The Scottish Episcopal Church and the upcoming Primates’ Meeting

There’s been a little flurry of articles in the press this week about the Scottish Episcopal Church.

“SANCTIONS LOOM FOR SCOTTISH EPISCOPAL CHURCH’S PRO-GAY MARRIAGE VOTE”

“SCOTS ‘TO FACE CONSEQUENCES’ OVER GAY MARRIAGE”

“GLOBAL ANGLICAN CHURCH LEADERS CONDEMN SCOTLAND FOR ALLOWING SAME-SEX WEDDINGS”

And so on.

The only awkward thing about all these articles is that the Primates’ Meeting hasn’t happened yet. No-one has condemned anything and no-one really knows what is going to happen.

This press interest seems to have started in London in the middle of the week when someone gave a briefing to the likes of the BBC, the Telegraph and the Guardian. All three had identical stories which didn’t reference anyone in Scotland at all. It isn’t rocket science to come to the conclusion that someone in either Lambeth Palace or the Anglican Communion Office was briefing journalists against the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Now, the thing about this is, as our American Episcopalian friends would no-doubt testify strongly, that there are some things which put the Anglican Communion at serious risk. Off the record media briefings against churches in the Communion put the Communion at far, far more risk than any number of weddings of same-sex couples.

After all, Justin Welby’s own authority is undermined – seriously undermined, if people coming together can’t have any sense of confidence in those who work in Lambeth Palace and the Anglican Communion Office. Trust has been undermined this week and the Archbishop has the capacity either to regain it or undermine it further.

Once that is done, the serious business of listening to one another should begin.

For that is the point of the Primates’ Meeting – listening, not disciplining. When people talk about the Primates issuing sanctions, they have forgotten that the meeting is not a disciplinary body but is there to allow the Primates to listen to one another. The Primates have scarcely any power to discipline in any case. What can they do? There is no Canon Law that holds the communion together. Nor is there any legal mechanism that the Primates could take to chuck any of the churches out of the Communion. The Anglican Consultative Council is the only one of the fragile so-called Instruments of Communion which has a constitution and the constitution is there to hold people together not to break them apart. (And it is also regulated by English charity law and no-one wants the ACC to lose its charitable status because the Primates make an unlawful bid for power over an English charity that they are not the trustees of).

The truth is, no-one knows at this stage what the Primates will say or do. At least 16 of them are new faces who have never been there before.

One of them is the Most Rev Mark Strange, our own Primus. Mark will be able to speak directly about what has happened in Scotland. (He’s taking time to pray this week to prepare for the meeting and the Scottish Episcopal Church is praying with him).

The truth is, what has happened in Scotland is a model for how the Anglican Communion can move forward and move beyond the constant squabbles about human sexuality. Here in Scotland we’ve made conscience the thing that we argued about rather than what people get up to in bed. We’ve recognised that Episcopalians take different views about same-sex relationships and we have honoured all of them. We’ve said that conscience has to be respected.

Now the conscience thing is important to understand – for we have not simply made provision for the consciences of those who object to same-sex relationships being respected. We’ve also said that conscience clauses apply equally to those who do, sincerely and truthfully believe that God wishes to bless those same-sex couples who wish to be married in church. Those of us who believe in offering marriage to all couples have consciences too.

We’ve tried to make it so that individual consciences are respected. It was the only possible way we could hang together. Ultimately, that is the only way that the Communion can hang together too.

We have something to witness to that is good and godly and I’ve no doubt that Bishop Mark will be looking forward to sharing the good things that have happened in Scotland as we have discussed, wrestled, voted and prayed this through. Remember this – the Scottish Episcopal Church decided to stay together over same-sex nuptials and the Communion could decide to do exactly the same.

For myself, as someone who has been part of this argument for longer than I can remember, I would want to say to those interested enough to listen to what has been going on in Scotland, “taste and see that the Lord is good”.

What we are talking about are the best days of people’s lives. What we are talking about are wedding ceremonies that are full of love and grace and compassion and joy. What we are talking about is the sheer joy of welcoming diversity and setting our General Synod free from these squabbles to concentrate on the core task for our church of preaching the love of God to Scotland.

For the love of God is what we are about. The gospel is preached here. God’s grace is known here. And God’s love is shared here. And all this as much during same-sex weddings as any other time. We’ve seen it. We witness to it.

And nothing can separate us from the love of God. After all, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And as it happens, I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor sanctions, nor off the record media briefings, nor primates, nor consequences, nor GAFCON, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

How to change the Church of England – quick recap

Here’s a quick recap of the way in which I think LGBT inclusion will be won in the Church of England.

[Repeated from a post I put up last year]

Things down south are very different to how things work in my own dear church but sometimes being outside a province and looking in can give one a useful sense of perspective. This is how I see things just over the border from here.

