The Methodist Church in Britain has announced this consultation: Methodist same sex marriage and civil partnership working party – consultation:
Legislation is now in place which will allow people of the same sex to marry each other in England and Wales (and similar legislation is likely in Scotland). The Government has promised that the first same sex marriages will take place before summer 2014.
This is at odds with the Methodist Church’s belief (found in Standing Order 011A, and its marriage services): “The Methodist Church 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.”
There have also been other significant changes in society concerning sex and relationships. Divorced people marry in Methodist Churches as do many who have been co-habiting. The Methodist Conference has established a working party to consult Methodists as to whether the Church’s understanding of marriage should be looked at again.
This consultation is not a poll on the views of homosexuality amongst Methodists, nor is it asking Methodists to decide whether same sex marriages should take place in Methodist churches.
Instead it seeks views about the implications of the new legislation for our church, and whether, as a consequence, we need to revise our understanding of marriage…
See also the Frequently Asked Questions which explains exactly where Methodists currently are on this issue. Question 18 reads as follows:
What is the Methodist Church doing about this now?
The Methodist Conference in July 2013 set up a working group “to consider whether the Methodist Church’s position on marriage needs revising in light of changes in society, undertaking this consideration with reference to scripture, tradition, reason and experience. The terms of reference would be:
a. To consider the implications for the Methodist Church of a change in legislation covering same-sex marriage;
b. To consider whether the Methodist Church’s position on marriage needs revising in the light of changes in society;
c. To undertake the work directed by the reply to Memorial 29(2012) [a Memorial from the Birmingham Synod seeking for a review of the Conference’s ruling that blessing of civil partnerships should not take place on Methodist premises]
d. To make recommendations for any changes in practice or polity.”
The working party is mindful of what was said to the Conference about the relatively limited ambit of the working group’s remit at this stage: “to consider whether the Methodist Church’s position needed reviewing in light of changes in society rather than to make substantive proposal for change. If a revision is thought potentially necessary, it is expected that a further working party would be appointed to examine the substantive issues.”
The working group has therefore identified a range of possible areas for consideration, and intends to test out by wide consultation whether these are indeed the issues about which it should make recommendations to the 2014 Conference that they be explored more fully. Before going out to full consultation however, there will be a short pilot exercise with a small number of selected groups during the next few weeks, designed to clarify how to frame the consultation questions.