These words mark the beginning of the description of Christian marriage received by the Church in Wales and explained in the Preface to the 2013 Marriage Service, and they help us to understand what Christian marriage is really about. The preface goes on to discuss marriage as being:
- For the couple to increase in love and trust;
- The foundation of family life, in which children are nurtured (children being born is an optional addition for couples who are planning to try and have children of their own)
- A source of strength and companionship;
- and a means of enriching society.
This preface immediately prevents us from thinking of marriage as merely for procreation, a principle argument against Same Sex Marriage, and demands that we look deeper into the theology of marriage. Marriage is not simply about becoming a production line for the next generation, demonstrated not least by the increasing number of heterosexual couples choosing not to have children of their own, and so we must find the locus of Christian marriage somewhere other than in procreation.
For me, the most compelling place to begin a discussion of Christian marriage is fruitfulness. Jesus demands that we be fruitful, and he has given his Church grace to bear good fruit in the world, of which marriage is one. Within marriage, as the preface suggests, many fruits can be produced: love, companionship, trust, stability, a fulfilling sex-life, mutual up-building, a shared ministry to world and society and, of course, the raising and nurturing of children. Obviously, these fruits are not equally produced by each married couple; some couples devote their life to fostering children, others to their church communities and some even to caring for another member of their family. Fruitfulness is as diverse in the Church as the diverse band of folk whom Jesus has called together as his followers.
With this concept of fruitfulness as the foundation of the Church in Wales’ doctrine of marriage, it is difficult to contest that the sacrament of marriage should be open to people of same-sex orientation. I say this because science and experience have taught us that homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice, it is part of the innermost self of a huge number of people, including many within the Body of Christ today. To be a lesbian or gay person is to have been created as part of the beautiful diversity of God’s cosmos, given the same grace-filled potential for fruitfulness, and the Church has a duty to welcome and embrace this beautiful group of people. To not do so is deeply damaging, not simply because of the huge numbers of young people who refuse to be part of what is seen as a homophobic institution, but also because we are restricting the work of God’s grace in the world.
We gather together to worship our incarnate Lord, who came to preach peace to those who were near and those who were far off, he defied all the prejudices and challenges of his time to call people who previously had been exiled from the religion of their time. Today the Church has this same duty, to dismiss the prejudices and misunderstandings of the past and strive to create that inclusive, welcoming and fruitful community which Jesus lived, died and rose again to form. I pray that we may do so soon, and begin the process of healing the many wounds we have caused to the gay and lesbian community, and so that we get on with the truly important work of bearing good fruit in the world.
Article written for the Teulu Asaph, Diocesan Magazine for Diocese of St. Asaph, Church in Wales