Design Process for Discussing Same-Sex Relationships

My General Synod papers arrived with a thud in the office today. Along with them is a briefing paper which is entitled “Briefing Note regarding design process for discussing same-sex relationships”.

The short version is that the College of Bishops has invited the Mission and Ministry Board to establish a design group to create a process by which the whole church will be able to engage in discussion. The remit for the design process is this:

To design a process to enable consideration within the Scottish Episcopal Church of matters concerning same sex relationships; such a process to enable exploration and discussion in a range of contexts and in an ‘unpressured’ atmosphere to allow time to be taken for careful and thoughtful consideration of the matters in question.

The Design Group is asked to seek the advice and engagement of the Continuing Indaba initiative of the Anglican Communion in designing a process for the Scottish Episcopal Church and also to consider the possible involvement of one or more partner dioceses or provinces within the Anglican Communion in any such process.

The Design Group is asked to report to the Mission and Ministry Board following the conclusion of the process

The Bishop of Brechin, the Rt Rev Nigel Peyton has agreed to act as convener of the group. He, the Primus, along with two Episcopalians who have experience of organising Provincial Conferences (the Rev Dr Anne Tomlinson and Elspeth Davey) met with the Rev Canon Dr Phil Groves of the Anglican Communion Office recently and they came up with the following principles to be offered to the design group.

  • The process should be province-wide with a view to enabling “every voice to be heard”
  • The process should be inclusive and transparent.
  • The process should be rooted in biblical principles of honest conversation across difference including mutual respect, complementarity and differentiated unity.
  • The process should include an Anglican Communion aspect by involving Communion partners, perhaps through existing diocesan companionship links.
  • The concept of indaba-type discussion is not new to the Scottish Episcopal Church. The last provincial conference (2004) embodied the concept of journeying together in mutual listening and discussion and it is expected that such an approach will feature in whatever process the design group develops.
  • The design group should contain an appropriate mix of gender, ordained and lay and gay and straight people.

The Board is now seeking suggestions of names to be put forward for the design group.

It is not clear to me from any of this what matters relating to same-sex relationships we are talking about. (How to find a partner? How to plan your wedding? Whether you can be a bishop? – it does rather matter).

For those wondering what an indaba discussion is, I’d define it as the manner in which the Anglican Communion has excluded gay voices from discussion processes. There are always those who are horrified at me saying this. However, I think there is some truth in it. The idea of an indaba process was introduced to the wider Anglican world in 2008  at the Lambeth Conference as a process at which the only possible out, gay partnered bishop would be formally excluded. Since then, “indaba processes” have frequently been used across the world to suppress the idea of listening to gay and lesbian people speak with their own voices on these topics (which many Anglican conferences, synods and conferences have called for) in place of “listening to difference”. In other words, it has consistently been a process by which gay voices have been silenced.

There was no mention of the word “indaba” at the 2004 conference. I was there. The only time we have had what was called an indaba process was at the General Synod a couple of years ago when the Synod broke into indaba groups to discuss the Anglican covenant. The process took 57 minutes and seemed to me to differ from having discussion groups simply and only by the participants being offered sticky buns (no, really) in order to represent the idea of us meeting in the context of hospitality.

The group which has devised the principles listed above appears to me to contain both ordained people and lay people and a mix of gender. The group does not appear to me to have included anyone who happens to be gay.

I’d be interested in the thoughts of others on this matter before I say anything else. I’m aware that to those outside Scotland in certain other Anglican provinces, these processes might well appear to be beyond their wildest dreams. I’ve a hunch that the response here in Scotland might well be mixed.


  1. Oh, and by the way, when I think about the “biblical principle of honest conversation across difference” all I can think about is Jael hammering the tent peg into Sisera’s head in the book of Judges.

    I suppose there may be other biblical models.

  2. Let’s hope the ‘design process’ includes an appropriate open and uncensored on- line environment in which free and open discussion can take place. I’d hate to think of this discussion being restricted to f2f meetings at set times and in set places.

  3. Andrew Swift says

    It has to start somewhere, and at least we have a somewhere to start. “Differentiated unity” may be a tortuous phrase, but it might be possible to achieve a sort of unity with integrity, dignity and true inclusion.

    • I’m sorry Andrew but I think it is more problematic than that and it is important to recognise that this isn’t the start of anything. We’ve been talking about this for years one way or another. I think we’ve no chance of achieving true inclusion if the processes by which the discussions about LGBT people’s lives are sorted out in advance by groups of exclusively straight people.

      Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve made this point.

      Nice people often seem to want me to be nice about this. I don’t understand why at all.

      • Jaye Richards-Hill says

        It might also be worth noting that ‘indaba’ is from isiZulu meaning gathering. It is their word for the get-together of the principal men in the krall to discuss problems.
        Let’s hope the gender exclusivity of the original doesn’t translate in other exclusive ways to the SEC indaba either in spirit or practice

  4. Is there any idea of time frame for either the ‘design group’ to report back to the M&M Board or indeed to actually get on with whatever process is designed?

  5. I can’t see a date for the design group to get back to the Mission and Ministry Board nor to complete the process.

    There is a slot at synod for this, so I’d be hopeful that we might find out those dates then.

    I can also see nothing in the paper which refers to the plans that the Scottish Government have in relation to marriage. That seems to me to be a surprising absence.

  6. “The group does not appear to me to have included anyone who happens to be gay.” Indeed, and therein lies the problem. As you rightly observe, this seems more an exercise in suppressing LGBT voices than a genuine conversation or engagement.

    And, of course, what is a “matter concerning same-sex relationships”? More pertinently, what isn’t?

  7. Jane Mason says

    How can we ‘start’ something that has been discussed for more than a decade? May I suggest that we begin ‘listening’ as there has been very little of that.

  8. Calum says

    If any of it is anything like the nonsense was produced in the Grosvenor Essay then I don’t have high hopes.

  9. As I read through the specifications, a thought came to mind that there had been previous high-level ideas where you had commented about lack of appropriate representation, a few years ago; so I am glad to have seen the last point about representation – last and hopefully far from least.

    I also remember that Lambeth conference as being the one where a hymn had the refrain `all are welcome’ with exceptionally bitter irony.

  10. Rosemary Hannah says

    My immediate reaction on reading the extract you give is that it is gobbledygook. The thing about that is that it makes it really hard to know what is actually being said. It seems to me that it is essential that one uses the plainest and least jargon-driven language possible in order that it is plain what is really meant. I am with you on Biblical ‘honest conversation across difference’. I had in mind Elijah and the prophets of Baal. While Biblical texts are sometimes astonishingly subtle (I am thinking of some very interesting readings of the Hebrew Scriptures published fairly recently) and sometimes very forthright, but I actually cannot think of one Biblical example of people sitting down with the avowed intent of actually listening to things they would probably not want to hear, and that is what this conversation would almost certainly be, on both sides. Nor am I wowed by ‘journeying together in mutual listening and discussion’. I imagine it means ‘we hope people will listen carefully to each other, and speak up clearly about their own experiences, and views will change on both sides.’ This embodies a clear belief that those who believe gay relationships are evil need to change their views and so do those believe that gay relationships are same as straight ones. That is, journeying together suggests that there is not really any truth. Nor am I sure of what an ‘appropriate’ mix of lay/clergy, gay/straight actually is. How many gay out clergy do we have? Will enough out gay lay people be included to redress the balance?

    Neither am I totally convinced by the Communion aspect. Or rather – why in this case. It is, of course, like motherhood-and-apple-pie. But – do we have a Communion aspect for other discussions? Finance? Liturgy? It seems to me we should either have it for all or for no discussions.

    On the other hand Kelvin, I do think a meeting with sticky buns generally makes for a better time than a meeting with terribly boring biscuits.

  11. The ridiculousness of what is going to happen here is that we are talking about talking about perhaps someday maybe talking about it, whatever ‘it’ is.

    There is another sentence in the briefing note which I can’t quote precisely but says something like, the Scottish Episcopal Church must be allowed to reach a decision on this matter in its own way and in its own time. This reads to me like them saying that they resent that this, always presuming that this is equal marriage, has become something that a conversation needs to be had about and they will do everything possible to avoid actually having said conversation.

    And the trouble with ‘differentiated unity’ is that it has never acknowledged difference. Every response the SEC has made to the Scottish Government and called a ‘whole Church’ response – it hasn’t been a response from me or from any of the people who exist in the corner of the Church that I occupy. Differentiated unity means defaulting to the status quo because when there are two opinions and one means changing something, it’s easier not to change it. It means walking on eggshells around traditionalists because their feelings might be oppressed, but somehow managing to forget that the other side of it is a real thing that causes actual pain to actual people. It is a different word for that abominable phrase that came from Canterbury a few years ago, “graceful restraint”.

