I wish to speak for a moment in favour of the pastoral provision that we have in front of us. And I speak as someone who has been ordained for nearly 30 years.
In each place that I have ministered there have been faithful members of the congregations in long-term committed same-sex relationships. Some kept it secret out of fear, borne out of painful experience. For some the world has moved on and they can now risk being open in a way they previously dared not. Some have taken leadership roles in churches, and all been much loved members of the communities.
It is observing these relationships, the quality of their commitment and love, that has convinced me that we need to look more deeply at the Biblical texts. I think of two men in a former parish and the naturalness and tenderness of their love. I think of two women, one of whom told me about how they met and she knew in that moment that no man would ever make her feel as the other did. This was who she was and not some random lifestyle choice. Many have spoken about attempts to ‘heal’ them, ‘convert’ them; of being shunned and driven out, rejected and told that they were an ‘evil influence’.
The pastoral, how life really is, always makes us ask deeper questions about the Bible, not thinner ones. This debate is not about binning the Bible, it is about going into it far more deeply than mere surface appearance; and looking at what it does say and what it does not. It will not do to perpetuate the narrative that some are faithful Bible-believing Christians and other are ignoring its difficult bits. I am a Bible believing Christian too. The Bible is complex and we need to look at its deeper narrative than just take phrases and texts in isolation. It is a rich tapestry of writings and developing thought and it can surprise us deeply with its grace, with what it can say to a different social context. Many of the so called ‘clobber texts’, those used to condemn, are much more complex than they are often said to be.
I do not expect there is anyone here who has not long-since thought deeply about these matters. Former Archbishop and Bishop of Monmouth, Rowan Williams’, wrote over 30 years ago in his 1989 lecture ‘The Body’s Grace’ about the Biblical traditions and concepts of love, of grace, of commitment and how we live in that grace, and how these open up a deeper window onto same-sex partnerships for Christians. There have been forests of printed works by medics and psychologists expounding on developments in understanding. What was not on offer in years past was a faithful, committed union of same-sex persons. I have felt for a long time that what we need is a way of recognising and promoting stability and fidelity.
This liturgy is a pastoral provision. Pastoral is always about how we care in the Gospel. If we vote against this provision we will say quite unequivocally that same-sex relationships have no place in the church. They are not blessed, they are not compatible with a Christian way of life, with being disciples of Christ. We will be saying that they are a perversion, something shameful, a distortion of what it means to be created in the image of God and to be someone who seeks to grow in the likeness of Christ. I do not believe this position is right and came to this conclusion a very long time ago. There are hate-filled voices who use religious language to justify their abuse and even violence against same-sex attracted people. Read some of the abuse received by the broadcaster and priest Revd Richard Coles and you will see it displayed for all its ugliness.
To vote this down will be pastorally damaging and missionally destructive. There is an alternative way, we can turn rejection into welcome, transform the encounter as Sandra Millar spoke about earlier this morning. I have people awaiting the outcome of this vote.
Be under no illusions we stand in a place where the world we aim to speak to is ahead of us, not least among the younger generations. To vote it down also gives amunition, however unintentionally, to the hatred, continuing to justify it even if only in the background.
The discussion about marriage, while it is related, is a different one and not the one in front of us. This is about relationship and how people can be enabled to live consecrated lives in God’s grace, where unions formed to be faithful and stable can be affirmed for their reflection of God’s love. That is what I believe them to be and that is why we need this pastoral liturgical provision.
Members of this Governing Body, I urge you to vote in favour of this Bill.
Text in favour of proposal to permit in the Church in Wales a Service of Blessing following a Civil Partnership or Marriage between two people of the same sex for speech at Governing Body of the Church in Wales, Monday 6th September 2021
The vote was passed by two thirds majority. Laity 49 for, 10 against, 1 abstention; clergy 28 for, 12 against, 2 abstentions; bishops 4 for.