The marriage debate
The United Reformed Church is faced with a decision. Under the law which introduced the marriage of same-sex couples from 2014, no local churches in England and Wales can offer same-sex marriage services without the agreement of the relevant Church authorities. This means that the General Assembly of the URC would have to pass a resolution before any local congregation could offer marriages of same-sex couples. In July, the General Assembly discussed such a resolution, but failed to reach consensus. Local churches were then invited to discuss the question and report back. Reform joins the debate, bringing together three contributors from different points of view to discuss:
Should United Reformed Church congregations be permitted to offer marriage of same-sex couples?
Yes, I believe they should. I am a member of the URC and also in a loving and committed same-sex relationship, with plans to marry later this year. The failure of last year’s General Assembly to pass a permissive resolution that would allow local congregations to decide on this issue was hugely disappointing and, for myself and other LGBT members, deeply hurtful. It also, I believe, damaged our mission and ministry and undermined much of what I treasure about the URC; its warm welcome, its inclusiveness, its commitment to social justice, and its commitment to unity in diversity.
At my ordination we affirmed that “the highest authority for what we believe and do is God’s Word in the Bible” and that “in the things that affect obedience to God the Church … must serve the Lord Jesus Christ, its only Ruler and Head”. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible affirms only specific male-female sexual unions, labelling all others as sinful. Jesus – the radical table-turner and the church’s Ruler – upholds marriage as a man-and-wife relationship. By permitting same-sex marriages, the URC would be condoning the concept, rejecting the Bible’s authority and rebelling against its head.
I treasure our conciliar government; our collective seeking to discern the mind of Christ as a precious gift of God. So I instinctively warm to the principle that local churches should be free to discern for themselves Christ’s mind on this matter. I know how much some of my friends and colleagues long to enable same-sex marriages and celebrate them. But I also treasure dear friends and colleagues for whom enabling even that local discernment challenges cherished traditions and sincere beliefs. Amidst this I hear, powerfully, our call from Christ to be united one with another. So I feel the tensions this question demands us to face.
Cara Heafey is a nurse and a member of Cumnor United Reformed Church, Oxford. Paul Stokes is the minister of Plymstock United Church. Neil Thorogood is the principal of Westminster College, Cambridge
This is an extract from the March 2015 edition of Reform.