The Ruling Principle of Love

In proposing an amendment to Statement 1, Bishop Jonathan Holland argued that Same Sex Marriage is entirely consistent with the teachings of Jesus.

There are two ways of approaching the teaching of Jesus on same sex marriage.

One way is to start with those passages in which Jesus says something specific about marriage. The difficulty with this approach is that there is only one such passage (Matt 19.3f) and it really addresses divorce. To use this single passage to prop up a particular understanding of same sex marriage is to wrench it out of context, make it do a lot of hard work, and force it to address an issue which was not then on Jesus’ radar nor that of his contemporaries.

Another approach is to look at the principles that Jesus taught.

Just as we have ‘Fundamental Declarations’ (which articulate our core identity around the scriptures, creeds, sacraments and episcopate) and then ‘Ruling Principles’ (which look at locations in which the Fundamental Declarations are embedded, like the BCP and 39 Articles) so Jesus brought a ‘Fundamental Declaration’ about God: that God is Love, and the focus for that love is the world. Then Jesus outlined a series of ‘ruling principles’, by which his ‘fundamental declaration’ about God would be realised. Top of his list was the principle of love.

‘This I command you, love one another’, Jesus says. Elsewhere he commands, ‘Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and love your neighbour as yourself’. (This command to love is one of only three commands Jesus gave his followers, the other two being to ‘Do this in remembrance of me’; and to ‘go into the world teaching and baptising’.)

Much of the rest of the NT teases out the significance and the practical expression of this ruling principle of love. One thinks quickly of St. Paul’s great hymn about love in 1 Corinthians 13, which finishes with ‘faith, hope and love abide … but the greatest of these is love’; or the Apostle John’s words: ‘God is Love, and those who live in love, live in God and God lives in them’ (1 John 4.16).

So when we see two people in love – whether that is a man and a woman, or two men, or two women – and that love is reciprocal, intimate and nurturing, and the context is permanency and exclusiveness as in marriage – and the fruits of that loving relationship are the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness and self-control – then who are we to say that such a couple is not fulfilling the teaching of Jesus and his ruling principle of love?

It is the love that matters to Jesus, not the gender. If we see the fruits of the Spirit in any couple in a loving relationship, same-sex attracted or other-sex attracted, then God is in them and their loving relationship, for God is love and those who live in love, live in God and God lives in them.

This is how I would begin to make the case that same sex marriage is fully consistent with the teachings of Jesus and in particular his principle of love. It is the love that counts, not the gender.

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