The meeting of Church Leaders with the First Minister is an annual event. One of the good things about devolved government is that there is excellent access at many levels. But this meeting is an annual ‘set piece’ encounter and one that involves a great deal of consultation and preparation – most of which is done by the excellent Chloe Clemmins of the Scottish Churches Parliamentary Office.
We met in the Cabinet Room at Bute House, which is the official residence of the First Minister in Charlotte Square. It’s a beautiful building and we were given a brief tour. The subjects under discussion were Marriage – in the light of the Scottish Government’s proposals for Same Sex Marriage – the Scottish Independence Referendum and the contribution of churches and faith groups to local communities in Scotland.
You will perhaps be surprised to know that I find myself unusually silent in this kind of meeting. The reason for that is that that those who represent churches can be assumed to have some kind of common view of the complex issues of the day. But of course it isn’t like that. And the result is a complex and – without being over-critical – somewhat incoherent discussion of very complex issues. Around the table are those who believe that gay marriage is a legitimate freedom and maybe a right; those who believe that the church ‘owns’ marriage and those who think otherwise; those who believe that marriage has ‘always’ been exclusively heterosexual; those who are clear about ‘God’s law’, etc., etc.
And in the presence of those who can speak with confidence and clarity about this, I go into my ‘not that kind of church’ mode. Because I represent a church which believes that internal diversity is a precious thing which needs to be nurtured and protected by honest dialogue across difference. And if there is clarity to be stated, it involves a commitment to listen to the clarity of others.