How to Bless Same-Sex Couples: The Northern Churchman Comments

The Northern Churchman Comments

How to Bless Same-Sex Couples

One of the main proposals from the Bishops’ Prayers of Love and Faith is that loving committed relationships outside marriage may be blessed by the Church. I suggest there is a way biblically-faithful clergy may indeed bless such couples. 

Before that, let me outline a few concerns with the Bishops’ proposed prayers.

Don’t miss the fact that heterosexual civil partnerships now may be blessed also. The proposals are not simply about same-sex couples; all civil partnerships may be included in the scope of the prayers. Civil partnerships do indeed possess the presumption of sexual relations; why else would they be forbidden to siblings? The distinction between blessing people rather than relationships fools no-one; a distinction without difference, of significance to certain bishops only, and one that bypasses everyone else, especially the media.

In the name of maintaining the doctrine of marriage the bishops have substantially undermined it. To include the blessing of rings in prayers for same-sex couples is especially mischievous and unwarranted.

Holding to Christian doctrine and living in line with that doctrine are presumably becoming optional choices for clergy. If sexual relationships in civil partnerships and same-sex marriages are now to be blessed, then there is no reason to deprive clergy of such ‘blessed’ states of life.

The Bishops’ LLF statement now creates a free for all for activists to seek to override the convictions of faithful clergy. If there is no single coherent policy on the blessing of same-sex marriages, it is possible for progressives to pressurise and pick off vicars one by one, whether by continual harrying and complaints, or with endless PCC disputes. A national policy, while it lasted, prevented clergy being worn down at a local level.

While the policy of respecting clergy consciences seems open and tolerant, the de facto practice within dioceses and theological colleges may well prove to be different. The issue will become an unspoken article of faith. Candidates will be selected for parishes and indeed for ordination based on whether they will bless sexual relationships outside marriage.

We have no sure foundation in Scripture to determine that God blesses sex outside marriage. We are in the realms of episcopal imagination and wishful thinking rather than divine revelation.

It is painful to read the mental gymnastics and torturous uses of Scripture contained in the Bishops’ prayers. What a challenge they had in weaving together biblical phrases without biblical warrant, to suggest God’s approval of lifestyles never commended in Scripture but rather condemned. Indeed Bishop Christopher Cocksworth recently admitted that these were prayers in search of an underlying theology: “We promised pastoral guidelines on the practical outworking of the provision, with all their complex legal and theological questions, at a later point, rather than offering them alongside the liturgical provision. The result was that the response and prayers raised more questions than they answered…” 

Back to my main point, what is the biblical basis for blessing sexual relationships outside marriage?

In Scripture there is one ancient blessing, promised back in Abraham’s day, and it is a blessing now found in Christ. You can read about it in Acts 3:26 – “God, having raised up his servant [Jesus], sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

The blessing is the blessing of repentance, of Christ turning us from our wicked ways. We bless them with the gospel. The good news Christ proclaimed included repentance. That is the blessing I want for all couples, gay or straight, and for all people, married or unmarried, and for myself. It is an inclusive blessing; the call to repentance and faith should be issued to all without discrimination. As a church may we find the love and courage to issue afresh that blessing, with faithfulness and sensitivity.

Bless them with the gospel of Jesus Christ, not with the hopeful-sounding yet hopeless meanderings of bishops. Indulging couples by saying their sexual relationships outside marriage are okay is actually failing to bless them with this blessing of Christ. In the name of ‘blessing’ we withhold true blessing from them.

If we recognise this as the blessing it is, God’s gospel blessing, then we see these proposed prayers for what they really are. They are simply Bishops’ blessings; the authority to bless is coming from the College of Bishops only, and not from the Lord of the Church.

The Bishops have suggested a distinction between Holy Matrimony and marriage, a distinction between church and civil weddings that thereby does not recognise heterosexual civil marriages either. Should we not draw a distinction between the blessing of God and the blessing of bishops? All the LLF proposals offer ultimately is the blessing of the bishops who proposed the words. They possess no higher authority than that. Maybe that’s the way we ought to talk about these Prayers of Love and Faith: the blessings of bishops, but not the blessing of God.

“I’m sorry, I can’t perform those blessings of bishops, but I can offer you the blessing of God. Let me begin by telling you about Jesus . . .”