Methodist response to gay marriage proposals

by Richard on December 11, 2012

Statement from the General Secretary of the Methodist Church, the Revd Dr Martyn Atkins, in response to the Government’s proposals on same-sex marriage:

“The Government has announced that it will proceed with a Bill to make provision for the marriage of same-sex couples, including marriage in Churches which “opt in”. This decision raises both issues around the nature of marriage, and also about religious freedom.

“The Methodist response to the consultation on Equal Civil Marriage, drawn up by members of Faith and Order and the Methodist Council, stated that ‘The Methodist Church, in line with scripture and traditional teaching, believes that marriage is a gift of God and that it is God’s intention that a marriage should be a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of one man and one woman.’

“Within the Methodist Church there is a spectrum of belief about sexuality; however the Church has explicitly recognised, affirmed and celebrated the participation and ministry of lesbians and gay men.

“The Government has indicated that Churches which do not wish to marry same-sex couples will have the protection of law. This is important. However, in our response to the consultation we also stated that, while in the future we may or may not choose to affirm same-sex marriage, it would be unwarranted interference for the State to make that decision for us. For the purpose of religious freedom, if the Government allows marriage of same-sex couples in civil venues, then it must allow religious bodies to make the same choice. Whilst we recognise that most Christian Churches will probably choose not to offer same-sex marriages, the principle of religious freedom is an important one as it would it would leave with the Church the ultimate authority and autonomy to chose whether or not to do so.”

That’s well said I think.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }


Kim 12.11.12 at 7:00 pm

Though you yourself now believe, against the Methodist Church, that marriage may be same-sex, right? And so, with like-minded colleagues and members, you will work to get your Church to change its mind (and it is open to changing its mind), yes?

Me — I remain unconvinced that the discourse of “marriage” should be used for the blessing of same-sex partnerships, while totally endorsing the latter and believing that they should have the same legal status as marriage. Biblically, historically (there is, of course, no single Christian tradition of marriage — except heterosexuality), ethnologically, and (in English) etymologically too — maritus = husband; cf., matrimonium, from mater = mother — the term “marriage” is neither appropriate in itself nor necessary, nor even helpful, in advancing the cause of gay rights and both social and ecclesial inclusion. I wish there were a specific term for this particular covenanted relationship. Union is the best I can come up with. Of which marriage would, in fact, be a sub-set!

There are other reasons not to adopt the nomenclature of marriage for the blessing of same-sex partnerships (not least because theologies of marriage themselves are a bit of a babel — and because surely gays should be more aspirational!). Making babies, for example, is exclusive to heterosexual couples (duh!). On the other hand, procreation is not essential to marriage, nor is raising children a vocation exclusive to heterosexual couples. So while I have a view, I remain attentive to the discussions.


Richard 12.11.12 at 10:20 pm

I wish there was a different nomenclature, too. But there isn’t. And gay men and women don’t seem to want an alternative.

Just to be clear, the answer to your first two questions is yes. The third? I’m not sure. I suspect not — but let’s find out. There’s quite a bit of conversation about this in Methodist corners of the internet, and that’s a good start. The next step is to take the issue to circuit meeting and synod to see if a memorial can be sent to Conference.


Mark Byron 12.11.12 at 10:54 pm

Dr. Atkins seems to have covered all of the bases. Churches shouldn’t be forced to do same-sex marriages if they don’t want to, but it would be a reach of freedom of religion for the government to tell a church they couldn’t.

‘Civil unions’ has been tried in the US in some states not quite ready to go to marriage, but the separate-but-equal status rubs gays the wrong way; in US history “separate but equal” was the legal term justifying racial segregation (Plessy v Ferguson, if memory serves) , which was rarely equal.


Richard 12.11.12 at 11:13 pm

Re ‘civil unions’ - Exactly so, Mark. We have that sort of arrangement here too, but ‘religious’ content has been excluded from the ceremony (just as it is specifically excluded from celebrations of civil marriage) I can well understand why gay christians have not been happy with this arrangement.


S. Wesley Mcgranor 12.14.12 at 1:35 am

You all might be on your way, in a postmodern sense; but you are not going to stand in the future.


Richard 12.14.12 at 8:21 am

I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying. Could you clarify?


Kim 12.14.12 at 8:27 am

I Corinthians 10:12, SWM.

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