Same Sex Marriage

Same-sex marriage is now legal in Scotland with the passing of the Marriage and Civil Partnership [Scotland] Act. Many members of the Scottish Episcopal Church will welcome that – and many will not. And some who don’t welcome it will recognise that our society needs to make provision for same-sex marriage.

But it produces an interesting situation for churches and faith groups who, like the Scottish Episcopal Church, have a historic position expressed in our Canons – or church law – that marriage is between one man and one woman for life. That is our position. We expect our clergy and our members to acknowledge and respect it – even if in some cases they do not agree with it and aspire to change it. To change it would need a significant process over two years in our General Synod and would require two thirds majorities.

I think that there are two main consequences of this new situation.

Firstly, many churches and faith groups now find themselves out of step with the direction which our lawmakers and civic society have been taking. That does not make our position illegitimate or untenable. It certainly does not make it homophobic – as some would suggest. The new legislation respects and protects that historic position. Nevertheless it represents a significant change in the relationship between many faith communities and the state.

Secondly, we are increasingly aware that major shifts in public opinion have taken place. Recent research shows that the views of many church members are indistinguishable from those of members of the population at large. It is also clear that many younger people are almost entirely out of sympathy with the historic position of faith groups and churches. This is therefore a missional issue – it stands between us and the possibility of relationship with many people in our society.

Churches like the Scottish Episcopal Church are on a journey. We need to examine time-hallowed positions in the context of our understanding of scripture. To change simply because society is changing would lack integrity. But neither can we be unmindful of the reality of what is happening around us. We are open and compassionate people who believe that we are called to serve the world in our time.

We are establishing a dialogue about these issues at every level of our church. We are a very diverse community. We celebrate that diversity and we are enriched by it. Yet that same diversity means that it is not easy to discuss these issues or to arrive at a consensus about our future direction. We are also aware that we are part of a world-wide church – in our case we are members of the global Anglican Communion. What we do in Scotland is part of a much wider dialogue which stretches everywhere from the more liberal parts of America to the conservatism of sub-Saharan Africa.

I think that some of the criticism directed at churches is less than fair. We carry forward time-hallowed teaching about marriage and relationships. That is part of what has provided cohesion in our society for generations. The present situation challenges us to ask what today’s teaching should be. My view is that the shape of that teaching should be formed not by public opinion but by our understanding of what the gospel and the teaching of Jesus Christ means in our times.


  1. So very sad for you.
    Though I’m an American, I was confirmed in the Scottish Episcopal Church (St Mary’s Glasgow, Whitsunday 1988) and have always felt some joy in a small connection to the mother church of our own Episcopal Church.
    It is sad to see a church with its own history of experiencing discrimination and rejection resort to playing the game, too. There is no need to placate the English bishops. They have no moral authority on this. You could do the right thing instead of issuing this cowardly defense of what is, honestly, nothing other than pure homophobia.
    But it is so much easier to ask others to bear the burden, isn’t it? I hope that you have the courage to explain this in person to at least some of those who won’t have their marriages supported, to some of those who will learn the lesson, and learn it well, that they aren’t equal to the nice straight people. Won’t you feel just a little more righteous and Christian when they walk away feeling just a little less loved by God?
    What a real shame that it has come to this. Institutional procedures over God’s justice and love. It calls to mind the passage from Matthew chapter 18 about it being better to have a millstone tied around your neck rather than drive someone away from faith.
    Good luck with that collection of millstones.
    How very sad.

  2. Having formally written to my Vestry Secretary expressing my concern that there is yet no congregational formal debate I have been told informally that there can be no such discussions until Synod has decided upon the nature of such consultations. It was also pointed out correctly that the Code of Canons is specific about marriage.
    Whilst I agree it must be borne in mind that informal
    Ydiscussions abound in church halls and on the telephone already. It would be preferable if congregational consultations happened sooner than later. As a matter of simple equality in a post Reformation era we should not delay or we may find our LGBT friends taking legal recourse which would then just complicate matters. If the SEC claims to be inclusive then we must be inclusive.

  3. It was reading the following quote from the CofE today which made me google to find out anything new that the SEC might have to say on the subject. I found your blog, which is very informative.

    This, from BBC News 15-02-2014:

    “The House of Bishops’ new guidance reaffirmed its previous guidance on civil partnerships and extended it to gay marriages – that services of blessing should not be provided.

