Scottish Episcopalians Do It Together

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.


  1. Re your comment about the media’s obsession with Christians arguing about sex: here’s a related post.

  2. Linda Slater says

    This so warms the heart of a Scottish Anglican. What a thoughtful, considered and respectful response.

  3. Meg Rosenfeld says

    Magnificently stated.

  4. Andrew James says

    Respect your view and I suspect the real measure on whether Scottish Episcopalians are doing this together will be if this move divides the church or unites it. Some folk may leave the church on the back of this and some may join the church on the back of this. Only after a period of time will we know which.

  5. Cynthia Katsarelis says

    This is really beautiful. Here is the part that is making it work for SEC: “The most striking thing yesterday was the generosity of those who can’t affirm this.”

    That generosity is truly of the Spirit and ought to be affirmed and lifted up mightily. That is precisely what is helping the church work together graciously.
    Our experience, in TEC in the US, was that some conservatives felt extremely entitled not only to their view and not only to inclusion for them and their view, no, they felt entitled to continue to impose their view on the rest of us, a huge majority (and earlier, they felt entitled to take the property with them…) So there is a very different spirit in Scotland, and I am very glad of it. Very glad indeed.

    I want to respond to 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.”

    In The Episcopal Church in the US, we did not force anyone to sign on to something they didn’t believe and the conservatives were in no way bullied. We had discussions for decades and a learned Task Force on Marriage that did great work. As of General Convention 2015, no clergy person is required to perform marriages they don’t believe in, and even several bishops are allowed to ban marriage in “their” dioceses – which is terrible for the gay couples and gay affirming parishes in those dioceses.

    The idea that TEC is forcing every last person to accept inclusive marriage and will defrock any clergy who doesn’t go along with it is propaganda that was used in the realm of Anglican Communion politics.

    +Josiah Idowu-Fearon seems to have finally gotten the message and actually praised TEC for our own “walking together” with difference.

    I’m glad that SEC has come to this beautiful place and are doing it so graciously. It may indeed become a model for the larger communion. TEC is not a terrible model, either (except that bit about letting bishops dictate the oppressive position on ALL of the people and parishes in “their” dioceses). But there were certainly issues of being the first one to do it. It may be bigotry on my part, God forgive me, but OMG – but our opposition was perhaps the most entitled people the planet has ever known. When the vote came, it was overwhelmingly positive 85-90 percent. TEC’s ability to get past that entitlement with sheer conscience and decades of consensus building was a giant leap for human kind in the direction of the Promised Land.

    Congratulations to SEC. If you’re sent to the naught step with us, please bring the shortbread biscuits and whiskey.

  6. Dermot O'Callaghan says

    Dear sisters and brothers, please open your eyes and realise what you are doing.
    “I’ve always said that the only potential for unity lies not with sex nor bishops but with Christ.”
    William Loader, one of the leading biblical scholars regarding same-sex relations (pro-gay) says, ‘Jesus’ statements [in Mark 10:2-9 // Matt 19:3-9] clearly exclude sexual relations beyond [the union between a man and a woman]. Nothing indicates that Jesus would have approached the prohibitions of Lev 18:22 and 20:13 any differently than his Jewish contemporaries. Indeed he would have apparently supported John the Baptist’s very strict application of the incest provisions of Lev 18:16 to Herod Antipas (Mark 6:17-18)’
    You are in danger of following not the real Christ, but your own version of Christ.

    • Trust me on this – I’ve got a Bible, I can read, and I’ve thought quite a lot about it.

      • Dermot O'Callaghan says

        It’s not that I don’t trust you. I think you would agree with Luke Timothy Johnson that:
        “The Bible nowhere speaks positively or even neutrally about same-sex love…The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says…I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience.”
        It’s not a matter of trust in you, but rather that Jesus looked to Scripture as having God’s authority, whereas you look to this new source of experience. But maybe I’m pre-judging things. Please tell us what verses of Scripture you think support same-sex marriage.

        • I’m sorry, I don’t play the game of trading bible verses. I think you can find quite a few other websites where people are happy to do that but not me and not here. Scripture is to precious to me to be used like a football.

          • Dermot O'Callaghan says

            I never suggested using Scripture as a football.
            “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:11.
            If we are not willing to sit down together and ‘examine the Scriptures’, we cannot walk together. We cannot even have good disagreement.
            If one discussion partner simply says, “Trust me, I’ve got a Bible, I can read (but I’m not going to discuss it with you)”, there can be no unity-in-truth. Is it not a common courtesy, let alone a Christian one, to be willing to be willing to speak and to listen to one another?

          • Sorry, Dermot – check out the Commenting Policy.

            You’ll see I don’t allow proof texting. Please don’t post any more comments like that or they simply won’t get through comment moderation.

    • Daniel Berry, NYC says

      My take is that Jesus was silent on much of the Bronze Age barbarisms with which the book of Leviticus is loaded. Mercifully, civilized societies in many or most places have rejected those barbarisms in favor of what the sciences teach us – not just the natural sciences, but also the behavioral sciences. Many christians still have trouble even getting their heads around how old the earth actually is. The position you’re taking on same-sex love is in a league with that rejection of science.

      • Dermot O'Callaghan says

        What do the behavioural sciences teach us about same-sex love, that invalidates my position?

        • Daniel Berry, NYC says

          if you don’t know then you don’t know what the behavioral sciences are. Try some time on Google.

        • Ah! I see the problem. Dermot, you’ve mistaken this website for a website dedicated to discussing your position.

          Sounds to me as though you need to start your own blog.

    • Cynthia Katsarelis says

      Revelation continues. Many of us LGBTQI Christians have met the Risen Christ and He loves us, gifts us with loving partners and spouses, and nurtures our lives and loves.

      It’s fine if you want to believe a fundamentalist view, crystallized in a pre-scientific era that was barbaric for women, seemed to involve ethnic cleansing, and recommended stoning for a range of offenses. It’s fine if your interpretation of Jesus is not the all inclusive, loving Jesus who said to “love your neighbors” all our neighbors. But now it’s time to allow the freedom of conscience to those who’ve read the same texts and come to different conclusions, and who live in a world of continuing revelation, inviting all to the Promised Land.

      In light of Orlando, it is also time for “religious” people to fully understand that the rhetoric that attacks the dignity of us LGBTQI people contributes to an environment of hate that has a range of nasty consequences. Reflecting on those consequences might provoke one to reflect on the life and teachings of Jesus and re-evaluate.

  7. Cynthia Katsarelis says

    It turns out that the news from SEC is truly the Good News this week, and the only Good News, as far as I can tell. For that I’m grateful.

    (Wish I had time to stop at St. Mary’s on my way through Glasgow on Saturday. Alas, only if I miss my connections from Iona, which is possible).

  8. Gregory Paul Turner says

    This is a lovely report of a gracious debate in the Church. I long for equal rites in the Church but I supportively understand that Godly love seeks to walk together and keep everyone’s place in the Church in their own integrity.

    • Cynthia Katsarelis says

      I think that this talk of “two integrities” is problematic. The SEC (and TEC) allows clergy to exercise their conscience on the issue of inclusive marriage.

      In CoE, the “two integrities” concept over WB is essentially a green light for an alternate episcopate, something that institutionalizes discrimination. It seems better, theology and in polity to honor conscience without giving it special status…

  9. Thanks be to God! (I’d say it in Scottish if this Yank could. ;-/ )

  10. All I can say is, thank God for the Scottish Episcopal Church. You have a lot to teach the rest of us on this important matter. Deo gratias!

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