The Christian Institute and their allies produced a prayer that they hoped would be read out in churches today, with the vote on Tuesday (5 February) for the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill. Both sides have tried to use today as a time of reflection and prayer. As Christians we are told to turn to God in times of dispute, however with “Thy will be done” as our guiding phrase.
The prayer released for today shows so much about the worldliness of the Coalition for Marriage that I think it bears close analysis. It reads as follows:
We thank you for the gift of marriage which you established at the dawn of time, to be a blessing for all generations throughout the earth, down through the ages.
We pray that you would fill each and every marriage with your love and grace, and that every husband and wife would know the joy that comes from sharing and giving.
We thank you for establishing marriage to be a secure and stable environment for raising children.
We pray for all those who do not enjoy those blessings, remembering that you are a father to the orphan and a husband to the widow.
We pray, as you have commanded us, for those in positions of civil authority.
We pray that our Government will act with wisdom and righteousness, upholding marriage as the voluntary union of one man to one woman for life, for the good of all people.
We pray for forgiveness for our nation, as our Government seeks to redefine marriage. We pray that these plans would fail.
And we pray for ourselves, that we would speak out in support of marriage with gentleness and kindness, but also with courage and confidence.
In the name of Christ Jesus our Lord we pray. Amen.”
I will skip over the theological debate about a historical reading of Genesis; it has been fought many times, except of course to point out this excludes many Christians with a deep and sincere faith who do not believe the Fall is a literal fact but a poetical description of the real state of sinful humanity.
The first section has already caused pain to at least one person hearing it in my Church, a victim of domestic violence in her marriage. The coalition might claim they have asked that all marriages be joyful and sharing, but this is clearly not the case. Those who have suffered in marriage, those who are divorced, those who have grown up witnessing domestic violence are put into the box of not quite good enough Christians. By making the marriage of a man and woman a seemingly central tenet of faith, millions of heterosexual faithful are also cast out into the cold.
Again the coalition may claim they do not exclude, citing the next line:
“We pray for all those who do not enjoy those blessings, remembering that you are a father to the orphan and a husband to the widow.”
This of course ignores the single parent, the abused child who saw family life as damaging, all those whom the traditional structure of marriage has failed. Is there no prayer for the teenage mum, struggling to do her best? Or the childhood abuse victim who has cut off contact with his parents to protect himself? Do you have to lose your partner or parent to be worthy of prayer?
This may seem nit picking but this prayer was produced to be read out to pulpits across the land, and presumably thought was given to wording, to who it included and excluded, to who matters in the Church the Coalition believe in.
The next part which is extremely problematic to me is this;
“We pray for forgiveness for our nation, as our Government seeks to redefine marriage. We pray that these plans would fail.”
During the week of prayer for Christian unity recently we were asked to consider a verse from Michah:
“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
It is a wonderful verse, one which the coalition has seemingly never come across. Justice and love are much talked about. Steve Chalke wrote wonderfully of his realisation of the injustice that continuing to oppose equal marriage would be. However the last part, the need to be humble is just as important.
Over and over again in the Old and New Testaments we are reminded of the impossibility of knowing the mind of God, and of the need to trust, like Job, to be aware that it is His plan, His dominion, His path that must be walked. This of course reaches its zenith in the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, when God the Son, our Lord Jesus, is subject to the same pressure as all humanity.
“Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Mathew 26:39.”
It is not the place of the coalition to ask for forgiveness for others, we forgive those who sin against us personally, we do not offer out forgiveness, or call it down on our personal whim. They may believe that the same sex marriage law is wrong, but only God can determine if it is a sin, and only God can decide if a nation as a whole has sinned through the passing of one law.
This attitude is of course at the heart of the belief system of the Coalition for Marriage. In one simple prayer they show over and over again that they believe humans, not God, define sin, define goodness, and define what is acceptable and who passes the test of what makes a Christian. To call a whole nation sinners and assume they can intercede for forgiveness is about as arrogant, and unbiblical as any organisation can be.
This is not simply a fight about inclusion in my view, but about the future of the Church, and whether that future is one of radicalism and faith or belief in traditional structures and following a worldly path of human desires for power. To finish by quoting from Chalke:
“Christianity is not about a book, but about a person who is the Word of God made flesh.”