The Archbishop of Wales has made his most positive comments yet about LGBT rights – as his Church charts a course towards embracing same-sex marriage.
The Archbishop Dr Barry Morgan, who is retiring next year, made his comments in an address to the Governing Body of the Church in Wales, responding to criticism for the Church’s acceptance of same-sex unions.
He said: “[Recently the Church has] issued prayers that can be said with those in same-sex relationships and as you might expect, there has been criticism from those who say we have exceeded our authority and ignored biblical injunctions and from those who say that we have not gone nearly far enough in exercising that authority.”
Pushing on, he insisted: “For past generations, homosexual practice was seen as a moral failure because people had no understanding of human sexuality and how humans are formed biologically, psychologically and socially. For them, it was a disorder.
“We now know that sexual orientation is not a matter of personal choice but of how people are and that ought to make a huge difference to the way we view things.
The Archbishop contested: “If God is the creator, He reveals Himself to us through new knowledge and insights so that, for example, we no longer believe the world was created in six days… what was responsible for this shift was a growth in understanding about the issue in question.
“We are not thereby abandoning the Bible but trying to interpret it in a way that is consistent with the main thrust of the ministry of Jesus, who went out of His way to minister to those who were excluded, marginalised, and abandoned by His society because they were regarded as impure and unholy by the religious leaders of His day, either because of their gender, age, morality or sexuality.
“Taking Holy Scripture seriously means paying attention to Jesus’ ministry of inclusivity.”
The Archbishop continued to dissect parts of the Bible traditionally used to oppose gay unions.
He said: “It absolutely will not do to quote texts from parts of the Bible in a simplistic way without reference to their contexts. One has to treat the Bible as a whole and discern, often through stories, the direction in which it is leading. Taking the Bible as a whole and taking what it says very seriously may lead us into a very different view of same-sex relationships than the one traditionally upheld by the Church.
“The stories of Sodom and Gomorrah for example, associated with homosexuality and which have given rise to the pejorative word ‘Sodomite’, is in fact about an abuse of hospitality and what one writer calls ‘an attempted gang rape by a mob against two outsiders who are Lot’s guests’. Indeed Ezekiel says Lot’s relatives were punished primarily because they refused to help the poor and needy.
“In the New Testament too, some of the passages often cited are not about loving, committed, faithful relationships between people of the same sex, but about pederasty and male prostitution.
“But all that apart, and given that each of the passages purported to be about homosexuality can be interpreted in more than one way, we come to the fundamental question as to whether taking the Bible as a whole, we can come to the same conclusions about committed, faithful, loving, same-sex relationships as we did about slavery.”
He ended the speech by quoting from LGBT-inclusive theology book Amazing Love, reading: “We are most truly ourselves when we live for others and we gain life not by clutching to it but by giving it away. Living for others underlines the truest meaning of sexuality.
“Christians have discovered that most people flourish best when this living for others finds its focus in a commitment to one other person: when a couple make a lifelong commitment within which sex properly belongs.”
He added: “Those of us who were or are married have found that to be the case. Why would we want to deny such a possibility for those who are attracted to their own gender?”
Though the Church in Wales is pushing ahead on LGBT issues, the Church of England appears mired in the swamp, with gay priests risking punishment by defying anti-gay marriage rules.