This has been an extra-ordinary week in the debate on same-sex partnerships in England and Wales.
First the Archbishop of Wales made same-sex partnerships the subject of his Presidential Address to the Church in Wales Governing Body.
He said that the church needed to find ways to be good news to gay people and that they should not be treated as second class citizens in church. He also recognised that there is no single Christian opinion on sexuality.Turning to the Government consultation on same-sex marriage, he became the first Archbishop in the UK to say that we should engage with the idea of same-sex marriage rather than simply opposing it,
“If the legislation to allow civil marriage is passed, I cannot see how we as a church, will be able to ignore the legality of the status of such partnerships and we ought not to want to do so.
“The question then as now is, will the church protect and support pastorally, faithful, stable, lifelong relationships of whatever kind in order to encourage human values such as love and fidelity and recognise the need in Christian people for some public religious support for these.”Then on Saturday morning, the Times newspaper published a letter from 15 leading members of the Church of England including 5 Bishops saying that the church has nothing to fear from Civil Marriage for same-sex couples and calls for theological discussion and prayerful reflection on the nature of marriage.
“Marriage is a robust institution which has adapted much over the centuries. It has moved beyond the polygamy of the Old Testament and preoccupation with social status and property in pre-Enlightenment times.
While the Prayer Book states that marriage was ordained first for ‘the procreation of children’ the modern marriage service begins by emphasising the quality of relationship between marriage partners ‘that they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind.’
The Church calls marriage holy or sacramental because the covenant relationship of committed, faithful love between the couple reflects the covenanted love and commitment between God and his Church. Growing in this kind of love means we are growing in the image of God. So the fact that there are same-sex couples who want to embrace marriage should be a cause for rejoicing in the Christian Church.”
And then later the same day, The Bishop of Salisbury made a major speech to the Cutting Edge Consortium in London in which he said that "it is disaster that we have allowed the Church to be seen as the opposition to equal civil marriage."
“There is an evangelical imperative for the Church to recognise that covenantal same sex relationships can be Godly and good for individuals and society; that they are at least like marriage for heterosexuals, and this is a development that many Christians in good faith warmly welcome.”
So what are we to make of all this?
For some time now, it has been relatively easy to have private conversations with Bishops and other senior church leaders where they have expressed private support for same-sex couples. What has not been possible until recently was to get them to say so in public. Indeed a network exercise I took part in recently found evidence that almost half of the House of Bishops are personally open to a change in church teaching on sexuality, but a combination of loyalty and fear keeps them from saying so openly.
Pressure is now growing behind the dam wall of silence and holes are appearing in the façade of uniformity which the Church of England has erected. People are starting to speak out - the debate is beginning to change. How many more holes will it take before the dam starts to collapse – who knows?
But the cracks are showing as the water of honesty begins to flow.
I hope that this week’s events will encourage others to be more honest and open in their doubts about the church’s current teaching on homosexuality – I hope it will inspire others to speak out and be counted. After this week, they will know that if they do, they will no longer be a lone voice in the wilderness, but part of a move of God’s Spirit.