Marriage and the Spirituality of Union

I was delighted to be involved in the decision of our church (The Scottish Episcopal Church) to open the sacrament of marriage to people of the same sex. I don’t want to rehearse any of the ‘for’ or ‘against’ arguments for the simple reason that these arguments are mostly made on entirely different grounds and, therefore, rarely find points of contact. This partly because, in dealing with traditional material, some focus on content and some on intent. But I wonder if there is some potential for a more illuminating conversation based not so much on hermeneutical principles as on mystical theology. In other words; how does participation in the sacrament of marriage enable a more Christlike life? Here are one or two thoughts:

  • Joyful self-giving to the other mirrors the divine love which delights to seek out the beloved.
  • In many different ways, this love opens out in hospitality and in caring for others, including children.
  • Marriage is a school of virtue, enabling an ever-deepening exploration of what it means to give way to the other in mutuality and humility.
  • The union of one person with another is reflective of the union of the holy Trinity and, therefore, of the divine will for the Church and for all humanity – ‘that they may be one.’
  • The promise of faithfulness speaks of, and is sustained by God’s faithfulness to humanity, even in times of the most severe trial. Faithfulness is expressed powerfully in the willingness to forgive.

Of course, this is a pattern of loving that is not restricted to marriage, but it is expressed sacramentally in marriage as an icon of the fundamental pattern of all Christlike relationships. It seems to me that the gender of the partners does not play a fundamental role in this way of speaking about marriage and that is why I strongly resist any suggestion that we are changing our theology of marriage in extending it to people of the same sex. I will continue to preach the same sermons with the same cheesy jokes in the marriages I conduct, whatever the sex of the partners. What is a Christian marriage? One that gradually shapes us in the way of loving that Christ exemplified for us.

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