So I’m continuing to look at the changing nature of family and what this might mean practically for the church, based on looking at what Dr. Katherine Rake said in her Family and Parenting Institute address.
The first set of changes she noted related to the ways that families can be started. She said:
“Over the past 10 years, the very ways that families can be started has changed:
By the beginning of this year almost 33,956 civil partnerships had been contracted since their introduction at the end of 2005.
Assisted reproduction counts for the conception of about 10,000 children a year or about 1 per cent of children born in the UK.”
With regard to the second part of that I am going to say very little apart from the church needs to get a real grip on the struggles involved in this one to support those who face infertility. I have been very moved reading Marmite on Toast and about her journey through IVF as I was listening to a friend who was describing her ethical wrestling, as a Catholic, with the issues involved and the decisions that led her to. I have also been moved listening to the journey of some friends who are going through the adoption process. Childlessness and the desire for a child are very real things which hurt many people inside and outside our churches deeply. We need to realise that and act with real sensitivity and support, coming alongside those facing these struggles.
The other change she identifies is the introduction of civil partnerships. There have already, I think, been too many words written on sexuality on this blog. Yet, I cannot ignore the issues this raises for the church. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul was addressing a church on the subject of what to do when believers were married to non-believers and about singleness. Having heard a sermon on this on Sunday I realised that we might have much to learn from this passage. In our society there will, inevitably, be people in civil partnerships who come to faith. They will be in committed, monogomous, loving relationships which they have legally sealed. Churches will be faced with the question of what to do with these people. Do they tell people to leave those relationships, do they tell people to no longer have sex in those relationships or what? Do they tell those people they can come to church but not be fully involved in serving? I think Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 gives us the answer. Those people should be encouraged in the relationships they are in. If a non-believing partner then chooses to leave that is fine, but the Christian should not leave just because they have come to faith.
This in turn leads us onto the churches whole attitude to civil partnerships. An excellent talk on the subject I heard was one given a few years ago at Baptist Assembly by Nigel G. Wright. In that talk Wright talks about how civil partnerships give important rights to gay and lesbian couples which are basic human rights and so should be supported. He also gives his view that homosexual activity is unbiblical. Thus we are in a situation where he advocates civil partnerships but not sexual activity between gay and lesbian couples. He also effectively advocates civil partnerships for those outside the church, but not within it.
If we are serious about outreach and mission though this quandry needs to be dealt with. What is our view on monogomous, committed, loving gay couples and our outreach and mission to them? When it comes to gay and lesbian couples within our church communities are we going to encourage them in the ideals of commitment, monogomy and sex within that type of relationship or are we going to prefer to take the view of what we don’t see isn’t taking place? Are we going to put up barriers for these couples, sending the message that loving, monogomous commitment is something we can’t support if you happen to be gay? Or are we going to start producing civil partnership preperation classes, just as we produce marriage preperation classes? Are we going to start openly blessing commitment rather than trying to deny it? What are our motives for the denial of the celebration of these partnerships? Is it just the biblical stuff or is it that in forming a civil partnership the couple are publicly showing that the myths put forward about homosexuals all being deviant and promiscuous is a heterosexist lie? I personally find it mad that many churches deny gay and lesbian couples the opportunity to make a public commitment outside of a registry office setting, saying they want to commit to a loving, monogomous, committed life long relationship.
For a bit of a laugh which highlights how wider society has changed on this issue I leave you with the Gay Son sketch from Goodness Gracious Me. We watched it on GCN retreat last year and it always makes me smile.