Time to bless lesbian and gay relationships in church

The right wing conservative Christian narrative would claim that they, traditional, orthodox, Bible-believing Christians, are being persecuted and marginalized because of the demands made by “homosexual activists” in Western nations.

This at least is the claim of an American article published by Way of Life Literature, Inc. titled What Rights Will Others Lose When Homosexuals Gain Their Rights?  first published August 5, 2008 and enlarged June 12 2014. The author is David Cloud of Fundamental Baptist Information Service and the article is linked from Anglican Mainstream’s web site which features “daily postings of news and articles from around the world. We aim to inform and assist thinking about key issues facing church and society, from an orthodox Christian point of view.”

The article claims that “when homosexuals gain their rights, you won’t be able to say anything that might appear biased against homosexuality. Ihomosexual activists are given every right they demand, citizens in Western nations will be robbed of many liberties they have heretofore enjoyed. This is not a guess; it is a judgment based on current facts. The rights to free speech and to the free exercise of religion, in particular, will be effectively destroyed.”

“The thing that will be illegal when homosexuality is fully legal is Bible-believing Christianity. We are not surprised at the wickedness that is sweeping across the world, but it is our responsibility to take a stand for God’s Word until Jesus comes.”

Not all conservative groups are so extreme or would use such language but the same core idea about the danger of LGBTI equality to their Christian belief system is a common thread. Conservative groups and individuals use their interpretation of the Bible (which they believe to be authentically true and unchanging) to justify prejudice, discrimination and homophobic teaching. The same Bible with the same unchanging truths has been used to justify slavery, prejudice against women, prejudice against other faiths and cultures.

Revisionists

They label those of us who argue for a change of attitudes “revisionist.” Revisionists are dangerous people who intend to undermine and destroy God’s true word in the Bible.

They’ve got at least one thing right. Yes, a radical revision of some of the fundamentals of the Christian Way based on the Bible is taking place (and has always been taking place). Some would hold that every 500 years a more radical and dramatic revision has occurred. I have no doubt that we are living through a period of history spanning 200 or so years in which, akin to the Reformation, a dramatic change in awareness is leading to a new evolution in our understanding of the presence of God in creation and our place in the universe. We are finally moving on in a dramatic way from a pre-modern world view thanks to Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin, Freud, the Large Hadron Collider, Particle Physics, the Hubble Space Telescope, and many other prophetic individuals and revolutionary scientific inventions. All are bringing about a revision of our scientific knowledge and human awareness.

God – partisan and prejudiced?

The fundamental belief in the “plain truth of Scripture” held by conservatives leads them to believe in a God who is intrinsically prejudiced and partisan.

My friends, as most of you reading this know very well, God is not in any way partisan or prejudiced. The truth about God lived and taught by Jesus Christ and revealed in experience and creation by the Holy Spirit is of God’s unconditional, infinite, indiscriminate, all embracing and welcoming love.

God is ever so gently moving a very reluctant church to examine every dimension of her teaching and the traditions which maintain prejudice against any group of people for whatever reason.

God is not prejudiced and Jesus was not prejudiced and the Holy Spirit is not prejudiced. The Bible contains teachings and ideas which Christians have used to justify prejudice in many different ways. Prejudice against women is slowly being overcome. We are in the middle of an intense movement to help the church overcome her prejudice towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. A prejudice yet to be fully confronted is that against other faith communities, denominations and cultures and those of no faith.

The Church of England’s slow progress

The House of Bishops is very slowly getting with the evolutionary process but progress seems achingly slow, the current teaching about the place of LGBTI people in the Church still inhibited by prejudice and hard-to-examine Biblical ideas. Certain elements of the Christian tradition, certain readings of the Bible and out-dated attitudes to diversity and sexuality inform the Bishops’ position.

In the light of their experience of God the majority of people in British society perceive the Church’s attitude to women and LGBTI people to be both prejudiced and un-Christian. Archbishop Justin knows this, but it’s hard for him to translate the criticism into a revision of teaching that overcomes prejudice.

A retired bishop revealed some time ago that it was only after he had retired that he became aware of the bubble within which he had been living as a member of the House of Bishops. He had lost his ability to see what those outside the Church could more easily see – the way in which the House is corporately lost in ideas and attitudes it finds hard to examine and change which result in unadventurous and sometimes disastrous teaching documents and statements.

Time for the first step-change

Changing Attitude England continues to urge a change in teaching and practice on the House of Bishops towards equality in relationships and ministry for LGBTI people, lay and ordained. Having secured the quadruple lock against allowing equal marriages to be solemnized in church it’s going to take time to undo the lock. General Synod will first have to be persuaded of the rightness of equal marriage before the legal process can even start.

Blessings in church now

We ask the House of Bishops to urgently find a way to clarify their teaching on the blessing of lesbian and gay relationships in church. In practice, many clergy already bless relationships or pray with couples in church or an alternative venue. Guests attending these services think the Church is deeply compromised by refusing to bless openly and publicly. And many bishops acknowledge the blessing to be found in lesbian and gay relationships by naming and welcoming partners at inductions and licensings. Blessing faithful, loving relationships is a good and holy and right thing to do. We encourage clergy to pray with and publicly bless couples committing themselves to each other in a civil partnership or marriage.

House of Bishops – just do it! Discuss again your reluctance to allow blessings in church at the College of Bishops meeting in September or the House of Bishops meeting in December. Evolution calls you forward and we know that in your hearts, the majority of you have already changed.

Colin Coward MBE

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