Back in 1975, as a naïve young woman, I started my university course. My family were conservative with a Roman Catholic background, albeit they did not attend Mass. We lived in a very white, West of Scotland coastal town. University was therefore something of a culture shock to me, but a good one. My eyes were opened to a world where diversity existed.
Six years later, I loved and embraced the diversity of friends and colleagues in the multicultural West Midlands in England. At one trade union conference, I chatted with two young women about the challenges they faced every day as they were in a relationship with each other, unknown to others. My eyes were opened to a world where shameful prejudice exists.
The stories shared that day remain with me. I really had no idea of the intensity of the hurt caused to two people who loved each other. Sadly, within the universal church, many continue to exacerbate such hurt. Yet, we are called to love God, with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and we are called to love our neighbours as ourselves. I see nothing in those commandments that say we are called to judge or to cause hurt to others. Yet, we continue to do so.
At my final stage of assessment before training for ministry in 2006, I was required to give a 5-minute presentation on a subject that was current within the church. I chose same sex relationships. At that point I had no theological training, but I did have a strong sense of right and wrong. Discrimination against people in same sex relationships is so clearly wrong.
Over that 15 years, I have watched the decline in many churches. We turn people away, children of God, because they are in a same sex relationships.
Of course we say all are welcome. All are welcome unless they are called to ministry, where they are only allowed to apply for some parishes. Even then, the wording is that the parish has departed from the “…historic and current doctrine and practice of the Church in relation to human sexuality (including marriage)…..” In our diverse church, departure from this doctrine of the church is permissible.
I recognise that diversity of opinion is important and as a Church of Scotland minister, will adhere to the decisions of our General Assembly, even if I don’t like them. I do find frustration sets in though, when we take the baby steps forward to address the issue and accept same sex marriage, those who fundamentally disagree feel it is necessary to register their dissent. Once again, we are saying, all are welcome, but if you are in a same sex relationship, you can only serve in a certain capacity within the church, because, effectively, this might offend the beliefs of others.
I’m now not naïve enough to resist the conclusion that many interpret the bible differently. I understand that theological views are firmly held. Christians across the world hold incredibly different views on same sex marriage, divorce, women’s reproductive rights, women in ministry. Ever so slowly, society is catching up with Jesus Christ and his inclusive ministry, embracing the oppressed. Many of us are trying to do this within the church.
Failure to do so, in my opinion, is turning people away from the church. I’m not yet permitted to solemnise or even bless a same sex marriage and have already repeatedly had to turn down the request to do so. The people concerned want to be married. They want to be married in the eyes of God, in the presence of God. In a world where marriage in church is decreasing, why would we turn people away? Where a church does not welcome those in a same sex relationship, a couple are hardly likely to want to be married there. However, an affirming church is a place where all people should be able to feel that they can request the solemnisation of their marriage.
Within my own denomination, we have taken yet another step closer. Our General Assembly has recently agreed to consider a church law enabling those of us who want to solemnise same sex marriage to do so, within certain constraints. Now this will go to members of Presbyteries to consider and could return to the General Assembly again next year.
I can only pray that we do make this decision. Many say it isn’t the most important issue. For those in same sex relationships, it is incredibly important. For me, it is also incredibly important, as I want to be out there, sharing God’s love for all. I want to let everyone know they are valued and that they are welcome.
Rev Maggie Roderick is a Church of Scotland minister, whose most recent parish was in a Central Scotland village. She now lives with her husband in Stirling, providing pastoral and preaching cover where it is needed. She is passionate about social justice and equality among other issues.
Views expressed here are her own and do not represent any Church or organisation.
This blog was first posted at revgalblogpals.com. RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back to the specific post. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.