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PRAYERS FOR SAME-SEX COUPLES

The bishops of the Church of England are proposing to authorise prayers to be said in church blessing a same-sex couple. At the same time they refuse to discuss this in the General Synod next month as, they say, this does not mean any change in the Church’s doctrine of marriage. Of course it does.

There is an old Latin saying, Lex credendi, Lex orandi, meaning that how we pray is governed by what we believe. That means that what we believe about God’s purpose in making us male and female must be the basis on which we pray for people in their sexual relationships.

What we believe is simple and the whole Bible testifies unequivocally to it: God created us male and female and “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife and the two will become one flesh”. (Genesis 2.24.) This is the beginning and the end of the matter. The sexual relationship is appropriate within the marriage of one man and one woman, and not in any other relationship. All other sexual relationships are in some degree sinful.

The bishops seem to think that if we condemn homosexual practice as sinful we are being unwelcoming and unloving towards those who have a homosexual orientation. That is not true. There are plenty of people in every congregation who live a celibate life and find love and support in family and friends and in the fellowship of the church. Some are single from choice, some are widowed, some never had the opportunity to marry, some because they are homosexual in orientation. None of these people are excluded because of their situation. But the church should exclude those who deliberately and contemptuously disobey God’s will and commandments.

The Book of Common Prayer said this: “If any be an open and notorious evil liver, or have done any wrong to his neighbours by word or deed, that the congregation be thereby offended: the Curate (or parish priest), having knowledge thereof, shall call him and advertise him that in any wise he presume not to come to the Lord’s Table, until he have openly declared himself to have truly repented and amended his former naughty life.” Such a ‘naughty life’ would certainly include sexual relationships outside marriage, including promiscuity, adultery, and homosexual relationships.

There is a particularly difficult situation that ministers often encounter these days in which one partner in a stable and loving heterosexual relationship, often with children, but not formally married, becomes a Christian. The new Christian obviously wants to seek God’s blessing on their relationship, but the non-Christian partner may refuse. This situation is covered in 1 Corinthians 7.12-13: the Christian is living a godly life in remaining faithful to his or her partner and should certainly not abandon their children. It may be an irregular relationship from the point of view of the church, but it is not a sinful one.

That cannot be said of a homosexual relationship, whether the relationship has been regularised by a civil ceremony or not. The church cannot bless what God has condemned, and authorising prayer for a such a blessing inevitably implies a change in the church’s doctrine of marriage. How the General Synod will react to the bishops’ proposal remains to be seen. The bishops may want to avoid some sort of schism in the Church of England over this whole issue, but this is not the way to do it, and it looks to me to like trying to square the circle.

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