In a new post on her blog entitled ‘Infant Baptism: An Anglican Model for Same Sex Blessings?’ Miranda Threlfall Holmes suggests that thinking about the practice of infant baptism provides a potentially helpful way past the current impasse in the Church of England about whether it would be right to bless sexually active same-sex relationships. I think she is wrong and in this piece I shall explain why.
In her post Threlfall Holmes writes that:
‘The problem we have come up against repeatedly in our debates so far is the seemingly intractable one of whether same sex (sexually active) relationships are inherently sinful or not. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I can’t see our different views on that particularly fraught question being resolved anytime soon. And at the moment, our debates have been stuck there, with one side wanting blessings to prove that they aren’t sinful, and the other side determined not to be seen to be blessing sin.’
As she sees it, thinking about infant baptism may be able to help us move past this log jam because the practice of infant baptism is based on the conviction ‘that God can save regardless of any effort on our part.’
Applying this conviction to the issue of blessing same-sex relationships she comments:
‘….you might not think they are a good idea. You might think that they are sinful. You might think that they are not God’s plan. In which case, blessing them or not is a good test of whether you really believe that our salvation depends on God’s grace alone.
Personally, you see, I really think it does. I really think, and preach, that our salvation comes from what Jesus has done for us, not on what we earn for ourselves.
Believing that, it seems to me that baptising babies and blessing relationships that many in the church think are dodgy are both great ways of demonstrating that our belief as a Church is that God’s blessing doesn’t depend on our works-righteousness but on His grace alone.’
Her fundamental argument is thus that those who think same-sex relationships are sinful ought to support blessing them because from their perspective to do this declares the truth that God’s blessing depends purely on his grace and does not depend in any way on the moral worth of our actions.
This argument has the merit of originality, but it is fundamentally flawed for two reasons.
First, she confuses salvation and blessing.
A distinction has to be made between the truth that God saves us through Christ even though we have not done anything to deserve it and the claim that this means it is right to bless something that we believe to be sinful. God’s saving action in Christ does not imply any approval of our sinful state, whereas blessing something, such as a relationship between two people, implies that it is something that has God’s approval.
As the Oxford English Dictionary notes, to bless means ‘to confer or invoke divine favour upon: ask God to look favourably upon.’ It is not possible to confer or invoke God’s favour upon or to ask God to look favourably upon something that is sinful. The Biblical witness tells us consistently that God hates and rejects sin and has acted in Christ to remove it from his creation for ever. How then can we confer or invoke God’s favour upon it or ask God to look with favour upon it?
Secondly, while it is true that the blessing of infants illustrates in a very clear way the truth that God’s grace precedes any response on our part, the Anglican tradition, like other traditions which have practiced infant baptism, has always insisted that this prevenient grace of God requires an appropriate human response, which is itself assisted by God’s grace.
We can see this if we look at what is said about baptism in the opening section of the catechism in the Book of Common Prayer. This runs as follows:
‘Question. What is your Name?
Answer. N. or M.
Question. Who gave you this Name?
Answer. My Godfathers and Godmothers in my Baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.
Question. What did your Godfathers and Godmothers then for you?
Answer. They did promise and vow three things in my name. First, that I should renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanity of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh. Secondly, that I should believe all the articles of the Christian faith. And thirdly, that I should keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of my life.
Question. Dost thou not think that thou art bound to believe, and to do, as they have promised for thee?
Answer. Yes verily: and by God’s help so I will. And I heartily thank our heavenly Father, that he hath called me to this state of salvation, through Jesus Christ our Saviour. And I pray unto God to give me his grace, that I may continue in the same unto my life’s end.’
As Frank Colquhoun points out in his book on the catechism, what we have in this section are the two parts of the ‘Christian covenant.’ The opening two questions and answers set out what God has done for the child who has been baptised, giving them a place in his Church, his family and his kingdom and the closing two questions and answers set out how they should respond with assistance of God’s grace by renouncing evil, believing the truth and doing what is right.
The question which this pattern of God’s grace being met with an appropriate human response raises for the debate about the blessing of same-sex relationships is what constitutes an appropriate human response to grace in terms of our sexual behaviour. The answer that is given to us by the Bible and the Christian tradition is that renouncing what the catechism calls ‘the sinful lusts of the flesh’ involves abstaining from all sexual relationships outside of marriage between one man and one woman, including inter alia same-sex sexual relationships. It is because this is the case that it would be wrong to bless such relationships.
 Frank Colquhoun, The Catechism and the Order of Confirmation, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1963, p.15.
 For the documentation for this see S Donald Fortson and Rollin G Grams, Unchanging Witness, Nashville: B & H Academic, 2016.