' qualities of the romantic love complex." Whereas romantic love fastens on one "special person," confluent love is realized in one or more "special relationships" [a.k.a. polyamory].

. The kind of relationship formed by confluent love is termed the *pure relationship*. "In the pure relationship, trust has no external supports and has to be developed on the basis of intimacy." Intimacy or commitment in this sense must continually be negotiated in what Giddens calls a "rolling contract." Lest intimacy slide into codependency, partners in a pure relationship must be willing to grow or break apart: "It is a feature of the pure relationship that it can be terminated more or less at will by either partner at any particular point."

Giddens notes that heterosexual marriage has no special claim on love and intimacy as he defines them. In fact, homosexuals are the pioneers of the dawning age of pure relationships, because "in gay relationships, male as well as female, sexuality can be witnessed in its complete separation from reproduction."

Speaking as a secular prophet (or pied piper), Giddens observes that traditional marriage has lost its legitimacy and has already decayed into unstable "companionate" relationships based on friendship or utility. He expects these companionate forms to "veer towards the pure relationship, within the life experience of the individual and the society at large." He sees this evolution of marriage both as inevitable and desirable, though he admits that no one knows for the future "if sexual relationships will become a wasteland of impermanent liaisons, marked by emotional antipathy as much as by love and scarred by violence."

With this shrug of the shoulders, Giddens avoids the logic of his own view: intimacy as he defines it is not truly intimate but is individualistic and atomistic. The chaos of the sexual revolution is not transitional but is bound up with the rejection of marriage as a genuine union of persons. The sexual utopia, like the Communist withering away of the state, will never come; rather, we will experience more of the same sexual and social dysfunction until the society as a whole cries out, "Enough already!"

Writing in a more popular venue, columnist Tim Stafford, who has served as a "dear Abby" to hundreds of Christian teenagers, describes the same phenomena in our culture as the outworking of a new *ethic of intimacy*. This ethic includes the following characteristics:

. an invariably positive view of sex; . belief in sex as a private bodily right; . a requirement of personal, repeated consent to sex; . an ongoing search for "compatibility" among partners; . insistence that sex has no necessary consequences; . rejection of the double standard on the sexual freedom of men and women; . an age of "maturity" (usually age 16) as the doorway to sexual activity.

Some elements of sexual intimacy are common to traditional marriage and other "committed relationships"; but in marriage, sexual intimacy is only one goal of a larger design and project. We pity a married couple who stay together simply out of duty or "because of the kids," but we recognize their deficient relationship as consistent with the ethic of marriage, and may even admire them for sticking it out. By contrast, an unmarried couple who stay together after love has "died" and sex ceased do so against the grain of the ethic of intimacy.

Many married couples today may be living by two sets of rules without realizing it - until a crisis occurs, e.g., sexual dissatisfaction, unwanted pregnancy, or the "personal growth" of one partner. Then suddenly one partner exercises the "right" to sexual intimacy by opting out with the aid of no-fault divorce.

The ethic of intimacy, Stafford thinks, is the reigning norm among non-Christians and even very common among Christians. It is found both among mature heterosexuals and homosexuals. One major contention of this book is that the concept of same-sex marriage is so bound up with the ethic of intimacy that it cannot be adapted to the requirements of classical Christian marriage. Legitimizing the ethic of intimacy by approving same-sex marriage will further confuse Christians struggling with the allurements of contemporary culture.

From Stephen F. Noll, *Two Sexes, One Flesh: Why the Church Cannot Bless Same-Sex Marriage* (Latimer Press, 1997), pp. 14-16.

Observation 2: Incrementalism

The recent C of E proposal to allow clergy to enter civil partnerships if they promise to refrain from sex is, on the face of it, rather ludicrous. It is also, however, part of a strategy used quite successfully by the homosexual lobby in the Episcopal Church. The strategy is one of *incrementalism*.

Incrementalism is both a psychological and social process - the proverbial frog-in-the-kettle phenomenon. It is also a conscious strategy used by the proponents of the ethic of intimacy. I quote from a recent article by Daniel Cere, "Love and marriage - and family law" in *The Public Interest* [the final issue!] Spring 2005, page 79.

The incremental process of legal redefinition [of marriage] advocated by these new influential reports has real consequences. William N. Eskridge, Jr., a Yale law professor and advocate for same-sex marriage, explains the benefits of this incremental procedure in his 2001 book *Equality Practice*. Though he supports same-sex marriage, for strategic reasons he advises against any direct push for legal redefinition. The complex incrementalism of law, he argues, is a powerful and effective tool in seeding, leavening, and ultimately changing public opinion. He writes that a main benefit of this method is that it leaves resulting changes largely immune from direct public criticism and debate.

But make no mistake: incremental changes do not mean slow changes. Eskridge points to Holland and other European countries, that, in a fairly short amount of time, have ushered in a variety of state-sanctioned relationships that now compete with marriage. According to Eskridge, these "equality practices" help to "denormalize marriage."

I think the C of E itself indulged in incrementalism with its *Issues in Sexuality* statement 15 years ago. It recognized the *normality* of homosexual desire, while keeping it in the closet for clergy. Now it has to fall back on the weak argument that civil partnerships are fundamentally different from marriage, despite the fact that civil partnerships are intentionally "marital" in appearance, and that homosexual desire must be kept separate from physical consummation (an odd inversion of the BCP Preface to Marriage).

Of course, there are other reasons, I suspect, motivating the current C of E proposal. Those reasons are bound up with the obligation of the Church in England to participate in and follow the law of the State.

Observation 3: The Urgency of Disestablishment

The passage of the Civil Partnership Act in UK and the convoluted attempt of the C of E to adapt Christian marriage to this Act leads to the following conclusion.

1. That the C of E should run as quickly as possible to effect disestablishment. 2. That the Anglican Communion cannot afford to tie itself to a Mother Church and Archbishop of Canterbury caught up in the web of the old Establishment.

I am sure there are many before me that have shared this first conviction: names like Bunyan and Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones come to mind. But today the imperative is greater than ever. The Church is an arm of an overtly pagan state. The chief Primate is appointed by a Prime Minister of a Party (probably any of the three) which is not only religiously neutral but hostile to the biblical Christianity of the 39 Articles.

Fewer have shared the second conviction, but the present crisis in the Communion leads to this inevitable conclusion. Even if the ABC were to come down on the side of the Global South and countenance the exclusion of an unrepentant Episcopal Church, it would not solve the larger problem: that the Anglican Communion must be ordered for mission to dying souls and a dying world. The old Established churches of Europe simply cannot lead in this area: indeed they need to open their doors to new life from the Global South. They cannot do this holding onto the reins of control (note the blinkered appointments to office in the Communion by the current ABC).

A quick thought experiment. OK, let's say we value the "historic" role of Canterbury as the first see of English Christianity. Why not elect a non-English ABC, as the RCs elect a non-Italian Pope? No reason at all, except it will violate various British laws connected with Establishment. Therefore if the C of E wants truly to remain an historic hub of the Anglican Communion, it should move quickly to disestablishment.

Otherwise we need to look to a new historic see in Abuja or Kuala Lumpur or Namugongo (execution site of the Uganda Martyrs)!

--Prof. Stephen Noll is the Vice-Chancellor of Ugandan Christian University

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