Blessing Same-Sex Unions:
Theological Reflection and Resources for Dialogue and Parish Study
The following articles, study guides, book reviews, and personal testimonies express several (primarily gay-affirming) perspectives on blessing same-sex unions and marriage. Resources for parish dialogue and study follow.
Theological Reflection on Same-Sex Relationships: [back to top]
Does God Have a Plan for Same-Sex Relationships?, Andrew G. Lang. "Ultimately, the purpose of same-sex covenants, like the covenants of heterosexual marriage and celibate community, is conversion and sanctification. Through these relationships we cooperate with God's design for human life. They are a means of grace, and we could not be fully human without them."
Recognizing God's Blessings, Daphne Burt. A Lutheran pastor reflects on her experience of blessing same-sex unions and offers a rationale for naming the committed, faithful, long-term relationships of same-gender couples as holy.
What Does It Mean for the Church to Give Its Blessing?, Claiming the Blessing Theology Committee. Reflects on Creation, Covenant, Grace and Sacrament as the building blocks of a theology of Blessing.
Blessings of Same-Sex Unions, Paul Gibson (.pdf, p.9+). The former Liturgical Officer of the Anglican Church of Canada states of blessings, "The question is not whether the church should transfer an otherwise absent eminence to such relationships (as if we could); it is whether there is goodness there for which God should be praised." Also in Liturgy Canada's Lent 2003 issue: "Rethinking the Church's Involvement in Weddings," John W.B. Hill; "Same-Sex Rites," F. Dean Mercer; "A Radical Path for Liturgists," Gordon Baker; "The Diocese of Rochester: A Pastoral Journey," Stephen T. Lane, with the companion rite, "The Celebration and Affirmation of A Covenant Relationship."
Reasons for Changing My Mind, Michael Ingham (1996). A pivotal sermon in the same-sex union debate within the Canadian Anglican Church. The Bishop of New Westminster describes how he became aware of the "double standard in our church [that] compromises our integrity and our credibility." "I've crossed over from one side of the divide to the other not because I've lost sight of the Gospel, but because the Gospel itself cannot and will not sustain continued discrimination against people simply because they are attracted to others of the same sex."
Same Sex Relationships - The Unresolved Questions, Richard Harries. The Bishop of Oxford observes that potentially divisive debate over sincerely-held and rationally-argued positions requires interpretative charity "taking the strongest argument and, if necessary, stating in even more persuasive terms than the person with whom you disagree." Bishop Harries demonstrates this technique in this comprehensive review of the discussion around same-sex unions in the Church of England.
Like the Wideness of the Sea, Lewis B. Smedes. Writing in the journal of the Reformed Church of America, a leading evangelical ethicist asks:
Is a partnership of two homosexual persons morally similar in relevant ways to the marriage of divorced and remarried heterosexual people?
Does the Bible's word about homosexuals lay down a rule for excluding partnered Christian homosexuals from the church's fellowship?
Or does it witness to God's original intention for sexual orientation without laying down abiding rules for the church?
Text in Context: the Blessing of Same-Gender Covenants in the Diocese of New Westminster, Richard G. Leggett. Theological commentary on the authorized blessing rite. Includes a discussion on the Anglican understanding of blessing and an examination of the differences between this rite and the marriage rite. Dr. Leggett concludes, "Despite some similarities to the marriage rite, the underlying theology and the distinctive liturgical elements define a covenant that is unique and that poses no threat, if any ever existed, to marriage as the sacramental union of a heterosexual couple. Rather this rite attempts to [be a] liturgical expression to a new thing that God is doing in our midst, life-long stable and covenanted relationships of gay and lesbian disciples of Christ."
"Doing a New Thing": A Bishop Changes His Mind, Jack Truell. Retired United Methodist Bishop Jack Truell reflects on scripture, tradition, reason and experience. "God is revealing new truth in many areas of life. One which is increasingly clear is that He is speaking to us in the issue of homosexuality. I am aware that many people are uncomfortable even mentioning this matter and wish it would just go away. I am aware of that, because I have felt exactly the same way."
Why evangelicals must think again about homosexuality, Roy Clements.
- Because Christian hostility towards same-sex relationships rests on an interpretation of the Bible that is in many respects open to question.
- Because there is a diversity of opinion among Christians about the issue which will cause division within the church unless an attitude of greater tolerance and mutual respect prevails.
- Because current practice of pastoral care is damaging homosexual Christians and so alienating the gay community generally that evangelism is impossible.
