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Blessing of same-sex unions

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Blessing of same-sex unions

The blessing of same-sex marriages and same-sex unions is an issue about which Christian churches are in ongoing disagreement. These disagreements are primarily centered on the interpretation of various scripture passages related to homosexuality, and in some churches on varying understandings of homosexuality in terms of psychology, genetics and other scientific data. While various Church bodies have widely varying practices and teachings, individual Christians of every major tradition are involved in practical (orthopraxy) discussions about how to respond to the issue.

Contents

Terminology

Theological differences between support and opposition

Views of those who support same-sex unions and/or marriages

Those Christians and Churches which support blessing of same-sex unions do so from several perspectives:

  • It is an affirmative good that stands alongside straight marriage and committed monastic celibacy as a revelation of God's self in the world.[1]
  • The logical coherence of the core Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection and the Ascension is improved through the integration of gay marriage into the Christian conception of marriage.[1]
  • Our understanding of marriage as a metaphor of Christ’s relationship with the Church is strengthened by assimilating gay marriage into that metaphor.[1]
  • Some scholars maintain that scripture in the original languages contains no prohibition of homosexuality, but does record same-sex marriage.[2] "But if we take a closer look, reading the scripture in the original Hebrew and Greek, we discover that God never condemned homosexuality, and that same-sex marriage existed in Bible times." [3] "To tell a homosexual that the Bible is Good News, (but that) it says that their ability to love on a one to one basis (mate level) means they are sinful and perverted in God's eyes is a gross contradiction in terms. What's more, God is not saying this to gay people. God's Word is this: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting live. (John 3:16, KJV). And that is the Good News for modern gays." [4]
  • The biblic references to homosexuality were uttered in the context of promiscuous same-sex practices of Hellenistic cultures (Paul) and cultures surrounding the people of Israel (Deut). This kind of sex without love was often practiced in lieu of going to female prostitutes, also by heterosexual men. It is a discriminating misconception of our times to transfer that prohibition of such promiscuous practice without love to what we discuss here: durable, long term, choosy same-sex unions.[5]

Churches favorable to same-sex union and/or same-sex marriage

Episcopalian polities

Anglicanism

Anglican Church of Canada

The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada in 2004 voted to defer a decision of same-sex blessings until 2007, but also to "Affirm the integrity and sanctity of committed adult same-sex relationships".[6] In 2007, a resolution enabling diocesan bishops to authorize the blessing of same-gender unions narrowly failed, but a statement adopted by General Synod in 2010 "acknowledge[d] diverse pastoral practices as dioceses respond to their own missional contexts,"[need quotation to verify]effectively devolving decisions about blessings to local dioceses.

The Anglican Church of Canada does not distinguish theologically between a marriage solemnized in church and a civil marriage subsequently blessed by a priest. Currently, three dioceses – New Westminster, Niagara, and Montréal – extend the blessing of civil marriages to same-sex couples. Procedures for blessings are in development in Ottawa and Toronto. In 2010 the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada voted to study a proposal to bless only those marriages that have been civilly registered, even where marriage is reserved to heterosexual couples, abrogating the role of clergy as delegates of the provincial registrar altogether.

Diocese of New Westminster

Blessing of same-sex unions became a subject of media attention in the Vancouver area in May, 2003 when Bishop Michael Ingham of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster announced that he had given priests in some parishes the authority to bless gay and lesbian unions.[6]

Bishop Ingham issued a rite of blessing of people in committed same-sex unions on May 23, 2003.[7]

This was done in response to requests by three consecutive Diocesan Synods, culminating in June, 2002. The diocese considers that the blessing of same-sex couples is one part of their work of community outreach and care for parishioners. The blessing is a way that some priests use to ensure that homosexual people who seek to be included in the Anglican Communion feel safe and respected.[8]

The blessing is a “pastoral tool”.[8] Some priests in some parishes (six out of 80) bless permanent faithful relationships. Permission is granted by the bishop only when a priest requests it, and a parish has decided by majority vote, that they want to be a place of blessing. Ingham says of the practice:

I insist only that those on all sides of the issue respect one another and that everyone should maintain the order of the church. Our goal in the Anglican Church in the Greater Vancouver area is to be a church that accommodates differences.[8]
Diocese of Niagara

