THE METHODIST CHURCH IN BRITAIN will allow ministers and congregations to celebrate marriage for same-sex couples, if they wish. The Methodist Conference also called for a ban on conversion therapy which attempts to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This is likely to encourage wider acceptance of diversity, even among non-churchgoers.
On 30 June 2021, after years of discussion, the Methodist Conference agreed an understanding of marriage as “given by God to be a particular channel of God’s grace, and that it is in accord with God’s purposes when a marriage is a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of two people who freely enter it. Within the Methodist Church this is understood in two ways: that marriage can only be between a man and a woman; that marriage can be between any two people.”
A firm ‘yes’ and ‘no
As with remarriage after divorce, it was made clear that ministers would not be put under pressure to act against their consciences but could refer couples to someone else to conduct a wedding. (While the theological framework would presumably extend to couples one of whom is non-binary, at present this status is not recognised in law.)
The Methodist Conference also decided, on 1 July, that no conversion therapy should take place in its name and called on the UK government to ban the practice. This included a range of practices attempting to change, or suppress an individual’s expression of, sexual orientation or gender identity.
This was an important move towards greater inclusion and stronger safeguarding in the church, as well as sending out a message of acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to a society where prejudice still exists. It was also a reminder of the promises and possibilities of committed partnership, in a consumerist society with an often ‘throw-away’ approach to things and relationships.
A broader framework
Broader themes of justice and equality ran through the Conference. Sonia Hicks, the first black woman to be elected as President of the Methodist Conference, said, “In a world where people are excluded because of their ethnic background, their sexual orientation, their gender or simply because, like me, they were brought up on a council estate, I believe that we are called to show God’s love for all people. It is a calling that Christian people have always struggled with, but we can and should be better at making God’s love a reality in the British Methodist Church, overcoming the systemic discrimination that exists.”
The Methodist Conference voted too to adopt a Strategy for Justice, Dignity and Solidarity, underpinned by the belief “that all people are made in the image of God, all are equally welcome at the table of Jesus Christ, and that the Holy Spirit breathes life into each one of us.” This aims to celebrate diversity, eradicate all discrimination and coercive control and change in the culture, practices and attitudes.
At a time when some inequalities in society are worsening, this wider context is important too.
* More about the Strategy for Justice, Dignity and Solidarity here.
© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate and respected commentator on welfare and other issues. She is author of the book Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church (Ekklesia, 2016) and has been involved in seeking greater inclusion. She wrote on ‘Health or Wealth?’ in Feast or Famine? (DLT, 2017). Her latest articles can be found here. Archived articles (pre-2020) are here.