God's Word for today

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Moving towards pragmatism?

Jenny's latest post on the whole same-sex debate is leaning towards a pragmatic approach, because, let's face it - with so many different views on this matter, we are never going to come to a common agreement.

So perhaps it could be a better idea for the MCSA to allow each minister to act according to their own convictions regarding same-sex relationships? This would include granting permission to those who wish to conduct same-sex unions (on a similar basis to that of a marriage officer), as well as to those who are themselves in same-sex relationships who wish to enter into such a union.

On the face of it this might seem to be the pragmatic route to go. After all - without wanting to trivialise anything - if, for example, a gay minister and their partner decide to enter into a civil union(*), what difference does it actually make to me, or to the wider church, or to society for that matter? Surely this is the private business of the couple concerned (as often stated)?

Unfortunately, some of the problems that such an approach presents are of a practical nature. Here are a few that come to mind (note that these are just scenarios, and don't necessarily represent any particular point of view that I may or may not hold personally):

- A same-sex couple approaches Minister A, wishing that minister to conduct a civil union for them. Minister A is against same-sex relationships (and so refuses), but is aware that Minister B does not have a problem. Does Minister A refer the couple to Minister B? Would ministers who have objections to conducting civil unions be duty-bound to refer the couple to another minister? What if such minister refuses to even make such a referral based on conscience?

- Minister C, who has adopted an inclusive approach to same-sex relationships, has meen ministering to a particular congregation for a number of years. As a result, many people of same-sex orientation have felt comfortable with this minister and have decided to make this particular church their spiritual home. However, the day arrives when Minister C moves on, and Minister D (who happens to be anti) comes in Minister C's place. What would happen to this particular congregation? This scenario would be quite a challenge for stationing committees, who would need to establish a prospective minister's stance on same-sex relationships when considering who to appoint. Some ministers may be unwilling to disclose their particular stance under such circumstances for fear of possible victimisation.

- Ministers adopting a particular stance could find themselves prejudiced when it comes to stationing / invitation. I'm aware of at least one minister who had an invitation overturned because of the particular minister's pro-gay stance. (The same thing could of course happen to a minister who is anti-gay, but this is a less likely scenario in the current climate within our church). Stationing opportunities may also be limited in the case of ministers who themselves have entered into civil unions.

Once again it seems that I am long on questions and short on answers, but these are some of the practical considerations that the church would need to look at if it decided to go this route.

(*) Some people may object to me referring to same-sex unions as "civil unions" rather than "marriages". However, while my intention is not to offend, the fact is that in South African law currently, heterosexual marriages are regulated by the Marriage Act whereas same-sex unions are regulated by the Civil Unions Act. (There is also separate legislation dealing with traditional / religious rites unions, but such unions are not part of the current discussion). Using these terms also make it easier for me to distinguish between heterosexual and same-sex unions without cluttering up the text with too many explanations.

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