In 2009, the Diocese of Niagara in southwestern Ontario became the second diocese to authorize the blessing of same-sex unions when Bishop Michael Bird approved a gender-neutral rite for the blessing of civil marriages. The rite will be permitted for use in consultation with the diocesan bishop beginning September 1, 2009.[9]

Diocese of Ottawa

In 2009, the Bishop of the Diocese of Ottawa authorized the blessing of same-sex unions in a single parish: the Church of St John the Evangelist. Rather than issuing a specific rite, Bishop Chapman authorized an existing rite already in use for the blessing of civil marriages between opposite-sex couples.[10]

Diocese of Montreal

In 2010, the Rt Rev'd Barry Clarke, Bishop of Montreal, authorized the blessing of same-sex unions. He issued a rite and guidelines to permit the blessing of civil marriages regardless of the gender of the spouses. The rite had been adapted from an existing rite already in use for the blessing of civil marriages between opposite-sex couples.[11]

Diocese of Toronto

A limited number of parishes in the Diocese of Toronto have been authorized to bless same-sex unions. Rather than crafting a specific rite of blessing, the Archbishop of Toronto issued guidelines setting rules and restrictions on blessings. Blessings must not resemble too closely a marriage rite, with the specific proviso that no form of blessing used for marriage in the official rites of the Anglican Church of Canada or other parts of the Anglican Communion may be used with same-sex couples.[12]

Episcopal Church of the USA

At its 2006 General Convention the Episcopal Church rejected a resolution allowing the solemnization of same-sex marriages in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is recognized by civil law.

In July 2009, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America adopted a resolution allowing individual bishops to choose whether or not to allow the blessing of same-sex unions within their bishoprics. The resolution was seen as a compromise between those who call for an official rite for the blessing of same-sex unions, and those who oppose any recognition of such unions. However, the resolution also left the door open for the creation of such an official rite in the future, calling on bishops to "collect and develop theological and liturgical resources" for possible use for such a purpose at the 2012 General Convention.[13][14]

On July 9, 2012, the Episcopal Church passed a resolution approving an official liturgy for blessing same-sex unions. This liturgy, called “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” offers a blessing close to marriage, but the church is clear that it is not marriage. According to Rev. Ruth Meyers, chairwoman of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, “There are a lot of similarities. The couple give their consent to being joined in lifelong commitment, they exchange vows. There’s the possibility of exchanging rings, or, for couples who have been together for some time and already have rings, to have their rings blessed. There is a blessing over the couple. But we’re clear at this point that this is not a marriage because the Episcopal Church is not in agreement in its understanding of marriage.” The resolution enables priests to bestow the church’s blessing on gay couples even if they live in a state where same-sex marriage is illegal; however, bishops who do not approve of the liturgy can prohibit their priests from using it. The resolution is provisional and will be reviewed in three years.[15]

Old Catholic, Reformed Catholic Churches and Liberal Catholic Church

Four churches of the Union of Utrecht, which shares full communion with the Anglican Churches through the Bonn Agreement, also permit such blessings: namely, Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands (the mother church) permits blessings of gay civil marriages, and the Christian Catholic Church of Switzerland,[16] and Catholic Diocese of the Old Catholics in Germany permit blessings of homosexual civil unions. The Old Catholic Church of Austria also permits such blessings. Because of this (as well as the ordination of women), the Polish National Catholic Church (USA) seceded from the Union in 2004.

Many smaller denominations, such as the Eucharistic Catholic Church, the Old Catholic Church (in Sweden)[17] and TOCCUSA[18] also solemnize same-sex marriages.

Report of the Lambeth Commission

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, requested the Lambeth Commission on Communion to report to him by September, 2004. The Commission was asked to consider the legal and theological implications flowing from decisions related to homosexuality that were apparently threatening the communion, including decisions relating to the blessing of same-sex unions,

In its report, subsequently known as the Windsor Report, the Commission put forward the following general findings:[19]

The Commission regrets that without attaching sufficient importance to the interests of the wider Communion:
  • The 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church (USA) declared that 'local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions'[80]
  • The Diocese of New Westminster approved the use of public Rites for the Blessing of same-sex unions.
  • The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada issued a statement affirming the integrity and sanctity of committed same-sex relationships.

