Debating same-sex partnerships and Christianity

By: Savi Hensman
In recent years, the relationship between faith and sexuality has been much debated in church and society. Growing numbers of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) Christians no longer hide their identity, and many heterosexual churchgoers too are openly accepting. However, some church leaders and congregations are strongly opposed to celebrating same-sex partnerships, and there have been threats of schism in several denominations over the issue.

In the UK, disagreement over several questions has been widely reported in the media. Are same-sex partnerships against God’s will? Should partnered LGBT people be chosen as elders or ordained as priests or bishops? Should civil partnerships be celebrated in religious buildings, if the faith communities in charge of these are happy for this to happen? Should the term ‘marriage’ be reserved for the relationship between husband and wife?

I believe such debates can take place without causing unnecessary divisions in local and faith communities. But this requires people to be willing to value and listen to one another and avoid dubious assumptions.

Scripture and tradition: views differ

To begin with, the disagreement among Christians is not a clear-cut division between those who value Scripture and tradition and others who put reason and experience first. This is a frequent error among both opponents and champions of greater inclusion, who sometimes write off those they disagree with as either ‘liberal’ followers of secular thinking or ‘conservatives’ stuck in an irrelevant past.

To begin with, even theologically ‘liberal’ supporters of equality of LGBT people are often guided by values grounded in the Bible and tradition, in particular the example of, and relationship with, Christ. Though some might be rightly criticised for not arguing their case rigorously enough and acknowledging the wisdom of the past, many are more ‘biblical’ and ‘traditional’ than even they might admit!

And some who call for full acceptance put forward arguments that are grounded in deep appreciation of the Bible and the beliefs and practices of Christians through the ages, which are varied and sometimes complex.

Perhaps in reaction to the tendency during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries increasingly to question received beliefs, and rapid technological and social change, some Christians have tended to treat views on LGBT partnership as a test of one’s general theological beliefs. While church positions on all kinds of other issues have shifted back and forth without the sky falling down, this topic is given a deep symbolic significance, the test of whether fellow-Christians are ‘sound’ or ‘unsound’.

But every Sunday, throughout the world, Christians are getting through services without any reference to the theology of sexuality! Whether they are singing the Gloria and Creed in a more ‘traditional’ liturgy or praise songs, or are part of emergent networks with experimental forms of worship, the focus is actually quite different.

Favouring opposite-sex partnership is not necessarily homophobic

There is also a widespread but, I believe, mistaken view that anyone who upholds human rights for LGBT people should automatically be in favour of equal marriage in society and the church. Those who believe that male-female partnerships should be privileged in some way are not all homophobic (though some undoubtedly are), and homophobia cannot be justified… (Read more here: Ekklesia)

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