Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Church in Wales - Same Sex Marriages

updated Thursday and Saturday

The Church in Wales has published some of the papers for next month’s meeting of its Governing Body, including three under the heading Same Sex Marriages.

The main paper is a report by the Standing Doctrinal Commission entitled The Church in Wales & Same Sex Partnerships. There is also an Executive Summary of the report. The executive summary is reproduced below the fold.

Finally there is a Procedural Note explaining how the Governing Body will have an initial discussion of the report at its meeting in April.

update 1

The procedural note referred to a number of background papers from the Standing Doctrinal Commission. These are now available.

Marriage as a Sacrament
Sexuality and the Image of God
The concept of Flourishing in Relation to Marriage as a Good, and the Question of Gay Partnerships
Same Sex Marriage – Biblical Considerations
Fundamental Scriptural Approaches

update 2

David Pocklington of Law & Religion UK has published this useful article: Same-sex partnerships and the Church in Wales.

Executive Summary

Report from the Church in Wales Standing Doctrinal Commission

The Church in Wales and Same-Sex Partnerships.

The report sets out initially the history of marriage as the background to the discussion of same-sex partnerships. In particular this section looks at marriage in Roman times; the Jewish understanding of marriage at the time of Jesus; the early church’s teaching, with its emphasis on celibacy, and the fact that not until the fourth century A.D. did a priest or bishop bless the couple getting married. Not until the thirteenth century, as well, was marriage seen as a sacrament. The report discusses the teaching of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer on marriage, and the crucial importance of the 1754 Marriage Act in England and Wales. Here, for the first time, marriage was only legally valid if performed in an Anglican church by an Anglican cleric. However by 1836 marriage in a registry office was allowed as a concession to non-conformists. The growth of cohabitation and same-sex civil partnerships is discussed, and finally the 2013 Same-Sex Marriage act is mentioned, which becomes law in March 2014, and sets the context for the discussion of the report.

The next section of the report (paragraphs 31-51) discusses the implications for the church of the scientific debate about sexual orientation. In particular, the final three paragraphs of this section argue that science should not determine the mind of the church, but there is a need to reflect on the growing scientific evidence that homosexual orientation should not be regarded as “a pathology but as a natural characteristic which, for a small but significant proportion of the population, is acquired before birth”. What is the moral and theological significance of this fact?

Therefore the report proceeds to discuss the place of scripture and doctrine (paragraphs 52-4). This section is brief, because the lengthy papers on this topic are on the Church in Wales’ website. What is important is that the church engages in a search for holiness for itself before God. The report then considers three options for the Church in Wales. One is a restatement of the traditional position, that marriage is only between a man and a woman (paragraphs 56-77). The second option is the blessing of same-sex partnerships, which is now allowed in some Anglican dioceses in Canada and the United States (paragraphs 78-102). Thirdly there is the option of marriage between a couple irrespective of sexual difference (paragraphs 103-136). Finally the report ends with an emphasis on what a pastoral response would look like.

Peter Sedgwick
Chair

Posted by Peter Owen on Wednesday, 2 April 2014 at 8:32pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church in Wales
Comments

So, no mention of a human rights case for marriage to be opened to same-sex couples.

Again.

Posted by: Kelvin Holdsworth on Wednesday, 2 April 2014 at 8:49pm BST

Quite
You get a mention though, Kelvin!

Posted by: Martin Retnolds on Wednesday, 2 April 2014 at 10:38pm BST

Rather than looking specifically at the importance of marriage equality for same-sex couples and their families, this report attempts to justify a homophobic and misogynistic tradition by appealing to the very tradition in need of reformation.

This report makes me think of Matthew 7:9.* Same-sex couples seek equal treatment but are offered a stone. Already members of the mystical body of Christ through baptism, same-sex couples deserve the same respect as sex-discordant couples. Denying them access to marriage is to perpetuate a longstanding injustice against them and to perpetuate gender stereotypes.