Reclaiming Christian Orthodoxy, Michael Ingham (2003). The Bishop of New Westminster answers the charge that his diocese's pastoral support for same-sex unions is "unilateralist" and "unorthodox." He explains, "[N]othing in our tradition restricts ethical or doctrinal development where the Gospel itself comes into contact with new social conditions or changing human knowledge."
A Conservative Case for Recognition of Gay Relationships in the Church, R. Stephen Warner. "Although some church people support the so-called gay agenda as one part of a broader radical project, there are good reasons for conservatives to support the inclusion of homosexual persons in all aspects of the rights and rites of the church. I will focus on two: upholding fidelity to persons and recognizing devotion to the church."
The Common Mission of Christ, Peter James Lee. The Bishop of Virginia ("an unwavering centrist and consensus builder" NYT) reflects on the impact of ECUSA's 2003 General Convention on his traditionally-minded diocese: "I do not authorize the blessing of same-gender relationships," but, "For persons with a permanent orientation of homosexuality, a committed partnership may be as close as they can come to the faithfulness and monogamy expected in the church's traditional standard... "
Permanent, Faithful, Stable, Jeffrey John, reviewed by Frank J. Pycroft. Dr. John's booklet is one of the most powerful arguments for the acceptance and blessing of same-sex relationships by the Church. John argues that a partnership based on the same commitment as heterosexual marriage is no less sacramental, no less a way of holiness, and no less worthy of the Church's blessing. He calls the Church to offer same-sex couples a positive theological understanding of their relationship as well as practical acceptance and support.
A Great and Public Mystery: The Theology of Marriage, Stephen Reynolds. The Theologian-in-Residence at the Church of the Redeemer, Toronto, explores the ways in which the mystical union between Christ and the Church serves as an image of marital partnership, and how this mystery might also serve same-sex unions.
Covenant Love: Ruth 1, Roy Clements. Ruth and Naomi may not have been same-sex lovers, but their story is about the difference that interpersonal commitment can make to our experience of the meaning of love. The Book of Ruth argues that it?s possible to rediscover that blend of deep intimacy and long-term security that only committed love can provide. (Quicktime Movie clip, 2 min)
Welcoming But Not Affirming: An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality, Stanley J. Grenz, book review by Dr. Ralph Blair. "Grenz's own summation effectively counters his seeming certitude: "We seem no closer to a definitive conclusion as to what homosexuality actually is." Why then, is he so sure that all homosexual behavior is sinful?"
On Being a Gay Christian, Bruce Bawer. The author describes the personal impact of the church's traditional teaching on homosexuality on gay Christians, particularly gay youth. "To my mind, these truths lead inexorably to a recognition that the only Christian way for the Church to respond to the fact of homosexuality and the identicality of homosexual love and commitment to heterosexual love and commitment is to bless gay unions and to allow the ordination of openly gay clergy."
Unveiled, Andrew Sullivan. "Conservatives say that marriage must be a male-female bargain to work, so same-sex marriage is doomed to fail. They're wrong. It's marriage itself that binds couples together."
Gay Marriage, then Polygamy?, Paul Varnell. Nothing in the principles supporting gay marriage provides any support for the legalization of any other type of relationship, much less polygamy.
Couples' Ministry Resource Guide, DignityUSA. A resource booklet supporting Dignity's National Couples Registry. Offers a sample program of preparation for a holy union, examples of rites, and resources for developing a ministry of pastoral care and support for same-sex couples.
What exactly is the Big Deal? A View from the Under 30 Crowd, Anna Langenwalter (Integrity Toronto). "I worry that by holding on to traditions which should be left in the history books, the 18-35 group (generally an under-represented demographic in church circles) will return in steadily fewer numbers to a church it feels is increasingly out of step with a more-tolerant society."
Resources for Dialogue and Parish Study: [back to top]
Diocesan Day of Dialogue on the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions: Participants Handbook, Anglican Diocese of Ottawa (.pdf). An excellent training guide in the practice and facilitation of parish dialogue (as distinct from discussion), prepared by Ottawa's Task Force on the Blessing of Same Sex Unions.
Studies on Homosexuality and the Church (ELCIC), Erwin Buck, 2001 (.pdf). A comprehensive group study guide covering biblical, historical, scientific, pastoral and theological concerns related to homosexuality and the church, organized in five sessions. (The Rev. Dr. Erwin Buck is Professor of New Testament at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon.) An appendix includes a lengthy bibliography and a "Guide for Caring Conversations," an ELCIC model for listening to the experiences of gay and lesbian people and their families. Extensive training material is also available for Bringing Caring Conversations to Our Congregations, an in-service workshop for clergy and lay leaders.
