THE Methodist Church could take a step towards allowing same-sex marriage and services of blessing in church if a new report is accepted at this year’s Conference.
The report, published on Tuesday, God in Love Unites Us, recommends that same-sex marriage should be allowed in Methodist churches, and that resources should be provided for celebrating civil partnerships, and prayers for when divorces occur.
The recommendation comes from the Church’s marriage-and-relationships task group. Pastoral changes that the group suggests include “addressing the hurt felt by those who perceive that the current definition implies they are ‘lesser persons’”.
If the report is accepted by the Methodist Conference this year, it will be submitted to the wider Church for consultation, before a final vote at the 2020 conference. This year’s meeting of the Methodist Conference will take place from 27 June to 4 July in Birmingham.
The group urges “the Conference to affirm in due course those who enter mixed-sex civil partnerships, just as it has affirmed those who enter same-sex civil partnerships”.
The report continues: “Where it is appropriate, we would then welcome it if the relationship that has led a couple to enter a partnership were to strengthen further and bring them to seek marriage as the Church understands it.
“That said, where couples are open and receptive to the possibility of discerning God’s love present in what has brought them to form their partnership, and where real pastoral need exists for not simply offering the couple an opportunity to marry in church, we believe it would be appropriate for the Church to offer thanks for and bless such partnerships on its premises. This would require developing and offering appropriate forms of prayer and orders of service.”
The Revd Ken Howcroft, who chaired the task group, said on Tuesday: “Relationships, sex, and marriage are significant issues for everyone, and it’s important that the Church talks about these matters today. As part of its calling and mission, the Methodist Church must engage with the reality of how people are living.
“That raises questions about the nature of marriage, cohabitation, living in relationships, and living with different sexualities. Members of the task group come from very different theological backgrounds, yet we have sought to understand each other’s viewpoint — and where we have disagreed, to do so well.
“What we share in loving God, and in knowing we are loved by God, is much greater than anything that divides us.”
The report also says that allowances should be made for those Methodist ministers who do not feel able to officiate at same-sex ceremonies on grounds of conscience.
The task group concludes that the Church should have three aims: “Be open and positive about sexuality and relationships”; “Value all relationships of grace”; and “Widen and justify the understanding of marriage as being between two persons”.
The report recommends: “All significant relationships should be built on self-giving love, commitment, fidelity, loyalty, honesty, mutual respect, equality, and the desire for the mutual flourishing of the people involved.”
Furthermore: “The Church recognises that the love of God is present within the love of human beings who are drawn to each other, and who enter freely into some form of life-enhancing committed relationship with each other, whether that be through informal cohabitation or a more formal commitment entered into publicly.
“As a Church, we wish to celebrate that the love of God is present in these circumstances, even if that grace is not responded to or even discerned by the people concerned.
“The Church has an important calling, therefore, to point to the presence of God’s love within such relationships, and to encourage people to respond to it in the renewing and deepening (by whatever means) of their commitment.”
The leadership of Dignity and Worth, a campaign group within Methodism for full equality and participation of LGBTQI+ people, welcomed the report.
A spokesman said: “We recognise that, for some in our Church, this will involve difficulties, and are grateful that resource materials to assist local conversations are already in production. We are delighted that the report endorses the position of dignity and worth in terms of a ‘mixed economy’ as the best way to honour the consciences of those who cannot take this step.
“The question of conscience in these matters is a serious one, and we welcome the work that has been done to ensure that no one is coerced to act against their will. We welcome any initiative that reassures our sisters and brothers who feel that this is not a position they can hold.”
Methodist Evangelicals Together said in a statement that it was committed to “the Wesleyan convictions that the gospel is for all, that the Bible is our supreme rule of faith and practice, and that all Christians are called to holiness. We therefore uphold the biblical understanding of marriage as the life-long union of one man and one woman, and call upon the Church to do the same.
“We are carefully studying the report, noting that it is intended as a discussion starter rather than reaching definitive conclusions.”