Christians who support same-sex marriage are not “abandoning the Bible” the Archbishop of Wales has insisted, as he told leading Anglicans that sex in a committed gay or lesbian relationship is perfectly “proper”.
Dr Barry Morgan used his final address to the governing body of the Church in Wales, ahead of his retirement, to urge members to rethink traditional beliefs about same-sex relationships as being sinful.
Even Biblical texts often cited as condemning homosexuality, such as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone, could be “interpreted in more than one way”, he said.
One cannot argue that there is one accepted traditional way of interpreting Scripture that is true and orthodox and all else is modern revisionism, culturally conditioned
Dr Barry Morgan
Read as a whole, it is not possible to argue that there is “one settled understanding of what the Bible says” on sexuality and a range of other topics, he claimed.
Dr Morgan, a prominent liberal figure in the church, is stepping down in early 2017 after 14 years as Archbishop, the longest serving primate in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
In his address he cites a string of examples from both the Old Testament and New Testament in which, he said, different passages effectively contradict each other on topics as diverse as the status of eunuchs in Jewish society to the use of violence in retribution.
“What all this shows is that within the Scriptures themselves, there are radical shifts in understanding in what it means to discern the will of God,” he said.
“It absolutely will not do to quote texts from parts of the Bible in a simplistic way without reference to their contexts.”
Overall, he said, Christianity should welcome those “excluded, marginalized, and abandoned by society”.
In previous centuries, churches had shifted their position dramatically on issues such as slavery, he added.
People flourish best when ... a couple make a lifelong commitment within which sex properly belongs
'Amazing Love' - book of essays quoted by Dr Morgan
He said: “What all this amounts to is that one cannot argue that there is one accepted traditional way of interpreting scripture that is true and orthodox and all else is modern revisionism, culturally conditioned … so 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.”
He went on: “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.”
Some branches of Anglicanism, including the Church of England, have sought to sidestep the question of clergy in same-sex relationships by insisting they should claim to be celibate.
Last week the Bishop of Grantham, the Rt Rev Nicholas Chamberlain, disclosed that he is in a same sex relationship but made clear that he observes celibacy.
But Dr Morgan pointedly rejected the celibacy requirement, quoting a passage from a recent book of essays on the subject, entitled Amazing Love, which argues: “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?”