Discernment Regarding the Blessing of Same-Gender Relationships
Position Paper of the Theological Commission of the European-Continental Province of the Moravian Church Regarding the Blessing of Same-Gender Relationships
Editor’s note: This is not an official position approved by the European-Continental Synod, but a paper prepared by the Theological Commission (at the request of the PEC) to aid in discussion for congregations.
The 2012 Synod meeting in Königsfeld (Germany) assigned the Theological Commission to continue dealing with the issue of the blessing of same-gender relationships and to provide discussion material to the congregations (Resolutions 7/2012). Whereas the last report from the
Theological Commission dealt predominantly with juridical matters, this time we would like to address theological questions to a greater extent. We would also like to state more clearly than previously that we consider the possibility of blessing same-gender relationships as theologically legitimate and desirable.
We realize that not everyone will share our assessment and that many questions will remain unanswered. This statement should therefore be understood as an invitation for discussion. We hope that our common desire to model the life of our church in the spirit of Jesus according to the witness of Holy Scripture will guide the way.
What is This About?
The discussion on same-gender relationships runs the risk of focusing on a particular form of sexuality. But relationships are more than sexuality.
We think it is important to place people and their relationships with one another at the center of the discussion. The issue of blessings is about:
- people who are our brothers and sisters as Christians and as members or friends of the Moravian Church
- committed relationships, characterized by mutual love and responsibility for each other
- the mission of the church to offer pastoral care to people in their respective situations of life
Why is This Issue Important?
There are people in our churches with a homosexual orientation. They participate in church life and, like other members, they wish to experience guidance and care for their lives. Regarding how this can be accomplished in an appropriate manner we would like to point out the following:
- The biological cause for homosexual inclinations has not been completely determined scientifically. However, there is increasing evidence that it is an innate condition manifested in early childhood. Consequently, homosexual orientation should not be considered as a pathological behavioral disorder or as morally inappropriate behavior.
- There are many homosexual Christians who have learned (sometimes during a long and painful process) to accept themselves the way they are and who are waiting to be accepted within the church as creatures who are loved and supported by God.
- In many European countries there is a legal basis to register same- gender unions and members of the Moravian Church increasingly take advantage of these possibilities.
What Do We Support?
Within our church there is a distinct sentiment to accompany one another as brothers and sisters on our individual paths of life and to support one another prayerfully because we know that we need God’s blessing at important turning points of our lives (birth and death, education and profession, partnership and family).
Blessing is founded on the assurance that God grants life of wholeness and fulfillment in face of manifold threats. We believe it should be possible within the Moravian Church to offer this act of blessing by the church in a suitable form, including the possibility of a public church event, to two members of the same gender who enter into a committed life union within the context of the existing legal possibilities and who desire to live this partnership in love, faithfulness, and responsibility for one another.
What Does the Bible Say?
In the discussion about the blessing of same-gender partnerships we are encouraged to listen to the testimony of the Bible in order to determine God’s will for the direction of our church. It is clear to us that very different opinions exist that are often based on a different approach to Biblical interpretation.
The following two concepts are, in our view, essential as a basis for an appropriate understanding of the Holy Scriptures:
- Individual statements need to be considered within the context of the entire message of the Bible.
- The center of the biblical message is the revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ, that is revealed both in the “preaching of the cross” as a sign of God’s unconditional mercy of God and in the double commandment of love.
Regarding the discussion about the issue of blessings, we find it therefore important to not only consider those Bible verses that directly refer to certain homosexual practices but to also be aware of the biblical message of life finding wholeness and fulfillment in community with others, made possible by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There is no question that some Bible verses condemn certain homosexual practices (Lev. 18:22 and 20:13, Rom. 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9, and 1 Tim. 1:9-10). The question remains how binding these passages can be for the life of Christians today. We hesitate to deduce a categorical rejection of same-gender relationships from these passages for the following reasons:
- “Homosexuality” is only a side topic in the Bible. Jesus himself does not say anything on this subject. It does not have any apparent connection with the Ten Commandments or the double commandment of love.
- The verses mentioned above do not refer to the issue of same-gender relationships of love and faithfulness but only to a certain form of sexual intercourse.
- The original meaning of these verses was possibly related to a rejection of certain forms of sexual abuse, such as the violation of enemies by rape, temple prostitution, and pederasty which was widespread in Greek culture. This makes it especially important to distinguish between mere sexual intercourse involving abuse, and a partnership based on love and mutuality.
