Scrolling through my Twitter feed recently (if you are unfamiliar with this idea, please ask a young person), I came across this excerpt from Quaker Faith & Practice:
"One of the unexpected things I have learnt in my life as a Quaker is that religion is basically about relationships between people. This was an unexpected discovery, because I had been brought up to believe that religion was essentially about our relationship with God...
... I do not think I am alone in my certainty that it's in my relationships with people that the deepest religious truths are most vividly disclosed..."
George Gorman 1982
As we begin to prepare for the Circuit consultations on the report to Conference called "God In Love Unites Us" (read the full report here) it seemed a timely passage on which to reflect. All members across the Circuit will have received (or will shortly be receiving) an invitation to come and confer together on some very significant changes to the public image and practice of the Methodist Church.
These changes are about whether the time is right to change the Methodist Church's view and teaching about how to relate well to each other as human beings – with a particular emphasis on a commitment to live in relationships which are built on self-giving love, commitment, fidelity, loyalty, honesty, mutual respect, equality and the desire for the mutual flourishing of the people involved. Secondly, to recognise the reality of cohabitation, but to point to the presence of God's love within such relationships, and to encourage people to respond to it in the renewing and deepening (by whatever means) of their commitment.
The third part of the conferring concerns whether the time is right to amend the Methodist Church's understanding of marriage to include and celebrate marriage between two people of the same sex as well as between two people of mixed sex. Were this significant change to be agreed, there would then need to be changes to the current practice regarding marriage such that the Methodist Church would be asked to consent in principle to the marriage of same sex couples on Methodist premises throughout the Connexion and by Methodist ministers, probationers or members in so far as the law of the relevant jurisdiction permits or requires and subject to compliance with such further requirements, if any, as that law imposes. Individual Church Councils would then decide whether they wished to change their local practice.
Given that none of us can fully know the mind of God, the need to relate well with our sisters and brothers whatever they may feel about these proposals is of paramount importance. I believe that the words with which I began offer us both challenge and encouragement as we confer together, for however deep our personal relationship is with God, it is in how we treat our fellow human beings, especially when we disagree, that our ability to display the fruits of the Spirit is most clearly shown.