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.