Blessings abounding

I’ve been at a couple of blessings of same-sex couples recently – as a guest rather than as someone celebrating the liturgy. Neither of the recent ceremonies that I’ve been at have been in Scotland. It is more clear to me than ever that this is  global movement and the push towards allowing gay couples to celebrate weddings is an idea whose time has come.

At the most recent of these ceremonies, the local bishop was presiding over the blessing and one of the people being blessed was a rector. The church was packed full of people as friends and parishioners gathered for an utterly joyous occasion. As has been my experience in Scotland, one of the most extraordinary things about same-sex blessings is how unextraordinary they are. People often comment that they never thought they would live to see the day when such a thing could happen in church but then when you ask them, they say that they think it is just great.

The churches are still tying themselves in ever more complicated knots over how same-sex couples tie the knot though.

At one of the ceremonies that I was at, in a part of the world where gay couples can legally get married, I went to a ceremony in a church hall that was entirely secular and conducted by a marriage registrar which was followed by the entire party processing along a corridor and up a flight of stairs to the church sanctuary where another ceremony – a service of blessing took place. Though it was lovely, it was a bit silly to have two ceremonies in different parts of the same building and hard not to feel the injustice of gay people being treated not merely differently but differently in a banal kind of way that brought no credit to marriage, church nor God in her Glory, Might, Majesty and Power.

At the other service, no legal marriage was possible so the church has devised a liturgy entirely separate from marriage but which effectively does the same thing, with vows, readings, rings and all the trimmings. My question there, is what is going to happen when straight couples come along who like the blessing ceremony and want that rather than a legal wedding. It will happen, and what will the church say then? “Terribly sorry, this isn’t for the likes of you….”

I also found myself thinking that it is now more than time for our bishops in Scotland to review their policy of not attending any blessing services. It always was a disgraceful policy – effectively making their gay friends and colleagues appear to be their dirty little secret rather than people they were proud of. Saying you are proud in private and sending a nice card won’t do and speaks more of pecksniffian pomp than gospel values.

None of this is going to be sorted until same-sex couples have the same rights to wed as straight couples of course. For my money, in Scotland, that should mean doing away with Civil Partnerships and simply opening marriage up to same-sex couples. It is the right thing to do and equality through parliamentary decision, plebiscite or legal challenge is coming in so many jurisdictions around the world one way or another that we might as well take a deep breath and get our ecclesiastical house in order so as not to do things which make us, the gospel and Christ himself appear foolish, silly or just plain cruel.

I was intrigued by Andrew Brown’s Guardian article this weekend -

His conclusion is the most striking thing in the piece:

Conservative evangelicals in England have dreamed or hoped for 20 years that England could be brought back to a Nigerian or Ugandan view of homosexuality. It’s not going to happen, and it’s not going to happen within the Church of England, either. That’s true whoever becomes archbishop. The sexuality wars are coming to an end, and the liberals have won.

Someone asked me on twitter whether or not I thought that was an overly optimistic view. Actually, I think Andrew Brown is bang on – he just has the gift of being able to see slightly further over the horizon than many people can do. I might want to take issue with the idea that there is just one Nigerian or Ugandan view. Working with a Nigerian curate has taught me that there is diversity  of opinion amongst such communities – a fact that is hardly surprising. However, I think we all know what Andrew Brown means.

The number of people holding to the hardest of hardline positions amongst the Evangelical communities in the UK seems to me to be declining quite sharply. I’m often in the company of lay people from Evangelical churches who assure me that the tough stuff about gay people is really only the view of the rector and that there is a far greater diversity of opinion than I might expect amongst the congregation. There will probably always be a number of people who can never accept gay people as equals, just as there will probably always be people who can’t accept that women and men are equal and there will regrettably be those who practise racism even now, long after it has become socially unacceptable. Though we need to work to undermine such opinion, my view is that the best way to challenge that with regards to gay people at the moment is not to fight and bicker and fall-out. Rather, we need to work for change, to organise and to simply assert that negative views about God’s gay children are a scandal to the Gospel and stop good people being able to hear the saving news of Christ.

We are now right in the middle of the process of enormous change that is taking place as the law catches up with popular opinion. It is exciting to be seeing it from different perspectives, coming in different countries.

What Andrew Brown writes about in the Guardian, I’m seeing with my own eyes. How about you?


  1. Dianne Pallett says

    There really isn’t any argument left – discriminatory practice is not acceptable anywhere, least of all in our churches. There should not be any such thing as “gay marriage” as if it is something different, just “marriage” is fine – marriage for any who want to make that commitment regardless of their orientation.
    Can we turn our attentions to the awful things happening in the world now instead of making an issue out of something that shouldn’t be?

