“I’ve been thinking it would be better to be dead than to be gay”
I was the Ecumenical Chaplain at the University of Waikato from 2005 – 2010, and in one semester, about three semesters in, five students came to see me, each sharing with me words very similar to these: “It would be better to be dead than to be gay”.
I would never agree that it is better to be dead than to be gay. But as it stands, if you are dead and gay you could come to church and have a Christian funeral, celebrating God’s love for you and your hope in the resurrection. If you are alive and gay, however, living and loving, the Anglican Church in this country cannot yet find a way to declare God’s blessing on your relationship.
The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia is talking about human sexuality again. More specifically the conversation is about a report commissioned by General Synod, the body responsible for decision making at the highest level of this church – they are meeting at the end of this week. The report explores how it is possible to live with a diversity of views about same sex relationships in our church, and more specifically how we could live with the possibility of some Bishops and priests in some places believing it is right to bless same sex relationships and so wanting a liturgy in which that could happen, and some Bishops and priests not believing that.
The question of same sex marriage is off the table. Though it has been legal in New Zealand for same sex couples to get married since 2013, and for eight years before that to enter into a civil union, General Synod in 2014 affirmed a ‘traditional’ understanding of marriage as being between one man and one woman. My belief is in “all the sacraments for all the baptised” (or all the sacramental actions for all the baptised), but this is not a possibility being considered.
This is about couples who have a civil marriage being able to come to church for a blessing of their relationship, and for that relationship to then be considered ‘rightly ordered’ in all the places in the church’s life where that category matters.
I am hopeful that the report will be received, the legislation passed and in the drawn out process of the church, hope very much for the changes to take effect in 2018.
Some people do not believe that is a good, faithful, or biblical thing to have happen. Freedom to refuse these rites, either as a Diocese or as an individual priest or bishop, is provided for in the proposed ‘way forward’.
There are concerns about the impact it will have on evangelism, and on Christians, in more conservative parts of the world. Of course I wish for safety for my Christian brothers and sisters, but I also wish for safety for my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters: safety, and a warm welcome in communities of worship.
And I am concerned about the impact on our ability to share the good news of God’s grace here and now in the culture we live in. In a national poll prior to the legislation being passed, 76% of under-35s in New Zealand were supportive of marriage equality. The church continues to have these conversations, conversations that are often characterised by debates about who is being most faithful (of the people in the room) and little grace seems to be offered to the actual humans we are having conversations about. I think those conversations place further barriers to all kinds of people perceiving God’s radical, life-changing love and hospitality as it was made known to us in Jesus.
I don’t often talk publicly about my beliefs about this – in part because working ecumenically has meant having to facilitate collaborative relationships across enormous diversity. But that is also a luxury that 20 years of heterosexual marriage provides me – a marriage that is deemed by the church to be ‘rightly ordered’ because of biological sex and the privilege of Christian marriage. It seems to me that in all relationships it is the faithfulness, mutuality, joy, grit, generativity, grace, forgiveness and love of the relationship that really makes it ‘rightly ordered’. I hope that the church’s conversation this week will be another step to recognising those qualities in all marriages, and declaring God’s delight in and blessing on those marriages.