We can think differently on sexuality and still be one Church - Methodist President

(Photo: Methodist Church)

The Methodist Church need not split over the issues of gender, sexuality and gay marriage, its President has suggested.

Writing in The Sunday Times, the Rev Dr Barbara Glasson said that these issues were "complicated" but that Methodists could "disagree well" and continue to be united in love.

She said that to admit the issues were complex did not make her a "woolly liberal" or one of the "nice people who can't quite make up their minds".

"To say that something is complicated — not binary, but multifaceted — is to rejoice in a wonderful strength," she said.

"We are strong when we seek truth rather than certainty, love instead of judgment, relationship and community over dogmatic isolation.

"This truth applies to all aspects of life and relationships — not least those that are political, social, ethical or religious."

The Methodist Church is on the brink of changing its historical position on sexuality after its Conference in July approved a report for further debate in regional circuits before a final vote next summer.

'God in Love Unites Us' makes a number of radical proposals, including allowing churches to hold same-sex weddings but also events to bless unmarried cohabiting couples, essentially overturning the requirement for celibacy.

The report also suggests that new liturgy be drawn up to offer prayers for married couples who are getting divorced.

The document met with outcry from evangelicals who have urged the Church to retain its traditional understanding of marriage and sexuality.

Dr Glasson said that "obviously, we don't all think the same way" and that Methodists needed to "let love unite us".

"On all sides, some clearly believe that they are right and others are wrong, and they can back up their point of view with reference to scripture, reason, tradition and experience. In other words, we can make a very neat case for our view being the right one," she said.

"But here's the thing — the Methodist Church is saying 'it's complicated', and that if we are going to get through this as a denomination we need to look into each other's eyes and continue saying: 'God in love unites us.'

"We need to go on believing that we can think differently, yet stay together and grow. It's a challenge, but if we can achieve it, it's also a transferable skill."

She added: "We must learn to disagree well, and let love unite us. That doesn't mean to sell our firmly held beliefs, but to bring open-hearted grace to complex conversations."

Methodist Evangelicals Together has asked evangelicals in the Methodist Church not to split just yet but remain while the document continues to be debated so that they can contribute to the conversation. 

"Between now and spring 2020, the above proposals will be debated at various levels within the Methodist Church," it said in a statement following the summer's Conference.

"Whilst we are aware that evangelical Methodists are considering leaving the denomination, we encourage people to stay for as long as possible to continue to make the case for remaining faithful to the teaching of the Bible throughout the forthcoming consultation.

"We urge people to engage in this process of consultation, and to continue to make the case for retaining the understanding of marriage solely as the life-long union of one man and one woman and the only appropriate context for sexual intimacy. Such an understanding of marriage and relationships, we believe, is good news for all creation."