Extending marriage to same-sex couples might be redemptive, says Charlotte Methuen

Charlotte Methuen, a member of the Faith and Order Commission of the Church of England, the body responsible for publishing the Man and Woman in Marriage document, has written an article Marriage: one man and one woman? for Our Kingdom, the open democracy web site. Charlotte is a lecturer in Ecclesiastical history at the University of Glasgow and in addition to being a member of the FAOC she is a member of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission for Unity, Faith and Order. Charlotte argues that extending the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples might in fact be a redemptive step.

Her article begins:

“This week the Church of England’s Faith and Order Commission published a statement on marriage. It makes the case that marriage is between one man and one woman. Traditionally this has been true in England for a long time, and the Commission (made up of bishops, clergy and laity who advise the church on doctrine) was asked to offer a theological justification for the Church of England’s current position. But is this the way marriage has always been conceived? And does it have to be?”

She then outlines the various marital constructs to be found in the Bible and through Christian history, paying particular, critical attention to the role of women in marriage.

“Marriage has not always been a good institution for women. In particular, Christian conceptions of marriage have transmitted problematic expectations about the role of women and about relationships between men and women which continue to shape expectations of women today. I recognise that the Faith and Order Commission’s document offers one theological justification for the Church of England’s current position on marriage, but I cannot see marriage simply and uncritically as part of the “goods” of creation.”

In the final two paragraphs she offers what is clearly a dissenting voice to the FAOC report and the work of the Bishop of Coventry who wrote the report. Her critique is devastating.

“Increasingly I find myself convinced that one of the flaws of our current conception of marriage may be precisely the emphasis on “one man and one woman”, which seems consistently to imply expectations about the role of women and men which tend to be biologically determinist and which reach beyond the question of who is biologically capable of bearing children. From my observation of couples around me, I would judge that the joys and pains of long-term relationships between two people of the same sex seem no different from those of two people of different sexes. Indeed, long-term relationships between two men or between two women sometimes seem less fraught, perhaps precisely because the couple is not having to negotiate centuries of expectation of how men and women should relate to one another.

“Marriage, as the Church of England (among other religious bodies) has been pointing out, has been between men and women, and in the Christian tradition between one man and one woman. But it seems to me that extending the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples might in fact be a redemptive step. For it might allow the institution of marriage to transcend the profound inequalities between men and women which have too often shaped it.”

How many other members of the Commission dissent from the report. There are a number of academics with liberal credentials on the Commission. I hope they will have the confidence to join Charlotte in voicing their own critique. For LGB&T Anglicans it is a shoddy piece of work which people have reacted to with outrage and anger.

Comments

  1. Laurence Cunnington says

    So, with all its talk of the immutability of marriage and the appearance of consensus within the Faith & Order Commission, the final report failed to acknowledge the dissent and minority viewpoints even within the group that published it!

    And how did this play out in the reality of the group’s meetings? Was Charlotte Methuen just ignored or told to shut up or was she too scared – and, if so, for what reason – to say what she has now published in her critique?

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