The Commission called for a moratorium on the blessing of same-sex unions, and recommended that bishops who have authorised such rites in the United States and Canada "be invited to express regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached by such authorisation." The report was roundly condemned by the gay community and progressive theologians for its partiality.[20]

Lutheran and Reformed Churches

The Lutheran Church of Sweden has performed full same-sex marriages beginning since November 2009. It previously blessed same-sex couples using a different ceremony.[21]

In November 2011, the Government of Denmark announced that there will be same-sex religious marriage available in the Church of Denmark as part of the broader legislative move to recognise same sex marriage[22] A similar debate is currently underway in the Church of Iceland following legislation to permit same sex marriage in Iceland.[23]

Argentina

The Danish Church in Buenos Aires performs marriages between same-sex couples.[24] In late 2006, the tabernacle performed the first religious wedding between a lesbian couple in Latin America.[25]

Austria
Canada

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada has permitted the blessing of same-sex unions since July 2011. The Lutheran Church–Canada does not permit the blessing of same-sex unions. The LC-C stance is consonant with that of its American sister church, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

The governing council of The United Church of Canada welcomes same-sex marriage, but individual United Church congregations are responsible for making decisions locally. Marriages are performed with the permission and under the responsibility of the local congregation.[27]

Denmark

The Church of Denmark (in full communion with the Anglican Churches of the British Isles through the Porvoo Communion) performs blessings of same-sex couples.[28]

Germany

In addition, some Lutheran, United and Reformed churches within the Protestant Church in Germany[29]

Iceland

In Church of Iceland blessing of same-sex couples are allowed.

Netherlands
Norway
Philippines
  • Metropolitan Community Church is an Ecumenical Christian Church for ALL people with a special ministry to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders. It welcomes everyone with the full love of Christ Jesus and walk with its people in its journey towards equality and social justice. Its affiliations in The Philippines are the Following MCC Quezon City, (1) MCC Makati, (2) MCC Metro Baguio, (3) MCC Olongapo, and (4)MCC Marikina.
  • Ekklesia Tou Theou (Church of God), (Cavite, Philippines)is also conducting same sex unions in the Philippines.
Sweden

The Church of Sweden performs blessings of same-sex couples.[28] Following the legalization of same-sex marriage in Sweden in May 2009, the Church of Sweden decided in October 2009 to start conducting same-sex weddings in their churches.[45]

United States

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America began officially allowing blessings of same-sex couples in late August, 2009—though there were no explicit prohibitions before this point. Studies and dialogue had been under way during the past decade and continued until the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, during which the ELCA passed a resolution by a vote of 619–402 reading “Resolved, that the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.”[46] That Assembly also affirmed that sexual orientation, in itself, is not to be a qualification or exclusion for ordained ministry.[47] As marriage policy is a congregation matter in the ELCA, same-sex partnership blessings and marriages had been performed by many Lutheran pastors prior to the 2009 actions. In 1993 the ELCA Conference of Bishops stated it did not approve of such ceremonies, but made no comment about same-sex marriage. (The Conference of Bishops is an advisory body of the ELCA.)[48]

Lutheran congregations which so choose may register their public affirmation for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people may register with Lutherans Concerned/North America, a church advocacy group, as "Reconciling in Christ."[49] This registry includes not only congregations, but synods, organizations, Lutheran colleges, campus ministries, social ministry institutions, Lutheran health care organizations, campus ministries, church colleges, regional synods and districts, and other groups which openly welcome gays and lesbians in their communities. The national Lutheran organization which advocates for equality for gays and lesbians inside and outside the church is known as "Lutherans concerned North America".[50] Founded in 1974 Local chapters are found throughout the USA and Canada.

