Thursday, 3 July 2014

Methodist Church moves forward on same-sex marriage

The Methodist Church in Great Britain has issued the following press release: [emphasis added]

Methodist Conference receives report on same-sex marriage

The Methodist Church has committed to a two year period of listening, reflecting and discernment following the legislation of same-sex marriage in England, Wales and Scotland earlier this year. A report exploring the issues around same-sex marriage was brought by a working party to the Methodist Conference meeting today in Birmingham.

The Methodist Church, in line with scripture and traditional teaching, believes that marriage is a gift of God and that it is God’s intention that a marriage should be a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of one man and one woman. The Methodist Conference did not vote on changing this understanding, or ‘opting in’ so as to permit Methodist Church buildings to be registered for same-sex marriage ceremonies or Methodist ministers to be authorised to conduct them.

The Conference resolved that its previous ruling that there was no reason per se to prevent anyone within the Church, ordained or lay, from entering into or remaining within a civil partnership, should also extend to those entering into legally contracted same-sex marriages.

The Conference agreed revised guidelines that will allow local churches and ministers to consider the appropriate pastoral response to requests for prayers and blessings of same-sex couples.

The Conference directed the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion committee to work on the production and dissemination of clear guidance on what is to be regarded as homophobia.

Susan Howdle, chair of the Church’s working party on same-sex marriage and civil partnerships, said: “We are very grateful to all those people who have contributed to our work as we have explored together issues which have deep significance for the personal lives of so many people and for the life and mission of the church. We appreciate too the spirit in which the Conference has now dealt with our report, and trust that the Methodist people will respond similarly to the call to engage with each other honestly, prayerfully and graciously about these matters.”

A new working party was appointed today by the Methodist Conference to oversee the two-year period of reflection concerning relationships and living with difference, and to report to the Conference in 2016.

The full text of the report can be found here.

The revised guidelines are copied in full below the fold.

From page 478-9 of the report:

“The Methodist Church recognises that its members hold contradictory convictions regarding issues of human sexuality and the forms of relationship intended by God. The demands of the Gospel commit us to making pilgrimage together grounded in mutual respect and a spirit of understanding and love. In all this we continue to affirm our need of grace and our willingness to admit our limitations.

In providing guidelines the Conference acknowledges the help required by Local Churches and individual ministers and lay persons to respond well to enquiries and requests for prayers or services from same sex couples, including those whose relationship has been recognised in a civil ceremony. The pastoral conversation with the couple resulting from such an enquiry should be conducted in an atmosphere of welcome and with care and sensitivity. Any conversation about the current understanding of the Methodist Church with regard to marriage and relationships should be based on the previous decisions of the Conference in order that the pastoral response offered is consonant with these understandings. Knowledge is therefore presumed of the following Methodist Conference documents and decisions:

  • The relevant Standing Orders, principally SO 011A
  • The 1992 Conference Statement on A Christian Understanding of the Family, the Single Person and Marriage
  • The 1993 Conference Resolutions on Human Sexuality (CPD Book VII, part 11)
  • The Pilgrimage of Faith Reports 2005 and 2006
  • Christian Preparation for Marriage: Methodist Church Policy and Guidelines (CPD Book VII, Part 8)
  • Guidelines for Interfaith Marriages (CPD Book VII, Part 9)

These documents and decisions together govern the practice of the Methodist Church and no decision of local church bodies or officers, ministers or lay persons regarding relationships or sexuality should contravene them. It is the responsibility of each presbyter, in conjunction with the Church Council, to ensure that this discipline is upheld in the life of the Local Church in order to preserve and advance its mission and unity.

Whilst it is expected that any response be respectful and welcoming, no local church body, minister or lay person is required to act in any way contrary to the demands of conscience. The Conference trusts that at all times all those responsible will seek to act together with integrity and in good faith.

Given the sensitivities of these matters, these guidelines are offered in a spirit of support and mutual care. They are intended to reduce the possibility of hurt or distress that may be caused by rejection or misunderstanding, and to preserve the unity of the Local Church, in order that the Church may remain faithful to the Gospel mission to which it is called.”

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 3 July 2014 at 9:33am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: equality legislation

Do we know whether there will be any interaction between the Methodist and Anglican conversation processes?

Posted by: Dan BD on Thursday, 3 July 2014 at 10:52am BST

Who would have thought that the Methodists in Britain would beat the Church of England to the post, on this important issue of their Church's recognition of Same-Sex Partnerships - both Civil Marriage and Civil Partnerships.

I think John Wesley might have smiled at this move on the part of his 'movement of the Spirit' Church, that first moved away from the strait-jacketed legalistic Church of England of his day. He did not in fact leave of his own volition, he was quietly set aside by the powers-that-were.

Perhaps this opening up on a much-needed justice front could presage further talk of reconciliation with the Church of England. After all, the Wesleys wrote some very good hymns about the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 3 July 2014 at 11:12am BST

Why is it, English Methodists are usually twenty years ahead of Church of England Anglicans? Is it because they no longer have a large evangelical constituency and are in membership freefall?

Posted by: robert ian Williams on Thursday, 3 July 2014 at 1:47pm BST

More evidence that the Universal Church is not, after all, set in its homophobia--and that the Church of England needs to get off the fence.

"The Conference resolved that its previous ruling that there was no reason per se to prevent anyone within the Church, ordained or lay, from entering into or remaining within a civil partnership, should also extend to those entering into legally contracted same-sex marriages."

Bravo, Methodists! Let us hope that the Church of England will be so good as to follow your lead.

Posted by: Jeremy on Thursday, 3 July 2014 at 2:56pm BST

It's odd how radical Methodist Leaders are often light years ahead of their seemingly aged and conservative members - whilst Church of England bishops are light years behind their liberal and long-suffering congregations who wish they'd catch up.

Posted by: FrDavidH on Thursday, 3 July 2014 at 6:27pm BST

I love the idea of an 'Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Committee!' I want one!
A somewhat ungenerous response from RIW. The Methodists may be 'twenty years' ahead of the CofE, but they are light years ahead of the Roman Catholic church. Like the Roman Catholic church had anything to shout about.
When the HofB issued their -er - Pastoral Statement, they used bold type quite deliberately to threaten and bully their clergy. The Mehodists use it to affirm their support for those, ordained or lay, who wish to enter into same-sex marriage.
They want to talk about these matters: 'honestly, prayerfully and graciously.'
It's all a matter of tone!

Posted by: Stephen Morgan on Thursday, 3 July 2014 at 7:16pm BST

Not sure about the 'leaders' bit; Conference is about 69% lay! and drawn from across the Connexion. There's often no great competition to get to Conference, and definitely no 'party voting' for representatives. The big difference from the CofE is that since 1993, the leaders of the main 'wings' of the Church have explicitly sought to engage on a Pilgrimage of Faith, listening carefully to each other, and not trying to out-manoeuvre or out-muscle the others. Or to be more cynical, Methodists are better at 'fudge' than Anglicans.

Posted by: Stuart Bell on Thursday, 3 July 2014 at 10:09pm BST

Stephen the bold type in the statement above was, as stated, emphasis added by TA editors.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 3 July 2014 at 11:11pm BST

To add a more sobering note, the conference also heard that membership fell 32% in the last decade - down to 206,000.

Whether that is related in any way to the OP above I leave to you to discuss!

Posted by: Peter K+ on Saturday, 5 July 2014 at 8:54am BST

I simply made a legitimate comment. A declining membership in freefall and a denomination with hardly any conservative evangelical representation...unlike the Church of England.

Posted by: Robert ian Williams on Saturday, 5 July 2014 at 11:03pm BST
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