On Wednesday this week I was part of a meeting covened to reflect on the Anglican Church’s position in relation to the marriage of couples in same-gender relationships.

We gathered in a circle. We talked; we listened. We were polite and respectful. No one shouted. Everyone was calm. We did not argue. These are all good things.

I do not imagine anyone’s mind was changed by the words that were spoken in the 90 minutes we were together. The point was not to try to change minds. The point was to keep the conversation going, keep hearts open, and to discern a way forward together as a community of faith with a divided opinion.

The simple fact of continuing to be in conversation is no mean accomplishment. We are engaged in a process. The process of human communication and decision-making is complex, complicated, often painful, and tiresomely slow.

The problem is that this process gone on in the church for at least twenty years and Canadian society as a whole settled the matter a decade ago. I know churches move slowly and when the issue is contentious, we are understandably and justifiably cautious.

But the matter under discussion here is not merely an issue. We are discussing the lives and relationships of real people with real feelings. We are talking about people who have experienced genuine human love in same-gender intimacy, people who have found a life-giving relationship with a person to whom they want to commit the rest of their lives. And, despite the fact that we live in a country in which such an arrangement has been legal for more than a decade, we in the church continue to tell these people that their marriage cannot be sacramental.

This is not a vague abstract academic discussion about theological principles or ecclesiastical polity.

This is Bill and Tom who, because their gender is “wrong”, are refused the right, within the faith community in which they grew up and in which they express their adult faith, to affirm their loving life-long commitment to live together in exclusive intimacy.

This is about Mary and Susan who want, without feeling that their marriage is second class, to stand before their church community and pledge to raise their children in the Christian faith.

This is about Fred who would love to attend church but feels compelled to stay away because his sister and her wife would feel desperately betrayed by Tom’s association with a community that will happily marry Tom to his non-Christian girlfriend but refuses to recognize his sister’s marriage as a valid sacramental expression of God’s love.

These are people we live with; they are not vague ecclesiastical structures. Bill, Tom, Mary, Susan, and Fred are looking to the church to be what we say we are – a place of unconditional welcome, acceptance, and love for all people who are not intentionally seeking to harm others.

These are not people who are anymore sinful or broken than I know myself to be. They are not setting out to destroy the church, ruin the institution of marriage, or undermine the moral basis of society. They are people who desire to express their love for one another in the context of the faith community and seek to celebrate their commitment within their faith community.

The only thing we are likely to accomplish by continuing to stand in the way of the inevitability of social progress is to reinforce the dominant culture’s view of our complete irrelevance. What right do we have to hold ourselves up a a prophetic voice when people who genuinely seek to express their love in our midst, are forbidden the rites of the church?

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(soon after this post appeared, I received the following comment which, with the author’s permission and a few changes to protect the identity of those involved, I add here)

I just wanted to say thank you for your stance on today’s blog “Talking about same-sex marriage.” I am heart broken right now for a friend of mine who recently lost his partner to a serious illness. The shock and grief he is experiencing is in no way lessened due to the fact they are a same-sex couple. Another friend of mine was thrilled to marry his life partner recently, in a beautiful celebration.

I went through the “coming out” process with both these men, and both of them contemplated taking their own lives at one point rather than living out their truth. If you have ever been through this with anyone, you know that it is not a “lifestyle choice” but exactly who they are, I would say “who god made them to be.”

I have been really struggling with how I can attend a church where this is even still part of the discussion. I am so relieved by your perspective on this subject.

On a funny note, I know an elderly woman who always says she is surprised that “gays” would even want to get married anymore after the mess we heterosexuals have made of it! Enough said.

 

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