Presbyterian polities

Church of Scotland

The 2006 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland voted that blessing civil partnerships should be a matter of conscience for individual ministers. Conservatives in the Kirk argued that the reform would have to be ratified by local presbyteries.[51] When the 45 Presbyteries were consulted, only nine voted in favour of allowing ministers to bless civil-partnered (same-sex) couples, and the remaining 36 were against the innovation. Therefore, it was defeated, and is due to be addressed again at the 2013 General Assembly. At its 2011 General Assembly, the Church of Scotland voted to allow openly gay and lesbian Ministers and Diaconal ministers who live in civil unions, provided that they were already ordained and had declared their sexuality before the Scott Rennie case on 23 May 2009. There remains, however, a Moratorium (legal term for a ban) on accepting those in same-sex relationships for training, ordination or induction into the Ministry or Diaconate, which may be lifted by the General Assembly of 2013.[52] When asked to respond to the Scottish Government's consultation on same-sex marriage, the Church's Legal Questions Committee submitted a response which upheld a biblical and traditional understanding of marriage as a voluntary lifelong union between one man and one woman (December 2011). After this, the Church's first openly gay minister, Revd. Scott Rennie, claimed to the press that such ostracisation of homosexuals will empty churches.[53]

Presbyterian Church (USA)

The Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) has ruled that same-sex ceremonies are not forbidden, as long as they are not considered to be the same as marriage services.[54] The subject continues to be a matter of some debate. In 2000, the General Assembly approved the following language for the church Constitution: “Scripture and our Confessions teach that God’s intention for all people is to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or in chastity in singleness. Church property shall not be used for, and church officers shall not take part in conducting, any ceremony or event that pronounces blessing or gives approval of the church or invokes the blessing of God upon any relationship that is inconsistent with God’s intention as expressed in the preceding sentence.” The presbyteries of the PC(USA) however, did not ratify the language by a majority vote in the following year, so this language was not added.

Connexional polities

Methodism

In 2005, the Methodist Church of Great Britain voted to allow a local option for ministers who wish to perform same-sex blessings, with a Church spokesperson stating that “We have decided, with the law changing in December, we as a Church need to provide guidance to our ministers, who will be allowed to take an individual decision as to whether or not they want to bless gay couples.”[55] However, in 2006, the Church reversed itself and prohibited the blessing of same-sex unions on or off church property.[56] Ministers are still at liberty to offer informal, private prayers for such couples.

The United Methodist Church currently prohibits celebrations of same-sex unions by its elders and in its churches.[57] However, in May 2011 a resolution was passed in the Baltimore-Washington annual conference which seeks to change the church’s Book of Discipline to be amended “to allow pastors to perform same-sex marriages and ceremonies in member churches in jurisdictions where legislatures already have approved gay marriage laws, such as the District.” A vote at the General Conference in 2012 is still required.[58]

Congregational polities

Baptist Churches

The Alliance of Baptists has in the past supported the legal right to marry;[59] its position on corollary church services is unclear.

Quakers

The first recorded same sex marriage by a Quaker meeting in the US was in 1987. In January, 1987, Morningside Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends became the first Quaker Meeting to take a same-sex marriage (using the word marriage, rather than "commitment ceremony") under its care with the marriage of John Bohne and William McCann on May 30, 1987.[60]

Same-sex couples have been married under the care of many "unprogrammed" Quaker meetings in Canada since 1992.[61] In Australia, Canberra Quaker meeting celebrated the marriage of two gay men on 15 April 2007.[62][63][64][65] Australian Quakers are prepared to celebrate same-sex marriages despite the lack of legal recognition.[66] See Quaker views of homosexuality

In 2009, the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Great Britain, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man decided to authorise same-sex marriage, having previously performed blessings for same-sex civil partnerships.[67][68] In Australia, the 2010 Yearly Meeting called on the Federal Government to amend the Australian Marriage Act to give full and equal legal recognition to all marriages, regardless of the sexual orientation and gender of the partners. Australlian Quakers had been blessing same-sex unions since 1994.[69] The Canada Yearly Meeting stated in 2003 that Canadian Quakers "support the right of same-sex couples to a civil marriage and the extension of the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex couples." [70] Since then a number of same-sex marriages have been performed at Canadian Monthly Meetings. In New Zealand, the Aotearoa Quaker Meeting in 1995 pledged “to seek formal ways of recognizing a variety of commitments, including gay and lesbian partnerships.” [71]

