UPDATE: The Same-Sex Marriage debate within Methodism

UPDATE: The Same-Sex Marriage debate within Methodism

SEPTEMBER 2014

 

            On behalf of the MET Executive Committee, a small working group has, for some time, been considering the issues surrounding the same-sex marriage debate within Methodism. We wanted to update you with the latest news following Conference, seeking to provide some clarification of the current situation, and to ask your prayers and support for the ongoing work.

            Firstly, we give thanks that the Conference upheld the Biblical understanding of marriage:

‘The Methodist Church, in line with Scripture and traditional teaching, believes that marriage is a gift of God and that it is God’s intention that a marriage should be a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of one man and one woman.’

            The Conference did not vote to change this understanding, nor to ‘opt in’ to permit Methodist buildings to be registered for same-sex marriage ceremonies or Methodist ministers to be authorised to conduct them. This creates the unprecedented situation in which our denomination now has a different understanding of marriage from that of the State. Therefore, though people may choose to enter into a same-sex marriage, it cannot be recognised as such by the Church.

            Secondly, some disquiet has understandably been expressed over the passing of Resolution 40/6 which states that there is no reason per se to prevent anyone within the Methodist Church, ordained or lay, from entering into a same-sex marriage. Our understanding of this resolution is:

  • Conference concluded, when Civil Partnerships were introduced, that we were not in a position to prohibit them because they did not necessarily involve a sexual relationship.
  • The State’s Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 makes it very clear that the same is true of same-sex marriage: it does not necessarily involve a sexual relationship. Same-sex marriages cannot be annulled through lack of consummation, nor can a divorce be obtained on the grounds of adultery. That being the case, Conference determined that it was not in a position to prohibit members of the Methodist Church from entering into what the State has named a same-sex marriage.
  • This resolution must therefore be understood in the light of the 1993 Resolutions on Human Sexuality, number 4 of which upholds the traditional teaching of the Church, namely chastity for all outside marriage and fidelity within it. Marriage here, as in all official Methodist statements, is understood as being between one man and one woman for life.
  • Though people may enter into a civil same-sex marriage, it cannot be recognised as marriage by the Church.

             The Conference offered, for the first time, pastoral guidelines to Local Churches or managing trustees for when approaches are made for ‘prayers or services from same sex couples, including those whose relationship has been recognised in a civil ceremony’. These guidelines make quite clear that ‘Any conversation about the current understanding of the Methodist Church with regard to marriage and relationships should be based on the previous decisions of the Conference in order that the pastoral response offered is consonant with these understandings’. A list of the relevant Methodist Conference documents and decisions is then given which includes ‘The relevant Standing Orders, principally SO 011A’ and ‘The 1993 Conference Resolutions on Human Sexuality’ (CPD Book VII, part 11).

             Taken together these make the church’s position on marriage and sexuality clear. SO 011A states that ‘The Methodist Church believes that marriage is a gift of God and that it is God’s intention that a marriage should be a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of one man and one woman. The 1993 Conference Resolutions on Human Sexuality (4) further emphasise that ‘The Conference reaffirms the traditional teaching of the Church on human sexuality; namely chastity for all outside marriage and fidelity within it.’

             The 2014 guidance makes clear that ‘these documents and decisions together govern the practice of the Methodist Church and no decision of local church bodies or officers, ministers or lay persons regarding relationships or sexuality should contravene them. It is the responsibility of each presbyter, in conjunction with the Church Council, to ensure that this discipline is upheld in the life of the Local Church in order to preserve and advance its mission and unity.’  This is not, therefore, opening the door to the widespread acceptance of the blessing of all same-sex relationships but rather encouraging sensitive pastoral conversations which seek to be faithful to the existing position of the Methodist Church.

            Conference has urged the Methodist people, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to engage with each other honestly, prayerfully and graciously in a process of deep reflection and discernment about the issues raised by the introduction of same-sex marriage by the State and the broader issues of human sexuality. We encourage all MET members to engage in this reflection and discernment by:

  • Upholding the authority of the Bible in all areas of life
  • Supporting the Biblical view of marriage and human sexuality
  • Standing against all homophobic language and behaviour
  • Engaging in all areas of the discussion and debate with pastoral sensitivity.

We are currently exploring how we can best provide resources to promote further reflection and discussion.

            We would like to express our appreciation to the Revd Paul Smith and the Revd Paul Wilson who have worked tirelessly to represent the evangelical point-of-view on the Marriage & Civil Partnerships Working Group and the Equality & Diversity Forum respectively. Please pray for them as they continue their work with those groups at this crucial time, and for the MET Executive and those who work with us as we seek to uphold the teaching of the Bible in all these debates.

            Finally, I am sure you will understand that this work is costly in terms of time and finance. If you are able to give towards this work, we would be very grateful. Simply visit our website www.methodistevangelicals.org.uk and click on ‘Donate’, or post a donation to our administrator, Hazel Harwood, MET, 7 Gledhow Park Road

Leeds, LS7 4JX.  A number of people have already given very generously to support this work: thank you! Above all, please pray for us!

It is vital that we stand together in grace and truth, whilst also seeking within

the Methodist Church to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.