Throughout most of Christian tradition marriage has been defined as a relationship between one man and one woman for life.

But this traditional understanding of marriage has not been practiced uniformly anywhere in the western world for at least the past 50 years.

Tragically in Canada today 4 in 10 first-time marriages will end in divorce. Most of the Christian Church seems to have been willing to abandon the “for life” part of the traditional definition of marriage without suffering too much grievous damage.

Jesus is reported to have said of divorce:

Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.(Luke 16:18)

And yet, the church for the most part has determined over the past half-century that, it is acceptable for persons who have been divorced to be married a second, or even a third, time in the church.

When the church was changing its mind on the remarriage of people who are divorced, there were some who held that, by remarrying divorced persons, the church was abandoning the traditional view of marriage.

Imagine Michael Ramsey Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1960’s wading into the church debate over remarriage of divorced persons, as Justin Welby has recently done on the issue of same-sex marriage, and expressing his

deep concern about the stress for the Anglican Communion following the Episcopal Church House of Bishops’ approval of a resolution to change the definition of marriage in the canons so that

people who are divorced may be married in the church.

Imagine the Archbishop of Canterbury fifty years ago chastising one part of the worldwide Anglican Communion for  moving away from the traditional definition of marriage to allow for the remarriage of people who are divorced because it

will cause distress for some and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole, as well as for its ecumenical and interfaith relationships.

Imagine the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1960’s publicly fretting over the implications of allowing the remarriage of divorced persons and in response urging the church to engage in

prayer for the life of the Anglican Communion; for a space for the strengthening of the interdependent relationships between provinces, so that in the face of diversity and disagreement, Anglicans may be a force for peace and seek to respond to the Lord Jesus’ prayer that “they may be one so that the world may believe” (John 17: 21).

What could the Archbishop of Canterbury possibly have meant five decades ago if he were to have urged then that the church “may be one” in the face of a profound division in which one part of the church said divorced people may remarry while another demanded that divorced people must remain single and celibate for the rest of their lives simply because they are divorced?

Is it conceivable that, fifty years ago because part of the worldwide Anglican Communion opposed the remarriage of divorced persons, the rest of the church should have felt it was right to ask all divorced persons to forgo the possibility of being married by a priest in their church?

On what grounds does the Archbishop of Canterbury believe people who live in democratic countries should be prohibited from the sacramental expression of a right their governments have deemed legal for all citizens simply because other countries  prohibit their citizens from sharing this privilege?

Would the present Archbishop of Canterbury have called fifty years ago for the church to affirm its “interdependent relationship” with those for whom the continuation of “unity” depended upon the church’s refusal to remarry any divorced person?

How long must we be held ransom to a “unity” that requires us, with less theological grounds than could be put forward against the marriage of divorced persons,  to withhold the Christian expression of marriage from a group of people who are legally permitted to marry in our country?