  12. Rosemary – I suppose that one might reach for the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 as a model where people sat and listened to each other. However, even as one reaches over to gently pick up and examine that model one is also aware that anyone opposed to the full inclusion of LGBT people who knows their Bible (and some but not all of them do) would be simultaneously rising from wherever they were sitting, raising one leg off the floor and hopping about in abject fury.

    The trouble is, the problems which beset us have largely been manufactured from positions where someone or other claimed to know best what was in the Bible. The sentiment that “The process should be rooted in biblical principles of …” is a familiar attempt to hijack the biblical text for one’s own point of view.

    It is precisely what the problem is, not the solution to the problem.

    On reflection, I’m with you on the sticky buns.

  13. Rosemary Hannah says

    Well Beth, I would like those opposed to the full inclusion of LGBT people to realise just how gracious my restraint habitually is. The things I have not said, and the idiot comments I have been (comparatively) kind to, and the years and years I have made the same arguments to people who cannot have been listening, especially if they think we are just starting a conversation about having a conversation. I was having conversations about this in the 70s, 80s, 90s … I would not mind so much if there was anything new to be said.

  14. Zebabee says

    What about those of us who cannot have sticky buns? Are we to be excluded?

    • stephen Peters says

      Zeb = apparently, yes – it is the church’s tradition to exclude those who don’t conform. Perhaps you could change? Perhaps you could develop a taste for sticky buns??…

  15. Erika Baker says

    The only way this deadlock can change is if we stop asking the question “is homosexuality right or wrong”. However we dress up the process, we are not going to agree on it and “listening” isn’t going to change that. There is nothing in the world that would make me agree that my life and my marriage are a moral evil, I could not even pretend that I would be able to engage in such a debate with any genuine integrity.

    What we need is a new question.
    And mine would be “what biblical principles should we follow when being faced with people we strongly disagree with”?
    I believe that this question alone can shift the focus, bring new life into the debate and that it can help to bring those to walk side by side who are currently just shouting across the divide.

    It goes without saying that this conversation must, absolutely must include gay people. The whole assumption that a group of “us” talking about a group of “them” can come up with a credible solution to a problem is itself a sign of the implied superiority of the “us” group that really should have no place in any honest conversation.

  16. Marion says

    This sounds like fence sitting at its worst. Perhaps the worry is, that any decision that is made in favour of the LGBT members of our world. Others may then point fingers and blame them for taking the decision.

  17. I don’t think this is a decision making process. Decisions are made in synod. What we are being asked to do in this process is once again to have a moratorium on making any decisions at all.

  18. Christopher Hayes says

    It would be much more useful to start designing a liturgy that you can use in the SEC to bless same-sex relationships (and hopefully marriages). Doing that here in the USA helped move things from the level of church-wide debate (which was getting rather tired and useless) to the congregational level of “When can we start?” Not to mention, “This is so great we’d like to use it even though we’re not gay!”

    • Actually no – we don’t need a new liturgy. We’ve got one.

      When the modern Scottish Marriage Liturgy received Synod approval it was helpfully pointed out by one of my Evangelical colleagues that if you chose option A wherever there is a choice to make then it barely mentions the gender of either partner at all. Although not authorised for that purpose, that liturgy is now in use with only minor changes for blessing gay couples. I’ve heard it called the McCarthy Liturgy in honour of the person who pointed this out.

      I’m sure it came as a surprise to the Liturgy Committee, even though it had at the time, as liturgy committees around the world and throughout Christendom always seem to have, a healthy number of articulate gay men on it.

      I think that there would be genuine opposition to devising a new liturgy especially for gay people to use. It may be that further revisions will be made to the 2007 text that might make it even more inclusive. However, that is only to be expected, I’d have said. Liturgy is being revised all the time. We changed the ordinal to make it inclusive of gender some years ago without that so much as raising an eyebrow. In time, I would expect further revisions to the marriage liturgy to be made in the same way.

      • Christopher Hayes says

        In that case, start talking about using the liturgy you’ve already got!

      • “[…] there would be genuine opposition to devising a new liturgy especially for gay people to use.”
        Not least from gay people ourselves! It would rather undermine the contention that same-sex relationships are no different from opposite-sex ones if we insist that there has to be a special liturgy for blessing them.


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