NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – A new study from the Methodist Church in Britain is encouraging church workers and ministers to adopt a greater level of understanding and inclusion for new types of "families," including those composed of same-sex couples.
"What does the word 'family' mean in the twenty-first century?" A summary of the study asks.
"This is challenging, as what constitutes 'being a family' eludes being clearly defined. In contemporary society family is found in a variety of places and takes a number of different forms that go beyond blood relationships and relationships established by law. It is vital therefore for us to develop a clear understanding of the kinds of families taking part in family activities and the support offered to them by churches."
The study, drawn from surveys, research and interviews, addresses families composed of heterosexual parents, parents with special needs children, grandparents raising grandchildren, single parents, multi-faith families, and "same sex couples with children."
According to the full report, only a "few interviewees" believed the "concept of family was closely related to their theological understanding of the Bible and was one of father, mother and children living in the Christian faith, and for some people the Governments' introduction of same sex marriage was outside their definition of what constitutes family."
England (and Wales) opened the doors to same-sex marriage in 2014, but the Church of England – which still regards marriage as being only between one man and one woman – does not wed same-sex couples. The Methodist Church of Britain also has not authorized the marriage of same-sex couples, though it has softened its stance on the matter.
On its website, the church claims: "Within our Church there is a spectrum of views on human sexuality. The Methodist Conference 2014 reaffirmed the current Methodist Standing Orders which state our belief, 'that marriage is a gift of God and that it is God's intention that a marriage should be a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of one man and one woman.'
"At the same time we have for nearly twenty years explicitly recognized, affirmed and celebrated the participation and ministry of lesbians and gay men, and been committed to a pilgrimage of faith to combat discrimination and give dignity and worth to people whatever their sexuality. The Conference in 2014 confirmed that there was no reason why Methodists may not enter legally formed same sex marriage (i.e. civil marriage) or form a civil partnership."
The denomination is currently studying how to approach the issue of same-sex marriage.
According to a news release accompanying the report, Gail Adcock, Families Ministries Development Officer in the Methodist Church, said the church's understanding of what families need in the modern context goes "beyond the concept of the nuclear family to encompass a diversity of relationships. Once we recognize this, we can adopt more inclusive language and respond more effectively to minister and support families in the contexts that they are in."
Adcock said more support is needed for various "unique" families.
"If we are to be effective family workers we can't just presume all families are the same. We must treat each family as unique and provide relevant support to them in the circumstances that they are in," Adcock said.