At our General Synod of 2012, the Scottish Episcopal Church decided by a large majority not to adopt the Anglican Covenant. I don’t think that there was a single reason for that decision. I suspect that many felt that this particular proposal for a means of bringing cohesion to the fractured life of the Anglican Communion was un-Anglican. And the Anglican Communion matters profoundly to Scottish Episcopalians.
My own feelings included some frustration that discussion of the Covenant had postponed discussion of Human Sexuality issues. It had been a displacement activity. More seriously, the Covenant had misread its context. The reality of Communion life is that all provinces have a greater or lesser degree of diversity around these issues. If that is true of Scotland, it is also true of Nigeria, Uganda and the United States. The Covenant process unhelpfully suggested that the primary divisions were between Provinces rather than within Provinces.
As I wrote recently, the decision to legislate for Same-Sex Marriage in Scotland is a significant one for all churches and faith communities in Scotland. I also suggested that the rapid change in social attitudes around these issues – particularly among young people – mean that there is a serious missional issue.
We at present have a church wide process for ‘measured discussion’ on issues of Human Sexuality. When that comes to an end later this year, we shall have to enter into careful consultation about how we should respond to the new context in which we find ourselves.
In thinking about that, we shall have to honour and respect two diversities.
The first and primary diversity is that of the Scottish Episcopal Church itself. We have catholic, evangelical, traditionalist and liberal strands in our life. We know ourselves to be enriched by that diversity. It is expressed in warm relationships of mutual respect. We have to carry that diversity with us on whatever journey we decide to undertake.
The second diversity is that of the Anglican Communion. Unhelpful patterns have been modelled for us. Strident voices in the Communion seek to prevent even discussion of the issues. Others have acted unilaterally without sensitivity to the strong feelings elsewhere in the Communion. Neither is acceptable. We are a Communion but we cannot be a Uniformity. What the Communion needs at this point is serious discussion about the nature of our belonging together and about the limits of diversity – given that we live in such different social contexts.