(Guardian) Andrew Brown—John Sentamu’s argument against same-sex marriage is already lost

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The archbishop of York, John Sentamu, hopes that people will pay attention to other things in his most recent interview than his attack on gay marriage. Fat chance. When he said that the government will be acting as dictators have done if it introduces gay marriage, he put himself squarely in the wrong on a matter that people care about.

Nor does he give what I think are likely to be his real, animating reasons: that he believes gay marriage is bad because it makes being gay look normal and even admirable, and because gay people should not have sex with each other. Around most of the world, and certainly in most of the Anglican Communion, these would be perfectly respectable and uncontroversial things to say. But in modern Britain they are a minority view, and certainly not a respectable one. They are not going to win a political argument – and that's what he's fighting here.

He could defend marriage for heterosexuals only on the grounds that the Bible comes out of a culture where gay marriage would be an abomination. But he doesn't. What he actually talks about in his interview is history and tradition. The trouble for him is that history and tradition are up against the argument from justice. In that contest the argument from justice will always win, unless it inconveniences too many of the powerful. Gay marriage doesn't....

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)Archbishop of York John Sentamu* Culture-WatchLaw & Legal IssuesMarriage & FamilyReligion & CultureSexuality--Civil Unions & Partnerships* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in General* International News & CommentaryEngland / UK* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

11 Comments
Posted January 30, 2012 at 6:45 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Br. Michael wrote:

A dictatorship of the majority is perfectly possible as is religious persecution.  One need only look at the French Revolution or the drive to normalize same sex behaviors by force.

January 30, 11:22 am | [comment link]
2. Catholic Mom wrote:

When I read Sentamu’s statement, this is exactly the reaction I had.  It is an incredibly weak argument.  He concedes that Civil Partnerships are actually a great and wonderful thing.  He has nothing to say about homosexuality in general.  He simply states that it would be a terrible thing for the government to “redefine” marriage to include same-sex couples because “history and tradition” don’t support this definition.  If that’s his best argument, it’s DOA.

The author of this article makes a very good point:

In Britain the state and the church have long disagreed about the definition of marriage. As soon as civil divorce and remarriage between men and women was allowed, and I think the relevant date is 1915, the state had redefined marriage; and over the next century, the church shuffled slowly into line behind the state and behind society.

Up until very recently, the definition of marriage as explicited stated by Jesus Christ himself, was between a man and a woman who had no other living spouse—with a few very minor exceptions.  (Protestants accepted unfaithfulness as a reason for divorce, Catholics permitted annulment under certain circumstances. )  Now, however, as far as I can see, anybody who can obtain a civil marriage is considered “married” in the eyes of the Church of England regardless of how many ex-spouses they trail behind them.  When the Archbishop of Canterbury conducts a blessing ceremony for a couple who have been conducting an adulterous relationship for decades while both had living spouses, one of whom still has a living spouse,—when priests and bishops themselves are divorced and remarried—the Church of England has given up the “tradition and history” defense of marriage.  Under that argument, presumably, if same-sex marriage persists for the three hundred years, then the Church of England will accept it because it now has “tradition and history” on its side.

January 30, 1:30 pm | [comment link]
3. Jon wrote:

Catholic Mom is 100% on target.  In agreement with the Guardian writer, she correctly observes that nearly all countries (except theocracies) make a distinction between civil marriage (regulated by the state) and those marriages that any particular church, mosque, or synagogue will recognize.  That distinction is very old.  Indeed, in America it is crucial because we don’t WANT the state to be in the business of telling a church what weddings it must perform—if you don’t like a church’s policy, you go to City Hall. 

So for Sentamu to say “I don’t think it is the role of the state to define marriage” is baffling.  Marriage has been in the hands of the State—as it touches all kinds of issues of law—for a long time.

Of course that is not to say that the Church (whether Rome, the CoE, the LCMS, etc.) should not have internal and deeply principled views about what IT regards as marriage—and to vigorously articulate the difference. 

And that leads to Catholic Mom’s other powerful point, which is that the Church as such has lost cred even here because it chose to abandon its historic tradition a long time ago when it was convenient for us as straight people.  Part of the our weakness as traditionalists in 2003 was that by then both Britain and America had clearly abandoned belief in that historic “definition” of marriage we began so widely touting in our post Gene Robinson rhetoric.  It’s hard to take people seriously who didn’t object at divorced bishops (when they were straight) but were shocked by GR.

January 30, 2:50 pm | [comment link]
4. evan miller wrote:

#2 and #3,
Do you agree with the Guardian that to hold that believing gay sex is bad and therefore gay marriage is bad (the Biblical view, by the way) is not a respectable view to hold in Britain?

