I have always felt uncomfortable seeing two people of the same sex, kissing. But then I don’t get out enough now. When I worked at Banco do Brasil SA in the late 70s / early 80s one of my good friends was ‘G’. He was Irish and Catholic and his partner was ‘H’, (a regular attendee at the Christmas party, along with the wives and girlfriends). At my ordination in Guildford Cathedral in 1988 they could be seen grinning broadly as I processed out at the end. In those days neither civil partnerships nor same-sex weddings were available. But when H died recently they’d been a couple for just over 25 years.
In a recent TV programme two gay men compared their treatment in the UK army. The older man had been abused and even tortured, whilst the serving officer spoke about how he felt supported by his colleagues. The programme reminded the audience that electric shock ‘treatment’ was used as recently as the 1950s to ‘cure’ people of homosexuality.
About a week later Rev. (Mondays – BBC 2) highlighted the tensions within the Church over this area of human life. The Vicar (Adam) was struggling with his conscience, prohibited by Church law from offering his two gay friends the wedding they wanted, but personally seeing nothing sinful in their relationship. In the end he conducted a wedding for them ‘behind closed doors’.
We are in the middle of a fast moving cultural change, and many people hope that the Church will move with the times/change its stance, and allow people of the same sex to celebrate their partnerships openly, and to received God’s blessing ‘officially’.
Over the next two years or so there is going to be serious debate in the national Church about the nature of marriage and gay relationships and we, as a local Christian community will take part in that, inviting the wider community to contribute if they would like. For the moment here are some first thoughts to set the scene:
There is honest disagreement amongst Christians about whether the Bible teaches us that the only ‘normal’ state in God’s creation is heterosexual. This polarizes into opposing views that same-sex relationships are either 1) sinful/against God’s will 2) a particular orientation without moral component. The latter position is now generally shared across western European culture, though there is not yet a consensus on the degree to which orientation is affected by genetic and environmental factors.
The majority view in the latest Church Report (Pilling, Dec 2013) is that sexual orientation is not a moral choice and, consequently, not sinful, though there was one dissenting voice, the Bishop of Birkenhead, who cited traditional/historical Church teaching.
The Report went on to recommend that, after a two year consultation, the Church should allow clergy to offer some form of blessing to couples following a civil partnership (too little, too late, I hear some cry).
All members of the committee took a ‘firm stance against homophobia and in favour of inclusion and acceptance of LGBT people within the Church’. Whilst this is the accepted public position of the Church of England already I suspect that it is still very difficult for gay people to feel welcomed or declare their sexual orientation in many Christian communities. I hope that this will change as we talk openly about these matters.
Rational discussion is only one part of the process that will now start. Our emotional response is not to be underestimated. Who we are, what we have been taught, the friendships we have made, the family members we love who are gay and lesbian, the upbringing we had – all these will play their part.
I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us to a place of better understanding and practice. After all, a few years ago it would have been unthinkable for someone who was divorced to be able to be married in Church, whereas that is now a real possibility for many couples.
Nick Whitehead, May 2014