While the Catholic Church has been consumed with issues around clerical abuse, other churches have been getting on with moving into the real world. There have been steps toward full inclusion in a number of Protestant denominations, in the US and elsewhere, and pressure for further progress continues to grow. Several reports this past week have illustrated this.
“Making it legal: the Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt Revd Gene Robinson (right) during the civil union with his partner, Mark Andrew, in June 2008 AP”
In the US, the Episcopal church has led the way among the major denominations, with two openly gay or lesbian bishops now confirmed. It has now released a report, Same-Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church, by a team of eight leading theologians which was commissioned by the House of Bishops, to consider a range of views on same -sex relationships in the Church. To me, the important feature here is not the conclusions, which diverge sharply, bu the simple fact that the report exists and demonstrates that differences of opinion and interpretation, of Scripture and theology, are possible and valid. The panel was deliberately drawn to reflect a range of views, including those of gay and lesbian people in committed relationships.
I found this passage from the Church Times fascinating, arguing that the issue is not just of “same -sex” or “opposite-sex” relationships, but on of “apposite-sex ” (i.e appropriate) relationships – and that for all of us,, such apposite relationships are a way “to sanctification”. This makes the question of “gay marriage” in church not just a matter of social justice, bu a matter of opening up a sacramental path to spiritual growth for all:
“Marriage cultivates concern for one another; it offers lifelong hospitality; it enacts love; and it exposes our faults in order to heal them. It is the marital virtues that the Church needs, not only with respect to the Bridegroom [Christ] but just now, with respect to one another.” The liberal group defined orientation in terms not of gender, but of morality: “A sexually oriented person is someone who develops and is morally improved through a relationship with someone of the apposite sex, typically but not necessarily the opposite sex. Those called to same-sex relationships are those that need them for their own sanctification . . . because neither opposite-sex relationships nor celibacy could get deeply enough into their hearts to promote lifelong commitment and growth.” It said that same-sex couples should not be denied the moral worth of each putting their body “on the line” for the other “until death us do part”; that was an accountability “far beyond what counselled celibacy can provide”. Nor should they be denied the “delight” they had in each other; for that was necessary for action: Eros did not turn into charity through self-control, but through self abandonment, and the self-dispossession that led to self-donation. “It is the daily version of finding one’s life by losing it.”
Meanwhile, a rash of other news reports have focussed not on the formal church response to the demands of theology and scripture, but on highly personal responses by individual clergy, struggling to negotiate a path in conscience between sometimes conflicting demands of Church and state in dealing with requests for marriage within their own congregations. I will report on these separately, in a later post.