    • The trouble is, I don’t think we can move on until those pesky laws (church and state alike) have actually been changed.

  2. Rosemary Hannah says

    I think the reason we can’t move on until it is sorted is that real people actually get hurt. The message that ‘gay is second best’ is a deeply damaging one – and we should not put up with it, not while we are still having to produce videos which say ‘It gets better’. It should not have to get better, except in the usual way that being a teenager is a difficult thing anyhow. The clear message needs to be ‘There is nothing second-best about being gay for anybody.’

  3. Augur Pearce says

    The ‘Nigerian or Ugandan’ label is surely no worse than the ‘Catholic’ label. It gets laborious saying every time ‘the view of the Roman Catholic hierarchy’ rather than ‘the Catholic view’, even though we all know that plenty of good Christians in that tradition do not share all the beliefs of an elderly Bavarian sitting in a palace on the Italian peninsula. To my mind Andrew Brown’s punchline was trenchant and a jolt of encouragement.

    • G Wright says

      we all know that plenty of good Christians in that tradition do not share all the beliefs of an elderly Bavarian sitting in a palace on the Italian peninsula

      The Catholic opinion of homosexuality is that it is a disordered, (“confused / mixed up”), sexuality. Nothing more, nothing less. It is a 100% accurate statement. I appreciate that it is not an especially flattering term, but then the truth is not always an easy and cuddly thing.

      Homosexuality is not disordered simply because our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, says so.

      Rather, it is disordered – both physically and biologically – because biological science says so. That is not a bigoted statement, (references to bigotry are among the more desperate responses to the truth), but simply an acceptance of basic scientific knowledge, regarding human bodies, as taught in High School (usually 1st year) up and down the country.

      People can – of course – pretend to themselves that homosexuality isnt disordered, and that our understanding human biology is somehow wrong.

      But then, that is obviously an intellectually bankrupt position to take, isnt it?

      It is the truth that homosexuality is disordered. The role of the Pope is to have the courage to proclaim the truth, not to invent it. In contrast, both secular society and protestants dislike the truth; they prefer mental gymnastics and puerile pretence. For them, truth is a malleable concept, to be remade into whatever form suits them on this particular day.

      • Can I suggest to regular commentators that we simply welcome Graham Wright to this blog but refrain from answering him point by point.

        He will learn much by reading along. We learn little here by getting involved in polemic debates and I think we’ve found previously that it is better to encourage people to have such debates on other sites.

  4. Mary Teresa Johnson-Symington says

    Hello Kelvin, just wanted to share with you the title of a novel I recently finished reading “Committed” by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s an account of her journey to accepting marriage after going through a divorce some years before. It’s full of questions, historical info, research and different cultural approaches to marriage. It really helped me with my struggles in accepting being married (may sound a strange statement to make but for me it’s not and the book illustrates my thoughts very nicely – I just happened to do it the other way round – get married and then freak out!).
    Anyway she’s an American writer and it is very much a ladies book but I would recommend anyone read it and it be put on the reading list for schools. Yet to leave it by Neil’s side of the bed!!

  5. G Wright says

    so as not to do things which make us, the gospel and Christ himself appear foolish

    What makes Christianity look more foolish?

    Option (1): Defending the natural, traditional and universal understanding of marriage, the fundamental building block upon which all societies depend.


    Option (2): Pretending that homosexual and heterosexual relationships are somehow comparable, and accomodating them despite Christ’s own view of marriage, which He personally described as a permanent bond between a man and a woman*.

    (*Is Jesus a bigot too?)

    Surely it takes a special kind of arrogance for ‘Christians’ to suggest that Christ got it wrong, gave erroneous teachings, or that the Episcopal Church somehow knows better than He?

    How does an Episcopalian reconcile their faith with the fact that they are essentially ignoring Jesus’ own words and simply making things up to suit themselves?

    Might this approach be somehow connected with the terminal decline facing the Episcopal/Anglican Churches globally?

    The demographics of Anglicanism in the US are particularly stark and prophetic. They are outnumbered by even Jews and, incredibly, Mormons these days.

    • Ah yes, proof of theological concepts by numbers attending church. That isn’t foolish at all, is it?

      Just as well my own congregation is booming these days.

      • Rosemary Hannah says

        Yes, it is a bit of a double-edged sword the numbers thing … I have always argued numbers tell one nothing important, but the fact is that both of the last two churches I was really able to call ‘home’ grew significantly in numbers. It is so sad that ones ideology prevents a little gentle boasting …

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