Belfast Telegraph

Church in no-win situation as the gay marriage debate rumbles on

By Alf McCreary

This week the subject of sex and gender raised its head again when the Church of England General Synod narrowly rejected a bishops' report affirming the Christian teaching that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and not between the same sex.

The result was a bit like that of a football match with supporters on both sides taking comfort from the outcome.

Members of the Christian LGBT group welcomed it as a step forward, as did the The Times - somewhat to my surprise. However, a member of Christian Concern and Christian Legal Centre said that the result "should not be read as a victory for the LGBT activists".

The Bishop of Norwich the Rt Rev Graham James outlined the dilemma facing all Churches when he said: "If we are heard as lacking in love, the Gospel will not get a hearing, yet if we are unfaithful to the teaching we have received, we are in danger of preaching a false Gospel."

In other words the Church is in a no-win situation. The latest developments in the Church of England , following a three-year process that had attempted to solve this most divisive issue, merely showed how difficult it is, if not impossible, to satisfy both sides.

People in Northern Ireland might think that the Church of England's latest decision on gay marriage has nothing to do with them, but they would be wrong.

This is one of the most difficult issues facing mainstream churches the world over. With the exception of the Roman Catholic Church - it is still firmly against same-sex marriage and gay ordination, despite the fact that many of its clergy and laity are gay and lesbian.

The Catholic Church's attitude is the easier to live with. Its overwhelming opposition to LGBT issues stifles open debate, and it presents on the surface at least a united opposition to change.

The Anglican Church has bravely attempted an open discussion on these issues, but so far has made little progress.

The Windsor Report of several years ago, which was chaired by the then Archbishop of Armagh Robin Eames, failed to heal the split between countries north and south within the Anglican Communion.

In the recent past the Church of Ireland held a special weekend residential meeting to try to resolve the issue, but also made little progress.

The Presbyterian Church, as I have noted more than once recently, is handling this issue quite badly, and has rudely refused twice to send its Moderator to even talk to the Scottish General Assembly because the Scots allow people in same-sex civil relationships to act as ministers and deacons if their local churches approve.

The Methodists in Ireland adhere to the Christian teaching on marriage, though so far they have managed to keep below the radar of controversy on this issue.

Despite the complexities, it boils down to one simple question - do you approve of your Church granting a Christian blessing to two men or two women having consensual sex in a long-term loving relationship?

If you do, then you vote for same-sex marriage. If not, you vote against a Church blessing on such an arrangement.

The trouble is that the LGBT lobby is cleverly depicting Church traditionalists as "unloving bigots" simply because they do not get their way, and often behave as spoilt children.

The gay lobby is also loudly campaigning for "equal marriage", despite the reassurances provided by civil partnerships. However this has nothing to do with "equal" marriage. It is another way of trying to bully the traditionalists into bending Christian teaching to suit the LGBT lobby.

Sadly, these divisions are not going to be healed any time soon, and the fact that something is thought to be "progressive" does not mean necessarily that it is right.

Those who oppose same-sex marriage in a Church should not feel guilty about doing so, but they - as we all - should behave with courtesy and kindness to people who hold a very different point of view.

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