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How same-sex relationships pose a dilemma for all our churches

By Alf McCreary

Published 10/09/2016

Major issue: the area of same-sex relationships is surrounded by deep emotion on both sides
Major issue: the area of same-sex relationships is surrounded by deep emotion on both sides

Church of England Bishop of Grantham, the Rt Rev Nicholas Chamberlain, has put the ecclesiastical cat among the pigeons by revealing that he is in a gay relationship.

He did so to prevent a Sunday newspaper from outing him, and I admire his courage in doing so.

However, he has given further publicity to a major issue which is facing all the churches, and none of them seems to know how to handle it.

Bishop Chamberlain has also admitted that his relationship with his homosexual partner is celibate, in order to comply with the rules of the Anglican Church, but as someone said to me this week: "What does celibate mean? Is it sharing a bed or holding hands, or what."

It is unfortunate that the Bishop had to talk publicly about his celibacy, and it think it's a private intrusion of the highest order.

Whether people choose to be celibate or not is a matter for themselves, and ought not to be any of our business.

Naturally those who are in same-sex relationships have welcomed the Bishop's public admission about his sexual orientation, but I also acknowledge others who feel that this is yet another step in forcing the Churches to weaken to the gay lobby pressure.

There is much more for the Churches to worry about, including poverty, violence and deprivation, but the constant agitation by homosexuals over same-sex issues refuses to go away. They are doing so very cleverly, and many people have fallen for the concept of 'equal marriage'.

However, this has nothing to do with 'equal' marriage. The Churches rightly maintain that the proper definition of marriage is the union of a man and a women.

The homosexual and lesbian communities have the legal protection of a civil partnership, and the idea of 'equality' is not relevant. The trouble is that the whole area of same-sex relationships is surrounded by deep emotion on both sides, and many people are not listening to what the others have to say.

There is a need for continued patience and dialogue all round. The Anglican Church has made courageous efforts to find some compromise, but so far without success.

One way not to handle it is the line taken by the Presbyterian Church. In this year's General Assembly they voted by a narrow majority, for the second year, not to send the Moderator to next year's General Assembly in Edinburgh because the Scots approved of same-sex clergy in civil partnerships becoming ministers in congregations which approved of such arrangements. This was an unfortunate decision, particularly as the Scottish Moderator was polite enough to attend the General Assembly in Belfast.

The Irish Presbyterians are stuck with the ruling for the coming year, but surely it is not beyond the ability of those with wiser heads in the Church to devise a system where they can more graciously convey their views to their Scottish brothers and sisters.

In general much time and effort will continue to engage the Churches in trying to find a solution to this virtually insoluble problem.

It is a topic which many people find wearying, particularly because of the stridency with which a great deal of the debate takes place. What concerns me about all of this is not the reality of same-sex relationships, but rather the pressure by the gay lobby to change Church teaching on the subject.

The Churches and their members are justified in taking a stand on this issue. Just because something has a carefully cultivated element of public support, this does not necessarily mean that it is right.

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