  1. This can only be won in the Church of England in the General Synod of the Church of England. Notwithstanding anything else I say below, it can be won no-where else. That means building up a formidable synodical operation that works vote by vote for inclusive policies. The key here is that getting permission to marry gay couples in church unlocks all the other things you want too. Yes, it is worth making every debate about pensions, the forces chaplaincies, schools etc all debates where LGBT issues are paramount – these are all things where LGBT rights need to be talked about. However, equal marriage is the goal.  And deliciously in a synodical system it is possible (difficult admittedly, but possible) to get things on the agenda. Oh, and don’t forget that the best way to provide jollity to a diocesan synod is to get enough people elected onto it and propose a motion or two about the national policy of the C of E when it comes to LGBT people. Don’t forget that  it was in Diocesan Synods that the dreaded covenant was defeated in England. Synods are your friends.
  2. Although things can only finally be sorted out in the General Synod, it is important to remember that there are other places in which pressure can come. One of the most important of these is the one debating chamber where the bishops of the Church of England are present but don’t possess either a majority or a veto – yes, the House of Lords. We know already that Archbishop Justin doesn’t like it when members of the House of Peers tell him he is being a rotter to the poofs. I’ve never heard of anyone campaigning around these issues in England who is cultivating members of the House of Lords but if they did it would pay dividends. The Church of England is essentially part of the establishment and it is the establishment which will need to be involved in sorting out all the anti-gay policies of the C of E, just as it has done with other institutions.
  3. Pressure can also be brought in the House of Commons, of course. However, here it needs to be targeted towards government policies. We need MPs, good, solid, shire-based Anglican MPs standing up and asking Theresa May whether she really intends to give more money to an anti-gay institution such as the Church of England to run even more schools. Oh, I know it is ugly to be accused of using schoolchildren as bargaining chips but it is even more ugly to be a bullied gay kid and putting pressure on the peculiar English school system over this issue pays dividends both to that kid who needs our support and the wider cause too.
  4. Every single political party needs to be asked repeatedly whether it will remove the Quadruple Lock on the C of E. Every single one without exception. So who is going to do that and when and how will that be decided? (Oh, I know, that’s a tricky question I slipped in there. I know, I know).
  5. Now, the joyful thing about the Church of England is that it claims to be a church for the whole English nation (whatever that is). This means that the whole English nation (whatever that is) can be enjoined to have a say. It would be good to hear a bit more of the old campaigning noises coming from Stonewall to put pressure on government, particularly about the schools issues and the quadruple lock. Postcard campaigns to MPs, being noisy in the media, using the undoubted skills of Ruth Hunt in the public arena – all these things will help. The important thing is that the way in which change will happen is when LGBT campaigners work to make Stonewall and other equality institutions work harder to call the establishment to account in the faith zone and not the other way round. Trust me on this one Stonewall – this isn’t about you trying to get LGBT faith campaigners to do the work here. Change is going to happen precisely the other way around and it is worth doing because the streets of England will not be friendly streets for LGBT people until the homophobia of the churches has been beaten. It needs to be a public, mass campaign using all the tricks of the previous Equal Marriage debates. Don’t be squeamish about telling religious people what to do – even the bible recognises that sometimes those outside the community of faith speak holy words of wisdom most clearly.
  6. One of the things that I think would be most effective most quickly would be for those who campaign on these issues in England to realise that their enemy is not those with whom they disagree. Their enemies consist entirely of those who agree with them but who stay silent. There’s really no need to fight people who disagree with you. It is mostly pointless and promotes the heresy that there are two equal sides to this conflict, which we all know there are not. However, there’s every reason to fight tooth and nail to get all those who might believe in the depths of their hearts in the haughty homophobes of the hierarchy being brought low and the lowly lesbian ordinands being raised up, to sing out their own magnificat of LGBT justice for all to hear. (Here’s an insider tip – start with Great Expectations for the Deans – bishops are not the only people in the hierarchy of the C of E).
  7. Oh, if only there were an actual international Anglican LGBT Network that was an official network of the Anglican Communion. So, why don’t we start working for one? There is much one can learn from other Provinces once you start buzzing about he world. A formal LGBT Network is the only real answer to that last Primates’ Communique that condemned homophobia, isn’t it? Sorry, I meant, “Isn’t it, Archbishop?”
  8. One of the things that I hope for is that Changing Attitude Scotland soon goes out of business and ceases to be. I’ve a feeling that I might struggle to find such sentiments in organisations in  England. Would campaigning organisations be prepared to sacrifice their own identity and existence if it brought about victory for the cause? I’ve a hunch that the current plethora of competing campaigns isn’t doing justice to Justice. Just a thought.
  9. If people don’t want to engage in campaigning in this way, they do in England have another unique option, which is to pray in the privacy of their hearts (or in public if they dare) for the Lord to bless Prince George with a love, when he grows up, of a fine young gentleman. A royal wedding might sort things out remarkably easily though we might have to wait 25 years for that to happen. Who knows whether that might be sooner than things might work out by other means?

To this I would add number 10 – All of this needs to focus entirely on the priorities of the LGBTImission which spells out exactly what LGBT people in the C of E need. It is excellent – succinct and just. You can find that here: https://lgbtimission.org.uk/our-priorities/