Headway (Ireland) Statement on Civil Partnerships

As members of the Methodist Church in Ireland, we ask whether this issue has surfaced because of genuine pastoral concerns, not wishing to alienate any member of society, or from uncertainty as to what we previously believed and practised. The basis for this Headway analysis is both Biblical and Sociological, and is occasioned by current debate within our Church and society. We wish to look again at post-modernist thinking: contemptuous of traditional morality; where objectivity is not to be trusted, and what is to be believed is judged on how well an issue fits the situation rather than logical ( or biblical) consistency -all of which leads ultimately to the position of no absolute truths.

We believe our views on heterosexual marriage and homosexual practice are entirely consistent with the creation principles as given in Genesis 1&2 and endorsed by Jesus, the Lord of the Church, in Matthew 19:3-6 and the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5:22-33. And sexual sin is especially serious because it is 'against one's own body' (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). All the same, we also do well to consider that it is not the only sin in the book, and it is not the 'unforgivable sin' either. The Bible calls homosexual behaviour an 'abomination'; but the same word (Hebrew to'ebah) is also applied to a proud look and a lying tongue, for example in Proverbs 6: 16-19. Such sins are not exactly absent from the church in general, including those in leadership, but it is unlikely that their practitioners will suffer public disgrace. We do not wish to be associated with a homophobic agenda which demonizes a very small, but articulate, community; we believe that God's love embraces all people irrespective of their lifestyle or choices. Likewise, the Church should be characterized by its willingness to offer the friendship of Jesus to all who admit their need of him, whatever that need may be. We do feel however, that God's love also calls us to repentance and holiness of life within the Church.

Biblical interpretation.L~

In Genesis 1:27-28 we have the record of the creation of humans in the image of God, male and female, for the purposes of mutual love, partnership and being 'fruitful and increasing in number'. In Gen.2:24, quoted by Jesus while discussing marriage and divorce in Matthew 19:5-6; he added 'so they are no longer two but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate'. The text envisages marriage as between a male and female, so that they physically become one flesh. Each sex has got a specific gender role which is spelt out in Gen.2 and Gen.3, as well as in Ephesians5:22-33 and 1Peter3:1-7; these are as incompatible with homosexual practice as they are supportive of procreation (Gen.l:28).

The Sodom and Gomorrah judgment by God recorded in Genesis 18;17-19:29 has traditionally been interpreted by the Church as judgment on homosexual activity, which had been known to God (Gen 18:20,21) long before the two angels went to the city and suffered the threat of homosexual assault. We are aware of several interpretations put upon the biblical record to deny that this was really homosexual behaviour, but rather that it was either gang rape, as some interpret the mis-behaviour or inhospitality, based on the word yada which means 'to know' or 'to become acquainted with'.

D.Sherwin Bailey, (quoted in Kostenberger, "God, Marriage and Family" Crossway Books 2004 p.206), alleges that rather than interpreting the record as the men of Sodom wanting to 'know' (have sex with) the two visitors, they really only wanted to become acquainted with them, which was commendable (without giving an answer as to why God judged the city). The reason why we cannot accept this interpretation is that yada in 19:8 is obviously related to having sex with the daughters of Lot, so it must therefore refer also to having sex three verses earlier. The use of this word in Gen 4:1, 17, 25; 24:16; 38:26, in all of which it is genuinely related to sex, makes the argument of Bailey untenable, as do the references in Jude 6-8 and 2Peter 2:4-10. The similar (heterosexual) gang rape in Judges 19:22-26, which followed explicit calls for homosexual rape (which was forbidden), is followed by equally drastic judgment upon the tribe which condoned such practices. Similarly, in the Levitical Holiness Code in Leviticus 18:22; 20:13, homosexual practice is forbidden on pain of death, similar to God's judgment in Sodom and Gomorrah. Here too, modem expositors have drawn parallels with ritual homosexual prostitution in Canaanite practice, and interpret the two prohibitions as being specifically related to idol worship. While this is possible, it has been pointed out that other practices like incest, adultery and bestiality share condemnation in Leviticus 18, along with homosexuality. No-one has suggested that these latter are only prohibited within the context of idol worship. This is hardly surprising when they are condemned throughout Scripture. Just as the child sacrifice in ritual worship of the Pagan god Molech (Lev.20:2-5) is always condemned, so consistency demands that homosexual acts, in whatever context, are condemned in the Holiness Code. Such acts are in violation of God's integral design for marriage and family.

New Testament treatment of homosexual activity is found in Romans 1:26-27, 1Cor.6:9,10; 1Timothy 1:9-10; 2Peter 2:6; Jude 7; and Rev.21:8; 22:15. Jesus may have referred to homosexual acts in Mark 7:21, where it is translated 'sexual immorality', but such immorality is nearly always placed as one among many other sins in the lists of sin, referred to above, in the New Testament. We feel that there is an unbalanced preoccupation currently on sexual sins, rather than a proclamation of 'the whole counsel of God' (Acts 20:27). Sins are bad attitudes as well as bad actions (Matt.5:28). In the early church, discipline involving sexual sin had to be enforced, as had the message that repentance would lead, through forgiveness and restitution, to full fellowship within the body of Christ (compare 1Cor.5:9-13 and 2Cor. 2:6-11). We plead for consistency in our attitude to all wrongdoing, and for the spirit of Jesus as displayed to the woman taken in adultery; 'neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin.' (John 8: 11) Our duty is to love God and our neighbour; we do this best by being sensitive to the full spectrum of morality taught in the Bible. We accept its wisdom, that "the Lord disciplines those he loves" (Heb.12:4- 11). The Church is His body in the world, so it cannot condone sin or bless wrongdoing, hence our opposition to any blessing of civil partnerships by church representatives. In a recent book "The Meaning of Marriage; Family, State, Market, & Morals", a group of respected academics examined the state of marriage in the USA at the beginning of this century. ”The political and legal manoeuvres leading to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts in the spring of 2004 forced marriage debate into American public discourse." They observed that "public debate (is) exclusively in a narrow language of 'rights' and celebrates an individualistic notion of choice.” The lessons learned from this study can, for the purposes of this paper, be summarized as follows:

