Scottish Episcopal Conversations about LGBT Issues

This time next week, the “Cascade Conversations” will be taking place in Pitlochry. This is an attempt to allow discussion in the Scottish Episcopal Church about issues relating to homosexuality.

I won’t be there because I’ve not been invited and I’m sorry about that as I would have liked to listen to what others were saying. Invitations were entirely at the whim of diocesan bishops and my own has chosen not to invite me.

The idea is that this conversation will cascade into dioceses but how that will happen is far from clear.

In many ways this process has been a model example of how not to do things. There was no-one who was gay on the initial scoping group. There have been several people who have represented anti-gay organisations on the design group but none who have been prominent members of LGBT advocacy groups in the church.

My more fundamental concern though is the idea of having a closed conference at which many people who would like to be there are excluded. It is, as someone with a lot of experience of living in Africa pointed out to me the other day, the very opposite of indaba – the idea that you get everyone together and talk until you find a solution.

The last time we had a process like this in the church where bishops chose people to go to a conference it was all about patterns of ministry and mission. It was a hugely successful conference for those who were invited by the bishops but a disaster for the church as the resentments which built up amongst those who were not invited were significant. Were a psychological study to be made of the troubles of the Theological Institute of the Scottish Episcopal Church then that conference would be a significant point to remember as a time when some felt they had a mandate for a certain trajectory which was not shared by the rest of the church.

One of the things which I observe in many Anglican Churches is the odd reality that decisions about homosexuality seem to be made in private by bishops (and their chosen advisers). It is very odd behaviour in churches with synodical government. After all, when we decided big things about the ordination of women as priests and bishops it was the General Synod which made the decisions.

General Synod has at least some transparency about it. There is defined process and you know who will be there to represent you. Despite asking my bishop a month or so ago, I still don’t know who is representing this diocese at the Pitlochry talks. Bishop Gregor simply refused point-blank to tell me.

At our diocesan synod, questions were asked by a couple of us about whether this was a safe process for anyone who is gay. One of the things that many people don’t understand is that straight people and gay people don’t meet as equals within church processes. To put it bluntly, revealing things about your life, your relationships and your hopes at these events if you are straight makes no difference to how you will be treated in the future by people who have power within decision-making processes about jobs, housing, pensions etc. For gay people that just isn’t true. Revealing personal material about yourself could cost you a job, could bring trouble for your partner, could lead to you losing your home.

Now, when asked about this at our synod, Bishop Gregor gave a good answer for himself but a terrible answer for the current process. He said that if someone who happens to be gay or lesbian revealed anything about themselves then he would admire their honesty and integrity and was very clear that they would not be treated in a detrimental way in this diocese. That was absolutely the right thing to say. However, he then went on to say that of course, he could not give the same guarantee on behalf of anyone else in the church and particularly could not guarantee that bishops in other dioceses would take the same view.

That crucial admission marks this out as a very unsafe process for gay people in the church. My recommendation to any gay or lesbian ordinand, lay-reader, deacon, priest or bishop or anyone in any of the new less clearly defined lay ministries who is involved in these talks would be that they should be very cautious about talking about their own lives. This isn’t a safe process and one might suffer in the future for being honest.

That is, if there is anyone gay who has been invited.


  1. Richard says

    When all interests are not represented any process will lack true integrity. I suspect people are afraid of you for your clarity of perception and ability to air the truth robustly, which those attending would find difficult to rebut.
    Why let progress get in the way of a good lunch?

  2. Kimberly says

    It is sad to see what is happening. It is not safe, and it is not equal. Some of that lack of safety (though not all) extends to those who are straight but speak clearly for equality. I have heard people say they will not speak up for equality during synod or during this process because they fear the backlash, they fear the disruption in their parish, and they fear being moved from ‘inside’ to ‘outside’.

    Still, I hope you and I both will be proven wrong, and that courage will arise.

  3. Rosemary Hannah says

    The whole thing is an utter disgrace. It does not appear to take any account of known best practise in making a process safe. I did know that no LGBT advocacy groups had been invited, but not that anti-LGBT groups had been invited.

    And over and above that, surely the days of being told what to think from the top are long, long past. In as far as one knows anything of this nasty process, it seems to be a matter of ‘getting them telt’ rather than a matter of listening and discussion.

    • That is shocking and unsurprising, all at once.

