Opening church doors in New Zealand and England

Opening church doors in New Zealand and England

New Zealand’s Anglican church has agree to explore ways of blessing same-sex relationships, while protecting the freedom of those who disagree. Meanwhile senior Church of England clergy have warned that opposing inclusion is undermining Christian witness.

In Anglican and many other churches, there has been heated debate about sexuality. In a welcome move, the general synod of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia agreed to develop a pathway towards blessing same-gender relationships.

It also apologised unreservedly for having often treated lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people poorly, and pledged to change.

A working group will report to the 2016 synod on “a process and structure” to allow clergy to bless same-gender relationships if they wish, though none will be forced to do so. The group will also propose a liturgy to “bless right-ordered same-gender relationships” and address the impact of its work on the church’s theology of marriage, and of ordination.

“We speak and experience the Gospel in this time and in this place, but hold the witness of Scripture in its articulation of God's work in history through Jesus Christ, Son of God and servant of all, and in the movement of the Holy Spirit. We are held in the now and the not yet, trusting in the promises of God,” the resolution stated.

“The Church has received and articulated an understanding of intimate human relationships which it expresses through her doctrine of marriage between a man and a woman, and is life-long and monogamous,” and “uphold this traditional doctrine of marriage.”

However, “Although we are far from unanimous in seeing the way forward, there is a broad recognition of the dynamic nature of doctrine, and the call of the prophetic word to be attentive to the movement of the Spirit. There is no questioning the depth of love and commitment in some gay and lesbian relationships and their commitment to serve the wider community and to be disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Meanwhile, in sermons at St Paul’s cathedral in London, senior figures in the Church of England have pointed out the damage done by refusal to address current challenges with sufficient seriousness.

“The impression is being given that if you are a scientist you cannot with intellectual integrity be a Christian,” warned John Gladwin, former Bishop of Chelmsford. “If you believe in human diversity and the fundamental equality of all human beings whatever their human experience and character you cannot be a Christian. If you are gay or lesbian and entering into a marriage partnership the church is not for you. It is no good blaming the strident voices of secular humanism and scientific atheism for this outcome.”

He suggested that the Church of England’s “task is to risk the journey of faith following Jesus Christ as we engage with people and communities today. If we really believe that the mystery of the love and power of God is at work for the protection of the vulnerable, the defence of the humanity and rights of minorities, the care of the excluded, and the struggle for justice – as we see in the face of Jesus Christ – then that surely defines the mission and priorities of the church in any age and culture.”

A recent television programme on adoption featured a gay couple with “two small boys and the programme was about their decision and that of the public authorities for them to add a brother and sister who would otherwise be separated by the care system to their family. How can the local church be seen to be supportive and encouraging of their commitment to offer loving family life to these children if we spend our time nationally criticising such action?”

Growing social inequality and xenophobia were also problems which should be tackled, he said. “We know that out of death comes new life – the church knows that experience – dying to the old and seeking God to raise us to the life that is to come. We serve a risen Lord who is in front of us calling us to follow and offering us the life of the Spirit of God to encourage us on the journey.”

David Ison, the dean, spoke of his experience of “gatekeepers” who claimed to speak for a particular faith or ethnic community. He linked this to accounts in John’s gospel of religious leaders’ hostility to Jesus and his role as shepherd and gate for the sheep.

“It’s hard to follow Jesus through the gates when you’re told by the gatekeepers that to go outside your community means you’ll never be allowed back. Think of what can happen when a Jewish Israeli makes friends with a Palestinian; a Muslim woman marries outside her community; an evangelical Christian supports same-sex marriage; a white preacher confronts racism in their church community; or anything else where the gatekeepers will tell you that you’ve betrayed their community,” he said.

“Let us take heart! For John tells us, it’s not the gatekeepers who define the community, but the gate: and Jesus himself is the gate through which we go to find the pastures of life, in a place beyond the narrowing boundaries of controlled community.”

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© Savitri Hensman is a widely published Christian commentator on politics, welfare, religion and more. An Ekklesia associate, she works in the equalities and care sector.

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