Tuesday, February 25, 2014

How long, O Lord ...?

I've been putting off writing for myself about church and state and same-sex marriage. I've exploded, once, on the Primus' blog; now I think it's time to work out what is, a couple of weeks on, still explosive. And my main feeling, reading and listening, picking up rumours about the SEC process with the issue and so on, is that I'm ashamed. I haven't walked out of the church - not yet, anyway - but I'm not happy about claiming kinship with people who can write, carefully and thoughtfully, something like this:
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 wasn't brought up an Episcopalian. People who know me well know that my upbringing didn't really encourage anything so rash as faith, so that my confirmation at the age of 28 was actually an act of rebellion (sad, isn't it?). At that time, the Grey Book version of the Scottish Liturgy was in its infancy and a phone call from George our then bishop told me, as the youngest member of the old Provincial Synod,  not to vote for women priests. (At that same Synod, our then rector bemoaned the time spent discussing this as "unimportant".) It's as well to remember these things, and to remember that there are still people in the church who prefer to pray in Jacobean English and accept that "Father knows best" at every turn.

Why is it as well to remember? Think about it. It seems like another life to me. The young woman who stood up at Synod and demanded clarification over deaconesses who were women and deacons who held a post to which women could never aspire - that was me. At that same time the mother of someone who became a bishop in the SEC told me that it was women like me who should be going for ordination, and I was amazed. But in global terms, it's not so long ago, is it? To be precise, it's half a lifetime. And now things have changed where before they seemed immutable.

I have been going to the current General Synod for too long, as an alternate and then as an elected representative, and it's time I quit. But I long for someone to stand up and say this. Two years is nothing if there is hope at the end of it. Two years is nothing if people look seriously at a canon about a word - "marriage": stay with me - and realise that it is only a word and that it's not the word of God but a human word about a human institution that has existed since a time when people were ignorant of genetic differences.

The Primus says that we expect our clergy and our members to acknowledge and respect this historic position. No. I respect that it is history. Four hundred years ago the Church excommunicated Galileo. That's history too. We progress. We know now that people don't choose their sexuality - and a moment's thought would show the lunacy of supposing that any Christian would choose to adopt a lifestyle that would bring them so much pain and exclusion. Bit like choosing to be a woman, until recently ...

So are we going to be hung up on a historical fallacy while loving couples wait to have their union celebrated in the church they still - and God must wonder why - adhere to? Because the faith I still cling to encourages me to have hope, I still cherish a shred of optimism that someone in a position of authority will have the courage to lead the SEC back to where it was some years ago - and on, into a place where society will have less justification in consigning us to the scrap-heap of irrelevance.

And then, perhaps, I will feel less ashamed of the church that brought me, all these years ago, to God.


  1. I'm not surprised you exploded on the Primus' blog! Given that reference to canon law, can I take it that the SEC doesn't recognise divorce? Of course it does, though the church took a long time to catch up with changes in civil marriage law and my hope is that this will eventually happen with reference to same-sex marriage. The bishops of the C of E are making similar erroneous and tendentious statements, all of which fill me with a mixture of anger, despair and shame. I hold on to the fact that I've been a priest for 16 years, which many in my lifetime would have said could never happen.

  2. Anonymous2:41 PM

    Thank you for posting this Christine. Hang on in there, hope can blossom and bloom as long as we don't let others suffocate it.

  3. Well said, Christine!

  4. I agree with your sentiments, which you have expressed well in this post. I cannot understand a religion that is opposed to people loving one another. I do not understand what is religious about denying same-sex couples the use of the word "marriage" to describe their love and devotion to each other. It is profoundly disturbing that a church would take such a "position" in the name of God. Thank you for the post.

  5. Well said. This whole "it takes three years to change a canon" business really seems to be a self-comfort to those who keep churning it out. I can't believe it. I had always assumed that these procedures which took one whole year to move ahead by one small step were a legacy from the days before roads and next-day-deliveries, when it might actually take a whole year for some new proposal to reach every parish, them have time to discuss it once, as long as it wasn't during the lambing season, and then send their considered opinion back to HQ.
    Is there a canon which says how much time must be devoted to changing another canon ?

  6. Jimmy7:30 PM

    It would be so much easier for the Bishops if they had something to go on.
    Even one teaching one instruction one precedent anywhere in the Bible regarding same sex marriage.
    Sanctifying the intimate union of two men unto the union of Christ and the church is not a theolgical shift that can be quickly or easily decided upon.