Sermon for Mothering Sunday
Sunday 18 March 2012
Same Sex Marriage
Just over a month ago in The Times newspaper and later on the BBC Sunday programme, our Bishop, the Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam, made his views known on Gay Marriage. He has been reported and misreported in various ways and it is important that we should know what he said. We need also to appreciate the significance of what he said. These were his words in The Times:
All of us have friends, families, relatives, neighbours who are, or who know somebody, in same sex partnerships. I’m no longer convinced [that marriage can only be between heterosexual people]. I think same-sex couples that I know who have formed a partnership have in many respects a relationship which is similar to a marriage and which I now think of as a marriage.
In the BBC programme he went much further. He argued that today we see people all around us who are “in same sex relationships [and] who are living faithfully and lovingly [together] for life.” He added: “I don’t think there is much … [in the Bible] which addresses the issue of faithful, same sex relationships. We are dealing with something where we need to work out afresh in this generation what it is for people who love each other faithfully together and how that sits within the life of the church.”
The Bishop said that the lack of any spiritual aspect of the current civil partnership ceremonies was an issue for Christian gay couples: “We have had the experience of civil partnerships for 6 years now and we need to review where we are. There are homosexual people within the life of the church living in faithful, same sex relationships. We need to find ways to support and sustain them in that and to find a way of praying with them.” He reminded his listeners that at least since 1991, when a document called Issues in Human Sexuality was produced by the bishops, the church has been committed to supporting homosexual people within the Christian community. He went on, “The real problem with civil partnerships is that they are a contract: there is no religious content to them whatsoever. And Christians who have contracted civil partnerships are saying that they want a covenantal relationship in which they promise themselves to one another lovingly for life and where it is possible to be prayed with and for within the life of the church.” Bishop Nicholas said that, “the quality and nature of the relationship is such that I think it is appropriate to use the language of marriage in respect of same sex relationships.” He openly acknowledged that this was not the position of the Church but it was appropriate that a proper and open debate now took place: “There is no change imminent, but we are no longer talking about them, we are talking about us.”
I fully support the our bishop’s view that this matter must now be discussed openly within the church. I also believe Bishop Nicholas has been courageous in speaking out on this subject. Recently the Bishop of Buckingham expressed similar opinions on the Radio. It is certain that a great many other bishops share their views, but few are willing to say so openly. Bishop Nicholas’ judgement, however, is that it would be unhelpful were he to “sublimate” his own views to the views of the Church: “Part of responsible leadership,” he says, “is having the vision, the sight, to see that’s where I want to go.” Naturally this open expression of his opinions has led to a backlash in the church and in parts of this diocese. Many, particularly of a conservative evangelical persuasion, have criticized him for speaking in this way. He met with a delegation of those so opposed and has tried to encourage the toleration of different opinions within our diocese.
I believe we need to be grateful to our bishop for raising these issues, but we need also to clarify the questions that are involved. It seems to me that there are at least five:
1. Are Civil Partnerships really marriages?
2. Should Civil Partnerships be permitted in churches?
3. Should we bless Civil Partnerships in churches?
4. What should be our attitude to Civil Gay Marriage as being currently promoted by the present Conservative / Liberal Government?
5. Should we allow gay marriage in church?
These are very important questions which we all need to think about. In the coming months and years we will need to reflect upon them carefully and thoroughly. On Mothering Sunday among other things we remember the importance of human relationships and love. Today we live in an era when there are a great many forms of human relationship. How our Christian values can be applied to Gay relationships and love is now a pressing issue for the Church.
Mothering Sunday | Sunday 18 March 2012