The report of the Working Party on Same-Sex Marriage which was agreed at this year’s Conference can be accessed by going to: www.methodistconference.org.uk/birmingham-2014/agenda-2014.
The report can be found in Section 40 of the agenda.
The 2014 Methodist Conference agreed that the following guidelines should replace those authorised by the 2006 Methodist Conference:
The Methodist Church recognises that its members hold contradictory convictions regarding issues of human sexuality and the forms of relationship intended by God. The demands of the Gospel commit us to making pilgrimage together grounded in mutual respect and a spirit of understanding and love. In all this we continue to affirm our need of grace and our willingness to admit our limitations.
In providing guidelines the Conference acknowledges the help required by Local Churches and individual ministers and lay persons to respond well to enquiries and requests for prayers or services from same sex couples, including those whose relationship has been recognised in a civil ceremony. The pastoral conversation with the couple resulting from such an enquiry should be conducted in an atmosphere of welcome and with care and sensitivity.
Any conversation about the current understanding of the Methodist Church with regard to marriage and relationships should be based on the previous decisions of the Conference in order that the pastoral response offered is consonant with these understandings. Knowledge is therefore presumed of the following Methodist Conference documents and decisions:
- The relevant Standing Orders, principally SO 011A
- The 1992 Conference Statement on A Christian Understanding of the Family, the Single Person and Marriage
- The 1993 Conference Resolutions on Human Sexuality (CPD Book VII, part 11)
- The Pilgrimage of Faith Reports 2005 and 2006
- Christian Preparation for Marriage: Methodist Church Policy and Guidelines (CPD Book VII, Part 8 )
- Guidelines for Interfaith Marriages (CPD Book VII, Part 9)
These documents and decisions together govern the practice of the Methodist Church and no decision of local church bodies or officers, ministers or lay persons regarding relationships or sexuality should contravene them. It is the responsibility of each presbyter, in conjunction with the Church Council, to ensure that this discipline is upheld in the life of the Local Church in order to preserve and advance its mission and unity.
Whilst it is expected that any response be respectful and welcoming, no local church body, minister or lay person is required to act in any way contrary to the demands of conscience. The Conference trusts that at all times all those responsible will seek to act together with integrity and in good faith.
Given the sensitivities of these matters, these guidelines are offered in a spirit of support and mutual care. They are intended to reduce the possibility of hurt or distress that may be caused by rejection or misunderstanding, and to preserve the unity of the Local Church, in order that the Church may remain faithful to the Gospel mission to which it is called.
Outcome’s Response to the Methodist Conference Report 2014 on Marriage and Civil Partnerships.
Outcome is the representative group of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer, and Intersexual Methodists and of all who support the journey towards a more inclusive church. It welcomes the fact that the Methodist people are currently in conversation and exploration of such important issues, and that the Church is moving towards becoming a more fully inclusive body, addressing issues of equality and justice that we believe are fully reflective of the nature and kingdom of God.
We urge the membership of the church to fully take on board the resolution of Conference to actively engage in a ‘listening’ process on these important matters of human relationships and interaction over the next two years, and it is our hope and our prayer that all voices will be truly heard and every view respected in what we hope will be an open, honest, but perhaps difficult and even painful journey.
We welcome the Conference resolution on producing clearer guidance on the kind of language that is acceptable as the difficult issues are addressed in this debate, and the clear resolve of Conference to challenge both homophobic and hateful language and behaviour towards those who hold opposing views on these issues.
We also welcome the fact that the previous ruling of Conference, namely that there is no reason per se that a person either lay or ordained may enter a Civil partnership without prejudice and judgment, has now been extended to those now wishing to enter into a legally contracted same sex marriage or to convert their Civil Partnership into one; however we urge that such partnerships and marriages are not regarded by the church as second rate or lesser than those of a heterosexual couple, and we look to the day when there will be full recognition and blessing of this in its fullest sense by the church.
In view of the above, we welcome Conference’s response to Memorial 29 (2012) from the Birmingham District amending the previous guidelines in allowing individual church councils and ministers the opportunity to consider appropriate pastoral responses to requests for blessings for same sex couples. This is an important step forward in mission and outreach to a group in society who feel completely ostracized and judged by the Church for simply trying to be faithful to who they are. This is particularly important in this divergent period where the Church’s teaching on and the legal definition of marriage are now at odds.
We welcome the appointment of a new Working Party by Conference to oversee this two year period of reflection and discernment by the church in what it means to live with difference and urge that this Working Party is as fully representative as possible of the different groups and stakeholders within the life of the Church. We agree with the response of Methodist Evangelicals Together (MET) to the consultation already carried out that the working party needs to address the need to provide more resources so that the church can be better ‘biblically informed’ in our discussions of relationship issues and, like MET, members of Outcome are ready to play our part in this and are already looking to produce and collate resources that will help in this.
We believe that the church’s current traditional stance on marriage, i.e. that it is God’s intention that marriage should be between one man and one woman, is a matter of biblical hermeneutics, which change depending through which lens the Scriptures are interpreted, and that the dynamic changes within society now enable and probably require us to move on to a wider interpretation of human relationships within the context of God’s love for the whole of humankind.
The Methodist Church in its consultation process so far and its formal response to the 2012 Government consultation on same sex marriage has reached the conclusion that, whilst affirming the church’s traditional teaching and stance on marriage, there cannot be a clear distinction between a ‘Civil’ and a ‘Religious’ marriage as ‘marriage is a single legal and social entity’. It therefore seems natural that in view of the legal changes that have now taken place the Church seriously considers and engages with the idea that its own definition of marriage needs to be revisited and it is our hope that over these next two years of consultation, reflection, and debate that Conference and the Church as a whole may graciously arrive at a position where it is able to do this.
As God’s people we continue to pray for and work towards a fully inclusive church where all are welcome and all their voices are heard, where individuals are loved and accepted, just as they are loved and accepted by the grace of God.