Living Together in the Church - including our differences, Greig Dunn and Chris Ambidge (Integrity Toronto, co-convener). From the Canadian Anglican Book Centre, this set of essays suggests that differing views among sincere Anglicans on the issue of homosexuality need not cause division but may instead offer opportunity for dialogue, enabling respect and reconciliation. Authors include Canadian Anglican bishops, clergy, academics, Integrity members and friends.
Also from the Anglican Book Centre:
A final report from the International Anglican Conversations on Human Sexuality (1999). Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey: "Dialogue is not something we simply urge upon others. We use dialogue in order to clarify where misunderstandings may lie; to probe deeper into the motives for adopting this or that position in regard to certain issues; and to appreciate better (even though we may not agree with) the reasons why some people's views differ so radically from our own. In this way, our deepest search for truth will not be divorced from the fellowship we need for truth to emerge."
Emerging Common Ground, Diocese of Toronto. The 1997 provisional statement of Archbishop Finlay's discussion group about "gays and lesbians in the church" that included people on both sides of the question. Also see Chris Ambidge's personal reflection on this Toronto experiment.
Journey Together Faithfully, Study guides, essays, and resources for discussion on issues related to sexuality from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (2001).
Dialogue on Same-Sex Unions, Diocese of New Westminster (1999-2001). Includes links to the study papers of the Faith and Doctrine Commission as well as other Dialogue documentation.
Bridges Across the Divide, The "de-militarized zone" in the culture wars over homosexuality. Bridges-Across the Divide is a cyberspace initiative providing models and resources for building respectful relationships among those who disagree about moral issues surrounding homosexuality, bisexuality and gender variance.
Talking Together as Christians about Homosexuality, (.pdf). Bibliography of primarily Lutheran parish resources. "We have asked for discerning conversation within the church about sexuality and called for an end to discrimination, assault, and harassment of homosexual persons. But questions related to leadership issues of ordination as well as blessings for same-sex unions remain. How will we as Christians continue to grapple with these complicated issues of human sexuality? How can we be faithful, compassionate, and gracious as we wrestle with the place of homosexual persons in the community of faith? This collection of resources includes materials that reflect the church's ongoing conversation."
Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, Tony & Peggy Campolo. This Baptist evangelist and his wife disagree on the issue of same-sex relationships. Their popular seminar about their opposing views demonstrates "that it is possible for two people to differ intensely over a crucial issue and not get a divorce."
How to Avoid the Charge of Homophobia, Roy Clements. "Evangelical Christians who are opposed to homosexual behaviour sometimes complain that they find it impossible to express their moral objections on this score without being accused of homophobia. To some extent the complaint is probably justified. However, in many cases I suspect that the charge of prejudice is one these Christians bring upon themselves, either by the content of their opinions or the style in which they are voiced."
Why Lutherans Can't Talk About Sexuality, Thomas D. Pearson. "If neither a textual ethics, nor a morality grounded in love, nor natural law theory, can supply a basis for our conversation about sexuality in the ELCA, what other resources do we have available to us? There is not much, I'm afraid. But discuss sexuality we will, and must."
Legal Equality: A Public Justice Response to Discrimination Against Gays and Lesbians, Citizens for Public Justice, 1996. An exploration of how Christians, as a people called to justice, mercy and faithfulness, can respond to discrimination against gays and lesbians. Drawing extensively on the founding principles of Citizens for Public Justice, "Legal Equality" maps out an approach that respects the values and beliefs as well as the rights and responsibilities of all members of society. Includes a "political discernment exercise" to stimulate personal and group discussion.
Bibliographies: [back to top]
An Annotated Bibliography of Resources on Human Sexuality, Diocese of Toronto, Same-Sex Consultation Group.
Search for God's Heart and Truth: Comprehensive Bibliography, Jeramy Townsley. A "ranked" listing of both pro- and con- resources of special interest to evangelical students.
Readings on Eros, Sexuality, and the Spirit, Kwok Pui-lan (with emphasis on queer theology and minority perspectives).
Allies and Friends, an index of organizational resources from the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry.
Resources for Reconciliation, bibliography from the Bishop's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Ministry in the Diocese of Los Angeles.