When I was in New Zealand earlier this year I had the privilege of leading a seminar for clergy and lay leaders on same sex relationships. At the time I detected an atmosphere pervading the discussion which I hadn’t found in this country at the time. Even the most conservative present were primarily concerned to understand how I as an evangelical understood that the scriptures encouraged me to support my gay and lesbian friends in their relationships.
A similar spirit of open enquiry and desire for unity within the church characterised the recent meeting of the General Synod there. The doctrinal divisions are just as wide there as here, yet they came to a common mind on the way forward. There is still a long way to go but all agreed to look for a way that allowed those that held to the traditional view of marriage being solely for one man and one woman in life-long union would continue to be able to believe and practice only that as fully faithful members of the church. Those who believe that God wants to bless all monogamous life long relationships, irrespective of gender would also have a similarly secure place and be able to bless same sex unions.
This is a remarkable achievement of a loving journey together especially as we realise that some of the South Pacific countries within that Church have legal systems which outlaw the practice of homosexuality. But they are a church which from the beginning has been committed (variously at different stages through their 200 year history) to give equal and honourable place to different ethnic backgrounds. – notably to indigenous Maori and to white settlers – as well as embracing bilingualism.
At times the life blood of the Church of England seems governed more by the spirit of the Act of Uniformity than by such a spirit of journeying together with difference and ‘disagreeing well’ to use our own Archbishop’s concept. We can too easily demonise those who believe differently from us.
On social media I have noticed some who strongly support gay marriage decrying the Church of New Zealand for reaffirming the traditional doctrine of marriage. Hopefully we who support the fully inclusive view of relationships can learn to live with traditional views as we hope they can accommodate our views. There are a couple of reasons why I support their affirmation of the traditional view. Firstly it recognises the reality that there are those who will not be able to move forward and give space to others to celebrate same sex unions if they are not allowed to continue to believe and practice what they hold as dear to them. But secondly I want passionately to affirm marriage between a man and a woman as a basic good within God’s created order. I see it there in the scriptures and I knew the reality of it throughout my own married life. In no way do I wish to deny the God-given intention and blessing of such a wonderful institution. What I believe in is a widening of the main paradigm of marriage (which I believe to be implicit in creation) to include all those who find the person who is their natural life partner to be one of the same gender – for God says to all, gay or straight that it is not good to be alone, (unless we are given a vocation to celibacy, a calling specifically envisaged within the New Testament). I believe same sex marriages too are equally blessed by God and can also provide a wonderful nurturing environment for children.
The Church in New Zealand has begun a journey so that it can give such freedom and fulfilment across the church – though it will be variously practiced in different parishes, dioceses and countries. I hope that we can approach the whole issue with a similar degree of love, acceptance and desire for truth and unity – as we engage together over these coming months in our facilitated discussions.
I have only touched on the main points of the NZ motion – the full text can be found here –