A Hot Button issue

You will know by now that I have a great affection for pithy Americanisms – one of my favourites is ‘hot button issues’. The widely-reported remarks of Cardinal O’Brien this week suggest that for him Same Sex Marriage is a ‘hot button issue.’

It’s important to know what people think about issues. But I have learned that it is equally important to know how strongly somebody feels about that issue – and why. There is a lot of space between a half-indifferent shrug and a reaction which makes clear that something is of absolutely fundamental importance. The Cardinal clearly believes that Same Sex Marriage is in that category.

Same Sex Marriage is an issue which matters to us in the Scottish Episcopal Church as well. We have responded to the Scottish Government’s Consultation. As a church we are generally open and inclusive. But we have a diversity of views in our life. Among us we have people who believe that same sex marriage is something which should not be denied to those who want it – we also have people who believe that this is simply wrong and against the teaching of the Bible. And many of us within ourselves live across that spectrum of response. That’s why our responses are not strident. Indeed most churches live with a tension between their rootedness in a tradition of faith and life informed by long-held understandings of the Bible and a desire to engage positively with some aspects of societal change.

Cardinal O’Brien’s words arise out of something much more radical than that tension. Clearly this is for him about the need to defend a whole way of life, a system of morality and a tradition of faith. Unfortunately the choice of words used in public discourse can make it harder for the churches to conduct the kind of reasoned debate which this issue deserves. We need to discover how best to enable an open dialogue with our partner churches on this this issue.

I’ll reach for another Americanism – and ‘give some pushback on this one’. All dialogue and debate in areas of human sexuality needs to be conducted in language chosen with the greatest care. Otherwise it risks stereotyping and caricaturing people. I think that some of the language used here may have crossed that line. And Jesus? Well Jesus had a habit – which angered the religious establishment – of being with those whom others preferred to push to the outside.


  1. Yesterday’s synod debate on the ‘C’ word showed an alarming presence of stridency!

    1. I think that the stridency creeps in when the issue is seen through the lens of ‘how we think this will affect the Scottish Episcopal Church’. Much better for the SEC to think about the future of the Anglican Communion and our part in it. That quells the strident defensiveness

      And I was annoyed with myself for forgetting to ask people to skip the applause.

  2. Speaking as an American – I can only say how much I wish the “pushback” on “hot button issues” in the US was as thoughtful and kind, yet firm, as yours. In the US we seem to be struggling to even talk to those with whom we disagree, let alone love our enemies.

  3. I think the Cardinal is speaking from within two related traditions. One is the obvious one about the Roman Catholic view of marriage. The other is the tradition of assuming that what is permitted mutates inevitably into what is compulsory. Hence the fear that legalising same-sex ‘marriage’ will lead to its being imposed on churches that don’t want it. Apart from the fact that this is not part of the proposed legislation, such an assumption betokens a strange lack of confidence in a Church’s ability to teach its core doctrines so effectively that its adherents will follow these doctrines voluntarily.

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