    “More informal kinds of prayer, at the request of the couple” may be allowed, say the
    bishops – but this should “be accompanied by pastoral discussion of the Church’s teaching and [the couple’s] reasons for departing from it.””

    Well my goodness me! This beggars belief. I cannot IMAGINE why any self-respecting gay couple would even dream of ASKING a Church which so demeans them and refuses to marry them . . . . . . . . to be party to blessing them. Were I to be in the position of a gay person getting married and were I also SO devoted to my church that I nevertheless wished to remain part of it, I would have to keep those two parts of my life separate and there’s no way I would be giving any Priest or Bishop even a hint of a cosy feeling that they were doing a “nice” thing by contriving to “bless” a state of affairs which they nevertheless regard as a “departure from the Church’s teaching”.

    I know that things are slightly more liberal in the SEC than in the CofE regarding blessings” – but as I’ve already said, I consider them demeaning.

    In your blog, you say “To change simply because society is changing would lack integrity. ”

    About Canon Law you say:

    “To change it would need a significant process over two years in our General Synod and would require two thirds majorities.”

    Would it really ? Would it really! Wow.

    So I take it it’s back to what Christine MacIntosh refers to above as more sitting through synod after synod “pussyfooting round what society has at last recognised as human equality and justice” . . . . . and presumably being no further forward. Ever.

    Christine refers to “last straws”. I’ve already experienced mine. As a gay man, I was 31 years old before the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Scotland. I am now 64 years old and in 2013, after a lifetime of loyal membership, unswerving support and church attendance, first to the CofE and then for 40 years in the SEC, I decided that enough was enough and I have resigned from Church membership and ceased churchgoing completely. It was nothing to do with anything being said or done locally – more about what was not being said and not being done nationally. All one seemed to hear on the news was Cardinal O’Brien spewing hate and vitriol or some English Bishop or Archbishop doing likewise. In my mind, these people make utter fools of themselves when you consider the tiny percentage of the population who attend church.

    The thoughts leading up to my decision were heavily influenced by the world-wide perception in the gay community that you must be mad if you’re gay (over which you have no choice) and you choose to want to belong to the “God hates fags” brigade.

    One of the most telling things I have read in recent years is Richard Holloway’s account in “Leaving Alexandria”\of a reception he organised during the 1998 Lambeth Conference, the purpose of which was to allow bishops to meet some gay Christians. Archbishop Carey was one of the few to turn up. One young gay man told the Archbishop that it had taken more courage for him to come out to the gay community that he was a Christian than it had to come out as a gay man to his family and friends. That is some statement.

    So if the Scottish Episcopal Church does ever get round to equality . . . . well if I’m still alive by then, I may just say “well done” – if there are any members left to say it to.

  4. David, I am sorry for not seeing your post earlier. If the tone of responses is indicative of most positions we are in a sad place indeed.

    It is not a new thing for the Church to be at odds with the ways of the world (e.g. Luke 21:12-19; John 16:1-4; Acts 16;19-21; 1 John 2:15). That has always been the Church’s default position; it must be the position of the children of light in a world of darkness. As God’s people we are called to love all (there is no place in the Church for homophobia) but our love (i.e. God’s love flowing through us) is holy love, it flows from holiness – not ours but God’s – and holiness as he has declared it (primarily in the Scriptures).

    The moment the Church gives up the gospel which transforms and liberates (e.g. 1 Cor 6:9-11; Eph 5:8) for one which merely confirms and accommodates, it not only ceases to be the Church of the Scriptures (the Church of ‘the gospel and the teaching of Jesus Christ’) it ceases to be the Church. At best it will be a Church under judgment. That Church which seeks to conform to the world in the hope of being relevant to it actually ceases to be relevant to it; it has nothing of eternal value to offer to it.

    Kym Smith

  5. I found much of this post helpful and thoughtful but I do very much agree with what Beth Routledge and Tim have to say. The constituent churches of the Communion seem to have been handed a veto over what a member church might want to do. It is all very well to ask for dialogue but I don’t see much dialogue from the conservative wing. Diatribe is more like it. An African archbishop was reported as saying that other countries should not impose their culture on the African churches. That cuts two ways. They should not impose their culture on us. It is worth remembering that the SEC has rejected the Covenant. It must do what is right in terms of the way it reads the Gospel within the Scottish community not in terms of what other churches think is right and would impose on it. The active support of the local Anglican church for the passage of legislation to criminalize the gay community, so far as I am concerned, means that anything they say cannot be taken seriously. The Church of England is desperately split on the matter of gay-marriage. I pray that the same doesn’t happen to the SEC.

