Tag Archives: same – sex relationships

Sexuality and the Church

John Gladwin

‘I have learnt to watch my back when there are Bishops around’. That came from the lips of an outstanding priest who is in a Civil Partnership. Whatever our view about the issues raised by same sex partnerships in our time the remark is disturbing. Sadly, it is not the first such remark that has come my way over recent years. The fear and anxiety which these comments reveal is shared by the church’s leadership who similarly and paradoxically do not know what to do and how to respond. In an atmosphere of mutual anxiety pastoral care disappears and a distance is created where there ought to be deepening bonds of love and support.

Yet among the community of the baptised there is much to celebrate. I have listened to lay people in churches with a strong conservative tradition speak in the same breath of their own spiritual awakening and of their support and affection for gay members of their family and circle of friends. ‘We have learnt more about what love really means from James and Phil than from many of the married couples within our circle of friends’. So in the day to day experience of Christian women and men we find a desire and capacity to recognise goodness when it stares you in the face. The leadership of all our churches needs to work hard to develop that relaxed and appreciative attitude towards sisters and brothers whose life experience may be different from their own or even from what they might consider to be appropriate.

Providing space for the other and creating a culture of respect for the integrity and for the conscience of others is basic to a wholesome and mature community and so for the life of the Christian church. Both inside and outside the church our culture is making huge strides in this direction. Studies, for example, in the USA reveal that the cultural attitudes of people under 45 and even more so people under 25 are completely bypassing the inherited attitudes of the conservative Bible belt churches. Whatever is held in the pulpit as ‘Christian’ for our culture is not believed in the pews by the emerging generation of Christians let alone others.

In our own society this goes hand in hand with a commitment to human rights and to a proper respect for human equality across the diversity of contemporary social experience. People are much less willing to accept discriminatory attitudes and practices than was the case 15 or 20 years ago. So when the churches appear to want to distance themselves from the provisions which protect against discrimination they distance themselves from the expectations of a growing generation of people today. People hear the stories of the poor treatment of gay and lesbian friends in some religious contexts and come to the conclusion that this is all about institutional protection and unwillingness to help this generation find help and support in living out a faithful Christian commitment.

The basic challenge is not theological – we have learnt to live with plurality of life within the Gospel community – it is attitudinal. When we look positively upon one another across the rich diversity of human experience we will be able to find the language of faith to interpret the tradition in our own time and for people today.

Watching our backs when the Bishop is around is not a happy picture of how church is received by those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

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A Dialogue between the Churches on Sexuality Issues – An Anglican Approach

The Rt. Revd. John Gladwin

A personal disclaimer – what I say should not be taken as necessarily representing Anglicanism! I am an Anglican and what I say I believe to be in that tradition – but many Anglicans may come at these matters very differently – a matter which I consider to be a strength in church life.

Anglican conversations about sex, its meaning and purpose in human life, spin round our traditions on marriage. In a variety of ways Anglicans enter this field from this entrance point. Since liturgy plays an important role in shaping our doctrine and attitudes, the changing shape of the liturgies of marriage play an important role in this.  Anglicans would be heard saying the following sort of things:

  • Marriage is a gift God gave to humanity in creation.
  • Marriage is a covenant of love and commitment between a man and a woman.
  • Marriage is a sacrament or is sacramental in type – a means through which God’s grace may be experienced in our lives.

The character of the gift.

  • Universal – for all and to be a blessing for the world, including those who do not formally enter into marriage.
  • It is an exclusive bond – joining of the couple in union is the bodily sign of the love that brings them together. Sex, commitment and love are to be held together.
  • It is the context within which God wills the creation of new life in children.

Marriage is not a civil arrangement, nor a service in church.

In regard to the morality of sexual behaviour these understandings would resist two ways of creating a division between sexual behaviour and the relationship between the people. There is the obvious one that sex for self gratification irrespective of whether there is any relationship is sinful – fornication. There is the less obvious one of the suggestion that where there is love, anything goes. So Anglicans have, from a variety of frameworks of moral endeavour, always taken an interest in the morality of the act as well as the quality of the relationship.

The sexual bond and act is of itself a profound good – part of the gift of life God has given in our creation as human beings. So that long cultural history of experiencing sex as sinful in itself and dirty has no place in serious Anglican theology – from the Prayer Book onwards!

In attending to these questions of both relationship and praxis, Anglicans always hold to the essential authority of the church in the Bible, interpreted down the centuries in the teaching of the church and qualified by reason – which some would say includes experience.

We may not hold as true, things which are manifestly against the doctrine of Scripture.

When tackling the complex issues facing us today – not just the personal and pastoral needs of same sex couples, but cohabitation, the forms of marriage in society where many are reticent about making such commitments and the impact on behaviour of safe contraceptive protection, the HIV/Aids crisis and of the wider cultural mores which are manifestly changing – Anglicans can look back on a history of development and even change in their judgements.

The obvious ones

  • Contraception and family planning
  • Divorce and remarriage
  • Contemporary techniques in human fertilisation, family reconstruction and so on.

So we are always having to reshape how we speak about these issues – finding new directions in Scripture and in the understanding of our traditions.

What I think is remarkable at present is the shift in thinking about the needs of same sex couples. From an age of deep ambivalence about marriage, we now have same sex couples seeking stability, recognition and human rights in parallel to marriage.

Is this compromising our doctrine of marriage or is it strengthening it?

That is unfinished business for us.

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