My reflections on the Pilling report have taken a somewhat different turn than I thought they would do. I welcome the thought that the Church of England is edging its way towards making it possible for us to celebrate publicly in church with those in faithful same sex unions. Even when we get there much more travelling will be needed before we can fully claim to be offering the love and acceptance of God freely and equally to all.
In the light of this I have been reflecting on my own experience of marriage and how others have blessed that in so many ways which can never so far be the experience of those in same-sex relationships. On our wedding day and throughout the whole of our married life Val and myself knew the wonderful blessing and celebration before God in which all our friends and family shared. We were always aware of how rich was the support, enjoyment and unfeigned love of so many with whom our lives have been intertwined over the years. There was never any context in which we had to hide the fact of our relationship, and never did we feel avoided and shunned because of our commitment to one another. There was full acceptance of us from start to finish! And since Val died in April of this year, the support and love I have received - through periods of grief and loss which have been far more devastating than I could have imagined - has been immense, freely and often quite sacrificially given. And some of my gay friends, two in particular, have been at the centre of that support and love which has helped me to cope, to grow and hopefully to flourish.
Yet, as I have been speaking recently with some of my friends, both lay and ordained, who are in same-sex relationships, it has struck me powerfully how they have had nothing as supportive as we have received so richly over the years. They have often encountered suspicion, rejection, humiliation - and worse - all because they are in love with someone who meets their deepest needs in line with how they have been created and gifted by God.
Throughout my ministry I believe I have tried to support my gay friends, parishioners, colleagues and students. Especially when I was Principal of Trinity College, Bristol it was important to me that those ordinands whom I knew to be gay should receive the same encouragement and support as all others.
At the time I still held the view that same-sex relationships were somehow unwelcome in the light of certain verses in the bible. However over the past 12 years I have come to see that the kind of faithful same-sex relationships I am meeting are not at all the same as the illicit activity rightly decried in the 7 verses in the scriptures to which reference is made when looking at this subject. It is clear that some are gay and lesbian by the very creation and gifting of God who makes us to live in relationship with the one who meets our needs, as pictured in the Adam and Eve story. There God brings Eve to Adam who recognises with joy that he has been given the one who is a perfect partner for him. For those created with a same-sex orientation the principle of God's gift is the same, but their love and joy is completed in a partnership with one of the same sex.
I find this discrepancy between how the Church and our fellow Christians have blessed myself, my wife and many millions of others, and how grudging, condemning and rejecting the Church usually is to those in same-sex relationships, is a denial of the gospel of grace. For many, we make the good news into bad news!