Michael Coren is an author who is ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada.
John Wesley, founder in the late 18th-century of what became known as Methodism, once famously said he found his “heart strangely warmed” after a particular sermon. I’ve little doubt that this authentically Christian man would have felt a similar experience if he were still with us when, last week, the Methodist Church in Britain voted overwhelmingly to permit same-sex marriages.
With approximately 164,000 members and 4,000 churches, it’s the largest denomination in Britain to approve equal marriage. The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church are still opposed, albeit the former strongly divided. It is allowed, however, in the Scottish Episcopal Church, and United Reformed Church.
In Canada, the situation is more progressive but still not finalized. Same-sex marriage is welcomed in most, though not all, United Churches. There are a handful of evangelical churches that will marry gay couples, but most not only refuse to perform the service but are often deeply resistant, even homophobic, in their theology. The Catholic Church in Canada is of course in step with Rome, and earlier this year the Vatican said it couldn’t even bless same-sex couples. “The blessing of homosexual unions cannot be considered licit,” explained Rome, because God, “does not and cannot bless sin.”
The Anglican Church of Canada has debated the issue for 50 years, and it now operates what is known as the “local option,” whereby some churches can and do perform same-sex marriages, while others do not. “This decision has made real people, with real lives and with real commitment to the church, really happy,” says Susan Bell, Bishop of Niagara. “It has opened up the possibility that the life-sustaining joy of the marriage covenant can be shared by all. It’s also gone a very little way to healing some of the profound damage that LGBTQ2+ people have suffered at the hands of the church.”
British Methodists will also allow ministers who disagree with the move to refuse to conduct ceremonies. While the vote in favour was supported by 254 of the 300 delegates, there will doubtless be some conservatives who will leave the church over what they see as heresy regarding a vital issue.
The irony is that while it’s obviously vital to LGBTQ2+ people, the issue is hardly prominent in Christian theology. Homosexuality is seldom mentioned in the Bible, and the handful of critical verses from the Old Testament are usually quoted without the contextualization that they demand.
The Genesis story of Sodom, for example, simply isn’t a sexual morality tale: Lot, one of its heroes, offers the mob his two virgin daughters in place of his male guest! Scripture itself, in Ezekiel, explains: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me.” It was not until the 11th century that the papacy insisted that homosexuality was the issue.
When the Hebrew scriptures do mention homosexuality – it’s only men, and lesbianism is ignored – it generally concerns the need for procreation in order to preserve the tribe, and has no relevance to what we now know as committed and loving same-sex relationships. It’s also usually linked to obscure prohibitions, such as of various combinations of cloth, eating the wrong foods, or having sex with a woman when she is menstruating. It’s worth remembering that if we’re to embrace without discrimination all of the Old Testament teachings, we have to justify genocide, slavery and selling one’s children into bondage. As a Christian and an ordained cleric I believe that we can take the Bible seriously or literally, but we can’t always do both.
Jesus doesn’t mention homosexuality and is more concerned with the judgmental and legalistic than with sexuality. When St. Paul does seem to refer to the subject we need to understand the Greek vocabulary he uses, and his motives. His criticism was of straight men exploiting boys for sex, often in pagan initiation ceremonies. He uses the word “exchange,” implying that this was not about being gay but using others for gratification.
There’s much more that could be said, but the point is that it’s a fringe theme, a mere footnote – often an ugly digression – to the quintessence of the gospels: love, tolerance, inclusion, justice, and grace. One day, Christians will look back at this divide with shame, as they do now to so many earlier collective sins. Pray that day comes soon, and all of our hearts are strangely warmed.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.