Can we be faithful to Scripture and affirm faithful, monogamous same-sex relationships?

There are many who believe that this cannot possibly be the case in the light of a number of specific texts in both the New and the Old Testament which appear to be conclusive.

Others argue that a careful reading of the Scriptures will lead anyone with an open mind to the conclusion that the Bible does not condemn faithful, monogamous same-sex relationships.

While so many in the Anglican Communion agree about so much and even when we disagree we seem generally to be able to hear other people’s perspectives. This is the one issue that we make into the contemporary test of orthodoxy and seem unable to make room for difference. It is an issue which “is not in any early church statement of faith, and it is absent from the Reformers’ great debates. Luther did not make any great play on this. Calvin didn’t seem to care. The Westminster Shorter Catechism forgot to focus here. …” [1: p19] But this has become the touchstone in our assessment of each other.

It seems that neither side in the debate finds it easy, or even possible, to acknowledge the integrity and scriptural loyalty of the other. So, we sit at a crossroads with different parts of the church pulling in different directions, and, no doubt, many in the church looking back and forward between the two, not sure which way to turn.

Somewhere between the extremes of these polarized sentiments probably lie the vast majority of churchgoers, with people uncertain what to make of it all, or people opposed to a change or supportive of it, who nevertheless do not regard it as a church-breaking issue.” [2: p1]

In the light of this ‘stalemate’ it seems likely, to me at least, that there will be a significant and possibly permanent split in the Anglican Communion unless things change significantly.

Duncan Dormor and Jeremy Morris comment that “the possibility of a permanent split [hangs] over the Anglican Communion. … These divisions are not of course confined to Anglicanism. They can be found in Methodism, in churches of the Reformed and Lutheran traditions, and in Roman Catholicism. But they have perhaps never been as bitter there, or as destructive, as they have in Anglicanism. Advocates of a change in the Church’s policy towards homosexuality and their opponents have traded insults and claimed the moral high ground.” [2: p1]

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech at the Lambeth Conference 2022 included a reminder of the reality of the current situation, and the need to care for each other: “So let us not treat each other lightly or carelessly. We are deeply divided. That will not end soon. We are called by Christ himself both to truth and unity.” [3]

My linked article (below) tries to address, carefully, the question raised in the title to this short blog. It shows that it is possible, depending on your approach to Scripture to argue with integrity for both the traditional position and the progressive position when approaching Scripture. It highlights the importance of listening to modern knowledge, experience and culture and then returning to the text of Scripture with an open mind. When we do this we engage in a similar process to that which Peter and the early Church encountered, led by the Holy Spirit which we have received in the middle chapters of the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament

I do believe that it is possible to remain faithful to Scripture and affirm faithful, monogamous, same-sex relationships.

However, I also believe that this should not be an issue over which the Church of England should allow itself to become divided. This is a matter of interpretation of Scripture, rather than one about loyalty to Scripture.

We are called to be ‘one’ (John 17), whether or not we agree. The Anglican Communion is deeply divided, but we are called to unity and we are called to truth. Integrity and Unity. It is our love for each other, even in the midst of the greatest disagreement, that will draw others to faith. At least that seems to be what Jesus believed!

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

I offer the linked article below as a careful wide-ranging discussion of the arguments which surround this important question. It is not a light read.

I greatly appreciate the way in which Living in Love and Faith [4] has been presented. Of the different books that I have read recently, this is the one which best allowed me to engage openly with the issues.

I feel happier with where my instincts have lead me over recent years. I feel affirmed in my desire for a fully inclusive Church which is truly so, accepting and valuing each other even when we strongly disagree.

So, this is who I am. This is what I believe. Inclusion is a Gospel imperative. If we fail to include all, we fail in following our Lord. Even then God’s grace is sufficient, he still loves and accepts us when we struggle to be inclusive. God includes all, everyone, within the scope of God’s love.