What would a church look like which knew how to give good gifts?

Gary Paul Gilbert

*Matthew 7.9
Or what man is there of you, whom if his sonne aske bread, will hee giue him a stone?

10 Or if he aske a fish, will hee giue him a serpent?

11 If ye then being euill, know how to giue good giftes vnto your children,

Posted by: Gary Paul Gilbert on Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 6:32am BST

A much better effort from the Church in Wales than the Church of England. The pastoral section at the end is properly pastoral.

It does strike me that those who say they are called to a life of celibacy and non-expression (in any erotic relationship) of their same-sex attraction are asking a lot of a church in expecting it to maintain its "traditional" understanding so that they can continue to feel safe and buttressed in their calling.

If their vocation is truly a vocation, then I am sure we would all want to support that. But by its very nature, vocation is individual - so why should the whole structure of belief and practice have to revolve around one way of living and responding to the reality of homosexuality.

Their scruples seem also to have influenced the writing of the whole report - which has been done in "same-sex attraction" language. While those who go for that way of self-describing might find being described as homosexual or gay unacceptable, I can't and won't respond to being described as (so often) someone who is "struggling with same-sex attraction". I'm gay. That's it. And being gay is so much more than simply a question of sex attraction. I find the report's one-sided adoption of that language very irritating and off-putting. They didn't manage a balance at that point.

Posted by: Jeremy Pemberton on Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 7:56am BST

I'm even more supportive than the others so far (I think). Not sure what Gary's reading, but while there's some same-sex attraction stuff at the beginning, they have a good, accurate historical section (including an admission that Linda Woodhead et al. were right and the bishops were wrong--para. 29), and while the first option (against recognizing civil partnership or SSM) is not good (can it be? would I recognise if it were?) the other two are quite good. The civil partnership/blessing option has some pretty progressive stuff in it about the unique character of LGBT relationships, which a lot of LGBT people would support, rather than being just a compromise position (see esp. para. 98-100). And the section favouring SSM is really excellent and is presented in a language that I don't speak particularly well but which is pretty impressively used here. I think that this knocks any of the other reports on the subjects in the last few years into a cocked hat.

The problem of course is that it simply throws the whole thing into debate in governing body, and debate can be messy and can ignore pastoral direction like that at the end. I would be interested to know the demographics (age, gender, professional background and status as retirees or not) of the governing body, if anyone has that data, as I think it will have a big effect on the ultimate decision. I think any future criticism of outcomes on policies like these in the UK churches should focus as much on the way that these decisions are made (and by whom) as they do on the decisions themselves.

(And my real bet is that another commission will be formed at the direction of governing body, which will have to take another five years to take evidence and issue another report. Takers?)

Posted by: Scot Peterson on Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 11:25am BST

This beats the CoE's ham-fisted efforts hands-down. There is actually some theology here, which contrasts starkly with the C of E's 'fire-fighting' after the legally top-heavy influence that was brought to bear on the so-called pastoral statement. Presumably, the C in W will be keen to avoid the terrible fall-out which followed the C of E's public pronouncements. Of course, the theological complexion of the Welsh house of bishops is very different to the C of E's. Whereas the English liberal bishops are keeping their heads down (there is no one in that constituency, apart from John Inge, with the intellectual capacity to take-on the noisy conservatives), the Welsh bishops represent a more progressive theological stance.

Posted by: James on Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 12:55pm BST

Saying this beats the C of E is not saying much if you're going to set the bar low. Compared with the Quakers and Unitarians, this is still the Dark Ages.

I am tired of these dreary debates, especially when three parodies of positions are presented: the prohibitionist, the separate-but-equal, and the egalitarian.

Then it will all be thrown together with no real support for LGBTs. How many decades will it take before the Church in Wales accepts the simple idea of equality?

