Church, state and the secular society

In the Scottish Episcopal Church, we’re thinking about our response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on same-sex marriage and other related issues. It’s a difficult issue for us – as it is for all churches and faith groups. We have among our membership people who feel passionately that this is the direction in which we need to go – and those who feel passionately that we should not. The consultation period is very short . Among the things we shall say will be that if – and it’s a big ‘if’ – we were to consider changing our canonical definition of marriage, that would require a two-year process in our General Synod, the outcome of which could not be predicted with any certainty.

We haven’t got involved in public debate about this. We’ve been asked for our view and we shall give that in a considered manner – believing that the time for public debate comes after.
However it seems to me that some of the comments from our ecumenical partners in the Catholic Church raise significant issues about how we understand the relationship between church and state – particularly when they suggest that there are certain issues on which a government doesn’t actually have the right to legislate.

If the Scottish Government was proposing to legislate to enshrine in law discrimination on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation, colour or race, I would publicly oppose them. But that is not what is being proposed. I have often said that I am a supporter of the secular state. If you have experienced a confessional state, you will know why. A secular state should defend religious freedom – but it will not make any assumptions about religious faith nor will it defer to it. We may regret the ‘privatised’ status for religious practice which that implies but that is the society in which we live.

If, following the consultation period, the Scottish Government and Parliament feel that they should legislate in this way, I believe that this is their right. The proposals on which we are being consulted make clear that there would be an ‘opt-out’ protection for those who cannot accept this. In practice this means that churches would have to decide whether or not they wished to use or to stand outside the provisions of such legislation.

For a fuller discussion, you’ll find this article from me in today’s Scotsman


  1. Thank-you to everybody for their comments. Some of the comments coming now are either becoming unhelpfully adversarial or are missing the point of my original post. So I’m doing a bit of pruning


  2. Well, possibly Raymond – but I offer you three thoughts.

    David has said nothing in favour of or against same sex relationships. He has said he favours a secular state, and that any decision by his (also my ) denomination would not take less than two years to be arrived at, and that there are those passionately in favour of long-term loving same sex relationships, and those equally against them. That is just a fact.

    The Greek and the Hebrew languages in which the Bible is written know nothing of sodomy. They say nothing at all specific about forms of intimacy between people of the same or people of different sexes. ‘Sodomy’ is an attempt at translation of a word which only occurs in the Greek New Testament,which inevitably makes it hard to translate.

    Sodomy is neither here or there. People are not attracted to their own sex because they long for one particular form of sexual expression. They are attracted to their own sex, end of. Many straight couples also practise sodomy. Gay Christians are more interested sex as part of a mutual commitment, a way of rejoicing in, and making happy and fulfilled, the one particular person they love above all other. And yes, they have difficulties and troubles like straight people. But it is in overcoming these, and living more selflessly day by day, that they become the full people they are capable of being. And that is why I support equal marriage.

    1. Rosemary is as wrong as it gets. Homosexual attraction is the result of long hours of lustful thought about an unnatural activity. Its aim is to possess another person and to commit unnatural acts, whether by homosexuals or heterosexuals. But homosexuality as a lifestyle is dcertainly condemned outright by scripture. It is not ‘loving’ – it is plain lust. And I would repeat that modern homosexuals hate Christians and God, love perversion, and perpetuate (as its causation) the worst pandemic (AIDS) known in many centuries. The softly-softly approach used by Rosemary hides the appalling truth about homosexuality, whose only aim right now is to destroy Christian witness and the genuine teachings of God’s word. (Dr K B Napier: with 40 years experience in studying and treating sexual perversions).

      1. Speaking as a Christian who is also a gay woman, I would caution you against making sweeping generalisations about what gay people do and do not think. Like most sweeping generalisations, they are untrue. There are plenty of gay people — a small handful of us are represented in this thread — who are Christians, who love their fellow Christians, and who love and worship God.

        As a healthcare professional, I am appalled by the myths that you perpetuate about AIDS epidemiology and the psychiatrisation of a normal sexual variant.

      2. Are you for real ? If you are a doctor working in the field of human sexuality, than such opinions are totally inconsistent with both medical ethics and the law.

  3. Not one of those running in defence of the Bishop has any scriptural authority
    for defending Sodomy and I call it as the Authorised King James Bible does.
    Thankfully His inspired word is ‘Quick and powerful and sharper than any two edged sword’ Hebrews 4 v 12 Political Correctness is forever changing but God’s word remaineth unchanging !

