One of the things that I’ve been saying for a while is that the Scottish Episcopal Church is developing some answers for how Christians should deal with questions about human sexuality that caused so much trouble throughout the world.
Yesterday we saw some of that at work in the General Synod meeting in Edinburgh. When it came to the debate, we had something which drew us together rather than drew us apart.
Although there were just a few unpleasant and frankly hurtful anti-gay things said in the debate, almost all of it was positive. There are people who couldn’t vote for the changes that we are hoping to make but the dominant mood from most of them was that the church had worked to ensure that everyone has a place that they can be in with integrity.
The key to all this is what emerged at last year’s synod – that the time has come for us to stop forcing one another to sign up to statements about marriage that we simply don’t all agree with.
The theological and ecclesiastical reality is that we are a church that doesn’t have one defined view on a great many things. We don’t all have the same view about baptismal regeneration, salvation or the ethics of nuclear weapons. We are not a church which has a single view about sexuality which everyone is going to have to sign up to or be threatened with having to leave the church. That just isn’t who we are.
Technically, we are defining ourselves very firmly as a church which is not confessional in nature. This shouldn’t particularly surprise us but it is important that we know what we are. There are theological bonds that bind us and bonds of affection too. But we are not united around one view of human sexuality.
How could it be godly to force fellow Christians to say things they don’t believe?
How can any church think that a single view about sex will unite them?
I’ve always said that the only potential for unity lies not with sex nor bishops but with Christ. It is Christ who calls us together in the Scottish Episcopal Church; calls us together and calls us together to offer what we know about the love of God to Scotland. That is a unity worth the struggle. The fantasy that a single view about sexuality can hold a church together is busted.
The most striking thing yesterday was the generosity of those who can’t affirm this. The strong, dominant message that they gave to synod is that they can’t affirm this but that they have a space to exist within the Scottish Episcopal Church. Bob Gillies, the Bishop of Aberdeen (and the person who as a rector put me into training to be a priest) showed his own leadership in giving interviews to the press which generously noted that though he disagrees with the premise that we move to a position where gay couples might be married in church, he recognises how much has been done to keep us together.
Let the Anglican (and wider Christian) world know this – one of the solutions is to stop bullying one another into trying to say the same thing. Jesus was no bully and the apostles were always diverse. What we are doing in Scotland is thoughtful, biblical and not without its costs for us all.
There are compromises here too. This isn’t quite how I would have done things. However, I recognise that this is the best chance we have to hang together.
Yesterday I said in the debate that I wished that the BBC were turning up to report the things we had to say about refugees, the living wage and poverty or even our aspirations in mission to the people of Scotland. Instead, the media turns up because it seems like Christians are arguing about sex yet again.
If next year’s synod affirms what we did yesterday then we’ll put a stop in Scotland to sexuality being the thing that Episcopalians talk about endlessly. It is time to move on. It is time, as we discovered yesterday, to move on together.
When the vote came, I genuinely didn’t know whether the position I was supporting had succeeded or not. We needed a simple majority in each house of synod to keep this alive and then faced the prospect of trying to work towards a 2/3rds majority next year. Many said before the vote that they were unsure we would ever get that 2/3rds majority.
In the event, we had the 2/3rds majority in each house yesterday. We still have to discuss it in dioceses and have another vote next year to confirm it. But we know know that the required majority can be achieved and has been achieved because of the work done to make sure that there’s space for all who love God in the Scottish Episcopal Church, regardless of how they respond to the reality of marriage that is open to same sex couples.
When it comes to responding to questions of human sexuality, Scottish Episcopalians are doing something new.
Scottish Episcopalians are doing it together.