United Church of Christ

Varies by church. The General Synod of the United Church of Christ has passed a resolution affirming "equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender and declares that the government should not interfere with couples regardless of gender who choose to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of legally recognized marriage".[72] At its 25th General Synod in 2005, the UCC passed the resolution, "Equal Marriage Rights for All".[73] However, the polity of the UCC is congregationalist, so of each church has a different way of operating. (The General Synod does not have authority over Local Churches to determine or enforce denominational doctrine)[74]

Canadian Unitarian Council

Canadian Unitarian churches perform same-sex marriage as well.[75]

Unitarian Universalist Association

Unitarian Universalists perform same-sex marriages, and have supported marriage equality since 1973,[76] reaffirming with a formal resolution in 1996.[77]

Metropolitan Community Church

The predominantly gay Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches performs same-sex marriages.[78]

Mennonite Church

The Mennonite Church in the Netherlands offers marriage to both heterosexual and same-gender couples.[79]

Pentecostalism

Most Pentecostal churches do not affirm gay marriage. [80]

The Affirming Pentecostal Church International and the Global Alliance of Affirming Apostolic Pentecostals are US based denominations of Oneness Pentecostals that will perform weddings for both heterosexual and same-sex couples.[81]

Mixed-polity and other polity

Moravian Church (North America)

The Moravian Church in North America's Northern Province has passed several liberal resolutions on homosexuality, but has not yet been able to "address the issue of a marriage covenant between homosexual persons".[82]

Swedenborgianism

The Swedenborgian Church of North America allows ministers to choose whether to perform same-sex marriages.[83]

Uniting Church in Australia

In Australia the Uniting Church in Australia allows blessing of same-sex unions.[84]

Protestant Church in the Netherlands

The Protestant Church in the Netherlands has chosen not to address marriage in its post-merger canon law; however, the by-laws of the church allow for the blessing of relationships outside of marriage.[85]

United Church

Due to its "local option", a number of congregations and ministers of the United Church of Canada (a merger of Congregationalist, Presbyterian and Methodist congregations in Canada following presbyterian polity) officiate at same-sex marriages, which are fully legal in Canada.

New Apostolic Church

Since 2011 in Europe the New Apostolic Church allows blessings in a prayer for same-sex unions.[86]

Debate on the meaning of 'Blessing'

By nature of this religious understanding of marriage, when churches use the term "Union" in a same-sex blessing ceremony, they may or may not be blessing this union in an equivalent way as they would bless a "marriage" as opposed to blessing the commitment between the two individuals. Some Christian bodies are exploring the manner in which same-sex couples could or should be blessed (or not) by the church.[87] Because same-sex religious unions are not widespread and because civil unions do not require religious officiation, documentation of the incidence of church blessing of same-sex couples is difficult.

Roman Catholic Church

During the 1990s, a discussion began in the Roman Catholic Church about blessings for same-sex unions. In the Roman Catholic Diocese of Aachen in Germany, five same-sex unions received a blessing in German town of Mönchengladbach.[88] In 2007, one same-sex union received a blessing in German town of Wetzlar in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Limburg.[89]

Churches with no policy on the unions

The United Church of Christ has no formal rules requiring or prohibiting solemnization of wedding vows, but owing to its Congregational polity and constitution,[90] each Local Church is "autonomous in the management of its own affairs" and has the "right to operate in the way customary to it"; it cannot be "abridge[d] or impair[ed]" by other UCC agencies, and so each congregation has the freedom to bless or prohibit any kind of marriage or relationship in whatever way they discern appropriate. Thus a congregation may choose at their discretion to solemnise same-sex marriages, to bless same-sex unions, or refuse to perform any ceremony for same-sex couples, or refuse to perform any kind of marriage for anyone. There are no available statistics on how many UCC congregations solemnize same-sex relationships, but there are documented cases where this happens[91] and documented cases where congregations have taken stands against marriage between same-gender couples.[92]

See also

References

Further reading

  • The Diocese of New Westminster's Information Website on Same-Sex Blessings
  • Text of the Liturgy
  • Anglican Communion – On public Rites of Blessing of same-sex unions
  • The Episcopal Church USA General Convention 2003 – Publications
  • (German) Evangelical Church in Hesse
  • Decision for blessing in Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northelbia (German)

External links

  • The Ongoing Struggle within the Episcopal Church USA: ordination of openly gay bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions
  • Statement from the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire on the blessing of same-sex Unions
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