January 30, 3:03 pm | [comment link]
5. Catholic Mom wrote:

I agree that anybody who says that gay sex is bad and therefore gay marriage is bad is going to get blasted to smithereens in England.  Which is why Sentamu came out with this pretty much meaningless statement instead.  First making it clear that he wasn’t criticizing gay relationships in any manner whatsoever, thereby fatally undercutting his own argument.

January 30, 3:27 pm | [comment link]
6. Terry Tee wrote:

I don’t anticipate much debate on this because opponents of the churches will be so busy yelling ‘bigots’ that discussion will be well nigh impossible.

January 30, 4:12 pm | [comment link]
7. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

I think +John Sentamu is right, although it is predictable that Andrew Brown will perambulate back from lunch to pen this predictable left-wing spiel [mild compared with the attack of the vapors over at Swooning Anglicans].

The sad thing is that in all this, no one seems to value the traditional marriages which raised and sustained us, the balance of the male and the female in raising children, and indeed the role of fathers and mothers in the development of their offspring.  Is that all the relationship is - something to be legislated and defined by early 21st Century relativism, or is there something more to it, indeed a God-given holy estate?

Like so many other personal relationships between people in the workplace and sometimes even in the church, we take less and less of a Christian view of the worth of one another and our traditional relationships, and perhaps worst of all in doing so show our contempt for the blessings of the Holy Spirit living in us and our relationships by trying to legislate and change that which we are told he blesses and has provided for us.

That is not to say that all marriages are perfect, or will last, or will be for everyone, or ideal for raising children, or to say that people do not find fulfilment in other ways, but at their best, they can be special places to grow up in, as many of us can testify.

Is there a case for traditional marriage and the encouragement of it for its own sake and something precious in it?  I believe there is - that is why I am glad that for once someone in the Church has had the courage to speak out and to give the established Christian view on an established Christian relationship.

January 30, 5:36 pm | [comment link]
8. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

Isn’t it so sad, that at the same time that the secular world has lost respect for the traditional concept of marriage, that it counts of little worth the traditional treasure resulting from those marriages?  So many lost opportunities, so many lost children who will never have the opportunity to grow up and perhaps get to know their heavenly father.  What an unkind world it has become.

January 30, 6:09 pm | [comment link]
9. Catholic Mom wrote:

#7   Those are great arguments but unfortunately not ones that Sentamu makes.  I’ve listened to the actual intervew and he does not say the words “Christian” “children” or even, I believe, “homosexual” or “gay.”  As far as I can tell the argument is—“civil partnerships should not be elevated to the status of marriage because the state does not have the right to define marriage—that is the prerogative of history and tradition.”  And that really and truly, seems to be about all he has to say about it.

January 30, 9:37 pm | [comment link]
10. MichaelA wrote:

States have always defined marriage. We live in a democracy where every Christian from the smallest to the greatest has influence, and is obliged to use that influence in proportion. 

Whilst I agree with Catholic Mom and others about the weakness of the arguments put forward by ++Sentamu, I am encouraged that he is at least prepared to raise his head above the parapet. Other christians should do likewise, because Andrew Brown is wrong - public opinion in Britain is not set in stone, and it can be influenced back the other way.

January 31, 2:06 am | [comment link]
11. old grumpy wrote:

I smell a rat. . . . . .
QUESTION.  Which job in the Anglican church can most readily be described as the definitive ‘poisoned chalice’?
ANSWER.    Archbishop of Canterbury.
QUESTION.  Which job in the Anglican church is likely to become vacant within a year or so?
ANSWER.    Archbishop of Canterbury.
QUESTION.  Who, in normal circumstances, would be the popular choice to fill that vacancy?
ANSWER.    John Ebor
QUESTION.  Who has just ensured that the chances of his removal to Lambeth Palace and occupation of the throne of Canterbury exist now only in the abstract, [d.g.].
ANSWER.    John Ebor.

Up here in the frozen UK northern province, we like our Archbishop…. a lot. He brings a colourful robustness to Anglican Christianity, an approachability and wicked sense of humour that surely would be quashed to nothing by the politics and religious polarity he would have had to battle with at Lambeth. The only downside so far as I can see, is that we will never have the the opportunity to see KJS trying to get him onside. I’d have paid good money for a ring-side seat at that match….

Chris Baker - Durham UK - Incompetent organist and Cynic (1st class Honours)
- in 45th year of HOLY Matrimony, so keep yer hands off, Cameron, it’s not yours to play with. My vote is already lost to you now, so that’s one - many more to follow, methinks.

January 31, 8:11 am | [comment link]
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