In the last week, the House of Commons has agreed to read for the third time a bill to bring into being in the UK same-sex marriage. In the same week, the Church of Scotland (The Kirk) has agreed that an active homosexual person should not be in a leadership position in a church but Kirk Sessions, the governing body of the individual church fellowship, may opt out of this to appoint a sexually-active homosexual man or woman to the position of minister.
I can understand that a body which has few active Christians, and many who do not even give lip service to Christianity, would turn its back on the teachings of the Bible, but how can a church say in the same breath “This action is wrong” and “You can do this if you want to”. In the last week a senior adviser to the prime minister was reported as calling his party’s activists “swivel-eyed loons”. I don’t know about swivel-eyed loons, but surely for a church to say what the Kirk said on appointing homosexual ministers shows that it has taken leave of its collective senses.
Some lawyers have said that with European Law the legislative opt-outs for churches to refuse to perform same-sex marriages will be held to be unlawful, and so orthodox believers may find themselves forced by a civil court to perform a ceremony which will effectively be to celebrate sin. What should the church fellowship do in such a case?
The first point to make is that it is not a hanging offence. No Christian will be subject to capital punishment by the state for standing by their beliefs, unlike Dieterich Bonhoeffer in the 1940’s. But make no mistake, trouble will come.
The second point is this. In most non-conformist churches in England, the minister is usually an honorary assistant registrar, to enable him or her to officiate at marriages held in church for civil legal purposes. There is generally no-one else in the church who can legally perform a marriage ceremony and it is usually to the minister that all enquiries for weddings go in the first place. If the minister, for reasons of his own conscience, or because his church governing body has so directed, is not able to perform such a same-sex marriage, he or she will be the first to be sued, along with the church. For the minister, if it is a matter of conscience, and given the level of stipends in the UK, the likeliehood of a successful civil prosecution is limited, but those churches who own their own buildings could well be forced into selling them should the church be sued. So the minister is more likely to be prosecuted for breach of the anti-discrimination legislation and may be fined or may be imprisoned. Before anyone says that this is not a plausible scenario, there is a case in the USA where a minister is currently free on appeal because he assisted someone who had repented of her former lesbian lifestyle to flee the country when her former lesbian partner obtained access to her child and the child became more and more upset after each access visit.
The church and the minister need to be sure to follow God rather than the dictates of man, and be prepared to pay the price.
The church fellowships will need to look carefully at their structures and arrange that their assets are protected from a civil suit for damages or a fine for refusing to comply with anti-discrimination rules. This is probably a case for involving orthodox Christian trust lawyers to be sure that anyone suing the church cannot force the church to sell its buildings and give up the money to someone whose sole aim was to cripple the activities of the church in preaching the Word. Scripture tells us to be innocent as doves but wily as serpents. By looking to make such transfers to trusts now, before any such cases have been brought, no lawyer can say that this was a transfer of assets designed to frustrate the case of his clients.
Let me be clear. I believe that homosexual activity is sinful. I believe that all sexual activity, homosexual or heterosexual, outside marriage, which I define as the union of one man and one woman for life, is sinful. I believe that there is no place for an unrepentant sinner in a position of leadership in a church fellowship. If a person wishes to ask me what I think of his or her domestic arrangements, then I will tell that person. If that person does not wish to take part in the leadership of a church, then, other than pointing out that failure to accept Jesus Christ as his Saviour and Lord will lead to eternal separation from God, it is none of my business what that person does. As Jesus is recorded as saying to the rich young man, “Keep the Law” and “Sell what you have and give to the poor, then come and follow Me” is the best advice we can all give to anyone who is not yet Christian, but we need to remember that the person they need to follow is the Jesus of Scripture, and not some cut down version created in our own image. And we too need to follow Him.