    Daniel Lamont

  6. Thank you for this post. It means a lot to have a Christian leader explain some of the dilemmas faced by those who bear the burden of the wheelhouse.
    Polaris or Polis.

  7. The economics of the situation are clear and present.

    Clear #1: On the one hand, some African churches variously 1) wrote communion with the See of Canterbury out of their constitutions, 2) go around calling other people “cancerous lumps”, 3) send their bishops to intrude on other provinces and/or 4) support their country’s legislation that incarcerates people for mere matters of sexual orientation, to the extent of earning a rebuke from ++Welby. I fail to see why we should pander to their opinions.

    Clear #2: On the other hand, while there is much truth in many of your points, you approach the matter only from a church perspective, which omits the half of the story where marriage is a matter of human rights and that the church failing to offer it equally to all is discriminatory and oppressive. In cases of justice, it should be the church leading society, not the other way around. (As it should have been in the oft-touted analogue matters of slavery and racial discrimination.)

    Present #1: Closer to home, the understanding of marriage is already a factor in people’s decisions about churches. I consciously kept our own impending wedding a secret from my church, because I did not want the questions, including “oh you’re not having our priest-in-charge do it?” because a large part of the answer would be: no, I’m not having someone officiate who does not understand the institution the same way as us. The effect this has as a missional opportunity is: the imposition of rules and restrictions, and the church setting itself up as a “moral authority”, does actively cost the church “business”, as I suspect it can only serve to do.

    Present #2: We cannot sit around reasserting “the position is”, as though historicity or tradition justified it. The time for “establishing dialogue” is fast passing, for those for whom it is not already past. Of course it is not a matter of following public opinion for the sake of it, but rather recognizing and responding to society’s wakeup-call that things which were expressed once in the norms of their day, far from being time-hallowed, no longer have merit.

  8. This post brought a surge of what I first identified as rage. But actually it’s despair. If I have to sit through another Synod as we pussyfoot round what society has at last recognised as human equality and justice, I fear it may be the last straw as far as I’m concerned. This straight grandmother feels she’s running out of patience and time – and wondering if life is in fact too short to engage in further ecclesiastical hand-wringing.

    1. Well said. And it’s not just what society has recognised. I would dearly love it if the church finally engaged with the science and psychology and all the other contemporary evidence society based its change in attitudes on, instead of forever circling around the same bible verses and dismissing society as following the spirit of the age.

  9. We live in a world that is torn apart by warfare and acts of indiscriminate violence, many of them perpetrated by religious fanatics, by poverty and starvation and disease and all that the Christian churches seem to be concerned with is what people are doing under their duvets. And people wonder why pews are emptying.

  10. I am thankful for this. As an American and a Lutheran minister, I cannot speak to your context or process. But I find the tone and framing of this post to be very helpful for my work and world. I will use it, if for nothing more than to center myself prior to dialogue, sermon preparation, or biblical exploration. Again, thanks.

  11. It seems to me that our mindfulness of the dialogue between ourselves and our sister Provinces is sometimes a less than constructive thing. It doesn’t come off as engaging in a dialogue quite so much as it comes off as us being terrified of making the African nations angry if we should dare to run too fast or go too far. The worldwide Anglican Communion fosters friendships and speaks of a commonality in history and tradition, but I’m wary of making more of it than it is. We are not all required to agree, and I think that the Scottish Episcopal Church can take leadership on this issue without watching for a nod from everyone else at the table. It isn’t without irony that had the Scottish Episcopal Church never been willing to stand ground and make a few people cross, the Anglican Communion as we know it wouldn’t exist.

  12. Dear Bishop David

    Thanks for your post on this.

    You say:

    “My view is that the shape of that teaching should be formed not by public opinion but by our understanding of what the gospel and the teaching of Jesus Christ means in our times.”

    What then is “the shape of that teaching” in our times in the light of the gospel and the teaching of Jesus?

    Is it a shape that is more likely to develop in the sympathy with the recent legislative changes or, is it more likely to develop so as to maintain the historic position expressed in Church law?

    I am very much in favor of this change and hope that similar changes can be made in Northern Ireland.



Comments are closed.