This passage, the third in the English bishops’ suggested texts for reflection on marriage as part of the consultation process for the Rome Family Synod 2015, is the familiar story of the Annunciation, Mary’s subsequent visit to Elizabeth, and her song of praise, the “Magnificat”. (The text may be read here, at Bible Gateway)
The text describes how Abraham was called by the Lord to leave his country, his kindred and his father’s house, and journey to a new land – a call which he dutifully followed, together with his household. This passage from chapter 12 is only part of the story. The continuation in the opening of chapter 18 describes how as a result of his hospitality to three strangers (angels in disguise), he is given a promise that Sarah will conceive a child, in spite of their advanced age. Then in chapter 21 the child, Isaac, is born,
The phrases / verses that “speak” to me:
3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Abraham is the one in this passage who is called by the Lord, but in fact we are all called to holiness. Just as the Lord says to Abraham that he will bless all who bless him, and curse all those who curse him, we should understand that we too are addressed in the same way, if we follow that call. As gay men in the Church, we know what it is to be cursed by those who assume that “gay Christian” is an oxymoron, an impossibility. The Lord promises that such curses will themselves be cursed. But many of us have also experienced a welcome in church, “blessed” by welcoming parishes and other groups. Those too, will be blessed.
9 And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.
Just as Abraham embarked on a journey to the promised land, we too are on a journey to full inclusion in the Church. Just as his journey was conducted in stages, so we too must understand that our own journey to inclusion will not be concluded in a single step, but will take many stages, some of them difficult.
Here are the bishops’ questions, with some responses:
What does it mean for Abram to ‘have faith’? How does Abram listen to God? How does God challenge? What does God promise? How do the family respond? What are their hopes?
What hopes do you have for your family?
My hopes for my family are the same as others – that we can continue to flourish, enjoy each others’ achievements and celebrations, and support each other in times of difficulty or sadness.
In addition, we hope for something other families do not think about – that we can be treated by society, and especially by the Church, with the same dignity and respect as other, more conventional families.
What are the ways in which your family ‘listen to God’?
In the past, my partner and I participated together in a CLC (Christian Life Community) group, meeting weekly and sometimes in formal retreats to reflect on where we have God in our lives, and using techniques from Ignatian spirituality to discern the path He was wanting for us.
In addition to numerous valuable insights we found about our daily lives, we also found through these evenings and weekends of prayer together, profound affirmation of the value of our relationship
What ‘impossible’ things happen in families? In our families, how do we show our ‘trust’ in God and in one another in tough times?
Sometime after my (formal) marriage had broken down, and I had started a new, same – sex (informal) marriage, my ex – wife began to make it extremely difficult for me to see my children, and absolutely impossible to see them in the company of my partner. In this, she was egged on by her family, who were convinced by Catholic teaching that our relationship was obviously sinful, and so I would be a morally unsuitable influence on the girls. As any father will know, to be deprived of access to one’s children is extremely painful, as it was to me.
The outcome however, was the reverse of what mother and her family had intended. As the girls grew older, they insisted on not just access to myself, but even asked to come and live with me – and my partner – , instead of with their mother (which at different times, each of them in fact did, for a period). Today, they and their own children both have far stronger relationships with me and my partner, than they do with their mother.
As for the fears about my supposedly “poor moral influence”, I take immense pride in the conclusions of my younger daughter. While living with us for some of her high school years, she compared the example she was seeing in our relationship, with what she observed in her classmates’ families . Looking back later as a young woman, she concluded that the grounding in morals and values she had received from our same – sex relationship, was in fact superior to that of many others raised in more conventional families. On that basis, she has stated in print and on-line that “Gay parents? I recommend them” , and has told me that when she sees a young child out with two dads, her instinctive response is “lucky kid”.
What does having children, or not having children, bring to a family?
More important that what “having” children brings to the family, is what “raising” children does.
What promises do we make to each other in families?
Through this story, what can we know and believe about the promises God makes to us in our own family lives, whatever our circumstances?
The key questions to draw the conversation together:
How does this story ‘speak’ to us about our ‘call’ to be a family?
How does it speak to our ‘journey’?
How does it speak to us about our ‘purpose’ or ‘mission’ as a family?
What support do we need from the Church?
For queer families, what we need above all is simple: acceptance and appreciation that same – sex couples can and do, make as good a job as others in raising children. Even though such couples are obviously not capable of creating babies, they are definitely capable of the more challenging task or raising and guiding them to maturity. Many such couples are successfully engaged in that task, either with the biological children of one partner, or with adopted children.
It is hurtful and offensive to those parents, and especially to those who are sacrificing their lives to raise children whose own biological parents have failed them, that the Church opposes gay adoption and claims, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary, that children are somehow harmed when raised by gay parents.
For the sake of the children, It is essential that the Church should now end its hostility to gay adoption.
What is already available? What needs to be developed?
From our family life experience, what do we offer that could enrich the life of the Church?
As preparation for the 2015 Synod on Marriage and Family, the Bishops of England and Wales have invited their people to make submissions on their experience of the institution. In their invitation, “The Call, the Journey and the Mission”, they pose six questions to be answered:
What are your joys and hopes of marriage and family life today?
What are your struggles and fears of marriage and family life today?
How can we better understand marriage as a vocation?
How does your marriage enrich you?
How does your family life enrich those around you?
In what way, through the abiding presence of God, is your family “salt of the earth and light to the world,” and a place of and for handing on our faith?
We could simply go directly to the questionnaire, and dash off some replies. However, they ask that we first reflect on a selection of scripture passages (the links in the headings go to the sections of the bishops’ website, where they suggest specific questions for reflection. The links following the references go to the actual texts at Bible Gateway, NRSV Catholic edition):