Being inclusive is the very embodiment of the Gospel. We are all sinful and we all sin, we all struggle to love as God loves us, we are all defensive at times, we are all selfish at times. Often unconsciously, we can all be biased against someone different from us. We are all called to grow more into the character and nature of our Lord.

Towards the end of Living in Love and Faith, there is a series of encounters with different churches in the UK. The examples used are actually all attractive in their own way, but the one that I warm to most is St. Mildred, Upper Mallowpool:

St Mildred’s Church serves the small town of Upper Mallowpool with a population of nearly 15,000. Six parishioners had gathered at the back of the church to take part in the conversation: Richard, the vicar; Duncan and Miriam, an older couple who also attend a Baptist church; Jenny, a lesbian woman in a partnership; Owen, a gay youth worker; and Noah, a heterosexual married man. In the background a group was clearing up after the midweek coffee and craft session.

Richard got the conversation going. ‘So, my theology has changed over time. As an evangelical, I’m quite clear on the need for the Scriptures to lead the way. But my thinking has changed. Being divorced and remarried, the theology I take for myself on divorce is that divorce is not God’s ideal plan but that when I read the Scriptures, it’s allowable. And when I look at the Scriptures’ teaching on sexuality, the conclusion I’ve come to is that same-sex relationships are not God’s ideal plan, but that they are allowed. And so, I feel like I’m in a position to say that because I’m willing to criticize myself over divorce and remarriage. That has enabled me to reach out so we have gay people involved in positions of responsibility within our church family. We have to find a way, though, of including those who see it differently. Noah chipped in, ‘It’s interesting, we’re not out for overt inclusion. But we welcome anybody. and we don’t exclude anybody.’

It soon became apparent that not only did everyone agree that being truly inclusive meant including people with opposing views, but this little group embodied this very reality. Although Duncan and Miriam were clear that same-sex marriage was not an option, they were happy to join in the conversation – a conversation that combined deep and overt affection with spontaneous honesty.

Owen pitched in with his story: ‘As someone who is gay, my theology has been left, right and centre. I’ve gone, is abstinence the correct way? But then, come to the conclusion that if God is love, then it says, “Whoever does not love, does not know God.” And therefore, I must be able to love, to know God. But yeah, I can understand both sides, because my theology has gone all the way round. I love this sort of conversation.’

Jenny spoke movingly about how difficult she had found it to cross the threshold of the church eight years ago and what it meant for her to be welcomed in by Richard. She had been thrown out of her Christian family home at the age of 16 when she came out. Even now, only one sister is willing to be in touch with her.

But the conversation kept coming back to how each of them had come to their convictions. ‘Is there actually any gender in the afterlife, in heaven? Is gender only a concept for a tiny fraction of our existence? And that, maybe, puts it a little bit in perspective,’ said Noah. ‘By trying to say that we know all of the rights and wrongs, I’d say we’re putting ourselves almost in the position of God over humanity. God tells us to let him judge, because it’s in our nature to get things wrong.’ Richard agreed: ‘But he will judge, and, therefore, it’s important that if we become convinced that something we thought before wasn’t right, then we must change. As long as we’re open to the possibility that we might be wrong, then I think that’s what will qualify us, when we meet God.’“[4: p417-418]

References

  1. Marcus Green; The Possibility of Difference: A biblical affirmation of inclusivity; Kevin Mathew, Stowmarket, Suffolk, 2018.
  2. Duncan Dormor and Jeremy Morris; Introduction; in Duncan Dormor and Jeremy Morris (eds); An Acceptable Sacrifice? Homosexuality and the Church; SPCK, London, 2007.
  3. Quoted by Prof. Helen King; Over to the bishops? Finding ways to respect differences; https://www.inclusive-church.org/2022/10/19/over-to-the-bishops-finding-ways-to-respect-differences, accessed on 30th October 2022.
  4. House of Bishops of the Church of England; Living in Love and Faith; Church House Publishing, 2020.

1 thought on “Can we be faithful to Scripture and affirm faithful, monogamous same-sex relationships?

  1. Pingback: A Time for Change? | Roger Farnworth

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.