    • To be clear, I was not making any comment about organisations being invited. I don’t think any organisations were invited in that sense. What I said was that there are those on the design group who have in the past been representatives of anti-gay groups in the church. There’s no-one who has been a representative of a pro-gay group that I’m aware of.

  4. Rosemary Hannah says

    Do we know what the next step in that process is, Kelvin? After this conference, what next?

  5. I have been invited to the “Conversation” and am both gay and lay (good slogan?). My understanding is that we will be invited to speak and to hear so that a variety of views within the SEC will be aired. Arising out of this conference should be a way forward for the church to explore within its membership the “official” response to legislation on human sexuality. One of the things we are tasked with is to meet in Diocesan groups and to formulate a process for exploring, within our own diocese, the response of the people and clergy. Given that I have accepted the invitation to attend, you will realise that I have not written the conference off and hope that our God will guide us to the conclusion S/He wants.

    • Thanks Alan

      I’m glad you will be there. I’m not convinced that the conference has any legitimate authority for determining a way forward for the church to explore within its membership how to respond to legislation. Our canons simply don’t mentiona any possibility that the bishops can appoint an alternative synod of their own chosing, as seems to be happening here, to make such decisions.

      I also feel a sense of concern that some dioceses are significantly over represented.

      The Diocese of Argyll and The Isles, for example, which I think you will be representing, will have 7 people at the conference, just like each of the other dioceses.

      To point out the obvious, the Diocese of Argyll and The Isles has a smaller number of communicant members than the number of people who were at St Mary’s last weekend.

  6. Pam R says

    I think this comment of your nails it on the head, Kelvin: ‘One of the things that many people don’t understand is that straight people and gay people don’t meet as equals within church processes’. This is the point that is so often missed, and the reason that these initiatives, such as the current Cascade conversations are so unsatisfactory and do not work. They are predicated on a listening to each other, reconciliation and compromise model, rather than on a justice and equality model. That basic flaw then affects all further decisions and processes, and entrenches the very positions the initiative is seeking to address.

  7. Stewart Macfarlane says

    Until a situation can exist where anyone can contribute with out fear of retribution, bullying, etc because of they are different, or percieved as being different, then no consultation can be considered complete.

    Putting under wraps of a “by invitation only” event and then not being open on what will happen subsequently just adds to the lack of openess.

    How can anyone (whether those who want to be treated as equal – as they should be – or those who fear the world will come to an end – which it will not) be expected to have any faith in the process when it is not seen to be fully inclusive.

  8. I hope that we will all hear, frankly and comprehensively, what happens in the corse of this discussion. I was asked but wasn’t free to go – but if it’s going to be kept under discreet wraps I shall be even more fed up than I am already.

  9. Augur Pearce says

    This sort of thing is why I joined a church that rejects personal episcopacy altogether.

  10. Rosemary Hannah says

    For all sensible people, all the talking/thinking/theologising was over yonks ago. This would have been meaningful thirty years ago … even twenty years ago. Not now.

  11. Ahh the Church! Aaah the bishops!
    We had a similar backfiring discussion a couple of years ago in this Diocese (Adelaide, South Australia). By and large gay people have chosen to boycott same
    After nearly 35 years of ordained ministry, and as a Catholic Anglican, I must say that I am deeply saddened that it is the Bench that appears to have lost the plot. But as they mainly talk only to each other…and often have little experience of life in ParishVille where it is really hard …they are on a different plane all together
    Personally, Kelvin, I would take the fact that you were not invited to be a great badge of honour. You have obviously got them worried.

  12. I’ve just read Ken Wilson’s letter from Kelvin’s tweeted link. How wise! Yes I would go further than this but with what pastoral grace this American vineyard church leader finds an acceptable middle way! Debatable matter it is indeed and if our UK church leaders could acknowledge that no matter what side we’re on we must respect each other then that would be a great step forward. Meanwhile if the Vatican could acknowledge that there’s a debate at all, not just a ‘lobby’ that would always miracle! Here’s hoping.

  13. *be a miracle*

  14. Memory says

    As someone who has been invited for two fold reasons of being 22 (18-25 bracket covered) and having a theology degree, I hope to be able to tweet at various points during the discussion, so as to keep confidence of the transparency of this conference high. My prayers are that all can listen and debate rather than blindly parrot half-truths. Not all attending are opposed to LGBT communities, and so there will be a good chance to air all points of view. This cascade is also designed to feed back into General Synod. While this might be difficult in practice, those who attend this conference will be able to judge how effective it actually is once Synod rolls around. Until then, we’ve just got to engage in the process, even and sometimes especially when we find glitches in that process.

