Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Proper Matter

I got myself involved in a very unproductive exchange of comments over at Mark Harris's blog Preludium. The exchange prompted me to think - once again - about the very different reactions that there have been to the ordination of women and to the blessing of same-sex unions. I suggested that both controversies involved disagreements about the proper matter for a sacrament. Traditionally the proper matter for the sacrament of holy orders was an adult male and there were those among the faithful who believed - and still do - that ordaining a woman was not only wrong but simply impossible. Traditionally the proper matter for the sacrament of holy matrimony has been an adult male and female couple and there are some among the faithful who believe that the uniting of two men or two women in holy matrimony is simply impossible.

I am still puzzled by the way in which Anglicans have found themselves unable to maintain relationships with those who disagree about the proper matter of holy matrimony when they had been able to live with diversity of convictions about the proper matter of holy orders. Is there a logic to this that is beyond my capacity to understand? Or is this simply heterosexism, a clinging to heterosexual privilege? If it is heterosexism, perhaps the way forward is a path quite like that which many opponents of the ordination of women followed a generation. My bishop at the time said that his mind was changed when he met women who exhibited the same kind of gifts and sense of calling that he saw in men preparing for ordination. I know that the witness of the lives of the same-sex couples that I have been blessed to know have helped to change my mind - along with some serious reading of Scripture.

The traditionalists are right in asserting that this way of understanding marriage is a departure from the past, a new thing. Changing our thinking about matters, especially matters of importance like holy matrimony and holy orders, is clearly a big deal, and not, to paraphrase the marriage rite itself, to be done hastily, but soberly and deliberately. We know that we may get it all wrong, that decades later we may come to realize that we made a mistake. But for me the greater mistake, the one that does incalculable damage to God's beloved children, is to cling to the old understandings.

1 comment:

Christine McIntosh said...

Great final sentence! I may pinch it some day ...