- The rejection of homosexual contact is found in the context of many biblical bans and commandments that are expressions of time- and culture-related ideas of the ancient Middle East, such as dress regulations, food restrictions, Levirate marriage (Deut. 25:5-6), circumcision, etc. Only a few of these are still considered to be binding for the life of the church today.
- There are important examples of topics where the church has changed its view over time, including slavery, divorce, the death penalty, and the ordination of women. Such changes, that can already be found within the Bible (see Acts 15:1-29), require a willingness to recognize God’s will and guidance against the literal sense of individual Biblical texts.
In addition we would like to state some reasons why we believe the biblical message also allows a positive, respectful assessment of same-gender partnerships of love and faithfulness:
- The Bible considers humans as social beings and highly rates values that sustain coexistence. Among those values are justice, faithfulness, love, and mutuality. The Old Testament concept of covenant faithfulness (Hebr.: hesed) implies the integrity of a relationship on a partnership basis that can also be expressed in a relationship between two men (for example, David and Jonathan, 1 Sam. 18:1-44) or two women (for example, Ruth and Naomi, Ruth 1:16-17). In the New Testament, the ideal of a relationship based on partnership is expressed with the concept of “koinonia.” The criterion to decide if a relationship meets with the will of God is the call to “carry each other’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2).
- Jesus Christ gave us the example that God’s intention of salvation breaks down boundaries, especially for those at the margins of the established religious order. Time and again Jesus turned to the outcasts and brought them God’s mercy with healing gestures and words of blessing. He also cured and blessed those who, according to the law, were considered unclean and untouchable (see Mark 5:25-34 and 7:24-30). For him, the trusting plea for help counts more than any moral reservations: “anyone who comes to me I will never drive away” ( John 6:37).
- The New Testament considers unity in diversity as the essence of Christian community. In Christ different people come together as members of one body (see 1 Cor. 12:12-26). They all come with their own special gifts and experiences and are encouraged to accept one another in their diversity. They may experience how diversity can bring enhancement. This is also true for different ways of life. Marriage is not the only way. When asked whether Christians should marry, Paul (who was single) said: “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind” (1 Cor. 7:7). Accordingly, we may also consider same-gender relationships as a legitimate way of life, not to diminish the value of marriage or to compete with marriage but to open a possibility for people who are differently inclined that corresponds to their gift (see 1 Peter 4:10).
Regarding the issue of blessing we find it important to go not by the letter but by the spirit of the Biblical message (see 2 Cor. 3:6). The main criterion is love: God’s promise that he has accepted us as his children, and the commandment to live our lives as Christians in loving relationships (see Eph.5:1-2). Therefore we come to the conclusion that, if the intention is to strengthen two human beings on their common journey in love and faithfulness, the blessing of same-gender relationships is compatible with the message of the Bible. At the same time we would like to stress that we respect the opinion of those who, from their perspective arrive, at a different conclusion.
What Comes Next?
Our search for a common course regarding the issue of blessings is challenging. The discussion on this topic is causing tensions, not only within our congregation but also within our Province and especially within the world-wide Unity. Therefore, the more important it is to point out three perspectives that may be helpful for the future discussion:
- The issue of blessing same-gender relationships touches the personal faith and way of life of many members in a particular way. Therefore we should see to it that in all conversations, discussions and decisions, the freedom of conscience of each participant is respected and guaranteed. Similarly, we want to ensure that a respectful tone and behavior towards one another should prevail during our conversations.
- We assert that the different opinions regarding this issue do not separate the church. When it comes to controversial issues it is good to keep in mind the theological motto of the Moravian Church: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things love.” This distinction may help to preserve the freedom for our conversations.
- We believe that the individual responsibility of each congregation should be taken into more consideration. Considering the possibility of blessing same-gender relationships touches upon the lives of brothers and sisters within the context of specific congregational situations.
- Therefore, in our opinion, the exploration of suitable forms of pastoral care should occur on the congregational level.
We hope that this position paper will contribute to meaningful and constructive discussions within the congregations and to the clarification of controversial questions.
On behalf of the Theological Commission, Volker Schulz; translation: Paul Peucker, Bethlehem, Pa., April 2014
Featured photo: Christiansted Moravian Church Photo by Villy Fink Isaksen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0