    • Thanks Memory. Once again, I’m sure that there will be people there who have positive views about gay people however I’m not sure that all views will be expressed as part of the process. There simply isn’t anyone who is going who as a speaker who has been part of the Equal Marriage campaign in a public way. That is an astonishing lack at this stage of this debate and is representative of far more than just a glitch in the process.

      Good luck with the conference, I hope you have a good time and that there is a constructive outcome. But I bet you get told not to tweet.

  15. Rosemary Hannah says

    The thing is, Memory, I do not see how something with a small, carefully selected membership, even if it does have a token gay person or two, and a token young person or two, CAN ‘cascade’ back to Synod.

  16. I object to being labelled as a “token gay person”. There were more than a handful of self-identified gay people: male and female, lay and ordained, present at the conversation. There were also non-gay people who had a gay person within their immediate family.
    While the conversation will not turn the world, or the church, on its head, I am confident that the message we gave out was that our church needs to do something about the same sex marriage issue and that process should start ASAP. However, we have to involve the whole church membership in the process in some way so that synod reps can properly represent their constituency.

  17. Alan – I’ve read carefully the messages that the groups at he conference gave out at the end.

    I can see nothing in which any of the groups said that the message was going out that something had to be done about same-sex marriage nor that a process would begin as soon as possible.

    If that message was indeed a result of the conference, can you point to where that has been said in public?

  18. Kelvin,
    “Our respectful listening to each other led to the uncomfortable realisation of how difficult and painful our view can be for other people. We hope that the future conversations/events which must now take place will continue in the respect-filled tone we have found helpful and will lead to outcomes within an agreed timeline.”
    This is the statement agreed at the end of the conference by the group of which I was part. Equally the diocesan group were of the opinion that some movement towards a decision on same sex marriage begins now although that must involve, if not start at, the congregations.
    I don’t feel that it is unreasonable to allow the hierarchy a little time to reflect on the issues aired at the conference.

  19. Sorry Alan – the quote from your group doesn’t say that something has to be done about same-sex marriage in the church asap. It comes nowhere near that. To start with, it never mentions marriage at all.

    Now, which is it – that something needs to be done asap or that there now needs to be a pause whilst the hierarchy (the bishops?) reflects? Those two positions are incompatable. If the former, when? If the latter, how long?

    • Might I be right in thinking that those of us who for one reason or another have been talking about variants of this issue for many years now are less satisfied with bland generalisations than people who haven’t had to put up with them in quite the same way? I realise that I share Kelvin’s impatience – and that I have a deeply felt need to put things into plain language, even going so far as to call a spade a bloody shovel.

  20. Hear hear Christine! It’s annoying to be expected to appear grateful about an announcement that, as a C of E booklet is subtitled, “the conversation begins”, when one party has been patiently speaking about the subject for years and the other party hasn’t been bloody listening! That said, as a refugee from Rome, vague and tardy as this conversation is, I thank God it’s happening at all!

  21. Rosemary Hannah says

    I am of course glad that the conversation was a good experience for Alan – and it is no slur on him to worry that not enough gay people may have been invited to the conversation. No slur at all on the gay people there to suggest that there should have been more of them. It is merely that I agree with Alan McManus and Christine: the conversation began long ago and one side was simply not listening.

  22. I’ve just read the response of the Primus to Beth’s question in re. the triple Anglican moritoria (no gay sex please, we’re bishops; no gay marriage please, we’re Anglicans; no gay Gretna Greens please, we’re better together) and I note that he’s clearly saying that he’s not against being taken to mean that he’s not against the interpretation that the Primi called a ceasefire without being asked to call the shots. In other words, a representative body lacking legislative capacity, because such has not been provided by the national authorities of its members, cannot enforce an agreement they have concluded on those authorities. So no, the moratoria have never come into force and there is no mechanism for them to do so. Something less for the bishops to talk about while they’re mulling over outcomes. Meanwhile someone can dust off the nuptial liturgy, if it needs dusting, high or low, just in case any eligible bishops decide to engage in cross-border matrimonial alliances, auld or new.

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