An Introduction to the Book by Dr. Song:
Two years ago I was asked to be a theological adviser to the Church of England House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality (the Pilling Group). Our report came out this time last year, and as a result the Church of England has entered on a time of ‘shared conversations’, when dioceses around the country are discussing same-sex relationships and equal marriage. The Church of England is not alone in this: many other churches, both in Britain and around the world, are going through similar times of discernment.
Sexual ethics is not a matter to which until this time I had given much thought. While I have taught Christian ethics in Durham for over twenty years, first at Cranmer Hall and more recently in the Department, there have always been other colleagues who have had a particular interest in teaching and supervising in sexuality and gender. But as a result of my involvement in the Pilling Group, I was forced to think through for the first time what I did think in some depth, and the results have just been published by SCM Press as Covenant and Calling: Towards a Theology of Same-Sex Relationships (available through all good bookshops as well as some dubious ones).
Stanley Hauerwas writes on the back cover that this is a book ‘that will make no one on any side of the debates about gay marriage happy’, and I can’t help but agree. Against those who lean to the conservative side, I have always found the assumption questionable that the only need is to reiterate the ‘plain teaching’ of the six or seven texts found in the Bible that appear to address the ethics of same-sex relationships. Against those who lean to the revisionist side, I don’t think it is adequate to assert that faithfulness and permanence alone are the fundamental goods of marriage, thereby ignoring the significance of procreation emphasized in the traditional teaching on marriage.
What both sides have failed to take account of is the importance of the advent of Christ for our understandings of sexuality. Sex AD is not the same as sex BC. If we only think of sexual ethics in terms of the ethics of creation, we don’t come to terms with the fundamental shift in horizons brought about the resurrection. In the resurrection life there will be no marrying or giving in marriage, Jesus says, and behind his thinking is the idea that where there is no death, there will be no need for birth or marriage. As a result of this there is opened up the vocation to celibacy. But we need also to ask: in addition to marriage and celibacy, might there be a third vocation, to sexually active but non-procreative committed relationships? In the book I explore the argument for such ‘covenant partnerships’, and try to show how this category could help illuminate a whole number of problems faced by traditional accounts of marriage as a creation good. And beyond this, I ask whether the notion of covenant partnership could be the key to reimagining marriage itself, seeing it as characterised by faithfulness, permanence and fruitfulness.
But to find out how I argue that, you will need to read the book itself… And if you are around in Durham on Monday 17 November, there will be a book launch at 5.30 in St Chad’s College (we will start late enough to allow people to come who want to go to the New Testament Seminar as well). All are welcome!
Professor Robert Song. Professor Song teaches in the Department of Theology and Religion and currently supervises postgraduates focused in the following areas: the virtue of generosity, theology and dementia, a theological ethnography of the Durham miners, the church under Blair, the ethics of surrogate motherhood, evidence-based hospital chaplaincy, genetic manipulation and sports enhancements, theology and appetite/desire, pastoral responses to eating disorders, and homosexuality, apologetics and ecclesiology. Research interests include Bio-ethics, especially ethics & human genetics; Christian ethics; and Church and society. More information can be found on the Contributors page and the Department Website.