Thought for the Month (September 2014)

As you may already know, this year's General Assembly (the national policy-making body of the United Reformed Church) spent considerable time in discussion and prayer over the vexed issue of same-sex marriage. However, because our decision-making process is based on the seeking of full consensus, the Assembly was unable to reach agreement on whether or not to snaction the marriage of same-sex couples.

In our respective churches, we will shortly be asked to (i). comment on the One Plus One booklet, published by the URC's Human Sexuality Task Group; (ii). discuss whether we would wish a future meeting of the General Assembly to authorise local church meetings to offer same-sex marriage services; and (iii). submit our views on the whole question of same-sex marriage to the General-Secretary of the URC by 31st March 2015. Following this date, and subject to the outcome of gathering of views, the URC Mission Council may be called upon to call a one-item one-day General Assembly to return to this issue, to be attended by all those who attended this year.

Against that backdrop, may I invite you to ask yourselves and one another (perhaps at your next Church Meeting, opened with the salutation "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of Almighty God !") the following questions, when deciding whether we should sanction (or oppose) same-sex marriage in our churches:-

1). What are your views on same-sex relationships?

2). Do you support (or oppose) civil partnerships and/or marriage for same-sex couples?

3). Should a civil partnership be different (in any way) to the institution of marriage? If so, how?

4). Do you support (or oppose) same-sex couples fostering and/or adopting children?

5). What are your views on relationships (bisexual/heterosexual/ homosexual/transgendered) between couples with different spiritual and/or philosophical beliefs to each other? (Many of you will be aware that, this time last year, I was in a relationship with a chartered accountant called Lee in Bristol who happened to be a Buddhist.)

6). What advice would you give to someone surviving the break-up of a relationship or death of a loved one? Would this differ, in any way, if his/her partner was the same (or opposite) sex to him/her, and/or had different spiritual/philosophical beliefs to their former partner?

7). Are homosexuality and transsexuality "examples of sexual deviancy and social non-conformity" (as my late father claimed they to be) or is our sexuality (whatever it may be) no greater or no lesser part of our beings than our other characteristics (e.g. the colour of our skin, and/or whether or not we have hair on our head), that makes each of us unique?!

8). As a denomination which is open to all and does not discriminate on grounds of sexuality what can, or should, we do (individually and collectively) to support our fellow man (or woman) with different sexual identites to our own?

9). Should support for same-sex marriage be binding on all churches, congregations and clergy either by statute and/or measures passed by the URC General Assembly or a matter of individual conscience, for individual clergy (who may be asked to officiate at such ceremonies) and individual churches (who may be asked to host them)?

Personally speaking as an openly-gay Christian one cannot help feeling the Government's motive for legislating to permit same-sex marriage to be more of a desperate attempt by the Conservative Party to portray itself as being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-friendly in the hope of wooing "the Pink Vote" following the Labour Party's earlier repeal of Section 28 (passed by a previous Conservative Government) which forbade local authorities in England & Wales from promoting homosexuality in schools, rather than from any newly-discovered interest in homosexual equality). I am equally sceptical of the motives for allowing same-sex couples to foster and/or adopt children, believing a child ideally needs a male and female role-model preferably joined together via the institution of marriage.

Above all else, one cannot help feeling there was no need to redefine the institution of marriage as civl partnerships already afford same-sex couples the same inheritance and pension rights as marriage does to heterosexual couples; and that the institution of marriage (as it was tradiationally understood) should have therefore been reserved for heterosexual couples for the purposes of procreation. Now that we are saddled with the legalisation of same-sex marriage, I hope as a denomination rooted in grassroots democracy that we will leave it to individual congregations and individual clergy to decide whether or not to offer same-sex marriage services in our churches.

With Christian love to each and every one of you, always.

Christopher Luke (Magazine Editor)

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Tunbridge Wells United Reformed Church