|The new Archbishop of Wales, the Most Rev John Davies, with the other five diocesan bishops Source: Church in Wales|
The church has taught that marriage is the faithful and exclusive union of one man and one woman for life’s duration. It has based this on texts from the OT (eg Gen 2:24) and NT (1 Cor. 7) and the long unbroken tradition of the church. It has also taught that sexual relationships between the same gendered, is prohibited. It has done so on the basis again of OT texts (Leviticus 18:22) and NT texts (1 Cor. 6:9, Romans 1:26f). The case for marriage as the only lifelong union involving sexual contact is the traditional teaching of most of the churches in the East and West.
However, this norm has been challenged in the latter part of the 20th Century and more recently too. Appeal has been made to Scripture, tradition and reason to argue for a development of the classic understanding of faithful, exclusive and permanent unions for couples irrespective of gender.
What is the basis for this development?
1. The church’s task to be faithful to God – what is morality for?
What is the purpose of a moral code? In other words, why does God give law and guidance?
Firstly, to enable faithful belonging to God who makes a relationship possible through Jesus. Habits and practices which are destructive undermine this. In 1 Corinthians 6:12f Paul illustrates how disordered lifestyles and practices are ruinous for a healthy relationship with God. But relationships which are mutual, loving, faithful and life giving do not appear to be the focus for Paul’s thought here.
Secondly to provide a framework for life in which mutual human flourishing can occur. In 1 Cor. 7 Paul unpacks a set of rules concerning marriage. The creation of these unions is clearly to create mutuality and belonging. If that same mutuality and belonging is present among same sex couples how is this obstructive or contrary to God’s will? It creates inconsistency viz God wishing faithful belonging but denying its reality among certain human relationships.
The parable of the Good Samaritan highlights the mandate to love one’s neighbour. This broad moral principle is helpful because it does not specify how such demanding love is expressed but contains within it the conditions which make love possible – it must, in order to be loving, not be selfish, exploitative, insincere.
Thirdly, there are Biblical principles which position fruit as the key criteria for discerning the authenticity of action and faith. Jesus taught that fruitfulness (Matt. 7:15, John 15) was a sign of this authenticity. Can we discern signs of fruitfulness among same sex couples? St Paul listed the evidences of godliness in the epistle to the Galatians (the fruit of the Spirit in 5:22f). When we encounter people living in same sex relationships where there is an increase in grace and clear signs of Christian fruit, how are we to interpret this? To suggest it is other than a work of God is to set the word of the NT against the Spirit of the Living God. Put another way, how can we sustain a view which pits the activity of God against the revealed will of God at a certain time?
2. The church engaging with the world with a willingness to develop appropriate moral codes (eg slavery, head covering and worship) for service and faithfulness
The reality of some moral guidance in Scripture is that it supports principles which are expressions of faithful obedience to God. But when that obedience is not any longer expressed via a social norm it cannot effectively do this.
In the NT, it was the practice of Christian women to wear hats to show they were under the authority of a man. It is likely this practice referred to married women. But mutual belonging in relationships (eg marriage) no longer requires a hat to signify anything. They are now purely decorative. However, the teaching of NT is unambiguous. If we appeal to the NT text to support exclusively male/female relationships, it seems inconsistent not to insist on head covering!!
Likewise, some of the cultural and social norms of the day have now been subject to many centuries of development and scrutiny. Where the Bible is ambivalent about slavery and is adamant on the issue of divorce, the church has developed understandings and approaches which attempt to reflect the essence of Biblical teaching recognizing that morality is complex and nuanced. No-one would argue today a Christian view on slavery which is ambivalent and yet that is the position of the NT (Philemon, Col. 3:22). Few would argue that divorce, if regrettable, is on occasions both necessary and the kindest and fairest response to a failure in relationships.
3. The experience of people
The experience of gay people cannot be ignored even if experience is not the first determining factor. Our sisters and brothers are not spiritual misfits or errant or deviant. They find their greatest purpose and identity as disciples in the context of loving another human being who happens to be the same gender. This reality is self-evident to such couples in much the same way in which it is to opposite gendered couples. It is a Christian virtue to listen with respect to what is being described before attempting to press experience through a particular mould with a pre-determined outcome in mind.
We believe in a God of justice and fairness. It is hard to see how the gospel can be good news and truth if it allows injustices which deprive people of certain permissions in law and society which bring joy and happiness.