The following is an interview with an author in a newly published book, The Line in the Sand. This book is a joint initiative of the Australian Church Record and the Anglican Church League.
The book is available for download here: https://www.australianchurchrecord.net/lits
The audio of the interview is available on the ACL website: https://acl.asn.au/lits-claire-smith
Welcome to the Anglican Church League Podcast. I’m Lionel Windsor, the ACL’s Communications Secretary. I’m conducting a series of author interviews that will be of special interest to members of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia.
In this episode I’m joined by Dr Claire Smith, Author, Scholar, and member of the General Synod Doctrine Commission.
Claire is an author and editor of a recently published book The Line in the Sand. The book is addressed to General Synod members, and speaks about a turning point in the history of the Anglican Church of Australia. In November 2020, the Appellate Tribunal released a Majority Opinion that gave legal validation to a liturgy which can be used to bless a same-sex marriage for the first time in the Church’s history. This is a deeply concerning move, because it effects a fundamental change in the nature of the Church’s doctrine relating to issues of salvation, and so it threatens the Church’s unity.
The book, The Line in the Sand, is designed to help General Synod members to see the issues clearly and address them decisively in their upcoming session in May 2022.
Claire’s chapter in the book is titled ‘Family ties: Marriage, sex and belonging in the New Testament’.
Claire, thanks for joining us.
C: Thanks Lionel, lovely to be here
L: Claire, what’s your particular interest in these issues?
C: My particular interest in these issues – I think for all of us – is that we live in a world with marriage and families, and we’re Christian people who want to live in God’s world the way that God wants us to. And so what the Bible says about marriage and families and what it is to be made in his image and to live faithfully in his creation – we need to know that from the Scriptures and that’s really my interest in these things: What does God want of us as his people?
And you know there’s lots of different messages that we get from our culture, from our own personal stories, from ideas that people have, but I guess my interest is to say yes well it’s important that we listen to the people around us and to our own stories but ultimately I really want all of that to come into dialogue and under God’s word and so at the heart of it is, What does the Bible say and how does God want us to live? How are we going to please him, how are we going to worship him in his creation, how are we going to bless the people around us and enjoy God’s blessing?
L: Now Claire, you’ve done a great deal of work in the Bible and in biblical scholarship and I myself have benefited from that greatly. This chapter in the book summarised the Bible’s doctrine of marriage – or is an overview at least of the doctrine of marriage. What are some of the key points that you make in that chapter?
C: My chapter in this book is actually a copy of the essay that I wrote in the General Synod book that has gone to all General Synod members [ed: Marriage, Same-sex Marriage and the Anglican Church of Australia: Essays from the Doctrine Commission (Mulgrave, VIC; Anglican Church of Australia Trust, 2019), 139–151] and I guess we wanted to include it in the book because as I said, what God’s word says is so important.
The thing that struck me as I went to write this essay was that the Bible opens with a marriage in Genesis 2, and then you follow all the way through and it closes with a marriage, so you have those wonderful texts in Revelation 19 about ‘I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband’. And then in between Genesis and Revelation you have this consistent picture of marriage and marriage really being part of the fabric of the biblical story; even Christ and the Church as a marriage – and so the way that marriage is such an integral part of the message of the Bible, both in God’s purposes for us but also as a way of understanding God’s relationship with us and God’s purposes in creation.
And so I guess the question has to be, yes well the Bible’s an old book and how do we know that the ‘marriage’ that we see in the Bible isn’t 2000 years out of date and that marriage is meant to look very different now? Now obviously there are some things that have changed, I mean some of the marriage practices that we read about in the Bible don’t happen anymore, so we go okay well there are some differences – does that mean that marriage has changed so fundamentally that the male-female shape of marriage in the Bible is no longer really essential to the notion of marriage?
So my chapter really goes through what the Bible teaches about marriage and finds that actually while some of the particulars about marriage are different today than they were then, that fundamental male-female relationship is essential to marriage and a good of marriage, not something that we should be moving away from, but rather something that we should be rejoicing in. That doesn’t mean that everybody should be married, so you know the Bible speaks with great honour about singleness and of course the Lord Jesus was single, not married, so just really bringing the Bible into our current situation and allowing it to speak and to see the goodness of male-female marriage, one man, one woman, bonded together, and how that really is God’s purpose for us.
L: That’s very helpful, because sometimes the issues can be focused just on a small number of texts –which are significant texts and they need to be looked at – but it’s not just those small number of texts; those texts appear in the overall broad sweep of the Bible’s teaching on marriage and the male-female relationship that goes on there.
C: That’s right, it’s consistently worked through from those first chapters of Genesis right through to Revelation and alongside that, of course, is consistent rejection of any sexual activity outside of marriage, outside of one man-one woman marriage. You do have polygamy in the Old Testament but that is not the ideal and it’s not blessed in the way that you see the marriage of the man and the woman blessed so to then look at adultery and fornication and on other expressions of sexuality, the Bible does not embrace them. They are contrary to God’s purposes for us and that’s very hard for us to hear today, I think, because the world is saying something so different – and even there are some Bible scholars that will say different things but my observation has been that interestingly those Bible scholars who are happy to say yes this is what the Bible says but the Bible is wrong are happy to say the Bible is saying there is no place for same-sex sexual relationships, then say yes but we think the Bible is wrong so we’re not going to listen to that.
The issue is, if we want to accept the Bible as God’s word, as good, as a blessing for us, as something that we welcome into our lives, then the consistent picture is that all sexual relationships and activity outside of marriage as God ordained it is not pleasing to God and it won’t bring the blessing that God wants for us and it’s something that as Christian people we shouldn’t be embracing.
L: That’s very helpful. Close to the end of the article – in fact all the way through, really – you address the issue of well what about all of the brokenness in marriage? What about all of the problems that we have and the issues that come up? And you address that in terms of hope and in terms of the Lord Jesus and in terms of forgiveness and I found that very helpful as well.
C: Yes well I mean you’d be a foolish person to say that just because a man and a woman are married together they’re going to have no problems. You know, we are fallen human beings and we, you know, even those of us who know the Lord and love the Lord and want to please the Lord and have his Spirit dwelling in us, we are sinners! And so marriage is, yes, it’s not the ideal that God created but that doesn’t mean that we reject God’s pattern for marriage; it means we accept God’s pattern for marriage and we seek within his pattern for marriage to honour him and to love each other the way he intended us to do and we forgive each other when we fail to do that.
L: So keeping on listening to God’s good word. That’s a great encouragement, Claire; thank you very much. I do encourage those, especially those who are members of General Synod, to read the book and please do pray for all the members of the upcoming General Synod. You can get a copy of the book The Line in the Sand by heading to the Australian Church Record website, that’s www.australianchurchrecord.net/lits or by the link on the Anglican Church League website, www.acl.asn.au. Thanks very much Claire.
C: Thanks Lionel.