  4. Thank you for giving leadership in this difficult area. As a lifelong Anglican and former member of the Church of Ireland I feel that brave, thoughtful leadership is critical and that using God given intelligence led by the Holy Spirit is the essence of what it means to be an Anglican.

  5. Like Rosemary, I was proud to consider myself a Pisky when I read your article on Thursday. You spoke of a Christ that I recognise, of a God that I can believe in, and of a Church that I can have faith in, and I was very proud indeed to link it to people and tell them that that was my Primus.

  6. Oh dear -the usual arguments made nastier by personal attack. David, I thought your comment was fair and well-reasoned. We do not, happily, live in a theocracy, moreover it is quite plain that you are right: Jesus did a great deal more to challenge the established orders of his day than to defend them. I was so proud, when I read your article, to think that I was a ‘Piskie.

  7. Thank you for offering a wise and consider response. I found it both helpful and offering a much needed clarity of how we need to respond.

  8. Couldn’t agree more, Tim. And here was I feeling proud that our church was so well led … Bigoted comments just make me more proud.

  9. Balanced, sensible, well thought through and entirely legitimate: your views shine like a beacon of light through the darkness of obfuscation, prejudice and narrow-mindedness.

    Leaving aside the constitutional questions, my own view on the question of same-sex marriage, for what it’s worth, is that it can only confirm and strengthen the ideal of marriage for everybody, heterosexuals and homosexuals alike. We should celebrate when any two people wish to embrace a lifestyle of serious, committed, publicly acclaimed love — for then we can truly join with the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews in saying: “Marriage should be honoured by all” (13:4).

    1. Russell…
      Now read the statistics. Few homosexuals stay together (most civil unions last just two years) and their ‘domestics’ tend to be the most violent!
      Whether or not you like it, ‘marriage’ is between a ‘natural’ man and a woman. It cannot apply to same sex individuals. The reason homosexuals want same sex unions to be called ‘marriage’ is so that Christian teaching can be further demeaned and ruined. There is no equality in homosexuality – they want supremacy. I find the airy-fairy tales told by gay suporters to be full of inaccuracies and godless theories. Homosexuality is something we could all fall into. It is sin and ruinous. But it is not ‘special’. And, perhaps you are unaware of it, but most homosexuals, male and female, move in and out of the perversion regularly, and many leave it altogether, having tried it. So please – remove the rose-tinted glasses and do some research (not in the gay propaganda, but generally). There is no worth in homosexuality, only ruin of society as a whole.

      1. You are a very silly man, for sure! To suggest homosexuality is a lifestyle choice is truly ignorant. I had no more choice over my sexuality than I had over my skin colour…

        1. It is a choice, and no research can prove otherwise. When treating homosexuals in psychiatry EVERY ONE of them admitted they chose their sin, and that was why they were suicidal and depressed. Of all people, homosexuals are perhaps some of the most miserable… but refuse to admit to it so as to maintain the homosexual party line. They are certainly incapable of proper argumentation and rational thought.

        2. Dr Napier I have left this one [of the six] comments you have left on this blog and removed all the others. I think this is probably the most offensive of your statements. But since you are obviously waiting to accuse me of censoring you, I decided to leave it. I shall publish no further comments from you.

  10. Thumping the same tub louder does not make a case any more valid.
    I do not condone the misuse of scripture by taking fragments and firing them in unloving, indeed ad hominem, fashion, at other people. Such behaviour is inconsistent with the totality of scripture being abused.

  11. In this matter it is impossible to please everyone
    but it is incumbent upon the Christian leader
    to seek and to find the mind and the will of God
    and to please only one person and that is Christ.

  12. The Lord Jesus Christ was very clear in how he viewed marriage:

    “And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
    And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?” (Matthew 19:4-5)

    1. But the thing about this quote regarding Adam and Eve is that if you examine the original Hebrew, the word for ‘cleave’ has several meanings, depending on the root of the word used. It can mean friendship, an instruction from one to another to stay put or go with others, or, as in the case of Adam and Eve, when followed by the word ‘bah’ means become part of, or the two become one. All well and good, for the describes a joining of two in matrimony. A complication (for some, anyway) arises due to the fact that the exact same wording and grammatical formation of it’s use…the identical format to that used to describe the union twixt Adam and Eve is also used once more in the bible. It’s used, in fact, to describe the state of affairs between Ruth and Naomi. I’d suggest that before you quote the bible, it’s best to read it fully and in the context of it’s original language.
      There’s your biblical precedent for same sex unions. In fact my girlfriend and I had this reading at our (legal) wedding ceremony abroad…

      1. Good attempt, Jaye, but a very misleading bit of Hebraic quakery. Does it come from ‘gay Christians’ and their attempt at re-interpreting scripture in favour of their chosen sin? The meaning of original Hebrew (or Greek) words does not rely on their roots, but on their own meanings in the text. The roots may, or may not, have pertinence in the matter of the word quoted in scripture. I am afraid your journey into Hebrew was rather misinformed.

