THE Bishops of the Church in Wales have published their proposals to authorise formal blessings in church of same-sex partnerships and marriages.
A draft Bill that would permit the blessing in parish churches of same-sex couples after a civil partnership or civil wedding has been circulated to members of the Church’s Governing Body ahead of a debate in April.
In an explanatory memorandum, the Bishops acknowledge that scripture and Christian tradition have previously understood unions of one man and one woman as the only context for sexual relationships.
“However, with new social, scientific and psychological understandings of sexuality in the last one and a half centuries, we believe that same-sex relationships can be understood in a radically different way, and that the teaching of Scripture should therefore be re-interrogated,” the Bishops write.
The move is the latest in a long debate within the Church. In 2015, the Governing Body voted in a non-binding indicative poll in favour of allowing same-sex weddings in church.
But, because the majority fell short of the two-thirds required to alter doctrine and teaching, the Bench of Bishops decided not to move forward except by releasing prayers that could be said with a couple after a civil same-sex marriage (News, 25 September 2015, 15 April 2016).
Three years later, the Bishops brought a new motion to the Governing Body: “It is pastorally unsustainable for the Church to make no formal provision for those in same-gender relationships.”
This was backed unanimously by the six bishops and passed by the Governing Body with 76 votes to 21 (News, 21 September 2018).
As a result, the Bench has now proposed creating a new rite, which, if approved by the Governing Body, would allow, for a trial period of five years, any priest who wished to, to hold a service in church to bless a same-sex couple after their marriage or civil partnership.
The draft liturgy in the legislation includes the renewal of marriage vows and the exchange of rings.
In the explanatory memorandum, the Bishops explain that the service of blessing is not a thinly veiled second wedding, but, instead, a declaration that the couple’s “loving and faithful commitment” already made is “worthy of acceptance by the Church by asking God’s blessing” on it.
They suggest that, in the fullness of time, the Church in Wales will have to deal with the question whether to permit same-sex weddings in church directly, but that this would require careful and extended theological consideration.
The proposed services of blessing are a pastoral accommodation in the mean time, which go further than affirming what has already been the law for several years.
Despite all six Bishops’ supporting the reform, and a clear majority in favour in the Governing Body of some action on gay relationships, the new rite would only ever be permissive, and the draft Bill includes a clause expressly stating that no cleric can be obliged to conduct such a service.
“The bishops understand that acceptance of same-sex partnerships remains a controversial view, and that there are Christians who feel unable to read Scripture and Tradition in the more permissive way the bishops propose,” the Bishops write.
Nevertheless, they argue that allowing such services would be a step towards repentance of the Church’s history of persecuting LGBT people.
The Bill is now out for consultation over the next three months before its first debate at the Governing Body in April. Any members who wish to propose amendments to the legislation must send them in by 3 March, by email to John Richfield.