~nnUniversal recognition of heterosexual marriage, with its acceptance of the duty to care for children, and characterized by: "the desire for pleasure and even for offspring (which) is subordinated to the central and defining good of one-flesh union," is diminished in favour of the union of two consenting adults, on the basis of liberty and equality, (as well as the availability of contraception and abortion, separating sex and procreation from marriage).n~~nSociety needs to agree standards to resolve the conflict between 'personal freedom', with its expectation of personal fulfilment, and public responsibility; between entitlement and obligation.n~~nChildren's rights are compromised when conceived outside traditional heterosexual marriage. The selection process for traditional marriage: a. shapes who becomes a parent, and b. accepts the expectation of lifelong commitment. When adult desire, rather than commitment reigns, child needs are marginalized. Children are at risk of becoming a 'commodity' to fulfil adult gratification, often with the aid of modem reproductive technology, in same-sex marriage or civil partnership as well as infertile heterosexual marriage.n~~n"Marriage has an existence independent of state power; same-sex marriage does not". When this power is transferred to the state (when it designs, and enforces, new laws on human relationships), the Government then becomes the prime determinant for acceptability of behaviour.n~~nWhen the state undermines traditional conjugal society it undermines the religions which support it, thus speeding the transition to secularism. Religion, rather than being an institution of civil society, becomes merely a matter of individual belief. It soon becomes marginalized in normalizing the area of matrimony.n~~nSo that same-sex relationships can be sustained the state legal establishment "inculcates within children beliefs at odds with the tenets of traditional faith", and "drives a wedge between religion and children by taking away the desires of parents to be guided by religion."nn~

Finally, to quote Seana Sugrue on p.194 of this book, "By virtue of being a political institution to satisfy personal needs, same-sex marriage promotes a sense of entitlement, not obligation; a love of tolerance that erodes moral standards of judgment; a desire for uncritical approbation; a love of license over liberty; a slavish equality of all beneath the rule of law.”

Pastoral care: the way forward.L~

The incidence of homosexuality is variously estimated to be between 1.4% of females and 2.8 % males in a census in USA in 2000. In Australia, it was 2.5%of males and 1.0% females. . Some 2.7 per cent of men and 1.2 per cent of women in the Republic of Ireland identify themselves in 2006 as homosexual or bisexual. However Kinsey reported an approximately 10% incidence in the USA in the late 1940's This has since been shown to arise from a biased cohort, but it nevertheless became the stimulus for a perceived need to liberalize attitudes to sexual practices. In the same way, pressure groups in the American Psychiatric association in 1973 were able to declassify homosexuality by forming a National Gay Task force to lobby for the condition to be accepted as a basically genetic or biological condition, even though there has never been any impartial confirmation of this. (Jeffrey Satinover, “Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth”, Baker Publishing, Grand Rapids, 1996); see also British Medical Journal, 7 August 1993 editorial 'Genetic linkage and male homosexual orientation'.

In a book of stories about Christians and Homosexuality entitled "What Some of You Were”, there are testimonies from Church people who share their personal experience of battling with strong homosexual urges. Many of them had found relief through counselling and pastoral support. (It also contains 4 very valuable Appendices on historical developments and biological research, which are helpful to those who want to be involved in expressing the love and care of Christ for them.) No one pretends that those who have this trait to contend with find it easy, but neither do many heterosexuals who have not found marriage partners, or who believe they are called to a single life. What is made very clear is that heterosexual marriage is not a 'cure' for those with homosexual tendencies.

Proposals to the Methodist Church in Ireland.L~

That this church affirms its previous statement on our attitude of loving acceptance of those who have homosexual or lesbian orientation, but our rejection of the lifestyle which is associated with physical homosexual practice.

That we do not support the blessing of Civil Partnerships by our ministers or the use of Church premises for such purposes. We reject suggestions that the liberty currently given to our ministers to remarry divorcees should provide precedence for blessing civil partnerships. It is not a parallel situation, because of Scriptural acceptance of Divorce in certain specific situations (Matt. 19:3-12; 1Cor. 7); homosexual practice is never approved in Scripture.

That we affirm the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman until death, forsaking all others; and the support of family life.

Helpful reference material consulted during preparationL~

~**“God, Marriage & Family. Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation”. Andreas L. Kostenberger, with David W. Jones. Crossway books, Wheaton Illinois 200*~~*“The Meaning of Marriage, Family, State, Market, & Morals”, edited by Robert P. George & Jean Bethke Elshtain. Spence Publishing Company, Dallas 2006*~~*“The Truth About Same-Sex Marriage.” Erwin W. Lutzer. Moody Publishers, Chicago 2004*~~*"What Some of You Were” edited by Christopher Keane. Matthias Media, 2001*~~*http://www.eauk.org/theology/headline_issues/faithhopeandhomosexuality/ - Comprehensive Evangelical Alliance theological, historical and biblical cover of all the issues in Britain.*~~*http://www.royclements.co.uk/essays15.htm - A heartfelt plea against homophobia by a Gay pastor.*~~*“Lesbians lose their battle for foreign marriage to be legalised” The Times August 1 2006 p.25**~

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