The Vicar writes...
"One of the most contentious issues for Christians in our day has been the question of how the Church responds to those attracted to the same gender who seek the blessing of the Church upon the committed partnerships they form."
These words come from an open letter to "all the faithful" from the Bishops of the Church in Wales. It followed a consultation in the Welsh parishes last year culminating in a debate at the Governing Body in September. In that debate a straw poll was taken that showed a slim majority for change in Church marriage discipline.
In the light of the debate the Welsh Bishops have decided not to bring a Bill to the Governing Body that would enable same sex marriages to be blessed or solemnised in our Churches. They have calculated that such legislation would not get the two thirds majority it would need. So, in its place, their pastoral letter apologises to those who have felt ostracised or hurt by the Church because of their sexuality. The open letter also states that this issue will not go away.
Church thinking on human relationships draws very much from Biblical teaching on the issue. In one of his few statements on marriage Jesus, quoting from the Book of Genesis, said, "Have you not read that he made them from the beginning male and female, For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." [Matthew 19.4-6] These words are often read at wedding services and celebrate the mystery of the sacrament of marriage, when the 'two become one flesh'.
The Bible confidently affirms that marriage is between a man and a woman, that it is lifelong and ordained by God for the procreation of children. It also has a great deal to say about the human relationships we make or should not make. The very real problem for the Church, as it responds to same sex relationships, is that it cannot easily redefine marriage by a show of hands in Synod as the British Parliament did in a House of Commons vote in July 2013.
It's an understatement to say that we live in rapidly changing times. Attitudes to human relationships are very different now than they were just a few decades ago. Many couples today choose to cohabit with their partner rather than commit to each other in marriage. Others find love and happiness in a second marriage rather than their first. Society appears to be moving away from the traditional model of the family.
As the Church attempts to discern what is God's will for us in all of this it has to balance being faithful to the scriptures while responding to a rapidly changing world. The issue of same gender relationships will remain one of the biggest challenges to face us as we reach out with Christ's love to those we are called to serve.
When people come through the Church doors at All Saints' and Norton Mission we don't say, 'Welcome and what is your sexual orientation or marital status?' We just say 'Welcome'. As a Christian community we try to encourage everyone to grow in holiness and in the likeness of Christ. We know that all of us fall short of our calling, but it is by the grace of God that we are who we are. Though we know what the Bible might say on a number of moral and relationship issues we all have to reconcile how we live our lives in the light of this teaching. I would hope that we will always be an inclusive and loving community of faith, even if we will agree to disagree on a number of issues.
There are those within the Church in Wales, and in other Churches, who would welcome same gender marriages or blessings. There are also those who would find this very difficult indeed. As we continue the debate I would hope that we would all take to heart our Lord's commandment to 'Love one another as I have loved you.'