Staying Connected Through Conflict: Christian Clergy Who Support Same-sex Marriage
Kirby, Andrew David
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Same-sex marriage within churches is an ongoing, highly contentious, and contested space. A rich literature depicts dichotomised views, reflecting those of academics at denominational level, and addresses theological substance or denominational policies. However, significantly less is known at the parishioner level about the issue from the perspectives of clergy who support same-sex marriage. These perspectives are important to understand as clergy hold influential positions as opinion leaders at the congregational and social levels, and influence socio-moral discourses within religion and beyond. Using constructivist grounded theory, 21 Christian clergy from six Christian denominations in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia were interviewed about their supportive views. Namely, the research sought to explain what contributed to clergy’s supportive views and how they managed their daily lives holding these views within their institutions. From data analysis a core process was identified as ‘staying connected through conflict.’ The conflict stemmed from clergy’s supportive views which diverged from traditional religious ideology. Valuing relationship was found to be significant in the development of participants’ supportive views on same sex marriage. Valuing relationship at multiple levels underpinned participants’ decision to remain with their church and was a driving force in their staying connected through conflict. The emphasis participants placed on valuing relationship was also found to guide their day-to-day actions and informed how they managed diverse relationships with those holding differing views on the issue of same-sex marriage. This study expands the international evidence to Aotearoa New Zealand and contributes to a growing scholarship in Australia. The findings encourage religious institutions to be respectfully open to conversations that will lead to more understanding, tolerance, and support for supportive clergy as agents of change. Significantly, explaining the perspectives and lives of these clergy has the potential to provide a new source of reference and support for a more unified and compassionate way forward for church leaders or laity, religious or non-religious, straight or gay, who are struggling with the concept of same-sex marriage.