It seems unnecessarily cruel or at least ironic that they quote Rowan Williams's The Body as Grace, from the 1990s, when he sounded almost liberal. This could be seen as a deft move to establish that the tradition is not as homophobic and misogynistic as it seems, but, as far as I am concerned, the text is radioactive, just like Williams's tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury. "Words, words, words," to quote Hamlet's answer to Polonius's "What do you read, my Lord?"


Gary Paul Gilbert


Posted by: Gary Paul Gilbert on Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 5:19pm BST

Yes, a much more substantial document indeed. On the background papers: all seem to have an author given except the one entitled 'Same Sex Marriage' - or did I miss it?

Posted by: Judith Maltby on Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 5:22pm BST

This passage toward the end shows that they still don't understand that their current position is "uncaring and unsympathetic:"


"The Archbishop went on to warn that 'Gay people may once again gain the impression that the church is uncaring and unsympathetic… things could be said in the coming months which could seriously damage people pastorally.' Some of the members of the Commission suggest that the Church may wish to consider a call to corporate repentance in recognition of its previously negative response to those of homosexual orientation."

Contemplating asking for forgiveness for past mistreatment of LGBTs constitutes a denial of current mistreatment.


Gary Paul Gilbert

Posted by: Gary Paul Gilbert on Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 5:29pm BST

The Archbishop of Wales is already pushing ahead on this issue without seeking the approval of the Governing Body. Recently one of his priests contracted a civil partnership with his long term same sex partner. The Archbishop then performed a blessing ceremony for the couple.

Posted by: Neville Stephenson on Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 7:50pm BST

Yes, Judith, it was an unintended oversight, this essay is by Will Strange.
Will, an international committee member of Anglican Mainstream, also wrote option one in the main report.

I too think the report an improvement on anything from England, but that is not a difficult step up, is it?
Sadly, the Archbishop refused to appoint an openly gay person, or special advisor to this panel and gave very unconvincing reasons for it, let me give his final email in full:

"We had a long discussion at the Bench. The feeling was that we appoint a Doctrinal Commission every three years to deal with a range of issues eg it is looking at Anglican/Orthodox relations, The Gathering with Cytun, issues to do with confirmation and baptism as well as same sex relationships. If we were setting up a group just to deal with the latter, then your point would have force but given the wide ranging nature of the Doctrinal Commission's brief, it has to consult others with more knowledge and expertise on each matter as it arises, which is what they are doing over same sex relationships, rather than co-opting people for a particular discussion and then having to unco-opt them when they move on to another topic."

It does lack a proper perspective a 21st century legitimacy.
I find it hard to give it any value as a result.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 9:29pm BST

Martin has raised a vital issue which might get lost in the 'better than England' euphoria. The Archbishop of Wales is very inconsistent on the issue of same sex relationships, and his email to Martin reflects his capacity for obfuscation. My experience is that his positive public pronouncements don't always reflect his handling of individual cases (witness the festering sore of the 2008 episcopal election in Bangor where a tragic catalogue of lies about one candidate, which the Archbishop must have known to be untrue, went uncorrected). There is also his consistent discouragement of Jeffrey John's return to Wales when there have been several opportunities (including Bangor 2008). None of this comes as any surprise.

Posted by: Francis on Friday, 4 April 2014 at 2:22pm BST

Thank you, Martin! It seems unlikely they could not find LGBTs with a broad knowledge about doctrinal issues for the commission. The lack of LGBT representation is appalling. LGBTs are to be talked about but not with, it seems.


Gary Paul Gilbert

Posted by: Gary Paul Gilbert on Friday, 4 April 2014 at 4:21pm BST

I agree with Francis and unfortunately could add to the stories of "inconsistency".
What a wicked format for electing bishops which under the cloak of frank exchange allows people to be denounced and defamed with no opportunity for remedy. Oaths of secrecy should be abandoned instantly to expose this appalling abuse.

Of course Gary is quite right. In fact a senior cleric working in England and theologian who has a unique published academic and personal interest in this matter offered himself at my request to be available for the role. What is more he is a welsh speaking Welshman.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Saturday, 5 April 2014 at 9:42am BST
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