        1. No, my journey has not been misinformed at all. Look at the words used and their context. The usage is the same in both Adam/Eve and Ruth/Naomi.

          Oh yes, and my OH is a Hebrew speaker with an Israeli passport…studied there as well. So I guess I speak with no little authority…

  13. I am deeply concerned at your thoughts on ‘gay marriage’ as the Bible is so clear that marriage is to be between one man and one woman. We live in a Protestant, Christian country and will continue to militantly stand for this against all who would seek to undermine this. If you have difficulty with upholding the Bible why do you continue to hold office and take a nice stipend into the bargain. Maybe you think that we should leave the Church. There is one head of the Church and that is Christ and remember when he dealt with the woman taken in adultery He said to her, “Go and sin no more.”
    Never was sin to be tolerated, legalized, paraded about or treated as though it was to be the norm. It is time for the Scottish Episcopal Church to return to. ‘Evangelical Truth and Apostolic Order.’

    1. Actually, the bible has many forms of marriage and not just the one man one woman thing…and tells the story of one marriage between two women for example. Why are you picking on just one of these as ‘the’ definition?

      1. Are you referring to he nonsense put out by gay propaganda that Ruth and Naomi were ‘lovers’?? There is not a shred of evidence for this inference. The definition of any word in scripture is determined both by its actual meaning (sometimes found amongst several other possibilities) and its context. Where such a contextual meaning or textual meaning is not quite found, one has to look at the whole of scripture. But nowhere does scripture condone same-sex sexual experiences. If anything, the Old Testament condemns them to death! Christ said He came to strenghten and not get rid of Old Testament laws (not to be confused with Mosaic laws). Therefore, He did not need to mention homosexuality… the penalties and condemnation still stand, though unused. Only those who repent and stop their sins are free of the penalties. I find many of the comments in this column quiote ignorant of Biblical fact.

        1. The ignorance of biblical fact may actually be your own. If you read the original Hebrew, you’ll see the construction of the word roots used in the story of Ruth indicate the exact same relationship as that of Adam and Eve.
          Do you read Hebrew?

  14. I am quite sickened by your statement in The Scotsman of 13th inst. Indeed I must ask
    why are you defending secularism and not Biblical Christianity. In this case marriage as being between one man and one woman. Despite your comments there is no hysteria about this except that it is God’s order. Praise God that He made Adam and Eve to procreate and NOT Adam and Steve. You Sir ought to be ashamed of yourself – we now know that you are on the side of political correctness and secular humanism !

    Sola Gratia Sola Fide Sola Scriptura Soli Deo Gloria

  15. Great that at least one ecumenical partner has the courage to point out that there are limits in what one’s theology could impose on all. It is a danger here that (some of) the Catholic church leadership want to return to ‘theocratic’ times. Thanks again David

  16. Dear Father In relation to the Secular State,I wonder if you are aware of the work of Revd Dr David Nicholls ( The Pluralist State etc) who built on the foundations laid by Neville Figgis C.R.earlier in the 20th c. These are intelllectually heavy weight defences of “a free church in a free state” and I think they should be better known.

  17. Sir,

    You are to be commended for your comments.

    We live in a society all too often rent by those keen to impose a set view of righteousness and morality upon others. Often, such individuals (of many different stripes) purport to support concepts of love and inclusion with one side of their mouths, but speak division and exclusion with the other.

    Though I feel we are lucky to live in a society in which people generally are accepting of others, it remains the duty of all of us, regardless of any stated belief or lack of belief, to uphold the secular principles which protect and nurture us all.

    Thank you for your statement.

  18. This a a wise and considerate framing of the issue. Your overarching point relates well over here in the U.S. as well, as we continue to debate tax reforms and move into another of our protracted presidential election “seasons” (the election being over a year from now!). Both situations come face-to-face with our lectionary text this Sunday – Matthew 22:15-22, “Render unto Caesar…”. Jesus gives an answer that to political pundits might sound like “waffling.” But he describes a mindset that, centered in God as our ultimate allegiance, we can be free – in fact we are called – to give an appropriate allegiance to state.

  19. Thank you for this reasoned and thoughtful response in the face of so much hysteria from other Christians.
    It stands in stark contrast to the recent statement of Alan Harper to his synod.

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