I am happy that you made my neighbour different from me:
with a different coloured skin,
from a different tribe,
from a different island,
with a different face,
male and female,
a different way of worshipping you:
I need all my neighbours to teach me about You
For my neighbour knows many things I do not know.
Help me to love my neighbour as I love myself.
This prayer was written in the South Pacific islands of Melanesia. A few years previously there were violent conflicts between different islands and different tribal groups.
The writer realised that God our Creator enjoys variety. God does not make clones, but millions of distinct individuals. The prayer acknowledges differences of gender and other circumstances: we also need to acknowledge and (as far as we can) understand differences of sexuality and other circumstances. Not being able to cope with differences in other people suggests that perhaps we need to explore our own identity and relationships.
A new study guide has been published which looks at:
- Marriage and Cohabitation
- Divorce and further marriage
- Being single or widowed
- Lesbian and Gay Sexuality.
The aim of the study guide is not to achieve agreement on these matters. The aim is to
help us explore our own identity and relationships in company with Christians of differing lifestyle and differing attitudes. To accept that they love, trust and seek to obey God as we do ourselves; to accept one another as fellow Christians.
The study course has been compiled and published by the Mothers’ Union. This worldwide organisation of some 3.6 members has the objective of supporting and promoting marriage and family life. It has however been criticised for not condemning lesbian and gay people. A few years ago the MU Magazine contained an article by a mother whose adult son was gay. Because the magazine editor did not publish an article condemning gayness, a Church of England priest closed the Mothers’ Union branch in his parish.
“We are created by God: exploring our identity and relationships” is the title of the discussion booklet for all participants to have and use. There is also a facilitator’s guide Each of the four topics has suggested opening and closing prayers and Bible readings.
Marriage and Cohabitation has an Introduction referring to changes in law and custom in the UK, to non-religious ceremonies, followed by a section on Marriage in Old Testament times and in Christian times.
After some marriage statistics (UK) there are sections on
- The history of marriage,
- Christianity and marriage ceremonies,
- Marriage laws and the Registration of Marriages.
- Cohabitation – as a substitute for marriage – as a preparation for marriage.
All these sections are factual, not judgemental. They are followed by four case scenarios
based on real situations. Participants are invited to reflect on these, and to discuss them.
Divorce and further marriage
Reasons for divorce,
Attitudes of the Church
- Early Church Fathers
- St. Augustine
Church context today.
Christian marriages after divorce (including in the Orthodox Church).
Bible context – teaching of Jesus.
- unreasonable behaviour,
- separation for 2 or 5 years.
These sections are factual, not judgemental. They are followed by four case scenarios for
participants to reflect on and discuss.
Being single or widowed
More people live alone in Britain than ever before. Being ‘single’ may be our situation prior to a relationship, an alternative to a relationship, or following a relationship (separation, divorce, or death).
Some people choose to live as a single person, some enter religious communities or follow celibate vocations. Some people are single because they have not yet met a suitable partner.
Many people who have been widowed still regard themselves as married people rather than single. They have to face sadness, loneliness and trauma. The relationships of the widowed person with children, grandchildren, parents, in-laws, are all affected. Neighbours and people at church may not always know how to relate to the newly bereaved.
A central source of support for single people (as well as the married) is friendship. Jesus called his followers his friends. Soul friendship grew with early monasticism as older nuns and monks mentored or became as ‘mother’ or ‘father’ to younger nuns or monks.
Using Jesus’ own way of life as an example single people can demonstrate and express their love by having non-exclusive relationships or friendships. Single people are not non-sexual beings. Chastity is affirmed as a way of life celebrating the whole of one’s femaleness and maleness in healthy but ‘non-erotic’ ways. Though chastity does not deny
or remove one’s sexual struggles, it tries to place them in a positive and manageable framework.
In the Bible marriage and singleness are both affirmed. Jesus taught that in heaven there is no marriage. The resurrection holds out to the single, the married, the childless, and to those with children, the possibility of an enduring inheritance after the grave. Whether we are married or not will not be the most important thing in the end. People’s value to Jesus was not dependent upon their marital status, their sex, or their position in society. After considering Loneliness, Single men, Single parenthood, Single in church, Serving God and others, there are five case scenarios with their challenge of how would we react?
Lesbian and Gay Sexuality This section has been drawn up in consultation with the Facilitator of the Listening Process for the Anglican Communion. It points to further information available on the website www.anglicancommunion.org/listening/index.cfm. The study guide acknowledges the disagreement within the Anglican Communion. It then has sections on
- Society and homosexuality
- Science and homosexuality
- Genetics – Hormones – Social conditioning – Social pressure – Development in the family.
- The Church. Responding to the Civil Partnership Act one bishop wrote
“It is in its careful mimicking of marriage that the Bill can be said to undermine the distinctiveness and fundamental importance to society of the relationship of marriage”. Another bishop responded “I find this fear difficult to understand, since nobody has ever been prepared to tell me that their own marriage was threatened by the public recognition of gay relationships. My experience of gay and lesbian friends in relation to my own marriage is only of support and insight”.
The Mothers’ Union is a community of 3.6 million people from over 78 nations working within the Anglican Communion. Many branches will have links with members in countries all over the world, through parish and diocesan links. Many of these will be with families who live in countries where homosexuality is illegal, and discussing it is taboo.
Many Mothers’ Union members have children, grandchildren, cousins and friends who are lesbian or gay. They may have learned to fear telling their friends. Some MU members are lesbian or gay. Others may be unsure about their sexual orientation, and are afraid to address this. We then have the story of Susan, brought up as a Christian. She found that she was not attracted to boys, and prayed that God would change her. It did not happen. At University she joined the Christian Union and served on the committee. She continued to hide her sexuality and committed herself to celibacy.
She felt called to ordination and was accepted for training. At college the issues of homosexuality were taught and discussed in groups. Never did the speaker or the group consider that there might be a lesbian or gay person present.
After ordination she served in an evangelical parish. When a new rector was appointed, he frequently preached about the evil of homosexuals in the Church.For years Susan had made Herculean efforts to re-orient herself, praying persistently for healing, always with a negative outcome. Now Susan began to contemplate the words that God spoke of Adam in Genesis: “It is not good for man to be alone”. Could this be true of woman also?
Eventually Susan met other lesbian and gay Christians. The Bible was still her guiding light, but she found even evangelicals offering different interpretations based on differing understanding of biblical witness. This different interpretation argues that faithful and stable same-sex relationships were unknown by the writers of the Bible, and so do not fall under the prohibitions of abusive same-sex activity.
There is then a thorough examination of two understanding of the Bible, dealing with:Creation – Fall – The Life of Israel – The Ministry of Jesus – The Early Church - The New Creation.
This is followed by three case scenarios with their challenge of
- how would Jesus respond
- how can the Church respond
- how would we respond?
The Mothers’ Union has produced this study guide for all Christians, not just for MU members (of whom I am one). For more information please contact: The Mothers’ Union in your diocese (the Diocesan Office can help you)
Mother’s Union HQ at Mary Sumner House, 24 Tufton Street, London SW1P 3RP. Tel
020 7222 5533.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.themothersunion.org