Assertion, unsupported by fact, is nugatory. Surmise and general abuse, in however elegant language, ought not to pass for truth. Junius

2005/01/28

The United Church and Same Sex Marriage

Somewhere in the furore over Bishop Henry and Cardinal Ambrozic's interventions in the same sex marriage debate, this letter from the Moderator of the United Church of Canada to federal parliamentarians got lost. This is unfortunate, because it serves as a timely and politic reminder to both sides of the issue that not all Christians are against same sex marriage, and that the Catholic hierarchy and Janet Epp Buckingman do not speak for all believers. I quote the letter in full:

January 17, 2005

Please accept greetings from The United Church of Canada, and our gratitude for your service to Canada through the work of Parliament. I am writing to you because of the recently delivered Supreme Court opinion on marriage legislation, and the prospect of an early introduction of such legislation in the House. We wish you well and pray for you as you prepare for the coming session.

I want to contribute a perspective from the United Church to your deliberations. Whether or not you agree with what I am setting before you, I think you should be equipped with the knowledge that the General Council of Canada's largest Protestant denomination welcomes equal marriage. I believe that this decision has been reached not by abandoning Christian faith, tradition, and values, but by implementing them. I write to you in the hope that you will resist the assumption that anyone who speaks from Christian faith, tradition, and values must be against equal marriage. Some are, some aren't. This is true within the United Church, just as it is true within Canadian society as a whole.

The United Church has been deeply engaged with questions of same-sex relationships for 20 years. In August 2003, its highest court asked the Government of Canada to include same-sex marriage in marriage legislation. I am attaching a copy of the letter to the Prime Minister outlining the United Church's resolution.

In some ways, The United Church of Canada is tracking a common path with the courts and the federal government. While our General Council indicated its welcome of equal marriage, our polity upholds the freedom of each of our congregations to follow its conscience. In the year and a half since the Council's decision, many of our 3,000 congregations have been engaged in the same discussion that is about to take place in the House: whether or not to proceed with equal marriage. We know this conversation is difficult for many of our congregations, just as it has been difficult in the public sphere. In our own house we experience all the elements of this issue that are familiar in Canadian society: a clear opinion from the highest court; varied beliefs and expectations on the part of participants; freedom of religion; discussion preceding emerging policy; and the price to be paid for it.

I want to put before you now a Christian perspective on faith, tradition, and values. I write of these precious things because I believe they ought to be considered in making public decisions. I am aware of your responsibilities toward a multicultural and multi-faith society, and so what follows is not intended to be normative for all. It is specifically and unapologetically of the Christian tradition, a tradition that runs deeply in Canadian life and history.

I understand faith to be a way of living. To have faith is to implement a vision in one's daily life; in this sense, all live by some faith or other. Faith is not simply about the received doctrines. Doctrine is essential to religious life but it is not the final arbiter, neither of our decisions nor of our hope. After all, doctrines have been used to support slavery, apartheid, and the exclusion of women.

Some will protest that we must have faith in the Bible, and that the Bible takes an unfavourable view of intimate same-sex relationship. But I would answer that Christian faith is not an uncritical repetition of a received text. It is a mindful commitment to the power of love, to which the text seeks to give witness. Every generation of the Christian faith must decide how they will honour that demand of love in the living of their days. Changing circumstances and changing ideas are not the enemy of faith.

In fact, change is the only medium in which faithfulness can truly become faithfulness. Uncritical repetition is more like being on autopilot.

Similarly, I understand tradition to be a living treasure. Tradition is not to be confused with habit, custom, or convention. These are simply vessels that seek to hold the living tradition of God's presence in the world. Habit, custom, and convention are not themselves the light; they come to bear witness to the light. John's gospel says that the Word of God became flesh in Jesus Christ. The Word became a living being, John writes, not words. The Supreme Court follows this traditional wisdom when it declares metaphorically that the constitution is a living tree. In Christian tradition the measure by which we choose a course of action is the measure of the love of Christ, a measure that judges even scripture. It is never legitimate to use the words of scripture to promote a loveless agenda.

Further, I understand value to be created by God, not by ancient custom nor by current fashion nor by general approval. God does not love because human creatures have value. Rather, it is in loving human creatures that God gives them value. Value is a gift -- not a rule, not a partisan lever, and certainly not a weapon. It is wrong to invoke the love of God in order that one person's "values" might diminish another's value. Those who claim that homosexual people threaten to dismantle the value of heterosexual marriage would do well to remember that if anyone destroys marriage, it is married people, not gays and lesbians.

In the end, faith, tradition, and values do not decide for us. They equip us to take up the responsible and difficult task of deciding for ourselves. This deciding is itself an act of faith. So we pray for one another, we struggle to live in the love of Christ, and we take our step in humble trust that the next generation will deal generously with us, knowing we did our best with the vision of love God gave us for our day.

For me, Christian faith, tradition, and values contribute to our hope for that day when earth once more is fair and all her children one, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people -- all her children. The General Council of The United Church of Canada believes that equal marriage is a step on the path to justice, peace, and the common good. If prayer is a part of your life, please pray that we may tread lightly, wisely, lovingly, bravely, and faithfully.

Thank you for your consideration of these thoughts, which are offered in a spirit of commitment to the good of Canada. Please consider attending a breakfast [for Members of Parliament that] I will be hosting on marriage on Thursday, February 24, on Parliament Hill. In the meantime, I am attaching an essay on marriage I wrote for The Globe and Mail, in the hope that you may find it useful. Again, let me extend to you my prayers and the prayers of the church, as you pursue the difficult path of putting into legislation the best hopes of Canadians. May God bless you in your efforts and may your efforts be a blessing.

Sincerely,

The Right Reverend Dr. Peter Short
Moderator
The United Church of Canada


18 Comments:

Blogger PR said...

Thanks for the reminder of why membership in the United Church in Canada is in a free fall.

Sunday, 30 January, 2005  
Blogger Psychols said...

Membership decline in the United church has very little to do with same sexed marriage. It reflects a long-term trend of reduced membership in all mainstream Canadian churches.

The letter is a good reminder to parliament that Bishop Henry does not speak for all Christians. Glad you posted it

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